A vague prediction on sales of the upcoming iPhone(s)

This year’s slump in iPhone sales has been an extensive talking point. But a lot of people — including me — subscribe to the idea that pent-up demand for the bigger sized iPhones last year caused the unusual rise (and fall) of sales. Essentially, the number of iPhones 6 sold were higher than Apple expected, which could be explained by customers waiting it out for ‘the bigger iPhone Apple releases next year’ in 2013-2014 when Apple announced the iPhone 5S.
Unusually high sales last year meant a comparative slump in sales this year.

I think that is what could happen this year too. People are already talking — quite enthusiastically — about next year’s radically overhauled iPhone. Bloomberg reports next year’s iPhone will do away with the home-button. As I see it, that’s pretty much an existential change, at least in theory.

Combine enthusiasm for 2017’s iPhone with an inkling of a lack thereof for this year’s iPhone (assuming the general public may not take well to a ‘basically same design for the third year’) and — in the case of removing the headphone jack, assuming that happens this year — outright ‘hostility’, and it isn’t tough to see some people wanting to wait for 2017’s iPhone. The narrative may be something like, ‘It’ll be an all-new design and audio accessories will be more widespread’.

I hope this doesn’t happen and I’m sure Apple sees this problem and is going to pitch us an iPhone with multi-dimensional innovations and a story that justifies removing the headphone-port1. But if it does, and customers choose to wait another year for the redesigned iPhone, 2017 will see a lot of graphs pointing up again.

  1. I am of the opinion that most new products announced in September — Watch 2 included — are going to support a proprietary wireless standard. It completely makes sense, solves problems across multiple platforms, and, frankly, it’s about time. ↩︎

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Collect your thoughts

Brent Simmons, Dave Wiskus, and John Gruber that’s the order in which their names appear in Vesper’s credits page — the creators of Vesper.
Brent announced on the day-before-yesterday that Vesper is shutting down.

Vesper was — is, at the time of writing — a note-taking app unlike its peers. In an age of filing and formatting, Vesper made up for lack of bullet-point-worthy features with extensive precision and attention to detail. You noticed this in the typeface, the blend of colours, and the subtle animations that exist simply to facilitate your experience and gently carry you along.

My experience with Vesper wasn’t all sunshine and roses. When I installed the app, I couldn’t create an account and emailing for support wasn’t any help. No account meant no syncing. Vesper just sat there on one of my home-screens, buried — perhaps — in one of my folders.

A month or so later, I gave it a go again. This time I created an account and syncing was enabled. What now? Vesper didn’t support split-screen multi-tasking or formatting etc. so I couldn’t use it to write articles. Apple’s Notes already served as the place where I jotted down scrap information I may need later. Vesper, instead, became a place where I penned abstract thoughts — some idea I had while reflecting on the book I just read, the kind of thoughts that run through your head when you’re gazing at lush green mountains or staring at a starry night sky; thoughts that demanded the use of beautiful typography and gentle retracted care.

Sounds pedantic, but it worked for me. I’ve written only a handful of notes in Vesper and it’s still buried in one of my folders. But every time I open it, I feel nice. That’s the reason Vesper commanded the price it did.

I don’t know why Vesper is ending — John’s complete post-mortem is still pending as I write this article — but I think there’s a clue in Brent’s blog-post. The first few lines read, ’This is the first time I’ve ever shut down an app. In the past I’ve sold my apps…’.

Vesper is probably too close to its creators’ hearts to have it run by another organisation. I know it would be for me, if I’d made it.

On that credits page, all the way at the bottom, is a recipe for a Vesper. Someday I’ll make one for myself — shaken, not stirred — and I’ll make a note about it.

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Ming-Chi Kuo suggests a 10.5-inch iPad is coming next year

Eric Slivka (via. John Gruber) writes for MacRumors on Ming-Chi Kuo’s report that a 10.5″ iPad might be released in 2017. I don’t know about the 10.5″ size specifically but the 9.7″ iPad Air 2 is too small for me to be able to type comfortably at a stretch. The 12.9″ Pro is too big and bulky — it loses most of the portability and the ready-to-take-a-note property of the 9.7″ Pro. A 12.9″ Pro with the thickness of the 9.7″ Pro, I suppose, would be the best of both worlds (assuming no new screen sizes).


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Apple enables carrier billing in Switzerland and Taiwan

Jon Russell, TechCrunch:

Carrier billing is an important option for users who either don’t own a credit card or don’t want to tie their plastic to their Apple account. It’s particularly strategic in emerging markets, where credit card ownership is very low. Google, for example, added carrier billing in India this summer, opening the potential for millions Android phone owners to buy mobile content for the first time.

