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What’s Tim Cook’s “One More Thing” for iPhone 5?

Daniel Eran Dilger

Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook said the company would be “doubling down” on product security, but you wouldn’t get that impression from all the leaks surrounding iPhone 5. It appears we’ve already seen it all, without even needing Gizmodo to find a stolen prototype this time around.

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Of course, in reality we’ve only seen what we’ve always seen: Chinese case and component leaks. So we have a pretty good idea what it looks like, but nothing about the details that are always more important than its physical outline.

I see three buckets of potential, yet unknown features: stuff that’s important but that nobody cares about; stuff that’s not important but that people care about; and stuff that’s important and people care about.

Stuff that’s important but that nobody cares about

Apple loves to go over these kinds of details in its keynotes: how much time it spent developing some special battery chemistry that gives it longer battery life, or some special manufacturing process that greatly increases material efficiency or strength and rigidity.

Consumers fail to care about these kinds of things that engineers love, because they usually can’t understand the benefits or simply take for granted the fact that these sorts of things improve every year. “Yes, yes, it has asymmetric fan blades that makes it quieter, but I want you to wow me with opaque specification numbers!”

When you hear Samsung fans complaining about how Apple really hasn’t ever invented anything original, and only does elaborate marketing for features it really just stole from Xerox PARC in 1979, it’s because the left slope of the Bell Curve has a hard time appreciating the core technologies Apple works on behind the scenes, and earns little respect from.

These people don’t realize that Apple introduced the hardware accelerated graphics engine that Microsoft introduced for Vista five years after Apple introduced Mac OS X, and that Google introduced for Android five years after Apple brought them to market in the original iPhone.

Nobody knows this because it’s a feature everyone takes for granted when it’s there, and makes excuses for when it’s not. “Android’s crappy scrolling? Give it time! Buy three successive annual generations of devices and eventually it will get addressed. Give Google a break! It’s still working on its business model for giving away Java with an iOS user interface.”

What’s potentially in this “important but under-appreciated” bucket for iPhone 5? Historically there have been features such as AirPlay and iMessage that end users fail to grasp the significance of, or features that are virtually invisible (such as advanced noise cancelation) that support other more obvious features (such as Siri) without getting much attention on their own.

iPhone 5 is likely to get a lot of these sorts of things, ranging from regional permutations of LTE support (and other variants of faster, non-LTE 4G services); improved audio and video processing and camera optics; new A6 chip technologies that make it much faster at things such as handling compressed video and data encryption and so on. All stuff nobody cares about but that’s good to have.

Stuff that’s not important but that people care about

The second bucket unknown features relates to things that don’t appreciably matter in terms of technical significance, but that end users (and their fact-feeding pundit overlords) love to worry about.

Things like how much RAM is on the A6. A Gigabyte? “Oh please Lord have at least two so I can check a new box off my feature comparison list!”

Never mind that users have no idea how modern mobile devices actually use RAM, nor the real memory needs of their device, nor how much difference such a specification number would make in usability, or whether there are potential downsides to having more of this or that (such as battery impacts).

These features are the opposite of the first bucket: generally meaningless, but easily quantifiable, number-oriented “features” that will be trotted out in the checklist feature grids of those hoping to stop Apple’s domination of the industry and return us safely back into the 1990s, where we can once again contentedly buy generic PC boxes that don’t offer anything innovative, creative or interesting, but do gain a predictable margin of new megahertz and megabytes in every product cycle.

Microsoft’s old cheerleaders sorely miss those days of easy copy writing. You can bet that the live bloggers are going to be watching for hints about how fast the A6 is clocked, how much RAM it’s got and how many megapixels its cameras will capture, because those are the features users have been programmed to be interested in.

I’m sure I’ve sufficiently conveyed my lack of excitement about this sort of thing enough already, so off to:

Stuff that’s important and that people care about

The third bucket really gets interesting because it’s the intersection between the things engineers love to create and the things end users love to appreciate.

