Reflections on the Apple Event

Om Malik has written the best summary about last week Apple Event:

Cook, deserves a lot of credit for holding and nurturing Apple through the four three years since Steve’s passing and yesterday, he indicated to the world, the grieving is over. This is Cook’s Apple. I do believe, the company will miss the ruthless editing and polish of Steve Jobs. The magic and ability to mesmerize is fading, despite the whiz bang but in the end it is really about making “lifestyle” products the — Apple way.

I keep hearing a lot about Apple switching to “lifestyle” products. I wonder if this new goal is going to affect other goals like reliability and focus on the old core products.

On the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

Since last Tuesday, Apple users around the world have desired only one thing: The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, using respectively 4.7” and 5.5” screens.

Gone are the days of smaller handsets that can be used one-handed. Everyone has jumped on the bandwagon of bigger is better.

In fact, a surprising survey on iMore shows that users are 50–50 split on the iPhone 6 vs. iPhone 6 Plus.

Two years ago, Apple was writing on his website:

Anyone can make a larger smartphone display. But if you go large for large’s sake, you end up with a phone that feels oversize, awkward, and hard to use. iPhone 5 features a 4-inch display designed the right way: it’s bigger, but it’s the same width as iPhone 4S. So everything you’ve always done with one hand — typing on the keyboard, for instance — you can still do with one hand. On a larger canvas that lets you see more of every web page. More of your inbox. More events on your calendar. Even more apps on your Home screen.

What has changed between now and then? Doesn’t the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus feel oversize, awkward and hard to use?

Yes, if you look at the iPhone with 2012 eyes. What happened in the past two years is that:

  • Users’ requirements have changed
  • iOS has changed
  • Display technologies have improved.

Users’ requirements

People do so much more than calling when working on an iPhone. This device should actually be renamed to something else because the phone features are now just one of the many apps a user installs on his iPhone.

By delivering a larger iPhone, Apple has humbly recognized that their initial beliefs regarding screen size, are no longer valid. Intelligence and business acumen mean being able to steer path when conditions change, and this is exactly what Apple has done.

A bigger iPhone means easier reading, writing, editing, drawing, copying and pasting. All tasks that we do increasingly more often on our phones.

After seeing the new iPhones, there’s no doubt that users will benefit from the bigger screen.

iOS 8

iOS 7 and even more iOS 8 were designed to allow for easier one hand operations. Features like:

help you with a bigger iPhone.

Display technologies

This morning iMore wrote:

Likewise, Apple has stuck to the display technology they prefer, not willing to compromise with SAMOLED or PenTile subpixels just to stretch out their screens. Apple waited until they could get a Retina HD display, with photo alignment of the liquid crystals for higher contrast, dual-domain pixels for full sRGB color accuracy at wider viewing angles, a better polarizer, and an even thinner assembly. Instead of just an iPhone with a bigger screen, they waited until they could make an iPhone 6 Plus.

The other night during the interview with Charlie Rose, Tim Cook said something along the lines (I’m loosely quoting) “we could have shipped a larger iPhone a long time ago”. Which is true. Apple held onto the old screen size until the display quality for larger screens matched the one already used on the iPhone 4, 4s, 5 and 5s.

While I always envied the larger displays of certain Samsungs, or HTCs, I never really liked the way they displayed colours. The iPhone 6 have both a larger screen and beautiful colours.

Conclusions

The success of the pre-order weekend is only the beginning of a series of record sales for Apple. Whoever bought Android only for the larger screen, now has an alternative.

For the rest of us, Apple users, it’s just a matter of printing some cutouts to test whether the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus fit in our jackets and click order.

Network nightmare week for Apple

After the September 2014 Special Event debacle, Apple has suffered another day of shame. I use this word on purpose. Sorry but it’s deserved. 

Today, after Apple opened the iPhone 6 pre-order, users started getting errors reports Appleinsider:

Readers who reached out to AppleInsider experienced a number of problems attempting to place their order for Apple’s next-generation handsets on Friday. Things kicked off just after midnight Pacific, 3 a.m. Eastern, but initial customers were only able to access preorders via the iOS Apple Store app, and not through Apple’s website on a traditional browser.

