It is one month less than three years since Steve Jobs died (Oct 5, 2011). Apple is now moving beyond its second Jobs era (he founded the company, was ousted, then returned) and is becoming more a creature of Jobs’ successor(s) – CEO Tim Cook and perhaps also its Senior VP of Design, Sir Jonathan Ive.
Apropos Ive, one wonders how many other companies similar to Apple give such prominence to its design function? Reinforcing the importance Apple gives to product design was an announcement yesterday about contracting with another notable designer, Australian Marc Newson.
The last three years have seen not only a dwindling legacy of Jobs’ mandates, but also a dwindling marketplace share of its mobile devices (although to be fair, the company’s strategy of focusing on high profits rather than high market shares continues to be very successful).
Apple’s first modern mobile product, its iPod, is now essentially dead in the water and merely a footnote to its corporate plan rather than the headline as it formerly was in the early 2000s. Its iPhone, after creating the concept of the modern touch-screen smartphone, has deservedly declined in market share and lost its earlier technological edge. The same story has repeated with its iPad – another revolutionary transformative product which is steadily declining in market share.
Perhaps aware of the fragility of its remaining marketplace magic, Apple’s management have been boasting that today’s product announcements would reveal the best range of exciting new products of any time in the last 25 years. In other words, they were promising a device or devices that would be better than the iPad, the iPhone, the iPod, and better than all its computers dating back to 1989 (is it a coincidence that it is almost exactly 25 years since the release of the first Macintosh Portable computer?).
Unlike the Jobs era when Apple was extremely tightlipped about new products prior to their release, there was a high level of expectation that this morning’s announcement would reveal two new phones – one with a 4.7″ screen and the other with a 5.5″ screen, and a new device tentatively being referred to as an iWatch, rumored to have ten different sensors, and partnered with some new health monitoring software. There is also an awareness of a new larger screened iPad but that was not expected to be announced today.
So, what actually was announced, and is it indeed the best new product release in 25 years?
It seems the rumors have been almost completely correct. Two new iPhones were released, named the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus.
The iPhone 6 has a 4.7 inch diagonal display with a resolution of 1334 x 750 pixels and a density of 326 pixels per inch. The iPhone 6 Plus has a 5.5 inch diagonal display with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and 401 ppi density. These compare to the iPhone 5 series with a 4″, 1136 x 640 pixel, 326 ppi screen. The screen itself is also slightly better with improved color and viewing angles.
What the screen does not appear to have, however, is a sapphire ‘glass’ cover. There had been speculation they would have a sapphire type glass on them – sapphire is the second strongest clear material after diamond, but it now appears they will be just another type of ‘gorilla glass’ – a special strong glass that is less likely to be scratched or broken than regular glass.
Both phones are slightly slimmer than the current iPhone 5 models. As is usual, they have a slightly more powerful processor, which, after all the speed tweaks in the various models of iPhones released since 2007, is now 50 times faster than the processor in the original iPhone. The new processor is also more efficient, and the two phones are said to have better battery life than their predecessors, with the iPhone 6 offering 14 hours of talk or 11 hours of video, and the iPhone 6 Plus having 24 hours of talk or 14 hours of video. The iPhone 5S was specified as having 10 hours of talk and 10 hours of video, so both new phones have some tangible (and needed!) improvement in battery life.
The phones now have a barometer inside, which will help it establish altitude and (of course) barometric pressure, as well as a motion coprocessor which will help them better measure small distances.
It is astonishing to see the phones now support 20 different frequency bands – it isn’t all that long ago that phones were struggling to offer more than one or two!
The cameras on the phones seem similar to on the one on the iPhone 5S, with 8MP of resolution and a f2.2 lens aperture. It can now do 60 fps video as well as 30 fps. The front-facing camera is apparently somewhat improved and works better in lower light conditions.
Although we’re the first to point out that picture quality is a function of a great deal more than just a count of the camera’s pixels, we do note that in pixel counting terms, the iPhone has only a middling level camera chip.
