Gruber On 2017 iPhone Pricing

4 July 2017

John Gruber:

If it’s true that Apple is going to release three new iPhones, my bet is that they’re named the iPhone 7S, iPhone 7S Plus, and iPhone Pro. And I hope the iPhone Pro starts at $1500 or higher. I’d like to see what Apple can do in a phone with a higher price.

‘Hoping’ for a more expensive iPhone isn’t the best way to phrase the wish but I think I understand the sentiment: Gruber wants an iPhone equivalent of a MacBook Pro rather than MacBook.

The iPhone 8 isn’t that, though. There’s no way it is going to be $1500 plus. Numerous industry reports show that Apple has ordered more than 70 million OLED screens for this year alone. Apple is only shipping one phone with an OLED screen this cycle, the iPhone 8 (or Pro, or whatever it is called). The display orders alone show that this is a mass market device, more premium than the current status quo but still in reach of anyone who has bought a high-end iPhone before.

$1500 is out of that range. At $1500 (“or higher”) Apple would sell some units, millions in fact, but not tens of millions. The price level is simply prohibitive. In contrast, selling 70 million iPhones with a price circa $1000 in under a year is possible. I do not expect the most expensive model of iPhone 8, with the biggest storage size, to exceed $1200 (excluding taxes).

It would be different if the new phone was made of ceramic, or gold. It isn’t. It’s stainless steel and glass; beautiful premium materials but not ones that are exclusively expensive.

Kuo Reports No Touch ID In iPhone 8

3 July 2017

Ming-Chi Kuo, via StreetInsider:

“We predict the OLED model won’t support fingerprint recognition, reasons being: (1) the full-screen design doesn’t work with existing capacitive fingerprint recognition, and (2) the scan-through ability of the under-display fingerprint solution still has technical challenges, including: (i) requirement for a more complex panel pixel design; (ii) disappointing scan-through of OLED panel despite it being thinner than LCD panel; and (iii) weakened scan-through performance due to overlayered panel module.

I hate when Kuo publishes something controversial or unexpected. If this was any other source, fantastical ideas like the removal of Touch ID entirely can simply be dismissed as a far-out wild claim by a random stranger. You can’t disregard what Kuo has to say because his record is so good. Historically, if you bet against Kuo then you’d lose far more than you’d win.

This is a scenario where I want to disagree with Kuo. Losing Touch ID on the iPhone would be insane and I can’t envision the best facial recognition system in the world replacing the convenience and versatility of a fingerprint sensor. There are so many times when I use an iPhone off-axis where the front-facing depth-sensing camera simply wouldn’t be able to see me.

There is no doubt Apple was exploring under-display fingerprint scanners for the iPhone 8; Kuo confirms this and says that it was rejected for technical performance and yield reasons. However, what I cannot agree with KGI on is the fact the fallback ‘Plan B’ when the screen-integrated solution failed was simply not to include a fingerprint sensor at all. If Apple was investing so much into making the integrated reader work, surely they must see value in the phone having fingerprint authentication capabilities (in addition to facial biometrics).

I think the power button is the Touch ID fallback. In dummy iPhone 8 units seen as early as April, the power button is literally twice as long as it is on iPhone 7. It doesn’t look better aesthetically, so it must have a functional purpose: the button is a fingerprint reader. Sony phones have already demonstrated it is possible.

A few hours after the KGI report, Bloomberg writes that the ‘intent’ of the facial recognition is to replace Touch ID, corroborating Kuo. More interestingly, it says the feature is designed to work even when the phone is laying on a table as well as when gripped in the hand. If that is true, maybe Apple really can remove the Touch ID entirely and satiate all users with the new face biometrics authentication instead. Apple advanced the industry when it first deployed Touch ID back in 2013, no doubt. Nevertheless, fast and reliable facial recognition from a distance sounds like a fairytale.

Let me be clear: I have no reservations about Apple’s ability to release facial recognition that is as secure, as fast, as accurate and as reliable as its industry-leading Touch ID. My hesitation is a simple matter of ergonomics. My iPhone is on the desk. I am sitting in my office chair. With Touch ID, I can unlock my phone as I tap the button to turn the screen on. How is a front camera or 3D sensor going to be able to detect my face at this oblique angle? It just seems impossible.

iOS 11 Apple Music Friends Are Listening To

1 July 2017

Zac Hall:

The new social feature starts from the For You tab right below the New Music and Favorites playlists. You can see albums, playlists, and stations played by friends you follow, and below that you can find friend recommendations for more people to follow.