I didn’t know carrier billing came to Android phones in India. The idea seems intuitive though — buy a $1 app and have the dollar billed against your phone-bill.

I recently saw a shop openning under my house that primarily deals in mobile repairs and — specifically — mobile recharges (for pre-paid SIM cards). I thought to myself, ’Why does the owner think this is a viable business in a day when such recharges are done on-line?’. On second thought, I realised, ‘This guy knows more about this line of business than I do. If he didn’t think there were customers that would still like to have their pre-paid balance recharged the old-fashioned way (the shopkeeper asks you to enter your phone number into their phone and you tell them the amount you want recharged1), he wouldn’t have opened the shop.’

In considering Apple’s chances of bringing carrier billing to India, the question arises: Is there enough to be gained in sales of online goods to justify the extra work (especially considering India doesn’t have an actual iBooks Store, the iTunes’ movies collection is crippled and TV Shows just aren’t available)?

  1. Sounds eerie as I type it; the irony isn’t unnoticed. ↩︎

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Block a blocker blocker

Facebook announced a couple of days ago that it would be circumventing ad-blockers and serve ads on their website for the desktop. Adblock Plus has found a way to block Facebook’s blocking of their ads. From their blog post (via. The Loop):

We promised that the open source community would have a solution very soon, and, frankly, they’ve beaten even our own expectations.

Here’s the thing: Blocking ads is not a solution, it’s a fix — a temporary hack. Facebook’s move of disabling ad-blockers isn’t a solution and neither is finding a way to disable Facebook’s workaround. It’s just a cat-and-mouse game. Solving the fundamental problems with ads — opt-in personalisation, transparency of personalisation parameters, better aesthetics, being light-weight, and clear demarcation, to name a few — is the only way to bring rationality to this space. The ‘Who’s the better blocker in town?’ contest perhaps focuses too much on now instead of the long-term.

(AdBlock Plus, and others, are apparently pushing for creating better ads according to a New York Times article.)

An aside: I came across Udacity — an institute that provides online courses — through an ad served by The Deck. I got my current job as an iOS developer through Udacity’s iOS development course. It’s a little ironic that the ad that had the most profound effect on my life doesn’t even track you around the web.

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Upcoming MacBook Pro would likely have TouchID embedded in the power button

Mitchel Broussard, MacRumours:

If placed in the power button, the fingerprint sensor would allow users to wake the MacBook Pro and authenticate its security in one touch, similar to waking up an iPhone by pressing the Home button while simultaneously activating Touch ID.

When I first heard of TouchID coming to the Mac(Book), I argued the trackpad is the ergonomic place to house the sensor. If it’s embedded in the power button, I sure hope it’s the second generation TouchID — the one present in the iPhones 6S. Unlocking your MacBook should be as ‘too fast’ as the iPHones 6S; the alternative — unlocking the MacBook by pressing the power button and holding your finger there for a bit — sounds tedious.

The reason I write ‘Book’ in parentheses in the paragraph above is because I wonder what happens to the iMac (or the Mac Pro or — fingers crossed — the Mac Mini)? Is TouchID placed on the power button on the iMac? Or is it part of a refreshed Magic Keyboard? (I wouldn’t bet on it since the Magic Keyboard is fairly new. If Apple knew a Magic Keyboard-with-TouchID is eminent, they would’ve probably waited it out.) If so, could I just buy a Magic Keyboard-with-TouchID to work with my current Retina MacBook Pro?

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NYT: ‘The Opressive Gospel of ‘Minimalism’’

Kyle Chayka, writing for The New York Times on the practice of minimalism, has a great score of perspective. The article talks about minimalism as a way of living and as the design and technology world thinks of it. An example of the minimalist lifestyle:

Altucher explains that he gave up his permanent home, life goals and negative emotions. He threw away his college diploma, which had been gathering dust in storage. (“I don’t hold onto all the things society tells me to hold onto.”) He now carries nothing but a bag of clothes and a backpack containing a computer, an iPad and a smartphone. “I have zero other possessions,” he writes, and thanks to this, he has found peace as a wandering techno-ascetic — Silicon Valley’s version of Zen monkhood.

Minimalism was popularised as an insult in 1965 — the lack of art in your work was looked down upon. However it clearly isn’t received with negative connotations in contemporary works; some explanation:

“Minimalism can return you to this basic state where you’re perceiving purely,” says David Raskin, a professor of contemporary art history at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “Less is more because you strip away the familiar,” opening an opportunity to see the world without preconceptions. The objects might look mundane, but rather than the plain metal box on the floor, it’s the stark sensory experience the object incites that is the art, no previous knowledge necessary. The artist opens a radical infinity of possibilities. “Minimalism in the 1960s was very much along the lines of taking LSD,” says Miguel de Baca, an associate professor of art history at Lake Forest College.

