I appreciate that this topic has zero significance in comparison to any of the genuinely terrible things that have been happening in the world in 2014. But if we’re going to talk about it, let’s talk about it right, and this analysis is way off the mark.
No one is angry about receiving a gift. People are offended by the way the gift was given: without warning or fanfare, it just appeared in your iTunes library.
I carried a 6” phone for almost 2 weeks. It was a Nokia 1520, the largest Windows Phone currently available, running a beta of Windows Phone 8.1.
It didn’t suck because of the software. The Windows Phone OS is actually wonderful, and although there’s a dearth of applications, the built in suite of apps works quite well, and look great to boot.
It also didn’t suck because of the hardware itself. The Nokia 1520 is very fast, has an amazing camera that shoots RAW, and is thin and comfortable to hold.1 And that screen, my lord. Web browsing felt more like using an iPad than using a phone – that is to say, it felt wonderful. Likewise for watching any sort of video, or viewing photos.
It sucked because it was just too big to carry. It didn’t fit in the front pocket of my jeans, and it didn’t fit in the back pocket of my jeans. (Even if it would have, I’d be wary of sitting on it, and having it flex so much that the screen might break.) It didn’t fit in any pocket that was designed for “cell phone use”, and it didn’t fit in any of my friends’ pockets. My friends mocked me. My family was confused.
I’ll probably still buy a 5.5” iPhone, though.
If the rumours are true and the “iPhone 6 Plus” has a better camera, and/or a larger storage capacity, then I will put up with the inconvenience of carrying it, because all the other details of carrying a huge phone make it worthwhile.
This is a bigger deal than it may seem at first. Natural language processing and context-aware, “assistant”-like software is becoming truly impressive and seems to have a bright future ahead of it.
Google Now is one of the best products Google has outside of search, and it competes directly with Siri. Baking it right into Chrome now is sure to bring a lot more users on board.
With this move, you can expect Siri to replace, or at least augment, Spotlight in Mavericks + 1. Assuming it can handle requests right now.
While it’s one of the driest parts of any high school career, I can’t overstate the importance of math class. Over the past few years, my job has been becoming more and more about implementing incredible visual designs, and as such, has required more and more raw math skill.
From simple custom layouts to complex 3D transforms, animation curves and now – in iOS 7 – collision physics1, you cannot “fake it until you make it” when implementing custom interfaces. Trial and error is impossible when your problem space is infinite, and good API will only take you so far. The core concepts that are taught in high school algebra, geometry, trigonometry, physics, and calculus are used nearly every day in the world of interface design and development.
Software isn’t a shrinking field, and interfaces aren’t getting less visual. If your career path veers anywhere towards the technical, I urge you to take great care in your math studies – as irrelevant as the homework may seem. I promise you that sooner or later, it will be worth your time.
You could still do collision physics in iOS 6.0 and prior, you just needed to do much more math yourself. ↩
It’s the time of year when many people ask me if I can help them install the new beta version of iOS on their phone. I am usually reluctant to help, and with iOS being more popular than ever, I would like to make clear exactly why you (as a non-developer) should never upgrade your phone to a beta OS.
1. Your apps will break.
iOS 7.0 brings radical changes to both the user interface, and the under-the-hood developer APIs. The developer of your favorite app probably heard about iOS 7.0 the same time you did, if not an hour or two before. They haven’t even had the chance to review these API changes, yet alone fix bugs or crashes that have been caused by them. The changes are so major that it’s unlikely any app will work as well as it did on iOS 6.0.
If you rely or even just enjoy using 3rd party apps, you’re likely to have an extremely bad time on the iOS 7.0 beta.
2. Your phone will crash and bugs will bite.
Aside from 3rd-party apps, Apple apps and iOS 7.0 as a whole are just not yet completely implemented. Multitasking in particular has seen major changes, which come with major bugs that can, and do, cause the entire system to be brought down. Having your phone reboot in your palm for seemingly no reason, when you’re trying to accomplish some task, is no fun.
Further, if you do manage to avoid crashers, you’ll still hit bugs in other core apps like Phone, Messages, or Mail. Crazy things can and do happen: music starts playing during a phone call, an iMessage gets sent to the wrong person (or not sent at all), or none of your email gets displayed.
It’s amazing how a device you love so much can become a device you want to throw through a wall because of a few bad bugs.
3. There’s no going back.
Downgrading iOS is simply unsupported. Although there are hacks out there which make it possible in some situations, certain iPhone internals like the baseband processor (which handles talking to the cell networks) simply cannot be reverted, and may experience bugs when trying to interact with a mismatched OS.
There is no “trial mode” when it comes to beta operating systems.
4. You will lose data.
It’s not uncommon for beta software to include a time bomb, which deactivates the product after a certain amount of time. This is to force the testers to upgrade to newer versions, so that developers don’t need to continue to field bug reports from old, known-broken versions.
If you don’t upgrade to every new beta release vigilantly, you risk hitting one of these time bombs and losing data. Even if you do keep up-to-date, there’s still major risks: Since it’s beta software, your backups could become corrupted, or lost entirely.