For those that did manage to get orders through, other problems occurred. A number of people indicated that their credit card rejected their new iPhone purchase after Apple placed a one-dollar authorization charge on the card in addition to the full cost of the phone.

This is 2014, and that is Apple. I cannot believe that they did not test the resilience of the Apple website under heavy load and in general to run tests on it. Tools exist for that, and Apple could use some of the money in their coffers to invest in them. 

Notes on the September 2014 Apple Special Event

These are some notes that I took during the September 2014 Apple Event live streaming.

Let me start by saying that if there is any indication that Apple cannot do the cloud properly, today’s live streaming was a clear sign of it. The quality of the streaming was appalling for a company like Apple. It suffered from constant interruptions, hiccups and at a certain point a Chinese translation audio track was superimposed over the original speech. Only towards 2/3 of the keynote, the quality improved. I wonder if that happened because a large number of users just got tired with the technical issues of the streaming and decided to do better things.

During the keynote somebody tweeted that todays live streaming was an epic fail. Epic is a big word, but given the emphasis given to this keynote, Apple should have tested the streaming a bit better, especially under load. Apple cannot make a rookie mistake like that.

The keynote started with a new video that reminded me a lot of a 2014 edition of the Think Different campaign. It was well made both from the graphical and message perspective. The message to the viewers was packed with phrases that all Apple users feel at ease with.

The keynote was split in roughly five separate sections.

iPhone

The iPhone was originally advertised as being a smartphone usable with one hand only. With the introduction of the 4.7” and 5.5” models, Apple highlighted how one-hand mode is still available. Somehow.

Two UI features were mentioned to highlight the fact that the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus can be used with one hand:

  • Swipe back is pervasive in iOS 8 (great, I love this)
  • Double-touching the home button causes the whole display to slide down. That allows the user to reach the top buttons of the active app to reach options located at the top of the app bar (clumsy, if you ask me).

The new iPhone 6 (and 6 Plus) are thinner that the iPhone 5s, and have better battery life. I like that a lot, and I am sure users will love this too.

Something that I have noticed is that the camera lens protrudes from the iPhone’s main body. I’ve got to see it in person to give a thorough judgement but from the videos, that looks funny. Why didn’t Apple simply made the iPhone a tad thicker to make the back surface even and at the same time make the battery bigger?

The new iPhone has a barometer that allows the iPhone to measure the elevation and likely to help with indoor positioning. That is OK, I have to admit I am not super excited with these things. I had a barometer on a Casio watch over 15 years ago…

The camera of the iPhone 6 is better. It also includes a new feature called Focus Pixels that improves autofocus. The iPhone 6 has digital image stabilization, whereas the iPhone 6 Plus has optical image stabilization.

This is one of the points where the iPhone 6 Plus seems to be the better phone. The other one is the possibility to display more information when in landscape mode. In fact, when you turn the iPhone 6 Plus over, apps that supports the larger display can show more information. Apple showcased Mail, Weather and Stock to highlight how the larger display can improve productivity. The keyboard is improved too, with separate buttons for cut/copy/paste. I wonder if this new keyboard is going to make it to the iPad too.

To me, the iPhone 6 Plus looks more like an iPad Mini Mini. Also, it’s strange to think that in several ways the iPhone 6 Plus is really the best iPhone. Why can’t we have the best iPhone but in a smaller format? This logic didn’t apply to the iPad. Both the Air and the Mini, have the same internals. The logic yet seems to mimic the Retina MacBook Pro, with the 15” having better components than the 13”. Interesting marketing strategy.

Talking about iOS 8, Phil Schiller stressed again that you can still use the iPhone one-handed using corner controls (like in Messages for example).

There won’t be a 32GB version of the iPhone 6. Only 16GB, 64GB and 128GB versions.

