By Nathan L. Walls

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  • Encased/Raleigh
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  • Completed Snow Angel/Raleigh

Articles tagged “iphone”

iPhone 4S and the persistence of design

It’s not hard to find someone (or some people) seemingly disappointed with Apple not releasing a redesigned iPhone 5 today. Rumors were focused on a split iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 announcement, based on leaked parts and case manufacturers looking to get a jump on a new design.

I posit that outside of Apple, a lot of assumptions about what Apple would do are made based on how other companies treat design, not how Apple has demonstrated how it treats design.

Let’s first consider that most manufacturers have multiple phone models. LG, for instance, as of this writing, is showing 120 models / variants. Apple, today, has three phones, in four different capacities in two different colors. As near as I can tell, it breaks down like this:

Model Capacity Color Network No. of Variants
iPhone 3GS8GBBlackGSM1
iPhone 48GBBlack, WhiteGSM, CDMA4
iPhone 4S16, 32, 64GB Black, White GSM+CDMA6

So, we’re up to eleven active iPhone part numbers. By comparison, the iPad 2 has 18 variants (color, capacity, networking). While the variants might create the impression of complexity, you are left with some simple decisions:

  • How much am I comfortable paying for a phone?
  • If I’m willing to pay $100 or more, what color do I want?
  • If I’m willing to pay $200 or more, what capacity do I want?

You aren’t making decisions about form factor or screen size. There’s no “gaming” or “texting” or “business” iPhone.

But, look back at the LG example. You could just as easily look at Motorola or Nokia and see that you’re making a different set of decisions, based on your presumed use of the phone. The flagship phones change frequently. They change externally. I believe they change because the companies believe users believe they have to change to be “new.”

As a counter-point to the rapid changing of a lot of feature and smart phones, let’s look at the design life of Apple’s computers:

Model Last Comprehensive Redesign
iMac 2007
Mac Pro/PowerMac G5 2003
MacBook Air January 2008
MacBook Pro October 2008
Cinema Display/Thunderbolt Display October 2008

This is somewhat cherry-picked. I’m not including the Mac mini, for instance. I’m also not including design refinements like port addition/subtraction, size variants, edge-to-edge glass or similar. This is a subjective marker of the common ancestor. Arguably, you could go further back with the iMac.

Now, let’s consider the design language of the iPhone. The 3G was announced in June of 2008. The iPhone 4, in June of 2010. The design language of the iPhone 3G, carried forward with the 3GS, will be five plus years old, when a contract signed today expires. The iPhone 4 design language will be three plus years on. Suffice to say, given the context of Apple’s computers, the iPhone 4’s design is not old.

So, what’s at issue? I suspect we have two immediate markers. First, the fast design iteration of the iPhone to the iPhone 3G. Second, the fast iteration of the iPad to the iPad 2. The first versions were to 1) establish the market and 2) learn. The lessons learned were rolled into the subsequent iterations. Apple’s not afraid to make a design departure when it wants to.

But, if Apple believes the design is true, it also doesn’t feel like it has to change anything. Consider the PowerMac G5 case. It’s been iterated, heavily, internally. But the external case is still a winner. Same with the current iMac. I venture to guess we won’t see many more frequent, radical changes. I expect the MacBook Pro will at some point get thinner, akin to the MacBook Air, but then what? The iPad 2 design could likely go years, even as it adds a Retina display and simplify variants to wifi or CDMA+GSM+wifi.

Now, let’s layer on a couple of points from Dieter Rams’s 10 principles for good design:

  • Good design is long-lasting
  • Good design is innovative

At first glance, these might be contrary positions. But consider, if design can be innovative, it should be. If it can be long-lasting, it should be. Since the original iMac, Apple’s hardware designs have been innovative, but they have also been long-lasting, and increasingly so every year. I daresay design that is incorrect has been edited out. Consider: the dalmatian-spotted iMac, the buttonless iPod shuffle, the four button + clickwheel iPod.