(Minimalism and LSD — reminds me of a singular institution.)

The article then goes to argue that for some, minimalism might simply be a form of perversion.

I want to return to the practicing minimalism in creativity and, later, to Apple’s products; my theory: removing details from your creative endeavour, limiting axes along which its properties are viewed, perceived, and judged gives you a heightened capacity of targeting your attention to detail. The premise is simple: given limited attention, a higher attention to detail can be achieved by reducing elements that can demand attention.

I can construct this sentence, provide it with some structure, or I can embellish it with abstract and subjective properties with the hope of elating said subjective perception.
The NYT article features an image of a green pea on a marble-white plate set on a yellow surface — minimalism. You instantly see how well-centred the pea is, the texture of the plate is instantly apparent. It seems familiar even when you see it the first time. It’s neat, it doesn’t make you think any further than it has to, you understand how the image is meant to complement (and possibly mock) the practice of minimalism and it rewards your understanding — I know I’m overusing the word — instantly.

This is probably one of the reasons Apple favours minimalism. But to call Apple’s design minimal wouldn’t do it justice. The absence of clutter isn’t minimalism — the omission of details. The absence of clutter is order. Jony Ive articulates this point excellently when introducing iOS 7:

I think there is a profound and enduring beauty in simplicity, in clarity, in efficiency. True simplicity is derived from so much more than just the absence of clutter and ornamentation. It’s about bringing order to complexity.

Apple favours minimalism but its design isn’t just minimal. Elements are hidden, not removed. Think about Safari for iOS — it’s a complex app and yet, at its best, all controls recede away and what you’re left with (apart from the content) is just the name of the website.

Concluding my thoughts, the article does reference Apple through Jobs:

In Silicon Valley, the minimalism fetish can perhaps be traced back to Steve Jobs’s famously austere 1980s apartment (he sat on the floor) and the attendant simplicity of Apple products. Pare down, and you, too, could run a $700 billion company.

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The New Yoker: The rise of artificial unintelligence

Ian Frazier in an excellent article from The New Yorker magazine ’Something in the air’:

No, damn it! I am a human being! Our species does poorly thought-out things, and we must not take a back seat to any machine on that. Remember when I saw Bev at the Shelbys’ New Year’s Eve party and blurted out, in front of everybody, “Bev, how fabulous! You’re pregnant!,” when she had only put on a lot of weight? I defy any mere mass of circuitry to duplicate this deeply human feat. As I recalled the horror on Bev’s face, and on everybody else’s, my entire body contorted in a wince of shame and—I’ll be honest—a certain species-specific pride. Top that, techno-wizards! Other un-smart stunts came back to me: No computer will ever amass enough mainframe cluelessness to cut a big patch from the pair of bluejeans that it is mending rather than from the old bluejeans that it uses for patches. Nor will it ever finish filling out its income-tax return and then mail it, along with the check for the I.R.S., to a distant relative it hasn’t seen in years. You need to be a living, breathing, flesh-and-blood creature to achieve such things.

I calmed myself down, proceeded to the platform, got on the wrong train, and did not notice my mistake until Trenton. The train back to Penn Station would not leave for another hour and a half. I never expect to be as smart as a computer, but, by God, I can be dumber. A hard rain began to fall, and I left the station so I could practice not knowing enough to come in out of it.

You should treat yourself with a subscription to The New Yorker.

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Nicholas Windsor Howard: The Apple Goes Mushy

Nicholas wrote a well-articulated piece titled ‘The Apple Goes Mushy Part I: OS X’s Interface Decline (Introduction)’ (via. The Loop) that critiques the present OS X1 design. There are a lot of points here to back the criticisms, instead of blandly throwing about the ‘…wouldn’t have happened if Jobs was around’ dialog. It’s definitely worth a read.

While reading, I tried really hard to think of reasons why these points don’t hold, how there’s maybe just that one sliver that’s hiding behind the cracks that Nicholas missed out on, something that justifies Apple’s sacrifice of design in favour of a pleasing aesthetic. I couldn’t. Everything is well-argued and backed with solid examples.

But perhaps there’s a draw here — one in Apple’s favour. Apple’s message of yore — pre-iPhone, when their sales were low — was ‘Our computers are easy for anyone to use.’, fit for attracting new (usually Windows) customers to the Mac. Maybe now it’s shifted to ‘Our computers are instantly familiar and easy to use’, appealing instead to users of Apple products (usually an iPhone) and retaining existing Mac customers.