Recommended music will show the avatar of the friend or friends who played it, and you can tap through to see links to their full profile as well. Using your real profile picture helps when names aren’t presented, and some users (Apple execs so far) even have verified profiles.

Behold, the first Apple social music attempt that isn’t going to be flop. Unlike Connect, this isn’t a clone of a Twitter or Facebook feed. The Music app passively records what songs are played and publishes the music as recommendations for other users to see and follow.

The recommendations appear in the For You tab, the same place Apple Music subscribers already check to discover new music to listen to. Aside from initial profile setup and finding friends, there’s not much to do … which is a good thing. People are going to use it because the barrier to entry is so low.

It’s appropriately lightweight. Connect and Ping failed because they built out an entire status feed system inside of Music, offering no benefit over the established social networks that people already use.

In the best case for Apple, an Apple Music member upgrades to iOS 11, finds some new music they like from what their friend was listening to, thereby extracting some additional value from their membership and makes them more likely to renew their subscription.

Despite being branded as what “Friends Are Listening To”, the service shows verified badges for well-known personalities. It will be interesting to see if Apple encourages music celebrities to join the service so users can follow along with the musical tastes of their favourite artists. In the beta, the badge can be seen on the Apple executives’ profiles. Amusingly, whilst Eddy uses his Twitter @cue handle, Phil Schiller has opted to be known as ‘technorambo’.

iOS 11 Control Centre

28 June 2017

The main difference between the iOS 9 and iOS 10 Control Centre was the separation of audio controls into their own page, an intentional move to lower the amount of stuff on screen at a time, splitting audio controls into their own page. The iOS 11 revamp is a harsh swing in the opposite direction, incorporating more buttons than ever into a single view.

The new design packs an assortment of different buttons and sliders into a tight space, a grid of irregularly sized blocks reminiscent of a Tetris game. When I first saw it, my eyes didn’t know where to look. The stacked widgets eschew the linear hierarchy of the previous incarnations and my first impressions were not very favourable.

Each individual platter on the screen looks decent; some of the icons even animate in response to state changes for a nice touch of whimsy. Holistically, the layout is messy.

I retracted my negativity after a couple days of using it. I had to consciously remind myself that this part of iOS is compartmentalised for a reason; it serves as a convenience dashboard to perform common tasks and adjust frequently-used settings.

Writing that down sounds pathetic — it’s such a trivial observation — but once I reaffirmed to myself what the basic premise of the Control Centre is, I could overlook the weird layout and appreciate the functional benefits of the new approach. Glancing at Now Playing, perhaps pausing the song or skipping a track, without having to worry about what page I am on is a huge win.

iOS 10 brainwashed me into thinking that one additional swipe to change page was a reasonable price to pay. I feel silly now for thinking that was acceptable. With a specific goal of access to quick actions, any Control Centre design that involves fewer intermediary interactions has to be superior.

It isn’t just about removing the need to swipe, the mental assessment of the current state of Control Centre also falls away. Your brain can rely on the button always being there. As soon as you finish swiping up, your finger can instantly start moving to the learned position of the Play/Pause button (for example).

After a few days of using iOS 11, muscle memory takes over. I can pause music with my eyes closed, something that wasn’t possible with iOS 10 because I wouldn’t know if Control Centre was on the first or second screen.

The switch from a rigid card design to a free-flowing grid enables additional features and flexibility. iOS 11 lets you add additional actions to show in Control Centre via Settings. New buttons appear in rows at the bottom of the screen as existing controls shift upwards to accommodate. You can even change the order of the square shortcuts by dragging the items up and down in the Settings list. In the future, it’s easy to see how Apple could add free-form customisation of the entire modal panel, letting users drag and drop widgets just like apps on the Home Screen.

If this design motif carried across to the main apps, I would not be happy. It lacks coherent structure and clean appearance that a real application needs, but it is well suited to Control Centre. The vertical stack will neatly reflow into the upcoming 18:9 extra-tall ‘iPhone 8’ screen too. I am onboard with this.

Another usability improvement with the new design is the sliders. Changing volume and brightness has to be the most-used actions for Control Centre and the new layout emphasises their importance. The previous iterations of Control Centre used generic system sliders for these controls, oriented horizontally with a small nub and even-smaller track.

iOS 11 uses non-standard slider controls to great effect. The sliders are bulbous and almost as wide as an average human finger — your finger can’t miss them. I also find it easier to drag things up and down rather than left and right. I have accidentally dismissed the Control Centre when I meant to turn down the brightness a couple of times, though.

