September 16, 2012

Applesauce: All Things Apple – September 16, 2012

This week was filled with iPhone, a good thing if you’re inclined to be a fan.

Apple’s Wednesday announcement gave us a new iPhone 5 which looks everything like we thought it would, new iPod models which looked pretty close to how we thought they would, and a brand new version of iTunes 11, which we knew even less about.

So, for the second week in a row, let’s take some time to think through these announcements, together, as one happy family.

Is it just me, or does it smell like Applesauce in here?


Oh God, You Whiners.

My father, a bright man who loves a good tune, has a very good theory about music.

When I was an angry teenager with plenty of emotions and feelings and an intense drive to share them with anyone within earshot, I once told my father that I thought a certain band “sucked” because “All their music sounds the same.”

My father, no doubt 3 seconds from giving me a good, fatherly wallop (but you know, not in that mean way) took a sip from his coffee and said. “You know, I have a theory. People are more likely to say a bands’ music sounds the same if they already don’t like the band. If they don’t understand the band, the music just sounds the same to them.”

Every year, with every iPhone, there’s a general roar from the mass of people who “dislike” Apple or Apple’s products as they throw their hands up in exhaustion, dumbfounded that the world has “fallen” for Apple’s “hype machine” once more.

The first iPhone didn’t have third-party app support or 3G. (fair criticisms…)

The iPhone 3G fixed both of these problems, but you still couldn’t cut and paste or send an MMS message.

The iPhone 3GS fixed both of these, but was panned because it looked the same as the iPhone 3G.

The iPhone 4 looked different, but OH MY GOD did you hear about that antenna? Why would anyone buy that?!

The iPhone 4S fixed that, but people complained that it looked the same, there weren’t ENOUGH improvements to make it interesting, and Siri didn’t work right. Besides, everyone should’ve known Apple wasn’t the first to have voice controls.



So here we are, still living in the afterglow of the latest iPhone announcement, and there are still complaints from people who have yet to touch the device about a phone they know little about.

This guy even began criticizing the iPhone 5 a day before it was even announced. To make matters worse, he even decided to pull Steve Jobs into the article a few times, you know, just to remind everyone.

To these critics, every iPhone sounds the same to them. These critics hear a “hype machine” (not sure yet what exactly that is, but I’m not here to judge) and an overtone of disappointment. As a matter of fact, I’d be willing to bet this is one of the most often used words in the days following an iPhone announcement:


Disappointment that the phone looks the same (as in the case of any S device)

Disappointment that Apple has yet to roll out NFC.

Disappointment in the lack of an external memory card slot

(By the way, kiddos…if you’re expecting this, please stop holding your breath. You’re turning an awful shade of purple…)

Then there’re those naysayers who second guess Apple every step of the way, only to vent their frustration after an event that Apple didn’t announce something “truly” revolutionary, like a screen that strokes them back or an absolutely transparent phone or even a phone with crazy-advanced personal assistant functionality which does their jobs for them.



It All Sounds the Same

The iPhone, for one reason or another, does not appeal to these critics, and therefore, everything sounds the same. If Apple did release something with the features this group has been asking for, perhaps their ears would perk up a bit. This isn’t to say these critics aren’t justified in their opinions or that everyone should love the iPhone. I know people who truly enjoy Android, and they have their reasons. And that’s fine.

The trouble comes when the iPhone (or anything Apple-produced) is immediately dismissed for no other reason than it comes from Cupertino.


No Alarms and No Surprises

In fairness, I can’t skip past the fact that we in the tech press (and those that love us) “knew” everything that was to be announced. As far as the iPhone portion of the announcement is concerned, the only areas in which we were “surprised” (and I use the term loosely) were in the details. We knew the camera and radios would be faster, but we didn’t know anything about the sapphire crystal lens or the 2.4GHz and 5GHz 802.11 n dual band Wi-Fi.

So were these “disappointed” people merely upset that they weren’t surprised? Were they expecting Apple to come out on top even as they were predicting them to fall to the bottom?

We had been seeing images for many months of the exact same phone which was revealed on Wednesday. We heard about the new dock connector as early as May, and the in-cell technology as early as April.

And yet, during the press event, it didn’t seem to bother Apple at all that their was a giant, iPhone 5 shaped elephant in the room. By comparison, during the 2010 iPhone 4 announcement, Steve Jobs playfully said, “Stop me if you’ve seen this…” when he revealed the iPhone 4 which had been plastered all over the world’s news sites months earlier.

This year, Cook and Crew instead took great care to drive one point home: This new iPhone wasn’t about dropping some new, high falutin’ tech on the world’s toes, it was about tweaking and tightening an already rigid platform, all while making improvements to be felt on this tighter chassis. Every report I’ve read from the press area after the event followed the same pattern: “It’s deceptively small and thin” all while being “incredibly fast.” Just how fast? Take a look at this video from the good folks at Anandtech, and pay careful attention to how quickly the camera captures shots, and how easily the reviewer can zip around maps in 3D mode.

These are not trivial processes for the SoC. Writing images to memory and especially rendering the 3D data can tax the processor, and the fact that the iPhone 5 can do this so quickly only proves that the tight integration of hardware and software has been fine tuned over the past 6 years to achieve maximum performance in a consistent way.

So, when reviewers and commenters make statements like “It’s ONLY twice as fast” or “It’s ONLY dual-core,” they fail to take into consideration the fact that Apple works with the entire package, and this package has been improved, even if only incrementally so, to deliver a phone that I would wager to guess continues to top the charts in terms of performance and overall sales.