The iPhone 6 will sell, on a two-year contract, for $199/299/399 for 16GB, 64GB and 128GB versions. The previous 5S sold for the same price points, but with 16/32/64 GB of memory, so if you get a larger memory size phone, you’re actually now getting it at a lower price then the 5S was. The 5S has dropped in price, as is typical when each new generation comes out, and the previous generation drops in price. The 5S now sells at prices starting from $99, and the entry-level 5C, which was never very popular, now starts at a free price (of course, with a two-year contract).
The iPhone 6 Plus will sell for $299/399/499 for a 16/64/128 GB phone – ie, $100 more than the 6, with the $100 giving you the larger screen and longer battery life.
The new phones can be pre-ordered, starting on Friday 12 September, and deliveries will start one week later.
A related product, the newest version of iOS (version 8) will be released on Wednesday 17 September. It will be available for all new phones starting with the iPhone 4S and all tablets starting with the iPad 2.
Should You Get a New iPhone?
The new screen sizes (and associated resolutions) are a significant and essential improvement over the tiny 4″ diagonal of the iPhone 5 series or the even smaller 3.5″ diagonal of the earlier iPhones. While going from a 4″ diagonal to a 4.7″ diagonal doesn’t sound like a lot, the actual screen area has increased much more than you’d think. The 4″ diagonal screen had 6.84 square inches of viewing area on it, the 4.7″ screen has 9.41 sq in – 38% more viewing area.
As for the 5.5″ screen, that has a massive 12.9 square inches – almost double the iPhone 5 series screens, and another 37% more than the standard iPhone 6.
For everyone except the youngest of us with the sharpest of vision, these increases in screen size are significant, substantial, and invaluable, and a strong reason to upgrade from any earlier iPhone.
The new iPhones and their features in general have finally caught up with the rest of the smartphone market (as is delightfully, albeit somewhat unkindly, shown here – comparing the new iPhone 6 to the new obsolete Nexus 4, released two years ago – in terms of paper specifications, the two phones are almost identical), which are now concentrating on screen sizes in the 5″ – 5.3″ range.
Should you get the 4.7″ screen or the 5.5″ screen? Some people might think that the 5.5″ screen strays into the ‘too big’ category, but it seems that it will still fit in a typical man’s shirt pocket, and we feel the extra $100 is money well spent to get much more screen real-estate than the 4.7″ screen offers.
But wait, there’s more. Don’t also overlook the appreciable extra battery life in the larger screened iPhone 6 Plus. This is also a valuable feature.
We’re eagerly awaiting an iPhone 6 Plus ourselves, and unless you’re really worried about the phone being ‘too big’, we recommend you should choose that model too.
Should you get a 16 GB, 64 GB or 128 GB model? We currently have a 32 GB model iPhone 5, and have 11.7 GB of unused space remaining on it. But we have not loaded any music or video onto the phone, and don’t have a lot of pictures stored on it, either.
It seems clear – at least for us – that a 16GB phone would quickly run into storage limitations, and spending only $100 more for a 64GB phone gives you plenty of storage for almost all conceivable apps.
If you want to also store a lot of music, or if you want to have some videos loaded as well, then there could be good purpose in spending another $100 and growing to the massive 128 GB capacity it offers. We’re not doing this, because if we wanted to store video, we’d do so on our iPad rather than iPhone, and we store our music on a Fiio digital music player that allows for massively better quality sound than does an iPhone. But if you’re happy with Apple’s music quality, and we do concede that the video on a 5.5″ screen is starting to approach a sensible size to watch and enjoy, then maybe you should select the 128 GB option.
Although the future is of course uncertain, our feeling is this is a phone that will not be technologically obsoleted for at least two years and possibly longer, so investing extra might be worthwhile.
Apple/iOS/iPhones vs Google/Android/Other Smartphones
As we mentioned above, iPhones no longer have the bulk of the market (the Samsung Galaxy phone series is now the champion) and, overall, Android phones are significantly outselling iOS (ie Apple iPhone) based phones.
Last year, in a fit of frustration, we bought a new state of the art Android based Nexus 5 phone and intended it to supersede our iPhone 5. But although, on paper, the Nexus phone was better in every respect, we found that iOS remained a more intuitive and easy environment to work within than Android, and to our astonishment, we ended up continuing to use the iPhone 5 and seldom touch the Nexus 5.
