Only iPhones still excite people

Zach Epstein writing a column for BGR:

The iPhone was sleek, elegant and cool. There was simply nothing else like it… but that wouldn’t be the case for very long.

Behind closed doors, Samsung had already begun to rebuild its smartphones from the ground up with one technical goal in mind: copy the iPhone. Fanboy arguments and court battles aside, it’s difficult to argue that wasn’t the case. There are even some internal documents that prove it, like the 132-page report Samsung created to help its engineers copy the iPhone pixel by pixel. […]

How long can you beat the same old drum and expect to find success? A few new features here, a slight redesign there, and a whole bunch of advertising. In 2011, Samsung was advertising something fresh and new. In 2015, Samsung was advertising smartphones that are barely distinguishable from rival devices to most people.

Even when Samsung does try to stray from convention and build something new and exciting, it can’t seem to strike a chord when it goes out on its own. The company’s “edge” devices were somewhat popular in 2015 and they certainly helped Samsung’s margins, but it would be a stretch to say that they generated any real excitement on a wide scale.

Maybe this article reads to an analyst that understands Samsung the way ‘Apple is doomed’ articles read to me. But it makes complete sense to me as a person on the outside that Samsung’s let’s thoughtlessly throw all our electronics shit against the wall and see what sticks approach wouldn’t last for long.

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Teenagers on Snapchat

Ben Rosen for BuzzFeed in a pseudo-interview with his 13 year old sister about Snapchat (via John Gruber):

ME: What does Dad say when he sees you doing this?

BROOKE: Parents don’t understand. It’s about being there in the moment. Capturing that with your friends or with your expression. One of the biggest fights kids have with their parents is about data usage.

ME: Really? Because you’re using too much?

BROOKE: Yeah. This one girl I know uses 60 gigabytes every month.

ME: 60 GIGS?!?!? Is that for real??

BROOKE: Yeah. [laughs]

ME: Wow. OK, what else do you do during the day?

BROOKE: I look at the new filters. Those are VERY big. I’ve only bought about three of them, but there are new ones, like, every day.

ME: How often are you on Snapchat?

BROOKE: On a day without school? There’s not a time when I’m not on it. I do it while I watch Netflix, I do it at dinner, and I do it when people around me are being awkward. That app is my life.

I’m not joking, reading this made me feel old. I just turned 22 last month.

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Alto’s Adventure free on Android

Andrew Webster writing for The Verge on Alto’s Adventure’s Android release being free:

Alto’s Adventure is — and will remain — a $2.99 game on iOS, but for the Android release, the developers have decided to go with a free-to-play model that they believe better suits the platform. […]

For Alto, while the game will be structurally the same as on iOS, it will include both opt-in video ads and a single in-app purchase that will double the number of coins you collect. […]

According to both Cash and Noodlecake’s Ryan Holowaty, one of the main reasons they decided to make the game free on Android is piracy. “Piracy on Android is a much bigger issue on the platform especially in the case of premium iOS titles that charge more than $0.99,” Holowaty explains. When Noodlecake ported iOS game Wayward Souls to Android, for example, the studio found that only 11 percent of installed copies of the game were paid for.

I play Alto’s Adventure from time to time and I think it is about as visually appealing a game as they get. It’s so good that Apple uses it as a showcase app on iPads at their retail stores (Apple retail in India is a joint venture for now).

It’s reasonable for a developer to assume that their business on Android won’t work on the pay-upfront model as it does on iOS. But the fact that a developer would make such a decision out of fear of piracy clearly points towards a critical flaw in Android’s approach to their app-platform.

iOS, last I knew, suffers from a similar problem due to jailbreaking. But jailbreaking isn’t ‘threatening’ to the platform since jailbroken iOS is a mess and no longer the ‘just works’ experience people signed up for.

On a side-note, the problem of not paying for software is excaberated in India since people expect something as intangible as software to always be free. Annecdotally, I don’t know of a single person who has explictly payed for an original copy of Windows. People, who I know personally, that pay for apps are few and far between.

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How the Apple Watch reduces iPhone usage

Bernard Desarnauts reporting for Tech Crunch last year, on a survey of iPhone usage with and without an Apple Watch (via Drew Coffman)

We found that an average Apple Watch user is using his or her iPhone quite a bit more than non-Apple Watch users: 26+ percent more time per day. This data point can be explained by the stage of market development, whereby an Apple Watch user is by definition among the power users of mobile[…]
But what is insightful and somewhat contradictory to this data point is that those same Apple Watch owners open/pick up their iPhone at least 20 percent less than non-Apple Watch owners.
This quantifies the anecdotal reporting from our panel; wearing an Apple Watch helps reduce the number of notifications and interruptions from your iPhone, and helps users remain focused on what is happening in the moment.

