What’s Tim Cook’s “One More Thing” for iPhone 5?
September 5th, 2012
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.
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?