This sort of thing is exactly what Apple loves to tease out as “One More Thing,” although it appears that today’s Apple executives have stopped using that tagline following the passing of the man who invented it. They now simply imply it.

After introducing the middle of the MacBook line earlier this summer, the new Retina Display MacBook, star of the show, was dramatically unveiled. In previous iPhone releases, Apple has always trotted out at least one or two more surprises that nobody, not even those possessing a prototype, even realized was coming. So what can be expected to be the Gyroscope/FaceTime/Retina Display or Siri/14.4 HSDPA+ of 2012?

Unfortunately, it’s probably not a water repellant nanocoating (Motorola has that), and it’s not likely to be a general iOS feature like advanced clipboard copy/paste or waki-talki voice chat in Messages (not exclusive to new hardware, although I’m really wishing for both). There’s probably something new that hasn’t been done before quite the way Apple plans to unveil it as a unique feature of iPhone 5.

Some potential new features exclusive to iPhone 5

The first potential new “Siri” of iPhone 5 is related to the company Apple worked so hard to buy this spring, following the model of Siri last year. If that’s true, it could be an advanced finger print scanner that doubles as an directional input device, a super Home button of sorts. This could tie into security features such as Passbook, iTunes/App Store purchases and data encryption, offering a second authentication factor unique to iPhone 5.

A secondary potential new feature of sorts: Apple is clearly introducing a smaller Dock Connector. Why, to save space? Well partially. It seems more like an opportunity, similar to MagSafe power connectors on Macs, Bumpers on iPhone 4 and the iPad 2′s Smart Cover, for Apple to step in and take over a peripheral business currently dominated by third parties.

Why give up millions of dollars in third party sales of Docks when you can introduce the hottest smartphone on the planet, followed by the most popular music player and two new editions of the most popular tablets (and by “most popular” I mean “industry dominating to the 70-90% market share level”), all within a few months of the holiday season, and have all of them necessitating the purchase of new Docks?

This affords a tremendous opportunity for Apple in its peripheral hardware business, which is no small potatoes. How about a line of Smart Docks that range from a simple, elegant desktop cradle that says, “I just bought a new iOS device this fall” to an Apple TV attached model that provides Apple’s TV hobby with a FaceTime camera, microphone and touch input surface for remotely controlling a new suite of TV apps and games (and iBooks).

Apple could also launch an automotive Smart Dock tuned for use with iOS 6 Maps with turn-by-turn directions and its new “Eyes Free” Siri-integrated initiative with car makers.

Slightly more unrealistic: Apple could make a Robot Smart Dock that gives your iPhone 5 (or iPad Mini or iPod Touch, Late 2012) a pair of wheels that turns it into a general purpose WiFi RC-bot. Ok now, that’s probably too cool and nerdy for today’s Apple, but you get the potential I’m describing: a series of 9-pin Smart Docks could easily turn Apple into not just the Supreme Consumer Electronics maker of 2012, but the Official Holiday Season Toymaker.

And as long as I’m dreaming out loud, why doesn’t Apple enter the home automation business? Sell a series of remote controlled, WiFi / Bonjour light switches, temperature sensors, proximity door locks and security cameras that can be plugged together to create the Modern Home of the Future, at $29-49 each.

After building a smartphone and a tablet, standardizing the home automation market and making it secure and easy to use would be a piece of cake. And it would be child’s play for Apple to link all of these to a secured chip system to keep the whole thing a proprietary cash cow, even while offering affordable components.

Jumping back toward realism, Apple could also reattempt to decisively enter Home Theater, pairing iPhone 5 with remote WiFi (or Bluetooth 4) 5.1 wireless speakers and Apple TV to do what the company failed to do with the iPod HiFi.

And I’m not even scratching the surface with AirPort, the widely overlooked but significant peripheral market Apple has only half-assedly operated as a very profitable hobby. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new generation of AirPort base stations sporting 802.11ac.