Now the that iPhone 6 Plus has specifications and capabilities comparable to most high-end Android phones, we feel that the better/easier/more approachable iOS environment will continue to be the glue that binds us to Apple, and we’re delighted that we can stay an iPhone user and no longer be making compromises in terms of the hardware we are using.
If you don’t yet have a smart phone, we suggest you get an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus. If you have an earlier model iPhone and either generally are due to replace/upgrade it, or see value in the larger screen of a 6 series phone, then clearly you’ll be delighted to upgrade.
If you have an Android phone, changing to the iOS platform of course requires you to learn the new interface (which is happily an easy thing to do), and to customize your phone and your selection of software, which will take more time. This will require you to buy new copies of apps which aren’t offered for free (we’re unaware of any licensing deals whereby if you have an Android version of an app, you can add on the iOS version too, and for free). If you have lots of music files, you can probably convert these over to Apple/iTunes format.
One of the ‘holy grails’ for many companies these days is to somehow get into the middle of payment transactions, and of course, taking a small percentage of each such payment.
There have been a number of unsuccessful attempts by various companies so far (when was the last time you used Google Wallet, for example), and cell phone manufacturers and the other companies involved in the wireless industry are particularly keen to leverage the ‘always present’ nature of a smart phone and to have it replace traditional credit cards. The addition of RFID chips (or as they are more commonly now called, ‘Near Field Communications’) also offers to make using a phone more convenient than a credit card – you merely wave your phone very close to a receiving device to have your charging details read.
Apple announced their version of such a product, what they are calling Apple Pay, and which is integrated into the present payment processing functions of iTunes. It is true that this could be slightly more secure than using a modern chipped credit card, it remains to be seen how widely supported it will become by retailers, and if all credit card issuers will allow Apple to get into the middle of the process, too.
However, Apple is saying they have already reached agreements with Amex, Visa and Mastercard, and that there are 220,000 merchant locations that can already accept this new payment method, too. This includes retailers as diverse as Macy’s and McDonalds, Walgreens and Whole Foods.
Our sense is that Pay has a good chance of achieving ‘critical mass’ and becoming widely accepted and widely understood. It may become a key reason to choose Apple mobile electronics in the future.
Pay will be launched in October.
The rumor mill has again been proven correct, this time with the announcement of what had been tentatively referred to as the iWatch, and which has now been officially named the Apple Watch. That’s about as unimaginative a name as possible – what about the product itself?
The new Watch requires an iPhone (only model 5 and 6 iPhones are supported) to connect through and out to the internet, and (we’re guessing) might make use of the storage and possibly even some of the intelligence on the iPhone, too. The Watch has a nice clear screen with a very strong sapphire crystal lens on it.
We’re not yet sure of exactly what useful things the Watch will do – in particular, there has been a noticeable trend over the last few years, with people discarding their watches and using their phone for everything they formerly used a watch for. Well, when we say ‘everything’ basically, for 99% of everyone, and for 99% of the time, all a watch is used for is to see the current time.
Amusing, Apple played a large part in getting smart phones into almost everyone’s pockets, and in encouraging a move away from wristwatches. Now it seeks to reverse that trend and start returning new e-watches to people’s wrists.
Returning back to a ‘smart watch’, but one which also requires an iPhone to be closely present as well, means that watch functions will need to be in some way ‘better’ than the same functions on the phone itself. And, having just finished writing enthusiastically about the lovely big new screens on the two new iPhones, the Watch product marks a switch in direction, requiring you to now retreat back to a tiny screen.
Furthermore, you have to learn a new type of interface, with different controls and different ways to get the Watch to do what you wish it to do.
These limitations and disadvantages have resulted in none of the other smart watch products becoming appreciably successful. Apart from the unthinking enthusiasm of early adopting tech/gadget lovers, none of these products have come close to reaching any sort of mainstream acceptance.
