Tag Archives: rumors

Apple’s New Frontier

I posted a question on Twitter this morning about this supposed upcoming wrist computer from Apple.[1]

Apple’s talent (mostly credited to Steve Jobs’ vision) has never been to invent completley new products or categories of computing. What Apple does is identify a category of product in which there’s a lot of potential, where there will clearly be an audience, but where there’s currently no product that doesn’t completely suck. Then it makes a product that doesn’t suck in that category and mops up. It’s a beautiful strategy. And it happens to work.

So where are the crappy wrist computers? There’s the Pebble, I guess. A scrappy Kickstarter project that got some of us nerds excited last year. It’s severely limited in features and not altogether fashionable. So there’s potential for ass-kicking, no doubt. But is that all there is out there today? Where’s Microsoft’s wrist computer? Google’s? Sony’s? Samsung’s?

Well, Samsung’s would come after the iWatch, of course.

My point is, if this were the Next Big Thing, wouldn’t others be trying to do it already? Where’s the clear existing audience Apple wants to tap?

There were walkmen and then MP3 players before the iPod. The Treo and Blackberry and Windows Phone before the iPhone. Lots of Windows tablets before the iPad. Even the Mac and Apple II were not the first of their kind.

The other big rumored new product category from Apple, the TV, has tons of existing but unsatisfying devices already in the market. Google TV, Roku, Xbox live, even an existing Apple TV box. Amazon and Netflix are involved as well. A new and revolutionary Apple-branded TV would fit the pattern. Though the most important hurdle—content—seems to remain insurmountable at the moment.

But is this wearable wrist thing an actual category in search of a great product, or is it just something nerds have dreamed about ever since reading Dick Tracy and watching James Bond?

I’m not saying Apple won’t do this product. Seems like there’s enough smoke out there to suggest that Apple is at least building prototypes, if not getting ready for a release in the coming year or two. I’m just saying that if it does release this product, it’ll be somewhat new territory for Apple. Maybe more innovative, even, than anything Apple has done in a long time.[2]

Apple could actually be practically inventing a new category, rather than just dominating it after the fact.

Could it be that Apple has crippled the rest of the consumer electronics market so much that it no longer has rivals capable of trying and failing in these new territories? Is Apple going to have to troll Kickstarter to get new product ideas? Will it have to be first-to-market eventually, in order to keep expanding? I find that a much more fascinating question than whether or not Apple makes a wrist computer or a large-screen iPhone. [3]

Update: Gavin McKenzie (@gavinmckenzie) on App.net reminded me that Microsoft did indeed try the wrist watch market several years ago. They stopped selling their SPOT (Smart Personal Object Technology) line of devices back in 2008, but one of its products was indeed a watch. Good catch. But there are no major players making smart watches today.

  1. I say “wrist computer” rather than “watch” because the iWatch, or whatever it’s called, won’t be a watch. It’ll be a computer on your wrist that happens to tell time. The way the iPhone is a computer in your pocket that happens to make phone calls.

  2. The Newton, oddly enough, is probably the last device of Apple’s that was first-to-market, at least from the standpoint of the major players. I say oddly enough, because that product was also developed and released without Jobs at the helm of Apple.

  3. I’ve danced around the subject of Google Glass here, of course. Google is obviously hot to get into consumer electronics, but so far I think it has chosen its new categories poorly. I personally think that Google Glass will creep people out sufficiently enough that it will effectively go nowhere. I don’t think even Apple has enough trust with its audience to make that one successful—yet. And now that Goolge is the enemy rather than a partner, Apple is going to have to beef up it’s online services a lot more before it can succeed with such a product, anyway. Maybe four or five years down the road. Meanwhile, whether or not Google takes up the mantle of consumer electronics rival to Apple is very much an open question.

How to Turn Rumor into Fact in One Easy Step

Day4 – How we screwed (almost) the whole Apple community: “The split between the two camps, was quite unequal. An estimate would be that 90% regarded the screw as a fact and based all the further opinion on that, only 10% were critical to accuracy.”

(Via. Day4.se)

Fascinating look at how easy it is to get a rumor started.

And therein lies the primary issue for information moving forward. No wonder we have a presidential candidate here in the US that gets away with lying about literally everything that comes out his mouth (not just distorting, cherry picking, or misrepresenting, as all politicians do, but all out lying). People have lost all ability to question what they read and hear on the Internet. The laziness bias has finally won. We hear what we want to hear, and nothing will ever change our minds. There’s literally no penalty for being completely full of crap.

Game over. The world’s most advanced tool for disseminating truth to the masses has been turned into the world’s best weapon for disinformation. 