Isn’t it incredible the vast range and scope of Apple’s potential that pundits and analysts have completely failed to imagine, even while they beat on the drum of $2000, 52″ Apple HDTVs that are too big and not profitable enough to sell through boutique retail stores?

What do you imagine Apple will reveal as the exclusive features for iPhone 5 on September 12?

22 comments

1 eyez00 { 09.05.12 at 11:30 pm }

Jeez Dan! Your Letters to Santa musta read like a book!

I’d like “Everything You Imagined” PLUS a iPanel TV.

Really pleased to be able to read you again “regularly”.

2 studiodave { 09.06.12 at 1:01 am }

I really would like that home automation thing including CCTV cameras and fingerprint recognition, I hate passwords and credit card numbers, and well everything that I have to remember, That’s what the computer is for!

3 hectornumber3 { 09.06.12 at 4:09 am }

Personally, I don’t think Apple do accessories very well and should steer clear of that area. Let the third party people do their job, which they do well. Those companies, which act almost as Apple fans, create an ecosystem of well-designed accessories, and do an incredible marketing job for Apple in to the bargain. If Apple start penny-pinching in this area it will alienate those companies and the fans, and would be indicative that the money-men are moving in, as has been suggested in relation to the Apple Stores recently.

[It does seem like Apple would be better off encouraging a vibrant third party peripheral ecosystem rather than taxing it to death with "Made for iOS" fees or first party stuff (like the forgettable BT headset). However, I think Apple is pretty mindful of what happens when you let someone into your home - they start making a mess and act like they own it until they run you out and take over. At least that's what happened with Microsoft, Adobe, Google, Samsung, various other 3rd party developers and partners - Dan]

4 TheMacAdvocate { 09.06.12 at 5:14 am }

I’m hoping for some kind of implementation of Senseg’s electrostatic feedback technology. It would make the iPhone (and iPod Touch) the only remote you’ll ever need.

http://themacadvocate.com/2012/06/01/apple-and-the-future-of-television-part-1-hardware/

5 ScottNY { 09.06.12 at 7:51 am }

I’m just hoping that the shadow of the number “5″ on the invitation represents either a mocking of everyone who calls the 6th generation iPhone the “iPhone 5″ or that it means there will be 5 key features they show off about the new iPhone or something like that. I know I’m in the minority on this, but I can’t believe Apple would call it the iPhone 5. And if they do call it that, there will be a ton of pundits who will say that Apple is bad at math and that it should be the iPhone 6. They can’t win.

I’d love home automation from Apple. Let them do the basics like light switches and locks, and open up the system for third parties to extend the capabilities to everything from home appliances to third party alarm systems. Why lock it down to just their stuff? Get a licensing fee from everyone who wants to be part of the ecosystem and don’t go into markets where it’ll be making inferior products with fewer capabilities than what entrenched companies can do.

6 Dmitri { 09.06.12 at 8:39 am }

Daniel, I’m surprised you didn’t mention, under the category “Stuff that’s not important but that people care about,”

- the overall industrial design (ie, “It should be tear-drop shaped!”)

- the name, (“It’s not different enough to be called iPhone 5, it’s just evolutionary!”),

- or the not-radically-changed look and feel of iOS (“it’s getting stale!”).

But perhaps that’s a new category: “Stuff that’s not important but that PUNDITS care about.”

7 jmfree { 09.06.12 at 10:58 am }

Wireless charging?

8 paul94544 { 09.06.12 at 1:32 pm }

I want to be able to drive up to my house have my iPhone automtically pen the garage door for me . automatically turn on lights in the house a la Stargate Atlantis, turn off when I leave a room, when I sit down on the couch I’ll say “Turn on SciFi Channel”, dictate instucrtions into the TV interface and send amails and texts in the same way all activated by voice. And one more thing: I’d like a Matrix like simulation game and have sex with the girl in the red dress… no thats more like it.