I don’t want to give the impression that the new design has no flaws; the number of taps required to switch audio output is a frequent frustration. Few things are truly perfect. What I can say is that my knee-jerk response to the ‘slap-dash’ appearance didn’t play out in practice. This is a better direction for Control Centre than what iOS 10 offered.

Drag And Drop On The iPhone

13 June 2017

Steve Troughton-Smith:

…let’s be clear: Drag & Drop is enabled with pref keys on iPhone. It’s not like they haven’t built it. They just don’t think we want it

It would be silly to remove Drag & Drop from iPhones for a year just to let iPad shine. Nobody’s choosing an iPad over iPhone because of D&D

iOS 11 drag and drop on the iPad is really great. It speeds up a lot of common tasks and it makes those tasks direct and easier to achieve. Rather than digging for context menus that aren’t yet visible, a long-press anchors the content to your finger ready to be dragged and dropped pretty much anywhere in an updated application — even crossing sandbox boundaries into a different app than the one from which the content originates.

Apple allows developers to add drag-drop interactions inside their own apps on both platforms. On the iPhone, the system enforces that dragged content cannot escape the boundary of the containing app.

However, it seems like drag and drop is discouraged in general on the iPhone as none of the system apps support it despite deep integration in the corresponding iPad apps. The Home Screen enables it on iPhone to speed up the process of rearranging apps, but that’s about it.

Steve Troughton-Smith found the various runtime keys that dictate this behaviour. Naturally, he then modified the Simulator resources to demonstrate how drag-and-drop on the iPhone would look if it was turned on.

Apple has done the engineering work to support drag and drop on the iPhone, so the pertinent question is why is it disabled. Troughton-Smith argues that marketing is driving the decision, allowing Apple to put the spotlight on the iPad for a change.

I am not convinced that marketing is the primary reason. There are usability issues on the iPhone that don’t bubble up on the iPad form factor. There are design considerations to weigh up.

The best uses of drag and drop on the iPad necessitate multi-finger interactions. Typically, one hand holds onto a stack of content whilst the other navigates the rest of the interface to find the destination app.

Multiple touch input isn’t a gimmick, it’s critical part of the experience. Here’s the cinch: the iPad form factor is far better suited to this type of interaction. The screen is spacious and users usually rest the device on a table or lap, leaving both hands available to touch the screen.

In contrast, the iPhone canvas is small. Fingers take up a large proportion of the display and the shadows of their respective hands obscure even more of the visible screen. It’s just not as good for complex gestures. Example: reach to a point towards the top of the iPhone screen with your thumb and notice how hard it is to press the Home Button with another finger.

I bet the rate of erroneous drops would be significantly higher on iPhone compared to iPad as users trips over their fingers and struggle to see exactly what they are hovering over.

Moreover, handling the phone is typically a one-handed experience (at least for 4.7-inch and soon to be 5.8-inch iPhones). Expecting phone users to regularly commit to two-handed interactions is a tall order.

I’m sure these practicality issues must have played a role in the internal conversations, debates and ultimate decision to disable most of the drag-drop features on the iPhone. I would be shocked if the only thing blocking this was the marketing team’s desire to prop up the iPad; maybe it was a side benefit.

In the end, the cut/copy/paste context menu has served iPhone users well for the last umpteen years and I don’t see that much motivation to shake things up. The iPad is a different beast entirely where its users were starving for new ways to boost their productivity.

Split View side-by-side apps is another big differentiation. Split View is incomplete without drag and drop to move things from one side to the other, so much so that the iPad felt broken without it. The iPhone doesn’t have Split View which means the lack of drag and drop is significantly less impactful; it’s a nice to have rather than necessity.

I would be surprised if Apple ends up enabling the complete drag and drop experience on the iPhone in the near term. Enabling it is not zero cost; drag and drop overloads long-press gestures which adds some additional complexity to every user of the iPhone. The iPad is impaired by the same downsides, of course, but it has much more to gain from the feature’s inclusion.

Essential Home

31 May 2017

Essential:

The idea behind Essential Home is that technology is there, supportive, and proactive enough to be helpful, without forcing you to ask or type a question. It’s in your environment; you can tap or glance at it, but it never intrudes or takes you away from the things that are important to you.