I remember in 7th grade, my teacher one day started a lesson, and he just went on and on for about 20 minutes, and we all just took notes diligently, writing down everything he said word for word. And then he stopped and asked us why we all assumed he was telling us the truth. Turned out he was just rambling nonsense for 20 minutes, and none of us bothered to question it. It was a huge eye opener for me. I still think about that day on a regular basis. 

Question authority. Never assume what you’re hearing is the truth. We’re in desperate need of some healthy skepticism. Even the so-called “fact-finding” sites that try and point out people’s lies are often wrong or biased. It’s just about impossible to know what’s true and what isn’t. 

Our insatiable desire to know everything has turned us into suckers for anyone who will tell us what we want to hear. That does not bode well for humanity. 

Maybe we need more teachers who are willing to have their authority questioned every now and then for the betterment of their students. 

My Thoughts on a Larger-screen iPhone

Clearly, something is going on with the next iPhone. The rumors of big screens have been floating around for ages, but there’s a lot more smoke this time around. So I have to think this is at least a possibility.

Personally, though, I’m still not feeling the need for a larger screen. The notion that Apple “needs” to do this because of all the Android phones out there with big screens is preposterous. Android is coming apart at the seams. The big screens were an attempt to differentiate the Android phones from Apple. This wasn’t something most users were clamoring for, and many users who get these devices pushed on them don’t even like the larger screen. They aren’t an improvement, in other words. People in general don’t want larger devices in their pockets. They like their phones small. I think Gruber is right that if the iPhone gets a larger screen, it doesn’t necessarily mean the phone itself will be larger. There’s room for a larger screen without going nuts and making a Galaxy Note hunk of junk. In fact, the screen could be 4 inches without making the footprint of the iPhone any bigger.

(I really don’t think Apple needs to worry about Android in the long run at all, by the way. Maybe that sounds nuts, but watch the numbers carefully. Android’s golden age is already over. It’s peaked, as far as growth rate relative to others is concerned, and it’s nowhere in the tablet race. Google has never gotten the app ecosystem off the ground, and now with all the viruses plaguing Android there’s even less trust from the users, which means even fewer developers are going to make apps. Every OEM making Android devices except for Samsung is losing money. They will jump ship to Microsoft, or whoever else offers them a better deal down the line. And the users will buy whatever the kids in the carrier stores push on them. This is a fickle market. Android will self-destruct without any help from Apple.)

But again, I’ll ask the question none of the nerds seem to be asking. How does a bigger screen make the phone better? More icons on the home screen? Really? That’s it? Widescreen videos a little bigger? Ok. I guess. I have yet to read any compelling argument for how this would improve the iPhone experience. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a compelling argument; I’m just saying that no one seems to be focusing on the only reason Apple would pull the trigger on this.

As far as third party developer concerns, that’s a bit ludicrous, too. Apple ultimately doesn’t care if we developers have to work to get our apps updated to match the new screen size. If they think a bigger phone screen would be better, than they’ll make the phone with a bigger screen, and the developers will fall in line. What choice do we have? They may provide some tools to make the transition easier, but basically, what the developers need or want is the lowest thing on Apple’s hierarchy of concerns. Apple does what is best for Apple, what is best for the customer, and then what is best for developers, in that order. Anyone who has ever opened Xcode knows this.

Now, if Apple announces this new phone, but no apps support it on day one, that’s a problem. And clearly, some apps won’t ever get updated, because their developers have abandoned them long ago. So Apple will need something equivalent to what they did on the iPad with iPhone apps. There will have to be some default way that this new phone adapts older apps to work correctly on the new screen. It doesn’t have to make for a perfect experience—iPhone apps on the iPad are a pretty lame experience—but it does have to work. A stop-gap measure until the developers do the correct enhancements. Other than that, Apple doesn’t need to be concerned about third-party apps at all.

I do worry about the long-term health of the App Store ecosystem, but that’s a subject for a separate post. Right now, Apple is in the driver’s seat, and they can get away with pretty much anything, making us all jump through hoops to be in the Store. But ultimately, it would probably be in Apple’s best interests to start thinking a little more about what kinds of developers are successful in this market. If they’re not careful, they could easily end up in a position where only big corporations like Adobe are back in control of the software side of things. And that’s not in Apple’s best interest.

As soon as someone can tell me why a bigger iPhone screen would be better, I’ll get more excited about this. Whether or not it happens is much less interesting to me than the why.