You may be lucky and lose little to nothing, but remember that your phone holds important memories. Photos, videos, messages, etc. Is it really worth it to risk these things?
5. No one is going to help you.
No developer is yet ready to support iOS 7.0, for reasons listed above. They may laugh at you if you email them with complaints. Apple is also not yet ready to support iOS 7.0 either, so taking your phone to a genius bar would be just as fruitless, even if the issue isn’t iOS 7.0 related. As a non-developer, you will be ignored or possibly even berated on developer forums.
Because new updates to beta software are released to testers at regular intervals, there’s rarely going to be advice that is better than “file a bug and wait for the next update.”
Installing iOS 7.0 is akin to trading in your reliable BMW for a Ferrari with engine problems. It sounds sexy at first — who could resist a Ferrari? But after missing appointments and not even being able to run a simple errand, soon you’ll realize it isn’t worth the trouble. If you can’t use your product for its intended purpose, what good is it?
Fortunately, there is hope. iOS 7.0 will be released when it’s ready. If history is any indication, you’ll get it for free in just a few months, and you won’t have to deal with most of the issues listed above.
Patience is a virtue.
"And in the absence of facts, myth rushes in, the kudzu of history." ― Stacy Schiff
For the first time in about 8 years1, Apple has gone nearly 2 full quarters without making any new product announcements. They aren’t expected to make any until WWDC, another 6 weeks away. This is not to say they haven’t been busy — a quick glance at their press releases show lots of progress. Inroads are being made in China, a small processor bump for the MacBook Pro here, a capacity increase for the iPad there. On yesterday’s Q2 earnings conference call, Tim Cook was as chipper as ever about Apple’s performance and product pipeline, but was careful about setting expectations: “We have some really great stuff coming in the fall and across all of 2014.”
It seems the executive re-org at Apple has caused some product “bus bunching”: more products are being delayed and forced to launch alongside one another, rather than spaced out over the course of the year.
Given these known knowns, here’s what I think the product roadmap will look like for the rest of year:
Haswell MacBook Air: It’s unlikely the MacBook Air will get a Retina display this year, as the battery draw and graphics performance just don’t seem to be there yet. Performance is hard enough on the MacBook Pros and “Smaller and Lighter” is the motto of the MacBook Air product line, so I can’t see Apple doing anything which would add size or weight. Intel’s new Haswell chips will start to become available in June, and they would make a good fit for an incremental update.
New, Haswell (Xeon E3) Mac Pro: “Finally.” Tim Cook himself claimed a new Mac Pro was coming “Later in 2013” back in summer of 2012. A redesigned case is possible, but it’s questionable whether or not Apple would dedicate the resources necessary for that, especially given the state of the desktop PC market.
I doubt these machines would ship until July, given the constraints of the new processor ramp. Both computers wouldn’t be big enough updates to warrant major press coverage or ad campaigns, hence Cook’s downplay. However, both these machines are developers favorites, and would likely be well received at WWDC alongside the expected previews of iOS 7 and OS X 10.9.
Haswell MacBook Pro: Not much more to add here, just a healthy bump to the MacBook Pro line. Depending on the pricing of the MacBook Air, the non-Retina version may be dropped entirely. It already confuses the product line and isn’t well differentiated over the Macbook Air.
New iPad 5: Featuring a next-gen A7X CPU and the case redesign rumored to look more like the iPad mini.
iPad mini 2: The big wildcard here is whether or not it will get a Retina display. John Gruber thinks not due to margin constraints, but I’m still optimistic. If not Retina, what would be the reason to upgrade? A faster processor and what else? Colors, perhaps.
iPhone 5S and Updated iPod touch: Likely a "tick" upgrade, as Samsung certainly hasn’t brought it this year. The rumored fingerprint sensor technology sounds interesting, but I’m not sure how it would play out.
iPhone 5/5S Dock: Finally.
"New Product Categories"
The iWatch is nonsense. 100 product designers, really? Watches are jewelry, they are fashion accessories, and as such they change quickly with the times. People who are willing to wear watches have already chosen one they love, and possibly spent a lot on it.
The iTV is also nonsense. Marco did a good job debunking it two years ago and his post remains accurate. In short, it’s too operationally complex to produce, is too difficult to sell in an already heavily commoditized market, has low margins, and low re-purchasability.
What isn’t nonsense is the emerging market of other types of wearable computing. Think Nike FuelBand, Jawbone Up, and FitBit. While these products are all currently centered around health metrics, there’s no reason they have to be. With a small display you could show information similar to what a smart watch provides: who’s calling, who a text message is from, what time it is, etc. But it could do so much more. With gyros, pedometers, and altimeters it could be a generalized tracking device. With NFC it could be a payment device. With other sensors it could be an interface device. It could exist not to replace your watch, but to live alongside it, maybe on the other arm.
The concept of wearable computing is certainly attractive, and I trust Apple to be more tactful in its design than some other companies.
2014 and Beyond
Regardless of what this “new product category” is, it seems unlikely to launch in 2013. It would make much more sense to launch in March or April of 2014, and give Apple back its spring / summer / fall product launch cycles.