The Essential Home is vapourware at this point: no firm release date or price, work-in-progress operating system, incomplete public reveal, and spurious claims about HomeKit integration that I doubt will ever materialise.

We don’t know much beyond this picture of what the hub looks like. That’s the truth. With that in mind, this is a better execution of the assistant-with-a-screen hardware product than the Echo Show appears to be. It’s far more discreet in its form — the screen turns off completely when not in use — as an object and looks modern in a way that the Echo Show really doesn’t.

When I look at the marketing materials for the Echo Show, I can’t shake the memory of a 90’s CRT television from my mind. In stark contrast, the industrial design of the Essential Home is futuristic (round screens are cool). It makes a visual statement without being gaudy.

Obviously, the product itself will probably be a flop as the company will get crushed by the Amazon, Apple and Google juggernauts of the industry when it comes to the software stack and platform integration. I guess what I’m saying is: Amazon should have designed the Echo Show like this.

UBS On iPhone 8 Pricing

23 May 2017

Business Insider:

UBS analyst Steven Milunovich believes the iPhone 8 will start at $870, and an upgraded model with 256GB of space in this scenario would cost $1,070, he wrote in a note distributed to clients on Monday.

Currently, Apple charges $649 or more for an iPhone 7, and the iPhone 7 Plus costs $769 and up.

Milunovich’s predictions are conspicuously $100 more than Apple’s current pricing for the 32 GB and 256 GB iPhone 7 Plus. Whilst their guessing strategy may be crude, I don’t think they are going to be wildly off-base.

Several reports indicate Apple has ordered upwards of 80 million OLED displays for 2017, implying the iPhone 8 is still going to be a mass market product. This is meant to appeal to the same people who buy high-end iPhones today and that puts an upper bound on pricing; even Apple can’t sell tens of millions of phones at $2000+ levels.

As such, anchoring close to the existing iPhone lineup price points (albeit with a premium) is sensible. I am currently thinking that the iPhone 8 will start at about $950 for the base model. I would be really surprised if the price for the highest capacity SKU, likely 256 GB, exceeds $1100 unsubsidised.

MacStories Imagines Possible iOS 11 iPad Features

20 May 2017

MacStories:

Like last year, I collaborated with Sam Beckett to visualize my ideas for iOS 11 on the iPad with a concept video and detailed mockups. This time, instead of showcasing our ideas as standalone concepts, we imagined a “day in the life” theme for the video, showing how enhancements to iOS for iPad would work in practice. Rather than showcasing random bits of possible features, we imagined an underlying task to be accomplished (planning a vacation in Barcelona) and how better iPad software could help.

I’ve been thinking about some of these ideas since iOS 9 (you can see a thread between my iOS 10 concept and this year’s version), while others would be a natural evolution for iOS on the iPad. Once again, Sam was able to visualize everything with a fantastic concept that, I believe, captures the iPad’s big-picture potential more accurately than last year.

The concept imagines major enhancements to several parts of the iPad experience, with fantastic production value and care given to the video and accompanying explanation. The video is a perfect rebuttal to the sizeable group of people who claim that iOS is mature and Apple should move on to the next thing. This concept shows the sheer immense scope of work left to be done, a glimpse at the number of interaction problems still unsolved and suggests several places where iOS’ fundamentals need to be rethought for iPad.

I’m not saying I endorse every single idea here, I have concerns about the addition of even more compartments and sliding doors to the iPad interface system. Any change to the core of how things on the iPad work requires a lot more consideration about implementation and practicality. Of course, it is not MacStories’ job to work that all out. It is Apple’s.

What I hope has happened internally on the iOS teams over the last several years is a serious consideration of metaphors like the Shelf. If prototyping and testing was successful, then these ideas should materialise very soon. If the features turned out to have drawbacks and roadblocks, as I suspect they might, then that is fine — as long as Apple went back to the drawing board and kept working to find alternate, better, answers to the same big problems. I think there has been a reasonable time period for that process of internal development to take place. If iOS 11 does nothing or very little to enhance iPad productivity, I will be sorely disappointed.