Here We Go Again with the Big iPhone Nonsense

The rumors have begun: next iPhone to get a bigger screen?:

The latest report comes from a Maeil Business Newspaper via Reuters and claims the next iPhone will sport a 4.6-inch display. An unnamed industry source provided this tidbit, so I wouldn’t place any bets just yet.

(Via TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog)

Android phones started getting bigger screens last year because hardware manufacturers were desperate to differentiate themselves from the iPhone. “Bigger is better” went the thinking. But I’d say the evidence is far from conclusive that this is what users actually wanted. Sure, these phones sold in decent quantities, but that’s because carrier store employees were pushing them like crack dealers. I know several people who walked out of the store with one of those giant leviathans and were immediately disappointed in the way the thing felt in their hands.

The big screen is far from a “must-have” feature. If that weren’t true, iPhone sales would be hurting right now, not growing.

Another speculation about the big screen phenomenon was that hardware makers needed bigger screens so that they could put in bigger batteries to make up for LTE’s lousy battery life. I have no idea if that’s true or not, but if it is, it didn’t work. Most 4G phones suck for battery life, anyway.

So that brings us back to Apple. Apple is not struggling to differentiate itself. The iPhone is iconic. Making it bigger actually would hurt the brand more than help it. Apple also never does anything just because everyone else is doing it. They don’t want to be seen as copycats on anything, even when they are copying other people’s ideas. If there were any value in a larger screen beyond marketing, Apple would have designed the original iPhone that way.

Furthermore, a larger screen requires either apps that need to be redesigned to take advantage of the larger real estate, or a lower resolution than the current retina iPhone 4s to stretch the same pixels over a wider area. This would mean the screen would look worse, and all the target areas we’ve grown used to would be bigger, causing a loss of familiarity in user experience. Can you remember the last time Apple made a new product that was worse in this fundamental a way than its predecessor?

Remember, for iOS, the screen is the device. You don’t follow up the awesome screen of the new Retina iPad with a lesser screen in the next iPhone.

With the battery thing, I have to think that Apple will come up with a more clever way to make an LTE iPhone work all day without strapping on a giant screen to make room for a larger battery. There are just too many downsides. Either Apple will wait another year for LTE chips to catch up on efficiency and take the slight negative press hit on that, or they’ll have some new chip up their sleeve that ekes more battery somehow. I just don’t buy all the “bigger iPhone” rumors.

Lots of Apple speculation going on: So why not suggest something crazy again?

The rumored thinner, lighter iPhone could be the very-low-priced model, closer to the iPod Touch in appearance and component quality, with lower specs, less storage, and an unsubsidized price of around $300.

Marco Arment penned a good piece today addressing many of the recent conflicting rumors floating around about Apple’s plans for this fall. I agree with a good deal of his post, especially the part about the newest speculation of a “Retina” iPad. I try to never say never about these things, but it doesn’t seem to make much sense for Apple, who currently can’t keep up with demand for the iPad 2, and who has no effective competition that even comes close to threatening Apple’s absolute dominance of the tablet category, to release anything new in the iPad space for the remainder of this year. They’re going to sell every single iPad they can make through Christmas regardless. They would sell even more if they could make more of the one they’ve already released. Adding a new model wouldn’t help them in any way I could see, unless the non-retina display were somehow the sole cause of the bottleneck in production. Highly unlikely.

In fact, the way the competition is looking (terrible), Apple could probably get away with not updating the iPad at all for another full year. They won’t wait that long, but they easily could and not lose much of anything.

But then we get back to this conundrum of the “cheaper” iPhone. That one still has me puzzled. Obviously, Apple wants to increase the rate of adoption for iPhones. Grow the market as quickly as possible. They started with changing from an unsubsidized to subsidized price in the US. Then they started selling worldwide in more and more countries, including now China. Then they started selling last year’s model at $100, and now as low as $49.

So what’s the next logical step? Most people seem to think it’s as simple as making the phone itself even cheaper. But can it really be any cheaper than $49? And would that make a large number of people change their minds about getting a smart phone?

Is $49 the barrier here?

There are three major sources of cost in owning an iPhone. All iPhone owners pay at least two of these. I’ll keep the figures in very rough approximate US dollars, for the sake of simplicity. (Forgive me, rest of the world. I know you’ll have an easier time translating into your currency than my US audience would converting from yours.)

1. The upfront cost of the device itself. $750 or so, if you want to buy it outright. $200-$300 if you are willing to sign a long-term contract (usually two-years). $49 if you sign up for that same contract and are willing to have last year’s model.