9 kt { 09.06.12 at 7:29 pm }

I don’t think this is really going to happen, but Apple could use half of their $100 billion in cash to launch roughly 125 communications satellites.

With their own satellites, they could introduce entirely new kinds of connected devices. They could liberate consumers from phone companies and offer sat phones which connect from virtually anywhere rather than having to worry about cell coverage and could afford to offer these services for much less than monthly charges from cell companies. They wouldn’t really need to run these services at a profit because the new devices that connect to the satellites would likely pay for the whole endeavor in a fairly short time.

10 kovacm { 09.07.12 at 12:59 am }

I hope Apple will one day reinvent photocameras.

11 Sulis { 09.07.12 at 3:46 am }

Apple has the classic incumbent problem – they now have too large an installed base and ongoing market to do anything really radical. Any design change has to be able to be produced at the highest quality in the tens of millions – which tends to make most innovations from outside companies hard to bring to market first.

Unless they come up with a totally different iOS product, the iPhone will just be iterated over time, while the innovations come from either unappreciated production processes (like the thinner touchscreen in the proposed iPhone 5) or software changes (which are also harder to roll out over a large base – hence the Siri restrictions).

This isn’t a bad thing.

Arguably, too much of the tech industry output has been semi-random product churn – throwing spaghetti at the wall – rather than coherent and thoughtful development. However, pundits and blogs and journalists favour the new, so expect a limp reception on the 12th when there’s no “one more thing”…

12 daGUY { 09.07.12 at 2:26 pm }

“The second bucket of unknown features relates to things that don’t appreciably matter in terms of technical significance, but that end users (and their fact-feeding pundit overlords) love to worry about.”

I would add “external design changes” to that list. Pundits and the tech crowd love to SEE that a new device is new. The iPhone 4S was dismissed as disappointing and underwhelming because it was “just a 4S instead of a 5″…and then it went on to sell 37 million units in one quarter.

Which is perfectly logical if you think about it: if the iPhone 4 was already a best-selling phone, and the iPhone 4S is basically the same product but improved in a few important ways (camera, speed, etc.) – why *wouldn’t* it sell? Why would people hate a product that’s an improved version of one they already love?

13 The Mad Hatter { 09.07.12 at 3:57 pm }

I’ll take the robot myself. But as you said, it’s too geeky for most people.

The big question is what function do the pins in the new dock connector have? I first heard about the new dock connector last month. It is obvious that Apple is making a strategic change, like when they introduced USB and FireWire.

Will Apple license the new port to headphone etc. makers? And what exactly does it do? Is it still compatible with the old port (my source says that it isn’t, and that adaptor cables will not be sold).

I cannot see Apple making a change like this, unless there was a huge advantage to the new port. But what is it?

Wayne

14 tamajama { 09.07.12 at 6:39 pm }

Just looking at the connector port on my 4, going to the new port configuration will save at least 10mm width of space inside for larger battery, or new chip or ??

What I’d really like though is a killer function to easily search though 500K apps to find ones that just don’t make it to the ‘top 25 see more’ category.

And while we’re at it, would it be just too damn much trouble for them to allow Bluetooth to transfer files to my MBP? I could do that with my old Verizon LG flip-phone.

15 gctwnl { 09.07.12 at 11:05 pm }

Left side of the bell curve. Heh.

Anyway, Apple needs a thriving ecosystem including a thriving peripherals business. They can’t do all (just as they can’t do all on the app side) The last thing they should do is kill the peripheral business. Make peripherals, sure. But not kill the third-party ecosystem.

What I would expect at some time is that iOS on AppleTV & iPhone/iPod as a combo would be set up. That thing in your hand/on your lap on one side and AppleTV as the brain for your TV (reducing the TV itself to a screen with a connection you can send stuff to (multiple over-the-air screens on one AppleTV for instance)). That would also make the TV itself a lot cheaper. There is a (farfetched) precedent: the NeXT Printer was nothing more than a Canon print engine with a special data interface (timed series of bits). It did not need a CPU, RAM, PostScript, etc. All this was done on the NeXT.