I picked the header image of this post carefully; it depicts a new take on the app switcher. At this point, a redesigned app switcher is effectively low-hanging fruit — the current version is so barebones that you don’t have to think very hard to best it. This is the case where I would be most confident in saying that Viticci and Beckett have envisioned a sure-fire win; a grid of user-arranged apps for quick access, a carousel of recently used apps, and a mechanism to activate the app switcher from the left or the right. I like the way the status bar items have been shifted to accommodate the multitasking divider, too. Maybe the switcher should show a shrunken version of the user’s actual home screens instead of a separate distinct grid, eliminating the mental user burden of another matrix of apps to manage, but that is up for debate.

As a nice double-whammy, the same screenshot also uses a thicker stroke width for the icons in the Notes app toolbars. The change is small yet the difference it makes is huge. Zoom in on the Share button and compare it to the same icon on your iOS 10 iPhone or iPad. It serves as a great example of where iOS 7 design is lacklustre and could be so much better with only minor tweaks.1 The stronger lines do not distract users from application content but the aesthetics are vastly superior.

The additional pixels in the strokes also enable the icons to feature rounded corners. One-pixel lines in the iOS 7-10 toolbar icons feel flimsy and sterile in comparison. Moreover, the MacStories icon set match the weight and curvature of the San Francisco font face. One improvement I would make: the font weight of the Back button text in the navigation bar should increase slightly to complement the emboldened ‘<’ glyph.

1 I would welcome some more sweeping design changes of course, drawing inspiration from the best parts of the watchOS and tvOS interfaces. My fingers have been crossed for a while, on that one.

New Mac Laptops Rumoured For WWDC

16 May 2017

Bloomberg:

Apple is planning three new laptops, according to people familiar with the matter. The MacBook Pro will get a faster Kaby Lake processor from Intel Corp., said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss internal planning. Apple is also working on a new version of the 12-inch MacBook with a faster Intel chip. The company has also considered updating the aging 13-inch MacBook Air with a new processor as sales of the laptop, Apple’s cheapest, remain surprisingly strong, one of the people said.

When Apple held its Mac Pro press mitigation meeting, it claimed to be fully invested in the Mac line. Spec bumps like these are not glitzy or revolutionary, but they are welcomed and a good sign that Apple is keeping to its word. It is unfortunate that the 2016 MacBook Pro couldn’t feature Kaby Lake chips but a quick turnaround revision to address the complaints is a strong positive signal.

Even with an updated CPU, the Air will still be an embarrassing line item. The display simply needs to be much better than it is or Apple should significantly cut the price for it to be market competitive as a cheaper ultra thin and light machine. Sadly, the Bloomberg piece does not suggest that either of these changes are going to happen.

Amazon Echo Show

10 May 2017

Amazon:

Echo Show brings you everything you love about Alexa, and now she can show you things. Watch video flash briefings and YouTube, see music lyrics, security cameras, photos, weather forecasts, to-do and shopping lists, and more. All hands-free—just ask.

Introducing a new way to be together. Make hands-free video calls to friends and family who have an Echo Show or the Alexa App, and make voice calls to anyone who has an Echo or Echo Dot.

A big draw of the Echo products to date is that they are not meant to be focal points of a room, you don’t have to look at them to talk to Alexa. This freedom allows users to place their smart cylinder in many more positions in a room than, say, a widescreen TV that pretty much requires a corner stand or wall mount.

Unlike its discreet out-of-the-way siblings, the Echo Show has to be on show. You are meant to look at. It imposes constraints on where it can be positioned; from the photos and the way the device angles itself, it pretty much requires a table or kitchen counter.

Given that it also needs a permanent connection to a power socket, where to put the unit is an immediate barrier to adoption. I know I’m struggling to think of an appropriate place in my house’s living areas. The lounge has a coffee table but it’s centred in the room and not near a plug. The kitchen countertops are already filled with food appliances and the island doesn’t have plug sockets.

Assuming I could find a place for it, the next question is ‘do I want that sitting in plain view’. The designers of the Echo Show clearly prioritised price over style. It’s a clunky device that reminds me too much of an old CRT portable television. Even if the aesthetics of the audio-only Echo cylinder don’t float your boat, it can merely sit out-of-sight on a shelf so its design doesn’t really matter. With the Echo Show, the appearance of it does matter and it’s a hard sell to shoehorn an ugly black rectangle into a room’s decor.

Nevertheless, functionally, the Echo Show makes sense and I’d be interested in trying one. The ability to display visual content in concert with hands-free interaction has definite benefits. Making video calling as pervasive as phone calls is a lofty goal but I believe people want to do it. I’m not convinced Amazon has nailed the form factor to drive adoption with this attempt, though. A movable, portable, sleek iPad/tablet intuitively seems like a better answer here.