Nicholas says of the removal of color throughout OS X:

They have greyscaled other, more obscure parts of OS X to harmful effect, and seemingly no one has mentioned these design changes. I intend to do so. Note the color removal on the delete button (which should probably depict a trash can and not a “cancel” symbol, but alas…) in the Image Capture utility:
I use Image Capture regularly and find myself fumbling for the delete button ever since Apple turned it from red to grey. Why did they suck the color away? And I wonder again why the color vanished from almost every sidebar in the system: besides Finder, iTunes, iPhoto (before the new Photos application existed), Mail, and Contacts (back when Apple called it Address Book) have all succumbed to wan insanity. The Menu Bar selections in Final Cut Pro X highlight grey, not blue, when your cursor hovers over them. The majority of system applications greet you with vast canvases of nondescript white. Buttons are white. The Menu Bar is white. The Dock application labels are white. The cumulative effect is exactly the same as almost all popular interface designs today: everything is a stark, harsh, flat, alienating plane of white.

I haven’t used OS X pre-Yosemite so I don’t have a practical grasp of the situation. Nicholas doesn’t bring up the Safari UI in the entirety of his piece. But to make my point, I intend to do so. (Safari is probably the most colorless app I’ve used on OS X; every control is a shade of grey.)

It’s true Safari’s UI could be perplexing to a first-timer. It’s visually minimal, perhaps a little too much. But I think Apple knows this. Because while it may be tough for the new-comer, it’s extremely rewarding for the veteran.

Due to the pervasive gray, Safari is minimal, it’s unobtrusive. As Jony Ive says, it recedes to give way to your content. If The Times of India has a shitty design/aesthetic, it’s Times of India’s fault. If The New Yorker seems to you like the aesthetic equivalent of charming grace and you can’t help but revisit it over and over, it’s The New Yorker’s fault. Safari is just your old friend who got you there and deftly stepped side — appearing again only when you need it to.

Again, I can’t be absolutely certain about this but it may just be that Apple is trading in a lean learning curve for a loyal, rewarding user experience, beneficial in the long-run.

  1. I haven’t referred to OS X as macOS throughout my article because the narrative is about OS X El Capitan and prior releases, not macOS Sierra. ↩︎

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Video’s importance was a shared theme in this week’s quarterly earnings report

A lot of big numbers were talked about this week. The billionth iPhone was sold; Dave Pell jokes: ‘Drug cartels wish they had a product that addictive’.
Other numbers were by companies on their quarterly financial reports. Among each narrative was a shared theme — one of considering video as a medium of prime importance. The following are a few excerpts from come New York Times articles.


Amazon plans to nearly double its spending on digital video during the second half of the year as it expands the offerings of its Netflix-like streaming service, he said.


“We’ve become a video-centric platform,” Adam Bain, Twitter’s chief operating officer, said in the company’s conference call on Tuesday. “It is now the No. 1 ad format in terms of revenue on Twitter.”


“We see a world where video is first, with video at the heart of all of our apps and services,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, said in a conference call with investors.

The only company that didn’t talk about video in relation with its growth (the company that already has probably the most lucrative video ads business) is Google:

Mr. Pichai’s lengthy prepared remarks took a long-term perspective, focusing on the importance of machine learning — software that adjusts to the user’s experience. It will be, he promised, the source of the next great innovations after the switch to mobile runs its course.

What’s the upshot — the general consensus — here I wonder? Video is more engaging than static written-form visually supplemented by images? I don’t think so. (Jason Kottke has a great piece on this topic.)
I don’t have a definitive answer, maybe some spontaneous theories but nothing worth penning down.

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’The Typography of ‘Stranger Things’’

Sarah Gless:

The Stranger Things title sequence is pure, unadulterated typographic porn. With television shows opting for more elaborate title sequences (think GOT and True Detective), the opening of Stranger Things is refreshingly simple. It trims the fat and shows only what is necessary to set the mood. More importantly, it proves a lesson I’ve learned time and time again as a designer: you can do a lot with type. […]

The Stranger Things logo probably looks strangely familiar, taking you back to an era when Stephen King reigned supreme. The show’s creators, Matt and Ross Duffer, directly cite King as the inspiration behind the show’s logo, having sent copies of King’s novels to Imaginary Forces, the creative studio behind the title sequence.

I kid you not, when I saw Stranger Things’ preview image on Netflix, I thought it was a TV series based on some Stephen King book I was unaware of. Sure, part of it was the fact that the cover itself — minus the title — has an uncanny similarity with a Stephen King plot, but that typeface carries it a long way; perhaps even pays homage to King. The unspoken effect of an appropriate font is absolutely wonderful.

