Bored by iPhone 5? Careful, you might get what you’re asking for
September 13th, 2012
Daniel Eran Dilger
An awful lot of media wonks are jumping on the bandwagon of registering their lack of excitement over the new iPhone 5. But what they’re asking for is far worse.
You want the surprise? You can’t handle the surprise!
“I’m impressed but bored!” seems to be the only thing the tech media can say in response to the introduction of iPhone 5. After all, they were all hoping for a series of secret surprises.
This comes after a year of their desperate efforts to find any clue of new hardware features hidden among Chinese blog postings detailing a new iPhone component or software features buried among web logs or leaking from developer’s lips.
It’s a bit like watching rich children pouting at Christmas because they already discovered what they were going to get after searching the house feverishly and begging their parents (and the nanny and Jeeves) for clues.
And oblivious to the fact that the gilded mansion they live in and eat their fatted calf liver on bone marrow at is all part of the ecosystem they seem to be complaining about as insufficiently entertaining. Why not just take a few laps around the pool and then stroll through the formal gardens? Maybe next year you’ll get a nice present to enjoy. And oh yes, you have a birthday coming up next month, too.
Clamoring for Android features
And then there’s the Android contingent, trying to pass off the newest iPhone as nothing more than catching up to what they’ve had over the past year (LTE and a bigger screen) while not matching features like NFC, wireless charging and, (in the most desperate reach I’ve seen) that “neat” S Pen (somebody actually wrote that).
But wait, if those things were compelling features, why isn’t anyone buying them? Yes, there are a number of people who like big (sometimes huge) phone screens.
But Apple already has a big screen. It’s called iPad, and Apple is actually selling lots of them. Android isn’t selling enough tablets to show up in Google’s usage stats as a blip. Nor music players nor any of the other wide range of devices its licensees were supposed to have the freedom to invent.
Android licensees are all just churning out the same kinds of boring phones they previously shipped with Linux/Java, before Google rebranded that platform as Android and told us that the mainstream, entrenched DOS of phones was now suddenly an exciting underdog platform battling the big bad Apple. What a wonderful reversal of reality that portrayal has been.
LTE now out of beta
Apart from the fact that Android licensees have been unable to deliver a commercially successful tablet, there’s also another well known reason why Android phones have been growing bigger even faster than the bellies of Americans: they’ve been the test dummies for LTE 1.0’s beta components, which were so big and hot and quirky that they required an oversized phone to house them.
Now make no mistake, LTE is great: it’s really fast, likely faster than your cable internet. And fast data is awesome (unless you restrict it to a tiny squirt of data allotment, as Amazon has in its super cheap Kindle plans). But having your LTE phone run out of battery while it’s sitting in the car charger because it uses more power than it can drink down is not so compelling of a feature.
Remember all the Antennagate and other invented contrivances that pundits have heaped upon Apple while they completely ignored the massively huge failings of every one of Android’s beta-quality releases running on junior-engineered, second rate hardware? Apple isn’t the beta tester of experimental technologies that aren’t ready for prime time. It can’t be. Tech bloggers wouldn’t stand for it.
LTE vs no LTE: winner was…
I’ve stated before that in a variety of technologies, Android licensees will be leaping first. But look at what that got the platform.
On Verizon, where 4G LTE has been THE linchpin of a strategy to defend against AT&T’s iPhone (and its faster performance compared to Verizon’s outdated, slow and impossible to upgrade CDMA EVDO), it did so little to move the needle that Verizon’s non-LTE iPhone 4 was a bigger hit.
At the end of last year, the non-LTE iPhone 4S continued to beat all of Verizon’s sales of LTE smartphones combined! And that’s saying something, because LTE was the big deal throughout 2011, and virtually all of the flagship Android phones included it.
Over the last year, through each quarter of 2012, the non LTE iPhone 4S continued to outsell all of Verizon’s LTE offerings together. It’s even more notable that the iPhone 4S on Verizon was tied to the slowest network in the U.S. (on AT&T, it could at least take advantage of faster HSPA service, at least where 14.4Mbps was available. AT&T’s 3G beats Verizon’s 3G hands down).
So the absolutely slowest iPhone/carrier pairing in the modern world continued to beat LTE on the most LTE-pushing network in the world, in the SECOND YEAR OF LTE, a veritable eternity in the tech world.