The iPhone 6 will start at $199, $299 and $399 with a 2 year contract. The iPhone 6 Plus will go on sale at $299 for the 16GB version, $399 for 64GB, and $499 for 128GB.

I thought I was going to install iOS 8 tonight. Instead we’ll have to wait for September 17th. Too bad.

Payments

Apple introduced a new payment system called Apple Pay. It’s based on NFC (Near Field Communication) technology combined with Touch ID. To pay for goods, the customer will just have to place the iPhone 6 near the check-out point, and place the finger on Touch ID.

It is a secure and private payment system. Neither Apple, nor the merchant will be able to see your credit card information. All data is securely stored in encrypted format on the iPhone.

You will be able to add new cards from your iTunes account and securely store them in Passbook app on your iPhone.

The great insight that Apple has had regarding Apple Pay is about the methodology to pay for goods. Instead of using credit card numbers, each payment will be made using a one time number, different for each device and based on a security code stored on the phone.

If the user loses his/her iPhone, Find My iPhone will be able to block any payment from that device, without the need to call your bank to cancel the credit cards on file. That is great.

Eddy Cue made it clear that Apple Pay was created with privacy in mind. He highlighted that Apple is not in the business of collecting data. They won’t store credit card info.

The new payment system will be available in the US in October with quite a few number of stores on board. Obviously the rest of the world will have to wait. Hopefully Apple Pay won’t be another iTunes Radio, which is waiting to be released in 99% of the world.

One More Thing

The iWatch is actually called Apple Watch. Tim Cook himself introduced it by saying that it is the next chapter in Apple’s history.

It will be built in stainless steel (or gold for the luxury model) and sapphire glass. The Apple Watch is:

  • A health and fitness device
  • A notification system for the iPhone
  • A device to use with Apple Pay
  • Any tool that will be developed using the just released SDK.

It’s worth mentioning that the Apple Watch won’t be a stand-alone device. It needs an iPhone to pair with.

During the introduction, some emphasis was put on a revolutionary new user interface. The Mac had a mouse, the iPod a scroll wheel, the iPhone a multitouch display. In order for Apple to introduce a new product category, it had to find a new input method. The Apple Watch has a digital crown. The crown is used to go both to the home screen and zoom-in/out and choose the different options. It seems a well thought interface and I’d be curious to try it.

The Apple Watch has a taptic system that together with a miniature speaker gives some tactile feedback in the form of wrist vibration to the user whenever he touches a UI element. The sapphire glass also includes a force touch sensor used to determine when the user either taps or press on the glass. Force touching the glass will trigger a contextual menu, making it the new mouse right-click.

As a fitness/health tracking device, the watch is equipped with four different sensors located on the bottom of the watch face, the one that touches your wrist. That surface is also used to charge the device. The technology used to charge the Apple Watch is inductive combined with MagSafe.

The Apple Watch will start at $349 and will come in three variants: Apple Watch, Sport and Apple Watch Edition (in gold!).

Luckily even if you don’t own an iPhone 6 you’ll be able to use this new device nonetheless. Compatibility is guaranteed with the iPhone 5, 5c, 5s, 6 and 6 Plus.

No words about the battery life, but when Apple talked about the charging technology they mentioned night charging. That is a clear indication that the battery life is bad.

My first thought is whether we need a device like this. Beside the fitness and health apps that will really help you to become more physically active, I don’t see the point of it. We already drown in notifications, and taking the iPhone out of my pocket doesn’t really seem that much of an effort.

We’ll get the real answer when the first dedicated apps are released for the Apple Watch. Only then, we’ll understand the potential of this new product category.

Health and Fitness

As mentioned in the earlier section, the Apple Watch will include a Fitness and a Workout apps. These apps will monitor your movements, exercise and how often you stand.

In a way it’s great to have a data about how much we move around. I’ve always found that I do more when I’m encouraged to by an app. For example, OmniFocus tells me every day what I need to do.

If the Apple Watch will be able to encourage me to take on more physical activities with the same level of assertiveness then it’s a device to take into consideration.