It’s too early to speculate on what lies ahead in 2014 for all other product lines – We need to wait and see what happens this year.
Apple has always been a product company, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that the software is what makes the hardware so lovable. With the new leadership, iOS 7 and OS X 10.9 are sure to bring some very interesting changes. So in my opinion, the most exciting news is only weeks away.
Thanks to Christopher Clarko for reviewing a draft of this.
As far as I can tell, the last time this happened was in 2005: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Apple_Inc._products#2010s ↩
The word “cloud” is being thrown around in the technology industry with a lot of carelessness and marketing hyperbole, so it has quite a loose meaning these days. In the interest of clarity, I’d like to describe what I mean when I say “cloud” or “cloud services”: In this instance, I’m referring to user-facing data storage and sync platforms. For example, iCloud, Dropbox, Google Gmail/Cal/Drive, etc. What I’m NOT referring to is “cloud computing” platforms such as Amazon EC2, Joyent, or Rackspace Cloud. With that out of the way, let’s continue.
Facebook is set to make some kind of Android-related announcement next week, ostensibly a Facebook-branded phone. The company, for all its flaws, remains a very popular cloud platform, although its users don’t often think of it as such. People (a lot of people) use it not only as a living address book, but also for messaging, blogging, photo sharing, and event planning. There are even apps – but to be fair, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any really popular ones other than spammy news apps or games.1 For people who don’t have a problem with the blatant privacy issues, it’s an attractive alternative to the Apple and Google ecosystems.
With any given cloud service, it’s important to understand that the more data you put into it, the more useful it becomes. When you get a new phone or laptop, how quickly you sign in to iCloud or Dropbox is probably a good barometer of how much data you’ve got in there.
With Facebook, most of its users have been using it for so long that they don’t even realize how much data it’s hosting for them. While this may not be a desirable situation for the user, it certainly is for Facebook.
Facebook is one of the few companies, perhaps the only company, who can offer an extremely compelling out-of-box experience for new phone buyers. Turn on, sign in to your Facebook account, and the device comes alive: All of your friends, conversations, photos, and calendars appear and just work.
Besides being able to provide a great experience, there are other things pushing Facebook to have their own phone. The competitive handset market is creating an opening for another viable OS, as no one except Apple or Samsung is making much money, and there are many other players looking for options. Partnering with HTC makes the most sense, as HTC’s industrial design has typically been well regarded, and the company is undoubtedly looking for a new edge against its rivals.
Further, advertisements (which, let’s not forget, is what Facebook’s real business is about) are going mobile quite quickly. Facebook’s own quarterly earnings confirm this, as its mobile ad revenue increased from 14% in 2012 Q3 to 23% in 2012 Q4. Having deeper hooks into a mobile phone OS would definitely allow Facebook to collect more data, better target ads, and grow this revenue even more.
There are open questions. Given Facebook’s tremendous talent pool, building an entire OS isn’t out of the question – but is it worth it? Why bother when Google has already done the heavy lifting? If you’re going to rebuild the entire user-facing layer, why mention Android in your invitation at all? My guess is they will try to leverage the Android app ecosystem, much in the same way Amazon has done with the Kindle Fire.
The Facebook Phone has been rumored for some time, and with good and obvious reason. Whether this announcement is just a suite of Android applications, an Android “skin”, or something else entirely, we’ll find out soon. But when it comes to Facebook’s mobile future, the writing is on the wall.
The same could be argued of iOS, where games consistently dominate the top apps lists. I don’t think that’s true though: Apple goes out of it’s way to promote or feature non-game apps, many of which become (or already were) hits. ↩
everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you (via Steve Jobs: The Most Important Thing)
I had never heard this line from Steve before. Damn, does it ever make me miss him.
Have you ever had lunch with someone who puts their smartphone on the table, face up, next to their silverware? When the phone lights up to display an alert – any alert – their eyes break from yours and their attention is stolen by the device. It doesn’t matter if it’s an urgent call or just their turn at Letterpress, this person has made a statement: In this moment, I am not willing to give you my full attention and I’m going to keep myself open to distraction.
If you were doing this during a first date, there is no way you’d get a second.
One of my questions about Google Glass seems to have been answered by Joshua Topolsky’s recent hands-on experience with the product. Can people see you looking at the Glass screen?
It’s not covered by the article so I could be wrong, but the direction of Joshua’s eyes in that photo seem to show the answer. With a glance like that, a person sitting across the table from you would have no problem noticing that you were checking your email instead of listening to them.
Glass has a mission to get “out of your way when you’re not interacting with technology”. I don’t understand how moving the location of the screen from the table to your face makes an interruption less rude.
I have high hopes for the future of wearable technology. I love my Fitbit. An Apple “smartwatch” sounds amazing. I think the anxiety caused by the alien-like aesthetic of Google Glass will disappear over time. But it’s impossible, at least with current technology, to engineer around human impoliteness.
Thanks to Chris Clark for his feedback on drafts of this post.
Question about the “Apple would never…” religion
The only thing we’ll never do is make a crappy product. That’s the only religion we have… we must do something great. Something bold, something ambitious. Something great for the customers, and we sweat all of the details.