Ship dates are funny too. Preorders are live now but the devices won’t deliver until June 28th at the earliest. With rumors of Apple unveiling its (screen-less?) Siri Speaker at WWDC on June 5th, I wouldn’t recommend anyone in the iOS ecosystem to order an Echo Show until Apple has pitched its approach.

Siri Speaker Could Debut At WWDC

2 May 2017

9to5Mac:

KGI’s Ming-Chi Kuo has published an industry report today claiming that Apple will likely announce a Siri Speaker product (branding unknown, Kuo calls it ‘Apple’s first home AI product’) at WWDC in June. The device will compete with the Amazon Echo and go on sale in the second half of the year.

Kuo says Apple’s product will feature ‘excellent’ sound with seven tweeters and a subwoofer, and will be positioned as a more premium product than the Echo … with a higher price tag to match.

Typically, the best Apple products are devices that focus on doing a few things really well. With the Siri Speaker, or whatever it ends up being called, I believe you have to buck that trend and create something that does as much as possible in one.

Consumers don’t want to have a myriad of different smart boxes per room. For my personal devices, it makes sense to lug a laptop in my bag and carry a smartphone in my pocket and have a watch on my wrist. One form factor cannot fulfil all mobile computing needs.

The same doesn’t apply for a smart room appliance. I want to have as few animate cylinders dotted around my living room and my kitchen. I don’t have the space or plug sockets to dedicate to loads of them. Aesthetically, a generic box — even one designed by Apple — is unlikely to match the decor. In an ideal world, you’d have zero of them assuming there was an alternate way to reap the benefits.

Jack-of-all trades functionality certainly has its downsides, conglomerating so many disparate loosely-connected features into one device will complicate the marketing message. The need to pack in more technology also raises the entry price, alienating a section of the market that might not want to take advantage of every feature the hypothetical ‘speaker’ provides. Nevertheless, I believe an all-in-one product is ultimately most desirable.

Mesh WiFi, Siri voice commands, wireless music, HomeKit temperature and humidity sensors, motion sensor, indoor cameras, hands-free phone calls. If you are going to have one of these boxes in a room, it might as well do everything.

I’m not saying that Apple will deliver what I’m describing. I doubt they will. What KGI details is a device focused on Siri and really good wireless speakers for music and podcast playback. I wish they would meld mesh wireless networking into that as well; it would explain the abandoned state of AirPort hardware at least.

I’m also not saying that if it doesn’t solve every conceivable smart home problem that it will be a failure. As ‘just’ a wireless speaker with voice control, I’ll likely buy at least one. The Amazon Echo has shown demand with an inferior product still. Nevertheless, there is potential for a product with much wider scope.

iPhone 8 Rumours

26 April 2017

The iPhone rumour mill is in a weird spot this year. By early April, we normally have a pretty good consensus on what Apple’s upcoming devices will look like. I think a lot of people forget just how accurate the Weibo leaks have been in the past.

For this year, the gist of Apple’s strategy is by no means a surprise. Three phones, two iterative component updates and one major new flagship with a chassis redesign and 5.8-inch OLED screen. There have also been repeated claims of wireless charging and 3D-sensing front cameras as headline features for the premium device. Even on the verge of May, though, there is not a clear idea of what the iPhone 8 (or iPhone Pro, iPhone X, whatever it’s called) will look like.

Two different designs have been circulating around the web. One is from a schematic supposedly leaked from Foxconn, a couple weeks ago. It describes an iPhone with a hole in the aluminium back, presumably a rear Touch ID sensor, and a front with no side bezels. Frankly, it looks a lot like a Galaxy S8 with an Apple logo.

The other leading rumour represents a much bigger leap in iPhone design — a curved composition of stainless steel and glass, with an OLED display that dominates the entire front face. The speaker pokes through the top of the screen and all other components like the fingerprint reader and FaceTime cameras are apparently integrated behind the display. It comes together to make this seamless curved pebble shape. Bloomberg has noted that Apple is heading towards a design using stainless steel and glass but it isn’t clear if this is what it was referring to exactly.

I have no insider information about this but I would be disappointed if the first design was the real thing. Apple has used the same chassis design for three years since the iPhone 6. The device described by the first set of schematics isn’t really that different from what we’ve been living with; it’s too conservative for my appetite.