(Coincidentally, I’m currently reading Misery by Stephen King. It’s an old edition, I managed to get my hands on it at a bookfair. The cover looks quite like the ones featured in the article.)

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NYTimes: ‘Facebook Profit Nearly Triples on Mobile Ad Sales and New Users’

Mike Issac, The New York Times:

Facebook said sales totaled $6.44 billion for the quarter, up 59 percent from a year ago, while profit almost tripled to $2.06 billion.

The rise was driven by strong mobile ad sales, as well as a steady ascent in its number of users. Facebook now counts 1.71 billion monthly active users, up 15 percent from a year ago. And in a sign of how indispensable the social network is to people, the amount of money the company can squeeze from each user globally jumped to $3.82, up from $2.76 a year earlier.

Those are very impressive numbers, especially considering ‘the next billion users’ is generally a steeper hill to climb.

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Xiaomi announces its Mi Notebook Air

Rich McCormick, Circuit Breaker (The Verge):

The Chinese company announced the Mi Notebook Air today, a thin and light Windows laptop that comes in gold or silver, and looks set to compete with Apple's MacBook.

Fine attention to detail — the very first image on the official page looks exactly like the MacBook too; so do the arrow keys. I wonder why they didn’t pull it out of an envelope?

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Amazon Prime comes to India

Madhav Chanchani, The Economic Times:

Amazon Prime in India will offer free one day and two delivery to customers and early access to its exclusive offers. Prime Video, which will include Amazon original TV series and movies besides other Indian and global content, is expected to be launched as a part of this service later.

Currently, Amazon Prime is available for a free 60 day trial after which the annual subscription will be available at a “special introductory price” of Rs 499. The listing pricing of Prime membership is expected at Rs 999, which is much lower as compared to its other market like $99 (Rs 6,633) for US and £96 (Rs 8,691) for UK.

(Funny how well this ties in with my previous post on time-cutting driving sales.)

I would’ve guessed Amazon’s introduction of Prime would prove no good since faster delivery doesn’t seem like an enticing promise for the Indian market.

However, on second thought, Amazon wouldn’t introduce Prime in India were it not for data that proves some demand for fast-deliveries exists. The ‘special introductory price’ of Rs 499 ($7.43) is less than a tenth of what Amazon charges its American customers; Rs 999 ($14.9) is still very cheap, comparatively. But the American Prime offers customers unlimited photo storage, music streaming, and free Kindle book-rentals, none of which is a part of the Indian Prime.

Prime video is the most interesting aspect for me, although I have a feeling their catalog of Western media isn’t going to match its American counterpart.

A word on Amazon’s marketting in India: I think their ad campaign ‘We Indians…’ is pretty smart — blending in with your local customers builds trust and maybe even loyalty.

(It’d be fun asking someone on the street which country they think Amazon is based in.)

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Vox: ‘How free games are designed to make money’

Jason Kottke’s article ‘The behavioural psychology behind freemium mobile games‘ has a collection of sources that talk about the the way freemium games utilise behavioural psychology to earn a quick — sometimes manipulative — buck. Among the collection is a video by Vox that further explores this idea and explains some ways games exploit the phenomenon that people are predisposed to spend representations of money more readily than ‘actual’ money. The more real it seems, the tougher it gets to part with; the video narrates people’s readiness to spend money via cards overpowers their readiness to do so when paying with cash.

The video also illustrates that increasing the distance from you and your ‘actual money’ is the game developers’ decision to substitute your money for gems.

But the part I find absolutely fascinating — which is, granted, probably exploitive — is how unevenly the currencies map. Pricing 100 gems for $1 is an option but if I spend 3200 gems while playing the game I can estimate the amount I’m spending. Instead, game developers price 120 gems for $1. Now when I spend 3200 gems, it’s tougher to instinctively guess how much of my money I’spent. (To further the cause, why not price 137 gems at $1 ? Now you’re really struggling to deduce how much those armour-backed troops just cost you.)

I want to add a word to this discussion, something Vox’s video faintly alludes to — I think the time taken in getting you those gems plays a non-insignificant role in your impulsiveness to spend your money. And I think this applies to other domains of buying and selling goods as well.

So while swiping a card, entering your pin (the whole charade), somewhat masks the $800 you parted with in buying yourself an iPhone, I think a service like Apple Pay would mask your expense further still; due to the fact that the 20 seconds you would spend paying by card has been reduced to 5. Lesser the time spent on a transaction, less cognisant you are of being made to part with your money. Part manipulative, part genius.

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