Drew’s thoughts:

The beauty of ‘wearable tech’ isn’t that it gives us another screen to check, it’s that it allows for the ‘primary’ screen to be checked less, especially when it’s important to be present in the moment.

I see this data as explained by a scenario experienced differently by both – an iPhone user with and without an Apple Watch.
Here’s the prelim: Let’s assume a mildly important notification comes in for both users. Say, an email for a co-worker about an upcoming meeting. The email is displayed on an iPhone’s lockscreen and as an Apple Watch notification as a preview. Here’s one way this situation can be tackled by respective users, when it’s important to be present in the moment.

Apple Watch user:

The notification comes in as a gentle tap. The user views the initial snippet and realises the email from said co-worker is mildly important. At this point, the user can either go through the extra trouble of taking out their iPhone and typing out their reply or maybe put it off for later (given the in-the-moment situation they’re in). The email is put off for later. Say an IM comes in after a few minutes and the user realises it can be given a similar treatment. At this point, the user is concious of engaging in two actions on their iPhone sometime later in the day.

iPhone user, sans Apple Watch:

The iPhone vibrates as it recieves the email. The user can go on devoting their presence towards the situation, albeit, at the expense of possibly ignoring an extremely important iMessage from their boss. Why leave it up to chance, a quick glance at my phone would confirm it anyway. The user pulls out their phone and what was initially a ‘quick glance’, turns into an episode of reading the entire email since it did seem somewhat important. More importantly there was no added ‘now I need to pull out my phone’ inertia holding them back.
Soon an IM finds its way to the iPhone in question and, understandably, the user is subjected to awkward sideway glances from atendees.

 

Additionally, you can factor in the optional notification filtering on the Apple Watch into the equation and quickly see how the aforementioned statistic makes perfect sense. The Apple Watch, apart from its other uses, gives a wearer the option to use their iPhone in coalition – performing a group of tasks collectively, as opposed to handling each task individually. The overhead is dramatically reduced. Or, to not sound so dry about it – the Apple Watch allows for an intimate way to connect and communicate.

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Fast Company interviews Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s SVP of retail

Fast Company recently interviewed Angela Ahrendts, senior vice president of retail at Apple. Angela was previously the CEO of Burberry after which she joined Apple in 2014.

When asked if Apple store employees worldwide share similar feelings about the company as their counterparts working at Apple, Angela responds:

The thing I didn’t know before I came in—a month in, I told my husband, “I now know why this is one of the most successful companies on the planet: Because the culture is so strong. The pride, the protection, the values.” The company was built to change people’s lives. That foundation, that service mentality, that drive to continue to change lives—that is a core value in the company. And Tim [Cook] then has added his on: He says it’s also our responsibility to leave it better than we found it.

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Ebooks are a superior medium

Tim Challies, Challies writing about his decision to sell his library and take the ebook route (via Drew Coffman):

We tend to want the new medium to mimic the old one and judge the new in light of the old. What we fail to account for are the ways in which the new is superior, in which the new is something entirely new. When cars were first invented, people called them “horseless carriages” and judged them in light of the horse and carriage. But over time they proved their superiority and we forgot all about that older technology. We stopped thinking about the new technology in reference to the old. I think the relationship of book to ebook will eventually prove similar.

Drew agrees and adds:

There are many problems with the state of ebooks (namely a lack of care in layout and typesetting, a huge disparity between book clients, and DRM causing undesirable lock-in) but the benefits of reading on a screen versus the page are massive. […]
That’s why, without a doubt, the majority of books I purchase this year will be for my Kindle.

