September 23, 2012
Applesauce: All Things Apple – September 23, 2012
The lines, just like the phone, were even longer than they’ve been in recent years.
One thing which has remained the same, however, are all the common festivities which normally surround an iPhone Launch Day.
We’ve seen iFixit gently tear apart a new i5, dutifully cataloging each internal component.
We’ve seen multiple stories about those die-hard fans who spent days waiting in line in order to be the first on their block with a new Apple smartphone.
We’ve seen the new i5 put through its paces, both technologically speaking and durability-wise.
And, of course, it wouldn’t be an iPhone launch without a glitch here and there which many claim as a sure sign that Apple has fallen from grace and has already jumped the shark, as it were.
Yes, it seems that it’s easy to hate a winner, and as much as it pains this Texas Ranger fan to say it, Apple and its iPhone have become, in many ways, much like the New York Yankees of tech.
It really does pain me to say that.
Just as in years past, iPhone Launch Day was preceded by the launch of a new version of iOS. This year being no exception, Apple issued forth iOS 6 on Wednesday, bringing 200 new features to newer iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches. I’ve yet to find a collective list of each of the 200 new features, of course, and assume this list is not only available exclusively to developers, but would probably be full of mostly boring changes that half of us wouldn’t understand. While everyday users might not know what each of these changes are, they’re likely to feel the effects as soon as they begin using the software.
On the whole, iOS 6 feels like Apple is just giving its users more of a really great thing, tightening up a few corners and adding even more rigidity to an already stellar and stable platform. There’s even a number of subtle, simple changes which are not only fun to notice, but make any existing Apple hardware feel like a great new piece of gear. To begin with, Apple is bringing Siri to the third generation iPad as well as the brand new iPod Touch which were announced during last week’s press event. Though these new music players won’t begin shipping till October, it’s nice to know that once they do, Siri will be working right out of the box. Not only will Siri be in more places at once, she’s also able to do even more, such as find movie times, tell us sports scores and even give directions through the Maps app. Siri’s most helpful feat, however, is her new willingness to hunt down apps which are buried into oblivion in folders and launch them with the sound of your voice. She’s not yet able to do the task I’ve been asking her for over a year: “Siri, play my Calexico Spotify station, dammit!” (forgive my impatience, I’ve been asking for over a year…) I guess I could let it slide…she has been willing to send off my Tweets and Facebook messages lately, which is awfully kind of her.
A few more tricks: Siri can now take a picture, no doubt out of frustration for the millions of times she was asked in the first few weeks of her existence. Now, when you ask Siri for directions somewhere, she launches straight into navigation mode, rather than search for the location, then ask you to pick the route you want, only to leave you with a list of directions. Finally, and forgive me for testing this, but when Siri is asked about the late Steve Jobs, she provides a link to the Steve Jobs memorial site on Apple.com. A very thoughtful tribute, I think. Someone at Apple clearly thought she’d be asked about Jobs, and clearly, they were right.
iOS 6 also delivers Passbook, Apple’s supposed answer to NFC and mobile payments, as well as a centralized location for boarding passes and movie tickets. Passbook, when shown off at this year’s WWDC and last week’s event, looks very cool and incredibly handy. Yet, to this disappointment of many, there aren’t many apps written for it yet. When you first launch Passbook, (as many did for the first time within minutes of downloading the newest OS) you’re given a familiar option to surf on over to the App store to download compatible apps, very similar to how Newsstand behaves when you first open it. At the time of this writing, there are 11 Passbook-compatible apps, including American Airlines, Fandango, Target and MLB.com At Bat. When you buy a ticket or load a store card with cash in one of these apps, Passbook is populated with that information and stores a virtual representation of these cards and tickets.
Passbook gets a little screwier. First, Passbook doesn’t work on the iPad, for what I suppose is the obvious reason that people won’t likely carry their iPad to the counter to buy a cup of coffee and would rather use the pocketable iPhone. Of course, I also never thought I’d see the day when people tried to use their iPad as a video camera, either, so clearly I’m wrong often. Furthermore, Passbook doesn’t only work with apps. You can add coupons and even create your own passes with any coupon code you find on the web. Once you find a coupon you want to use, you can download it, which will tuck it away safely in Passbook. At present, there are a few utilities available to create your own passes, either at pask.it or passfu.com, however we’ll likely begin seeing even more Passbook generated passes in the very new future. After all, Apple’s already sold more than 2 million iPhone 5s, and iOS 6 is rapidly approaching crazy high adoption rate. Businesses will want to make these available to their Apple-toting customers soon.
Then, there’s Maps.
For every iPhone or iOS release, there is one feature which the public latches onto and claims as Apple’s biggest failure yet. Last year, Siri didn’t work quite right at launch and continues to give people trouble today. The year before, a few users found that when they blocked off the antenna reception with their big, fleshy hands, they would lose connection. The year before, the iPhone 3GS looked just like the 3G. There’s an issue every year. This year, it’s Apple’s Maps which is in charge of collecting the golf balls at the media’s private driving range. There are spots on Apple’s maps which look plain goofy. There are spots where the images aren’t pieced together right. Maps has even melted roads, rendered flat places to look like hillsides and even placed several areas back a few decades, painting their towns in black and white. Yes, Apple’s Maps has the appearance of a rushed product, something which was pushed out prematurely and not yet ready for primetime. However, while Maps looks sloppy, there’s a larger issue at hand that not many are paying attention to. The lack of public transit routes is, in my opinion, much worse than the fact that some satellite images don’t line up straight. In real world use, Apple’s Maps app might end up taking you a little farther down the road than you expected. If you look up your destination using Flyover or 3D mode, you might see something peculiar. Doesn’t Google also have their own little idiosyncrasies after all these years of trying to perfect their maps?