Here’s my bet: Apple knows it has a winner with the iPhone 4 design language. Glass back, external antenna and all. It’s a beautiful and functional object. It isn’t going to change until (and not a moment before) there is something better, functionally and more beautiful. That could be next year. It could just as easily be three years from now.

Apple and the Media: Links for July 17, 2010

Why Steve Jobs is (legitimately) pissed at the media

The Angry Drunk, in a brief bout of non-swearing:

More than once in my career I’ve been in a situation where something has gone wrong, sometimes catastrophically wrong. During situations like that, when every available hand is on deck trying to fix the problem, the most enraging thing in the world is a chorus of people who have no data, no real understanding of the issue, or even an understanding of the principles involved with the issue demanding answers NOW!

That’s the role that the press has taken during this debacle. Unquestioningly repeating the claims of anyone who was willing to make a comment, speculating about technical issues that they were patently unqualified to comment on, and demanding that Apple act NOW NOW NOW to resolve the issue. And speaking of just horrible reporting; the less said of Consumer Reports embarrassing flip-flopping the better.

(via Hacker News)

My frustration is many media outlets take the easiest possible course of quoting competing experts or (ugh) industry analysts and do very little to independently and competently quantify a complex issue. And it’s not just tech journalism that exhibits this tendency. Much of our political coverage is the same quality.

We have met Antennagate, and it is us

Devin Coldewey writes:

The signal drop heard ’round the world was followed by many more reports of launch issues. It was rough, and because of the way the internet has set itself up to instantly propagate exactly this kind of thing, soon people were hearing about iPhone 4 issues before they even knew there was an iPhone 4. The launch problems became a bigger story than the launch. Why? Because we liked it that way.

The appetite for this kind of thing is bottomless. Reasons for interest include fanboyism, professional interest, idleness, schadenfreude, legitimate concern… there was something for everybody. Then Apple, knocked off-balance by their own unpreparedness, gave a response that simply made things worse. “Non-issue. Just avoid holding it in that way.” I can’t think of a response that could have garnered a more comprehensively varied response. Shock! Defensiveness! Rationalizing! Minimizing! The circus became a feeding frenzy. And then the official statement, in which they revealed that iPhones had been using a ridiculously inaccurate signal display for years, and that they were going to make the bars bigger? My god!

What I'm expecting Apple to announce at WWDC

A little while back, I talked about what I hoped Apple would announce as part of the iPhone OS 4.0 announcement. I didn’t do particularly well, But there’s still a lot of room for surprises when all of the features in iPhone OS 4.0 become publicly known.

In a little more than a week, Steve Jobs is going to take the stage at Moscone West at the Worldwide Developers Conference and … say some things. Drawing from some of the speculation I’ve seen floating around, here’s what I’m anticipating:

  • The iPhone 4G formally announced
    • I suspect Steve is going to acknowledge Gray Powell from the stage in a never-to-be-repeated moment
  • Apple responds to Google I/O by fleshing out the iPhone OS 4.0 feature set
    • Faster MobileSafari performance. Apple and Google are going to race (and likely swap leads frequently) in terms of tuning WebKit’s performance for mobile devices
    • Free MobileMe – or a free, syncing, subset of MobileMe – for iPhone and iPad customers. This addresses Google’s cloud strategy with Android and hopefully improves the experience of setting down a laptop and picking up an iPad for apps like iWork
    • iTunes in the cloud – Based on Lala.com, if you’ve purchased the songs, you can listen to them from elsewhere
    • The last two items are facilitated by that giant Apple data center in Maiden, NC, even if they aren’t strictly developer related, they’re demonstrable technologies. I think I see a Dropbox-type, Document-centric thing happening that’ll improve how users work across multiple devices
  • Safari 5 announced. Plug-in/extension support, better recovery from quit/crashed sessions. And about damned time
  • A 27-inch LED Cinema Display, replacing the 30-inch Cinema Display as the 24-inch LED Cinema Display gains audio via Mini DisplayPort and a lower pricetag
  • Modest refresh of the Mac Pros (newer CPUs, no Blu-Ray). These will be announced by press release. As might the LED Cinema Displays
  • No demo of Mac OS X 10.7. Apple’s clearly focused on the iPhone OS this year. That’s fine, Snow Leopard kicks ass. A refreshed GUI can wait for next June

iPhone OS 4.0 prediction recap

Yesterday, I posted thoughts on what Apple would announce at today’s iPhone 4.0 OS event. Today, Apple announced seven “tent-pole” features. There are 100 or so other features, so while I can say I hit on some things, I can’t say I hit or missed on others.