I previously noted how I swear by physical books. I do agree though that physical books stand no ground when pit against the digital format in a theoretical merit vs. demerit, checkbox-based comparison. Infact, here’s some more reasons why ebooks seem like a ‘better’ choice:

  • 1 book or 10,000, all of it fits in your bag
  • Looking up meanings is undeniably easier (at least on an iPad, I have no personal experience with a Kindle)
  • Bookmarks are not a problem and highlighting text doesn’t ‘destroy the book’ as it does a physical publication
  • Trees aren’t cut down in the making

You get the idea. And yet, barring the fact that the iBooks store is still not properly supported in India, I wouldn’t dream of buying a book digital-first. Why? It’s a tough question to answer but I attempted it previously nonetheless. Essentially, the reason is similar to the one that explains why watches still exist till this day; beyond a point where almost every screen around you will display the time for you. It’s the same reason that made Marco Arment switch to a mechanical watch from an Apple Watch.

If I had to fit it in once sentence, I’d say books that are printed would live on because they have been romanticised over years and ages. There are few inanimate objects that exude a similar beauty as an old book that has its pages turned rustic. ‘Would you lend me your book after you’ve read it?’ feels way different from ‘Could you link me to that book?’. The Great Gatsby, P.G. Wodehouse, The Lord of the Rings etc. simply don’t read the same way on a screen as they do printed on a page. I do ocassionally read on my iPad though but that’s only when the situation demands it of me – lying in bed when the lights are off, when portability is of the utmost importance etc.

Despite my rambling, I do believe printed books are on their way out (at least a huge majority of them), since, at the end of the day, they are the ‘inferior’ medium. People that swear by them are the ones that grew up in an environment where physical books were prevalent (and the only option). Any individual switching from ebooks to print would, understandably, find the lack of searching through a book entirely obnoxious. Years later, the same individual would be able to appreciate a Swiss designed watch and even wear one since it’s elegance is its own realm, not a product of norm. One can only hope that the romanticism doesn’t die.

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Blurring wallpapers works wonders

David Sparks, Macsparky (via Micheal Rockwell):

I’m not a fan of busy wallpaper on my iPhone and iPad home screen. It’s fine on the lock screen but when you’ve got a screen full of icons, a noisy background image gets in the way. […]

I started out with a cropped version for my lock screen but I wanted it to carry over into my home screen. For awhile I used a plain orange background cropped from the same image but that wasn’t BB8-ish enough for me. Then I tried using the actual image but had the exact problem described above. Specifically, I couldn’t find icons in it. So I decided to blur the image and it worked splendidly.

The idea occurred to me while I was holding my iPhone so I used Pixelmator as my weapon of choice. I already had the image in my photos library so I loaded it from there and selected the blur tool.

A month ago, I did exactly the same thing. Inspired by the translucency in iOS 9’s Today View and swipe-down Spotlight interfaces, my tool of choice was Pixelmator too (it’s my go-to image editing app on iOS; the logo you see at the top of the page is made, in part, using Pixelmator).

My choice to blur the wallpaper was derived from similar frustrations as David’s- the entire view got very noisy and locating apps became a conscious endeavour as opposed to subconscious jabbing of your thumbs at the screen. I initially pondered over using a much simpler wallpaper instead, but that just wouldn’t do.

The end result looks much cleaner. However I would like to point out that David’s wallpaper is blurred way more than mine. I played around with different intensities and settled at about a 30% blur. That does the trick for me without taking away from the essence of my wallpaper.

Since then, I’ve ended up doing the same on my Mac and iPad too.

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Error 53

Christina Warren, Mashable:

The problem occurs when an unauthorized repair center replaces a home button. At first, the phone might work — with everything, including Touch ID, seeming perfectly fine.
But as soon as you go to update to a newer version of iOS (or you attempt to restore your phone from a backup), the software checks to make sure the Touch ID sensor matches the rest of the hardware. If it finds that there isn’t a match, your phone is basically bricked.

Error 53 is simply the result of a well intended idea implemented poorly. What interests me is that this check is executed only after a user updates iOS. What about, say, a stolen phone that had its TouchID maliciously replaced? Does it continue to allow an unauthorised user to use the phone until they update?

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apple.com, 1998

Here’s a GIF of Apple’s official website back in 1998 put together by The Open University. The iMac had just launched.

It’s been nearly two decades since and no one who follows Apple would have trouble identifying these string of images as institutionally Apple.

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Apple’s functional high ground 

Walt Mossberg wrote today about Apple’s apps being in need of attention. Here’s a snippet to summarise:

In the last couple of years, however, I’ve noticed a gradual degradation in the quality and reliability of Apple’s core apps, on both the mobile iOS operating system and its Mac OS X platform. It’s almost as if the tech giant has taken its eye off the ball when it comes to these core software products, while it pursues big new dreams, like smartwatches and cars.