Features and performance are nice but aesthetics and materials define an iPhone generation. The iPhone 4 sticks out in everyone’s mind because it looked like no other smartphone had done before. There is so much anticipation for the 2017 iPhone and a conservative chassis change is not going to sufficiently answer that hype.

This is why I’m inclined to board the second rumour train, the one with an iPhone 8 that uses all new materials, stretches the screen into every corner of the front face and magically reads my fingerprint from beneath the display. If you believe the leak unreservedly, the FaceTime cameras and IR sensors are also integrated into the screen, so that all four bezels — horizontal and vertical — are a mere 4mm in size. That is an iPhone industrial design that will leave a lasting impression.

The Galaxy S8 is a feeble effort in comparison to what these leaks suggest; Samsung’s phone relies on an inelegant back sensor for fingerprint reading and still has significant top and bottom bezels. The Apple design sounds like fiction, like it’s too good to be true and maybe it is. I certainly struggle to believe the components-under-display malarkey.

Nevertheless, that is the kind of update I think Apple needs to deliver. Something that doesn’t look like anything else available and puts a flag in the metaphorical ground. The need for something major becomes even more important if Apple plans to re-use this design for multiple years like they did with iPhone 6. It also needs to justify its premium price tag.

All of the specific details about the bullish iPhone 8 design come from the same source so there isn’t any corroboration to draw from … but there are tidbits here and there that indicate Apple has something significant in the offing.

Yesterday, Nikkei posted an article claiming Samsung Display was struggling to make OLED panels that meet Apple’s specifications. KGI’s Ming-Chi Kuo has also noted that Apple is ordering ‘custom’ panels and all-new 3D Touch modules. Nikkei also said the iPhone 8 circuit boards are significantly different (smaller) than previous generations. The pebble design seems like it would necessitate custom displays and major miniaturisation whereas the conservative rumour would not.

There have also been numerous reports about delays and production problems, so much so many analysts claim the device won’t launch in the usual September timeframe. Maybe it’s wishful thinking but the propensity for minor redesigns to have yield issues is low, whereas the likelihood of holdups due to readying fundamentally-new components is much greater.

Thinking at a higher level, Apple is all-but-confirmed to be debuting three iPhones later this year. Two will be almost identical to the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus from the outside. Knowing that the 8 will be the new high-end device, it’s almost required to have a major new design just so it can set itself apart from the ‘7s’ models.

Apple does not want to let people feel like the iterative phones are good enough, so that people save their dollars and get the ‘almost-as-good’ new phones. What you want is customers to go ‘wow this iPhone 8 is so new and so much better’, it’s more expensive but it’s worth it. A major, radical, advancement in exterior appearance is the best way to achieve that.

Bloomberg On Apple's 2017 iPhone Lineup

19 April 2017

Bloomberg:

Company engineers in the past have also experimented with integrating cameras into screens, another person said.

All the new iPhones will run iOS 11, a mobile operating system that will include a refreshed user-interface and will be announced in June at the company’s annual conference for developers, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Putting fingerprint sensors and cameras under the display appears to be possible with current technology. The problem is doing it at scale. Apple needs components that are able to be produced in high yields, so it can push out tens of millions of iPhones every month and meet consumer demand.

Earlier in the article, Bloomberg says that Apple has tested screen-integrated fingerprint sensors in some iPhone 8 prototypes. I sure hope it can deliver on that — it would maximise the bezel-less nature of the front face and differentiate it from the Android competition. Integrating the FaceTime camera below the display feels further away and an obvious point of future improvement.

The industry rumour was that Samsung wanted to put a fingerprint sensor in the screen for the Galaxy S8 but couldn’t workaround manufacturing bottlenecks, and they resorted to putting a standard scanner on the back of the phone. I hope what Samsung couldn’t achieve for the spring, Apple can pull off several months later in the fall. Touch ID on the back is just janky.

Regarding iOS 11 having a “refreshed” design, who knows what that means. Without specific details, you could argue every version of iOS has seen a visual refresh in one way or another. It’s not out of the question to expect a more significant design update this year though; some accommodations for bezel-less iOS devices (and various affordances for more productive iPad ‘pro user’ features) seems inevitable.