2. The contract. If you went for the cheaper upfront cost, you pay your carrier over the course of your contract via a minimum monthly charge. In most cases, this just amounts to a commitment to spend two years on that same carrier with that same phone, with some sort of minimum minute allotment and a minimum data plan. After your contract is up, you are free to move on to another phone or another carrier, but you are usually required to stay on those minimum plans if you wish to stay with that carrier.*

3. The monthly plan. This is where the majority of the cost comes into play. We’re usually talking about a minimum monthly bill of $80 or so for any smart phone. Most of us pay even more for things like tethering, unlimited texts, etc. Compared to a regular “dumb” phone, that’s a premium of up to $50 over what you could be paying for the cheapest plans out there, and probably around $30 more a month than most people pay on average. That’s a significant jump for a lot of people. And it makes that $49 one-time price for last-year’s iPhone seem like no big deal.

Marco’s suggestion is that perhaps with an unsubsidized cost of around $300, people could get out of the contract part of the bill, at least. But to most US consumers, anyway, that actually makes the phone seem MORE expensive. We have to pay for data regardless, so why not sign the contract and get the “better” iPhone that’s only $200?

A cheaper unsubsidized iPhone may tempt some users who don’t like long-term commitments, but it fails to grab the interest of the majority of non-iPhone owners. At least in the US. Worldwide, where people do get the concept of an unsubsidized phone, this could maybe help attract some of the people currently going for the ultra cheap Android phones out there. But I can’t see it making a huge impact, even there.

And I don’t see Apple gutting its profit margins just to grab a few more people.

The real problem to solve is the monthly data cost. Cash-strapped folks in a worldwide depressed economy, who are the majority of non-smart phone users left, always think in terms of their monthly bills, not their two-year commitments. The entry level monthly bill simply needs to be smaller. And I just don’t see how Apple solves that problem in the short term. Not as long as there isn’t a $10 or less data plan available.**

Unless Apple somehow started providing its own service, by buying carriers all over the world, or reselling the use of those networks through some sort of complicated system of partnerships, taking a hit on the cost and making it up on the hardware sales, I don’t see how they accomplish this. I don’t see from where the leverage would come with the carriers worldwide to offer cheaper entry into the smartphone world.

Months ago, I speculated that Apple could release an entirely different phone from the iPhone, something that would have limited data capabilities, at least when not connected to WiFi. An iPod touch, if you will, WITH a phone, but without 3G data, or very limited 3G data. I even took it a step further and suggested something even less capable. An upscaled “feature” phone that could do basic things like email, but not data-heavy tasks like video streaming. Something that didn’t even run iOS, at least not at the UI level. Something much simpler. No apps, even. Just phone calls, maybe email and SMS. Basic PDA functions, all syncing with your Mac or PC.

Maybe I was nuts to even suggest it, but I still think Apple would make more money in the short run selling the world’s best feature phone to the millions and millions of people worldwide who aren’t going to buy a smartphone this year or next anyway, than they will trying to sell a slightly cheaper upfront iPhone to the cash-strapped, unemployed masses, all the while fighting the carriers over the cost of entry-level data plans.

Get the masses hooked on the Apple experience with a really slick, touch screen, ultra-thin and light feature phone. Innovate in a space where no one is even trying to innovate anymore. Kill what’s left of Nokia’s business while they’re busy trying to make Windows Phone 7 work for them. Kill off most of the Android manufacturers who are currently making a lot more money on feature phones than Android phones. They’d never see it coming.

Yeah. Probably not going to happen, I know. But I still think it makes more sense than most of what I’ve been hearing on the rumor mill lately.



*Because most carriers in the US don’t allow you to use any smartphone without these minimum plans, and because the differences between CDMA and GSM make it impossible to jump from carrier to carrier easily, many US buyers opt for the contract as a small price to pay for a cheaper upfront bill. Worldwide, unsubsidized iPhones are more common than in the US.

**John Gruber suggested earlier this week that a $10 entry-level data plan for, say, 75 MB of data or so, would help grab more people into the smart phone realm. I think that makes a lot of sense. Get them hooked on that 75 MB, and it won’t be long before they start paying more for 200 MB. Especially as streaming video gets more popular. But I do think you’d have a hard time getting carriers to agree to that right now, ironically. Because the carriers can barely keep up with demand on their networks now. Even 50 MB more, multiplied by millions of users, would be a huge hit to the available bandwidth. So Apple would have a hard time selling this to carriers, I think, short term. At least until there’s more bandwidth available, the carriers would rather DISCOURAGE data use, which is why they’re all switching to tiered pricing plans. Another reason for Apple to avoid any new product that relies on as much data as the current iPhone.