Most of my thoughts on the matter are better summed up by others at this point. However, something interesting stuck out to me on reading John Gruber’s take :

But the perception is now widespread that the balance between Apple’s hardware and software quality has shifted in recent years. I see a lot of people nodding their heads in agreement with Mossberg and Dalrymple’s pieces today.

The situation, unfortunately, seems worse than that. Not only are those people agreeing, with Mossberg’s original school of thought, they’re actually adding to it. Here are the exhibits:

John Gruber:

Except, a few weeks ago, I noticed that on my primary Mac, in Photos, at the bottom of the main “Photos” view, where it tells you exactly how many photos and videos you have, it said “Unable to Upload 5 Items”. Restarting didn’t fix it. Waiting didn’t fix it. And clicking on it didn’t do anything — I wanted to know which five items couldn’t be uploaded, and why. It seems to me that anybody in this situation would want to know those two things. But damned if Photos would tell me.

Jim Dalrymple:

I’ve been harping on Apple Music since it was released, and while it has gotten much better, I am amazed it was released in the state it was.

Nick Heer:

I’ll add one more to the mix: since watchOS 2.0, I haven’t been able to launch native third-party apps on my Watch. Apps from TestFlight work fine, as do WatchKit apps, but native third party apps continue to experience an issue associated with the FairPlay DRM that prevents them from loading — they simply crash at launch.

Jason Snell:

At some point in this process, the song I was listening to finished and another song began to play. It was a randomly selected track from my entire music library. The act of viewing the App Store had destroyed my music shuffle.

I could find others if I looked harder (almost everyone thinks iTunes has more on its shoulders than it should) and even add to this list but I suppose the point is conveyed- Apple’s software, functionally, isn’t one of its strong suits as it stands today.

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How the iPhone 6 ruined Apple

Dr. Drang for his blog leancrew:

While it’s certainly possible that the great days of iPhone sales growth are over, I wouldn’t make that prediction just yet. In fact, I was surprised to learn that iPhone sales were merely flat. I was expecting a decline—not because the iPhone is losing popularity, but because the iPhone 6’s first quarter of sales was such a gigantic leap upward. The pent-up demand for a larger iPhone caused sales to increase nearly 50% year over year, to 74.47 million from 51.03 million the year before. This was the biggest percentage jump in year-over-year sales since the introduction of the 4S (which was goosed a bit because the 4S was delayed). I just didn’t think the 6S could keep up with that. And maybe it won’t.

But look at how things were going before the iPhone 6. Had the trend of 2012–2014 continued through 2015, iPhone sales last quarter would have been 65–70 million. Instead they were just under 75 million. It’s only in comparison to the huge holiday quarter of 2014 that last quarter looks dull.

Out of everything I have read so far about Apple’s predictions on the iPhone’s receding sales for the upcoming quarter, this one takes the cake. It truly is an excellent insight.

In the same vein, Dr. Drang concludes by drawing the iPhone in an analogy with El Niño:

I’m reminded of the devotion climate change deniers had to the year 1998. Because of an intense El Niño that year, global temperatures rose well above the trend line, and it remained the hottest year on record year for several years. Deniers hit upon this fact, and claimed that global warming had stopped, even though the overall warming trend had continued. The iPhone 6 was Apple’s El Niño.

If sales don’t improve with the iPhone 7, I’ll be willing to believe we’ve reached “peak iPhone.” Until then, the only problem I see is that the iPhone 6 was too successful.

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Alphabet surpasses Apple as the most valuable company

David Gafeen writing for Reuters:

Alphabet Inc surpassed Apple Inc as the most valuable company in the United States in after-hours trading on Monday, knocking the iPhone maker from the top spot that it has held for the better part of four years.

When I first heard the Apple vs AAPL(Apple the company vs. Apple’s stock) idea, I dismissed it as being interesting but one that wasn’t appealing to me personally. After this piece of news, I realise how much value it truly holds.

I am now both, a firm believer and a proponent of The Two Apples theory (for Apple and other companies alike). Here’s a snippet for the purposes of illustration:

There are two Apples: AAPL, the stock, and Apple, the company. While it would seem logical that one is merely a reflection of the other, in reality, the two are guided by vastly different parameters. Over the long run, Apple and AAPL will likely be at odds with each other due to the very nature of Apple’s long-term mission of making products that people love. It is the classic Wall Street vs. Silicon Valley battle, and 2015 was likely just a taste of what is to come. 