Who Pre-orders A New iPhone?

It’s interesting that many have tried to pan the iPhone as being “behind the curve” due to its lack of NFC, especially given that the phone, as a whole, appears to be a dynamite package.

It’s also interesting to note the sweeping, cavernous gap between tech writers’ thoughts on the iPhone and the consumers’ thoughts on the same product. Whereas many in the tech press chided Apple for this “evolutionary” product instead of releasing a “revolutionary” one instead, consumers have obviously eaten it up, depleting Apple’s original pre-order stock in less than an hour.

Let’s stop here for a second.

Who pre-orders a new iPhone?

Last year, pre-orders for the iPhone 4S were sold out in less than a day. 22 hours after the iPhone 4S became available for pre-order, Apple had to push back their ship date by 2 weeks.

Pre-orders for the 4S began at 12:01 PST, meaning much of the US was up at 2 or even 3AM just to crawl to their computers or existing iOS devices to fight the digital crowds to ensure they were one of the first in the world to have Apple’s latest.

This year, I imagine many of the same people, and possibly many many others, did the same thing.

Either they did as I had done Thursday evening and visited my local watering hole to kill some time while I waited anxiously for 2:01 AM CST to arrive, or they went to bed like a sane human being, then woke up at 2 or 3 AM, like some sort of animal, fighting for the right to drop their bank accounts by 200 to 400 dollars.

I know it’s already been said, but let me say it again.

Apple sold out of pre-order stock in one hour.

At midnight.

On a Thursday/Friday.

Yes, the iPhone is a terrible disappointment.

And you know what? I have this sneaking suspicion that a great percentage of these pre-orderers were either members of the tech press or members of their audience.

Which means, in my opinion, despite the gospel of Anti-Apple that’s been preached across the blogs and forums boards across this land, for some reason, we can’t stay away from the iPhone.

Normal human beings, sane human beings, don’t leave their spouses in bed in the middle of the night to click a few buttons and spend hundreds of dollars.

Human beings with proper heads on their shoulders are fine with waiting for the initial blitz to settle before picking one up themselves.

These are the normal customers, the customers who might read a tech blog when considering such a purchase.

So who knows? Maybe, when normal, sane people start buying the iPhone we’ll be able to tell if it truly is a disappointment or not.



The iPod lives

Finally, what can be said of these new iPods? As I followed along with the live blogs and commentary, completely ensconced in that special, lonely brand of nerdery, I was a little amazed (and partly relieved) that Tim Cook handed things off to Schiller so quickly, and that Schiller got straight to work on the iPhone 5. By the time Schiller and Forstall had completed their bits, it had been about an hour after the whole thing started. Tim Cook took the stage at 1 hour and I had wondered if they were done. And they kept going, announcing 2 newly redesigned iPod models, a second announcement which took the better half of the second hour, minus that brief intermission for iTunes 11. Clearly iPod runs deep in Apple’s heritage, therefore it makes sense that they would spend plenty of time introducing these new models, but I didn’t expect them to cap off the show with a new iPod Nano and Touch, making these players the last impression of the event.

First, Greg Joswiak introduced the newly redesigned Nano, proof positive that either Apple has no idea what to do with this product in terms of design or that this, instead, is the first product new-hires are allowed to work on. The latest Nano, due out sometime in “October,” is the 7th generation, and no generation looks exactly the same. In fact, it’s the 4th and 5th generations which most closely resemble one another, but even then the 5th generation added a camera and a slightly larger screen. In looking over the past generations, it seems Apple prefers, if only slightly, the taller, thinner body style, and I can’t say I disagree. This latest, 7th generation is only a slight nod to this taller style and actually resembles the iPod Minis of yore more than previous Nano styles. The new Nanos, as well as the improvements in the new Touch are but another way for Apple to gently nudge us towards a wireless world. Now with Bluetooth in the Touch and the Nano, I’m picking up the hint that Apple would rather us stream our music rather than plug it in or dock it somewhere, but that’s just me.

And what of these iPod Touch models? Of course, they got the 4-inch screen treatment as well as support for Bluetooth 4.0. The iPhone sibling also got a “loop,” or a place to add a wristband on the back, which is cute. In the same way that many compared the first generation iPad to a “big iPod Touch,” it seems these new Touch models are stirring up another question: Could the iPod Touch be a smaller iPad Mini? In some ways, these 5th generation Touch models are pretty close. They do share a processor with the iPad 2 and cameras which compare with the third generation iPad. These new Touch models also get similar performance from their batteries as the iPads as well as the same 3 axis gyros and accelerometer as the recent iPads and iPhones. In other words, these new iPod Touch models have been dramatically improved, so much so that if Apple had called it the iPad Mini, I think the only complaint people would have had is the fact that it’s just a 4-inch screen. The price of the new Touches is also a point of speculation. Many expect Apple to hit a $249 to $299 price point with these rumored iPad Minis: A 32GB 5th generation iPod Touch is $299. While a customer who goes into an Apple store with iPod Touch on the brain might not be persuaded to buy a 7.85-inch iPad Mini, the fact that there is so much overlap in prices is, well…interesting.

And about that iPad Mini? Apple sure did leave a lot of room open in the month of October. A new iTunes 11 ships sometime in October, along with these new iPod models. Apparently, something is happening in October, and if the rumor mill for the iPhone 5 has taught us anything, an October iPad Mini announcement seems like a damn good bet.

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