Music

U2 played a song of their new album. Then Bono and Tim Cook played a fake negotiation on stage to announce the free download of the new U2 album for all iTunes customers.

Delivering the album to 500 million iTunes users, means that the new U2 album is the single biggest music release ever.

By the way, as I write these notes I’m also trying to access iTunes. I really want to download the new U2 album. Well, I’m getting an error saying “We could not complete your iTunes request, error 504”.

As I said above, tonight Apple showed that they can’t do the cloud right. Yet they are extremely good at building devices.

Tonight’s Apple event

Today it feels like Christmas. It’s the day of another Apple event. This one promises to be massive because of the expectations that Apple executives set a few months ago, and for the venue chosen.

This is what I predict we’re going to see. It’s just a game, so let’s play.

iPhone

Two models of course. A 4.7” and a 5.5”. I am still not sold on these sizes, as I find the current 4” the perfect size to keep your phone in your pocket, or to use it with one hand.

The 5.5” phone will be the top of the line and it’ll cost probably $100.00 more over the same specs 4.7” model. iOS 8 could have been customized to make it more useful on the bigger screen, such as a special landscape mode that allow the user to see separate areas of an app.

During the presentation, I hope Apple clarifies how it solved the problem of using a 4.7” phone with one hand. If it were for me, I’d keep on buying 4” phones for this reason only.

I’d like to see the iPhone promoted as your central hub for payments too. It’d be great if I could only carry the iPhone with me, and leave the debit/credit cards at home.

iOS 8

Tonight we’re going to be busy installing it and update all the other apps. Box.net updated their app last night already.

iTunes Radio

I’m still waiting to see iTunes Radio in Europe. I’d love to see it extended here too, but maybe we’ll have to wait for Beats Music being integrated into iOS.

iWatch

It’ll be stunning, packed with sensors, integrated in Apple’s payment system, HomeKit, and CarPlay. But in all honesty, Apple will have to convince me during the keynote that I need an iWatch.

Feature wise the iWatch will be inferior than many similar Android devices on the market but it will be deeply integrated within Apple ecosystem. This will allow the device to be more useful than the competitors.

I expect Apple to iterate quickly and release new iWatches at a very fast rate, each of them with more functionalities.

My advice is to stay away from any Apple’s Release A product. Wait before buying it.

HomeKit

We’re going to see the introduction of products already integrated into HomeKit, opening the market for easy and seamless home automation. The market is already flooded with many solutions, but the vertical integration that only Apple can achieve is going to change this forever.

For the moment, let’s just relax, have a glass of wine and watch the keynote. And of course tomorrow we’ll start reading the usual Apple is doomed predictions…

Apple Special Event: New vision or…?

GigaOM:

Tuesday’s event will be one of those crossroads events: one that we’ll remember either as a day Apple articulated a new vision for computing that we’ve been waiting for someone to advance — or as a sign it has overreached.

I’m curious to see how far Apple is willing to go with the wearable device. How stylish will it be? How far from current Apple’s core business will that device be?

To be mainstream, the iWatch should be fashionable, but fashion is not something Apple has purposely looked for in its products. That’s a new skill to master and not an easy one for that matter. 

Fashion and good taste are not measurable characteristics, something that a tech company is used to work with all the time. 

Lots of questions. 

Be careful if you receive emails purportedly from Apple

Macworld reports that hackers are trying to capitalize on the customers’ awareness about iCloud security by sending phishing emails:

The rogue emails bear the subject “Pending Authorisation Notification” and claim that the purchase was made from a computer or a device not previously linked to the user’s Apple ID, the Symantec researchers said Friday in a blog post. The emails list an IP (Internet Protocol) address from where the purchase was allegedly initiated and a corresponding physical location of Volgograd, Russia, they said.

The fake messages instruct users to click on a link if they didn’t initiate the purchase. The link leads to a phishing site that masquerades as the Apple ID log-in page and harvests credentials inputted by users for later misuse.

It’s worth reading this Apple KB on how to recognize a phishing email