Do they not still suggest one walk on water to get from Alicante to Valencia in Spain? Was there not a lawsuit brought against Google for telling a woman to walk onto the highway to arrive at her destination? The point is, Apple’s Maps are hardly dangerous and not the only service without fault. Just a few weeks ago some friends of mine and I met at a bar outside of town. I used Waze and arrived at the correct location right on time. My buddies used Google Maps on their iPhones and each overshot the destination by 5 miles. While Apple works out the kinks, there may be similar misadventures to the ones we’re used to having with Google. Apple even issued a statement asking for patience, saying: “We are continuously improving it, and as Maps is a cloud-based solution, the more people use it, the better it will get. We’re also working with developers to integrate some of the amazing transit apps in the App Store into iOS Maps.” In time, Maps will get better. Apple made a mistake by releasing such a buggy product, but they aren’t the only ones with problems in their software. The look and accuracy of Maps will indeed improve. However, the more important issue here, and the issue Apple needs to fix as soon as possible, is the absence of transit routes, a much more applicable feature than flying over an Irish field and finding an airport where one has never existed. Despite this fiasco, millions of people are still upgrading to iOS 6 with the quickness, even faster than upgraded to iOS 5. New data from analytics company shows that as many as 6.3 million people have already switched to the newest OS, which hasn’t even been available for a week yet. According to the same analysts, these Apple users are updating 122% faster than last year when iOS 5 was made available. Even if people are switching for no other reason than to provide even more content for The Amazing iOS 6 Maps Tumblr, they’re still upgrading and will find the other changes a welcome improvement, I’m sure of it. This is, of course, in stark comparison to the Android world. While some users never know if they’ll get the latest from Google, it’s always a safe bet that if you’ve bought an Apple device in the last 3 years, you’ll be able to take advantage of the latest software. This software shouldn’t be overlooked, either. The i5, for instance, packs some really great hardware: A6 chip, LTE radios and a large, beautiful screen. While other Android handsets easily out-spec the i5, it’s the software which makes this phone powerful, incredibly stable and very zippy. Each year, Apple makes more improvements to this software, enabling those older devices to, in a very real sense, get better with age. That is, unless you have an original iPad. These first gen tablets don’t get the iOS 6 love, likely due to their low memory. However, as pointed out by Marco Arment on the latest episode of his Build and Analyze podcast with Dan Benjamin, the best option for these first gen iPad owners who want to get in on the iOS 6 action is to wait until the rumored iPad Mini is released, then sell the iPad to buy the new Mini. After all, a 16GB WiFi only iPad in great condition is going for $125 right now on Gazelle.com. The new Mini is said to start anywhere from $199-$299. Not a bad idea.
Introducing: The iPhone 5
Then there’s the iPhone 5. People began lining up earlier this week to be one of the first to own the new best-selling smartphone. By Gene Munster’s estimations, the lines for this year’s iPhone were 83% longer than the lines for last year’s 4S. And it’s true. There weren’t near the lines last year as there were this year, suggesting at the time that maybe people had come to their senses and preferred instead to just pre-order their phone like a sensible human being. Yet, there must have been something to excite these customers and entice them to wait for days or wake up incredibly early Friday morning just to wait in line and throw $300 bucks at glass cubes everywhere. Munster also predicts Apple will sell as many as 8 million iPhones during opening weekend alone. Given the long lines and diminishing stock in some areas, (the 2 million phones sold in 24 hours also helps a bit) Munster might be on to something. It’s likely we’ll never hear how many phones were sold this weekend, unless of course the number is so astronomically high that Apple can’t help themselves but do a little back-patting. Another popular Apple analyst has an interesting piece of data about which iPhone these tired and unwashed customers are buying. When the iPhone 4 was first announced, it was shown off at the end in both black and white options. And those bumpers, too.
The black iPhone 4 was available immediately, with the white one available a little later. According to Apple, the white model was a “challenge to manufacture.” The white iPhone proved to be a tall tale, something that some people swore to have seen with their own eyes, but probably didn’t exist. This white iPhone was ever shipped until Verizon began to offer their first iPhone in April, 2011. Then, when the near identical 4S was released, it seemed like Apple took extra care to show off this white model, with nearly every screen shot of Siri being shown on a white iPhone. While these lighter phones had been available for months, the white iPhone somehow became indicative of the “new” iPhone, especially since the two phones were nearly impossible to distinguish from one another. This year, Apple gave mostly equal play to both black and white iPhones, with maybe a little more favor towards black. Is it some sort of subliminal, sub-conscious switch in the public’s mind that made the majority of new iPhone buyers pick black over white? According to Brian White, (the same guy who said Apple’s market cap could reach $1,001 by April 2013) 56% of new iPhone 5 buyers are picking black over white. This phone is not easily mistaken for the iPhone 4S, so is it likely we’re still looking for a way to show off that we do, as a matter of fact, have THE NEW ONE, as opposed to some old piece of garbage? For better or worse, one of the best things about new Apple gear is the satisfaction of having THE NEW ONE before anyone else (hence the lines.) White, by the way, also found out that more people were leaving Nokia and HTC for the iPhone than any other maker.
Yes, the new iPhone 5 looks to be a huge success after only a few days of its availability. We’ll get solid answers either this week or at Apple’s next quarterly earnings report, but despite the media crying “disappointment,” this new iPhone will continue to be the one to beat in the foreseeable future.
Image Credit: Photos.com