  • Multitasking. I was right on being able to background and that it would be limited to the iPhone 3GS (and I presume the iPad). I was very wrong on how it would be implemented. Apple’s solution looks elegant
  • Fast user switching. No info, but I doubt it for the initial 4.0 release.
  • A more mature mechanism for notifications. Notifications are part of the background piece, but it doesn’t appear to be what I thought it would.
  • New maps features Unknown.
  • Lock screen widgets. Based on the brief lock screen I saw, I’m calling this a miss.
  • Lock screen emergency number dial. As above, a miss.
  • Unified inbox for Mobile Mail. A hit
  • Email signature differentiated by account. Unknown.
  • Multiple Exchange-account support. A hit.
  • A better document management method. Unknown.
  • No wallpaper on the iPhone. Very wrong.
  • No (native) turn-by-turn navigation. Not seen, but since they demo’d TomTom, I’m going to guess Apple’s not pursuing this themselves.
  • No video-conferencing support. Unknown.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with what was announced and I’m looking forward to seeing the rest this summer.

What I hope to see in iPhone OS 4.0

I have no particular insight into the iPhone OS development. I don’t have sources. I’m not an iPhone developer. But, since I found myself thinking about it earlier, I came up with a few things I’m hoping Apple announces as part of iPhone OS 4.0. I’m not claiming any particular ease, but these are generally things I think could be implemented elegantly and straightforward for the vast majority of users.

  • Multitasking. If they stopped here and allowed me to background Pandora, I’d be happy. If I was drawing up the feature, I’d have people explicitly ask for certain apps to run in the background vs. everything automatically getting to run in the background. With limited memory on the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, users are going to have to specifically request a small subset of apps be able to run in the background. I can see this being limited to the iPhone 3GS and iPad since they have 256 mb of RAM.
  • Fast user switching. Or, some other method of allowing an iPad to be used by multiple people in a family and keep settings straight.
  • A more mature mechanism for notifications. As Fraser Speirs has requested, the ability to have a notification quiet period would be nice. There’s also room for having a way to review all notifications, particularly if you have several of them.
  • New maps features including cycling directions, terrain tiles and, for the iPad, street view.
  • Lock screen widgets. The iPad has the slideshow. I wonder if Apple might add the weather, the stocks widget or something similar.
  • Lock screen emergency number dial. There’s a number to call if your phone is found or you’ve been involved in some manner of accident.
  • Unified inbox for Mobile Mail.
  • Email signature differentiated by account. I’d like to keep the same signature for each domain I send from the same as my desktop. The iPad (as near as I can tell from the Mail guided tour) doesn’t offer this, but it would be a big step forward to thinking of it as a primary tool if it did.
  • Multiple Exchange-account support. Alternately, push support for Google apps like Mail and Calendar. Right now, the iPhone is limited to one Exchange account for email or calendars. If you have multiple GMail or Google calendar accounts, you only get push support for one (by way of the Exchange functionality).
  • A better document management method. Maybe it’s MobileMe, maybe it’s a Time Machine-like hands-off sync mechanism. Maybe iWork gets more robust. But somehow, someway, there’s something better than what John Gruber describes in his iPad review.

What I’m not expecting to see

  • Wallpaper on the iPhone. The app icons are too close together to really make out anything else.
  • Turn-by-turn navigation. I don’t have a great reason, I just don’t think it’s going to be there.
  • Video-conferencing support. I believe Apple’s thought this through and thinks the experience of holding a device in front of you for a video conference is going to suck.

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