If you think Android is winning in the LTE race, wait until Apple takes off the blindfolds, unchains its lead ball and finishes drinking the beer it is sipping, just inside the finish line. Google has absolutely squandered what could have been a monumental lead.
And if you’re “bored” to see LTE finally on the iPhone, or “hate” that Apple didn’t do LTE sooner, well there’s no time like the present to go stroke your big Android phone and build a mechanical robot contraption in your basement to pat you on the back for having been part of, as Microsoft and Nokia like to advertise, the big smartphone beta test program. But it’s now officially over.
And guess who is going to obliterate the biggest reason to pick an Android phone going forward? It’s that iPhone 5 Android fans are so bent about.
Catching up or smashing down?
With every iOS/iPhone release, Apple has targeted the top 2-3 reasons anyone has to buy any other phone. And like the history of LTE above, Apple hasn’t just played catch up, but has played a game I’ll call smash down.
Back when the novelty of apps made the “openness” of Android appear to be a compelling feature, Apple released iOS 2.0 with an actual App Store that leveraged Capitalism to ruin the TuxRacer sharing party.
The result was that Apple instantly owned the mobile software market and nobody since has been able to bite off even a tiny sliver. Sure, they can talk about an app library of millions of titles, but the crap percentage is really, astronomically high. There are still no great apps, and the apps that do exist outside of iOS are second rate space fillers that are littered with ads and often just don’t work.
Apple paired iOS 2.0 with an iPhone finally capable of 3G and GPS, the top two exclusive features of its competitors. That’s right, Apple was competing against 3G with EDGE for a full year on the original iPhone.
With iOS 3.0, Apple added video recording (!). It’s hard to believe that the first two generations of the iPhone couldn’t capture video clips. Apple also added support for Bluetooth A2DP (wireless stereo), a feature its critics thought was super important at the time. There were also a lot of things Apple added that nobody else had, like enterprise support and advanced developer tools (including push support), but those weren’t greeted as news by the “bored” critics crowd.
These accompanied the iPhone 3GS, which finally got a fairly decent camera, a digital compass (which Google had previous introduced for Android as a top feature related to StreetView) and a much faster SoC built around the ARM CortexA8 (you might call it the A3, but Apple never marketed it as such). If you’ve forgotten, this is the phone that launched just after the Palm Pre’s debut.
When the Pre arrived, there was much talk about how it was so fast, and had features that smoked the iPhone. Until the iPhone 3GS arrived and smashed it down. Apple just stopped selling the iPhone 3GS this month, more than 3 years later. It will still support it in iOS 6 over the next year however. Palm stopped supporting the Palm Pre before the first models went off contract.
In parallel to knocking the wind out of Palm, bored critics’ attention had already shifted to RIM’s Blackberry, and how important its addictive text messaging, physical keyboard and enterprise security was. And everyone outside the Palm camp assumed throughout 2009 that RIM beating Apple would simply amount to the company releasing a touchscreen phone that looked like the iPhone. No so. The Blackberry Storm demonstrated that copying the iPhone was no easy task.
After a terrible 2009 of getting knocked around by Apple’s rising iPhone, RIM desperately tried to get back on its feet with Storm 2, but that development turned into an even more elaborate cautionary tale about hubris and how fast a leader can fall. By the end of 2009, RIM’s important partner Verizon unplugged itself from the Blackberry and began trumpeting Android instead.
Thus the Year of Android began, and after six months of celebration, its supporters found themselves completely convinced that there was no way Apple could stuff all the demons back in the box and regain anything other than a shred of marketshare in a world dominated by a new Windows run by Google.
That is, until Steve Jobs introduced iPhone 4. The new model demonstrated how Apple would win: by delivering big leaps that not only caught up, but smashed down the exclusive features that differentiated its competition. It brought an iPad fit-and-finish and supplied not just a fast new chip and much better cameras, but also added new features that hadn’t been seen before, like its gyroscope.