New Zelda Sells More Than A Million Copies In Launch Month

14 April 2017

Nintendo:

Nintendo Switch, the new home gaming system that people can also take on the go, has sold faster in its launch month than any other video game system in Nintendo history. The Nintendo Switch system sold more than 906,000 units in March, according to the NPD Group, which tracks video game sales in the United States. That makes Nintendo Switch one of the fastest-selling video game systems of all time. Notably, this sales surge was accomplished in a nontraditional month for a console launch.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild game sold over 1.3 million units. That total includes more than 925,000 units sold for Nintendo Switch and nearly 460,000 units sold for the Wii U console.

With more copies of Breath of the Wild sold for the Nintendo Switch than Nintendo Switch consoles, I don’t think it’s a reach to say that Zelda carried the Switch through its launch month. The reality is Nintendo cannot pump out AAA games every thirty days, as much as I like the company and the games it makes, I am still skeptical about the Switch’s longer-term market success.

I don’t think you can make any conclusions from this data about how well the Switch was received beyond the fact people like Zelda and wanted to play the new Zelda, which got perfect scores from many review sites. Framed another way, the Wii U is still a dead console despite it achieving half a million game sales from a single title, in March.

The New Mac Pro

4 April 2017

Daring Fireball:

Apple is currently hard at work on a “completely rethought” Mac Pro, with a modular design that can accommodate high-end CPUs and big honking hot-running GPUs, and which should make it easier for Apple to update with new components on a regular basis. They’re also working on Apple-branded pro displays to go with them.

The new Mac Pro has gone from a question of if to a question of when. It is a real shame that the rollout of the trashcan’s replacement is so protracted; Apple isn’t even confirming that it is coming in 2018, just ‘not this year’.

I would be shocked if it wasn’t ready to reveal sometime next year, even if the availability slips into 2019, but who knows. It is unprecedented for Apple to pre-announce anything really this far out but what I found especially intriguing was that they tipped the hat on new pro-focused iMacs as well as the Mac Pro itself.

This non-event event wasn’t just about the existence of the Mac Pro, although that leads headlines, it was about Apple’s commitments to the Mac in general. I think Apple saw that Tim Cook’s vague comments about the ‘pro market’ were received badly, for good reason, and they had to do something more drastic. This break from the normal secrecy is a huge statement of their seriousness.

Apple also announced that they are developing a new external display — my favourite news of the day. The LG 5K UltraFine is a mediocre product even when you ignore the silly WiFi router interference problems that plagued its debut. A display is a critical part of the Mac experience. As such, I very much believe Apple should make their own displays for as long as they sell Macs, something which they have firmly signalled they will be doing for a long time.

The $329 iPad

22 March 2017

Apple:

Apple today updated its most popular-sized iPad, featuring a brighter 9.7-inch Retina display and best-in-class performance at its most affordable price ever, starting at $329 (US). Designed for unmatched portability and ease of use, along with incredible performance and all-day battery life, iPad is the world’s most popular tablet and the primary computing device for millions of customers around the world. Through the more than 1.3 million apps designed specifically for iPad, customers can do even more, from learning to code with Swift Playgrounds and reading books on the large screen to boosting productivity through Microsoft Office and using multitasking features like Split Screen.

Heavier and thicker than an iPad Air 2, with a worse screen, but faster CPU and most likely the same 2 GB RAM. The big difference is the price, the new iPad starts at $329 for 32 GB configuration.

People wanting a tablet to watch videos and check Facebook can be perfectly satisfied by this iPad (which I consider an ‘iPad SE’ to clarify things in my head). The price cut helps drive adoption by schools and educational institutions, as well as make it an easier sell for mainstream customers. Heavy iPad users will obviously want to wait for the updated iPad Pro lineup to get their hardware fix, which is obviously in the wings but not quite ready for launch.

Even though the $329 iPad isn’t unequivocally superior to the iPad Air 2, Apple still opted to discontinue the Air 2. This is fine, I think. Apple has sacrificed some elegance in the mid range to create a $270 price gap between the 9.7-inch iPad and the iPad Pro. It’s up to the consumer if they want to pay the Pro premium for the additional features, which often requires additional purchases to take advantage of ($99 Pencil and/or $169 Smart Keyboard).

With the replacement of the iPad Air 2 and removal of the iPad Mini 2, Apple has simplified the overall lineup from five iPads to four: two sizes of iPad Pro, the iPad, and iPad mini 4. I think it won’t be long before the iPad mini is dropped too. It sticks out as ‘unfinished business’ purely from its name, now the only iPad with a number in its title, and I think Apple’s ultimate move will be to cull it and position the cheap 9.7-inch iPad as a ‘good enough’ successor.