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Apple losing out on talent

Nellie Bowles writing for The Guardian:

The Silicon Valley computing giant is stumbling. With news of massive but slowing sales, its stock price fell 6.5% after its results on 27 January, to $93.42 from a springtime high of $133. Apple’s market value is now $522.63bn, down from a high of $774.69bn in February 2015.

More curious is how the company has been relatively undervalued: Apple stock’s market value relative to its earnings is about 10, while Facebook’s is about 109 –indicating investors have significantly more confidence in the social giant’s future.

Side note: reading that passage, an uninitiated reader would never guess that the same company also made the most amount of money this quarter than any company ever.

Long unassailable, there is now a chink in Apple’s armor.

All for grandeur.

Tellingly, Apple is no longer seen as the best place for engineers to work, according to several Silicon Valley talent recruiters. It’s a trend that has been happening slowly for years – and now, in this latest tech boom, has become more acute.

Stock prices tumbling is suggestive of unwanted working conditions… Didn’t Amazon’s stock do quite well last year? ((The article mentions this later))

Also, Apple being the ‘best place to work’ is news to me.

A pain point for a lot of people with Apple is they can’t talk about what they’re working on, which hinders your social status in a way,” said Troy Sultan, the founder of tech recruiting startup IDK Labs. “You want to put on your LinkedIn that you’re working on the latest iPhone, but you absolutely can’t. It’s interesting Apple can retain top talent at all. I don’t know how. They keep you sort of locked up.”[…]

Young ambitious programmers and designers have been put off by this: “Apple culture’s a little weird. A lot of secrecy, a lot of control. It just seems kind of like the empire down there,” said Matthew Wood, a designer at the development agency Arsenal. “Thinking about jobs, Apple never really comes up.”

Apple is working on a self-driving car and on artificial intelligence, along with secretive development of many other products, but its failure to produce a new killer product is turning off developers.

The cat’s out of the bag isn’t it?

The best engineers want to work on the bleeding edge of technology,” said Michael Solomon, the co-founder of 10x, an engineering talent management firm. “Apple’s last release [the Apple Watch] was not a giant hit. And everyone’s already got an iPhone.

Google Glass is entirely shelved(for now) and Google Plus is shutting down; more people own an Android phone than an iPhone and everyone (essentially) ‘googles’ their way around the Internet .

There’s just diminishing returns making it another degree of a crisper screen or a higher megapixel camera. It’s just a replacement game.”

Isn’t that what Samsung does?

But Apple’s reputation among young programmers is telling. In an industry built on the notion of “disruption”, attracting exceptional talent and keeping them nimble is key. Apple doesn’t need to just make a better iPhone – it needs to make something new.

iOS for the fridge – fridgeOS – it’s only natural.

Here’s John Gruber with a better understanding towards this problem:

I’ve been saying for a while now that recruiting and talent retention are the single biggest problem Apple faces. But my take on it is subtle. Apple is driven by A-team talent, and A-team talent is in high demand across the whole industry. And as Guy English has pointed out, it’s a lot less exciting to be working on the tenth-generation iPhone than the first-generation of something new. The other problem Apple faces is that it’s not just any A-team talent that Apple needs, Apple needs A-team talent that understands and appreciates Apple’s design-focused culture.

I’ll go a step further and place my money on the fact that Apple values loyalty in their talent-engineers in this case-more than any other company. No company wants well-performing individuals leaving every couple of years but Apple’s nature(it’s obsession with secrecy, it’s product-first mantra) is such that it would benefit from loyal, push-yourself-to-the-limit talent way more than other companies.

The reason articles like these seem to get slated for mockery is how badly they misunderstand Apple; sometimes even employing narrative that bends facts for sheer audience appeal. If you want a better understanding of the work culture at Apple, I’d suggest the recent series of Debug podcasts where formerly well-placed ex-Apple managers talk about their experiences working for the company.

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The effects of great design

I’ve been going through videos of the Layers design conference held during WWDC lately and I came across Arik Devens’ keynote where he talks about the Criterion Collection and how great design can distinguish a company and salvage it from being part of a dying industry. In my opinion, this is also the reason physical books have lived on past their alleged doomsday in the face of digital books(I, for one, swear by physical books).
Additionally, if you don’t understand Apple, the massive cult following it has developed over the years and why people queue up for an Apple product launch, this video is for you.

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