There does seem to be one particular niche that such devices have created for themselves – fitness/health monitoring, and even people who no longer wear watches can often be found wearing ‘fitness band’ type products. The Watch does double duty as a fitness band, and can tell you things like your heart rate, the calories you are using to do various activities, the distance you are walking/running, and so on.
Some of the apps that are being offered on the Watch seem to be ridiculously ill-suited for the device’s tiny screen. For example, a photo viewing app. And others are so gimmicky as to imply desperation on Apple’s part – you can make someone else’s Watch vibrate if you choose, just as a new way of ‘reaching out and touching someone’, and you can share details of your pulse rate, etc, with friends too. Be wary of over sharing of such things, or else you might find yourself now having former friends.
One app which has appeal is a hotel door key app. Starwood will offer support in some hotels, whereby you can open your door merely by waving your watch in front of it. That’s great, yes. But – and this is an issue with all such features – if the Watch can do something, almost always so too can (or should) your iPhone.
We readily agree that the Watch is a beautifully designed and constructed device, and a worthy example of Apple’s excellence at such things, and we also agree that it does indeed offer a wealth of health and fitness apps. Maybe the allure of some of these apps might actually encourage some of us to improve our sedentary and unhealthy lifestyles, but we also are reminded of the typical fate of most exercise machines – people buy them, possibly use them for a short while, then discard them again, lapsing back to their normal lifestyles.
We expect many people will choose to simply buy an Apple Watch as a fashion statement and example of conspicuous consumption, just like people pay enormous sums for ‘brand name’ watches at present. Further reinforcing the ‘fashion over function’ nature of the product is a range of different watch bands and finishes. That is great, and will appeal to fashionistas, but will it also appeal to ‘real people’ wanting to use a watch for ‘real’ purposes?
So, how much does an Apple Watch cost? We are told that pricing will start from $349, but we don’t have specifics about how much more than that the pricing will go. There are two models of Watch with slightly different screen sizes (simplistically, a ‘his’ and ‘hers’ screen).
Furthermore, don’t go dropping any hints about wanting one for Christmas. In what represents a broken promise by Apple, they will not be available until ‘early next year), which makes this a very early announcement, and shows a development schedule that has fallen way behind.
As of the time of publishing this, Apple has yet to distribute any detailed specifications of the Watch – its screen size/resolution, or – a point of particular concern – its battery life. Maybe these details were simply omitted from the excitement of the compressed release announcement, but we wonder if it also points to an immature product that has yet to have its final design locked down.
Clearly Apple is releasing details of its Watch now in the hope of stopping people from buying other smart watches during this coming Christmas gift buying season. We certainly agree with the first half of that strategy – we do not see much value in smart watches at all. But whether you should both not buy any smart watch at all this year, and also subsequently buy an Apple Watch next year, well, that’s something we’ll have to wait and see about.
So was this truly “the best range of exciting new products of any time in the last 25 years”? No, not by a country mile.
Sure, we love the new iPhone 6 models, but they are catch-up models that merely bring Apple back to the leading edge of phone features and specifications. They don’t blaze any innovative unique new features/services/capabilities, but they do now allow you to choose an iPhone without forcing you to compromise and accept less than state of the art in phone technology and capabilities.
Their ‘Pay’ service is another me-too/catchup, but might succeed at becomes broadly adopted, something none of the existing competing products have managed to do.
And their Watch, whenever it is finally released, does not open up a new product category either. It merely apes other smart watches that have been on sale for a year. Maybe it will prove to be better than other smart watches, but it still seems to lack any compelling ‘must have’ feature to force it into the mainstream. The iPod, iPhone and iPad all quickly became spectacularly mainstream, we don’t see the Watch following suit.
Indeed, the peculiar nature of the Watch is even hinted at in its name. We have i-everything else, why not iWatch instead of just plain ordinary Watch?
We’re unsurprised that the stock market reacted mildly negatively to the launch event. There was nothing super-exciting announced, nothing likely to transform Apple the way its earlier i-products have done, and nothing innovative at all.
Bottom line? We recommend you buy an iPhone 6 Plus with either 64 GB or 128 GB of memory. As for the Watch, we’re spared having to make a buy/no-buy decision today, because it won’t go on sale for an unknown number more months.