16 etaylor3971 { 09.08.12 at 9:56 am }

I think the iPanel (iTV ?) will happen eventually, and they won’t be stocked at your local Apple Store.

Apple will have a display unit to play with but all orders will be delivered from a local warehouse and installed by technicians.

Warranty service will also take place in the home or business.

It’s the only reasonable way.

17 gus2000 { 09.09.12 at 1:13 am }

How about Thunderbolt support on that new connector? It takes a long time to sync 64GB over USB.

I’ll repeat my 5-year-long desire for call recording, but first they should have the display auto-dim whenever a photocopier is detected!

18 N8nNC { 09.10.12 at 1:54 am }

Perceptive insights, as always. I’ll second the comment of gratitude for more regular postings.

I can see Apple in all the areas you mentioned, but they don’t do half-assed land grabs. They will meticulously lay the groundwork. For a variety of reasons, it is not obvious in the early going what their final aim is. I lie to call it your digital existence, somewhat akin to our mobility existence from the car, telecommunications existence from telephone/radio/tv, and electrical existence from power generation/distribution/infiltration. But much more emphasis on existence. (we’ve had online existence, of a sort, but digital existence ties online to offline, clicks-and-order to bricks-and-mortar.)

19 McD { 09.10.12 at 2:43 am }

I want to see Apple deliver on its Post-PC era promise and change information management. I’d like my main media libraries to reside on a time-capsule/AppleTV hybrid, an iCloud/Home Sharing Appliance.
Surely it’s not too much of a stretch; swap the current TC CPU for an A5 with the 2nd core turned on for networking, add an HDMI port, use the previous gen Mac Mini enclosure, integrate a final nod to DVD (for iTunes Match video) & Air Disk. I want it in 3 formats; as a silver box to be used as WiFi NAS or via TB/USB3 cable strung up to my new, retina display, iMac with its speedy but capacity-restricted SSD, or integrated into a sound-bar (hate cables) or integrated into a full TV.
As if!

[That sounds pretty firmly rooted in the PC era to me. - Dan]

20 harrywolf { 09.11.12 at 10:16 am }

I suppose one day Mr.Dilger will write a dull column, but even that will be far better than all of the ‘left-side of the Bell curve’ crap we have to read while waiting for the good stuff.

Ever thought of working at Apple, Daniel? Your eclectic intelligence would make you a far better CEO than the earnest but dull Tim Cook, who needs a vibrant thinker to steer him.

21 gslusher { 09.18.12 at 4:34 pm }

@kt:

“Apple could use half of their $100 billion in cash to launch roughly 125 communications satellites.”

That would take at least 5 years, probably more. It’s not trivial. First, Apple would have to get approval from all the countries the satellites would target. They would also have to get frequency assignments and orbital slots, which are harder to get because of the proliferation of satellites. They’d have to have the satellites designed and tested, then approved by whomever was going to launch them (the French? Russians?). It goes on and on. Then, one has to operate the system, again not a trivial task.

Oh, and why 125 satellites? EchoStar, the technology provider for Dish TV, has 14 satellites. (Oh, and it takes a lot of people, too: Dish has about 24,000 employees.)

I spent several years at the headquarters of the Air Force Systems Command, then the RDT&E and system acquisition arm of the Air Force. I was in charge of long-range planning for a bunch of military satellite programs, including weather, GPS, and some communications. We had to plan launches at least 5 years in advance.

22 benlewis { 09.20.12 at 9:23 pm }

iCloud-based DVR-like functionality where you have access to, and can record, programming that you would have delivered to you on your iCloud client device. Onto your 60″ TV via the current $99 Apple TV or onto your iPhone, it wouldn’t matter.

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