On top of that, iOS 4 bought multitasking that worked without requiring user-fiddling and the manual power/RAM management tricks that Android users needed to perform, just to play music in the background and support GPS navigation apps. Apple wasn’t just catching up, it was smashing down, with new initiatives that took on Amazon, Google and Nokia at once with iBooks, iAd and FaceTime.
iPhone 4 trounced the Android ecosystem so intensely that Verizon’s “Droid” initiative, initially intended to replace sagging Blackberry sales, required some help of its own. In six months, iPhone 4 was on Verizon, and rapidly doing that trick where it embarrassed all the 4G phones put together.
iPhone 4 performed so well that Apple let it continue for an extra fifth quarter before introducing iPhone 4S, in a world where most new smartphones have a half life of three months. Last year’s iPhone 4S, armed with all around updates but only one major new feature exclusive to other iOS models (which, unlike any other platform, continued to get major OS updates), obliterated sales records.
iPhone 5 layers on the same kinds of incremental updates we’re used to seeing on mature product lines, like say, the Macintosh: faster speed, better cameras and video, an enhanced design, new connectivity, and an intense focus on new software features that are actually useful.
Wait, how does Apple win without the gimmicks of losers?
If this review of how Apple has consistently smashed down larger and more powerful rivals hasn’t convinced you that Apple’s strategy isn’t suddenly going to fail because iPhone 5 isn’t following the gimmick-laden plans of companies that haven’t done nearly so well, then let me get more specific.
NFC is a gimmick. It lets you do things you might as well do with a piece of plastic. Want to update funds on your proximity transit pass? Why not go on the web and do that? Want to “bump” to share? Why not use email? Or Facebook? Or an iOS app from 2008? Want to make a purchase? Well if the vendor is sufficiently savvy enough to know what NFC is, they should be able to handle Passbook or Square or any number of more convenient things that people actually use. Like say, a credit card.
Not even the NFC-pioneering Japanese seem very worried about iPhone 5 not having NFC. And look what NFC has done for Google’s platform over the last year or so: which is to say, nothing but open up security issues. I’ve never seen anyone pay with NFC, despite living in a city Google has overrun with NFC payment systems.
My bank issued me a debit card with an NFC chip. I tried to use it but it very rarely ever worked. I’m not sure it ever worked right. Whenever I tried to tap to purchase, the vendor would just take the card and swipe it. Imagine if Apple had rolled out such a stupid feature just to earn a checkmark at Android4life.com. My bank has since issued me a new cards without the chip.
And what about wireless charging? If this were related to wireless sync, there might be gold at the end of the rainbow. Imagine erecting a Tesla tower at work and home (and perhaps in your car) and never having to plug your phone in again.
But “wireless charging” is actually just induction charging, making it really only suited to kitchen hot pots or cordless shavers and electric toothbrushes in the bathroom, where you might not want wet metal-to-metal connections. What purpose is there having a “charge pad” you have to lay your phone on, rather than a dock you stick it in? Both need to plug into an outlet.
Wireless induction charging didn’t do anything for the Palm Pre apart from making it thicker and giving it a more expensive charger option. It’s the kind of useless feature that companies introduce when they don’t have the market power to do really novel things like design a custom processor or develop a new manufacturing process or create entirely new software solutions coordinated with the top leaders of other industries (like, say, Passbook).
Android fans like to quip that all Apple does is patent rectangles and round corners, but the fact is that Apple invents the technology Android licensees will later fail to copy correctly, while Android licensees invent the stuff Apple passed over, like the Newton Message Pad’s stylus and those NFC features Apple certainly had the capacity to add if it were interested in inheriting NFCgate.
Be careful of what you wish for!
Would it be better if Apple focused on bringing to market a series of non-functional, useless, security-impaired, bug-ridden “features” that “we’ve never seen before”? I don’t think so.
It’s not working for Android.
That leaves me a bit concerned when I read the Wall Street Journal reporting ‘fair and balanced’ coverage of Apple that devotes most its paragraphs to outlining the things Android2meIsLife.com thinks are important.
I hope Apple locks up its engineers in an ivory tower surrounded by a wall of curved glass and plants around that acres of apricot trees patrolled by security guards, just so they aren’t tempted to ever begin chasing the suggestions offered by “bored” pundits who think what Apple should really focus on is impressing and surprising the people who just sat through Samsung, Nokia, Amazon and HP briefings that outlined how they’re doing things Apple isn’t (and pay no attention to the results).