Rampant Speculation

By Conrad MacIntyre

On Larger iPhone Screens

October 10, 2014

In the days and weeks (and months) leading up to the Septerber 2014 Apple Event rumors began to swirl that the new iPhone would, in fact, be two new phones. And not an old phone dressed up like a new — the iPhone 5c — but two actually new high-end iPhones. These new phones would measure up at 4.7 and 5.5 inches diagonally. My heart sank. I hoped that, like the MacBook Pro (neé PowerBooks), the iPhone would come in three sizes (4, 4.7, and 5.5). As the picture became clearer this, it seemed, would not be the case.

The day before the event Marco Arment wrote a piece summarizing what he felt were our concerns about this new phone size:

We had resisted the idea of bigger screens not because we hated screen space, but because we thought they’d bring major costs in size and weight.


In 2011, big screens came at bigger costs to size, weight, and battery life than today’s bigger-screened phones. We failed to anticipate advances in enclosure design, manufacturing, and screen technology.

Battery life, and weight were not my conerns (though the 6 and certianly the 6 Plus certianly do weigh more — and not an unnoticable amount — than the 5s), but size was. Size was and, in fact, still is my paramount concern. And no amount of enclosure advancement will ever be able to make a 4.7“ screen as reachable as my current 3.5” (yes, I still have a 4s) screen or even a 4" screen like the 5, 5c, or 5s. I am a daily commuter and I use mass transit for 45 minutes each way. There’s no guarantee I will be able to get a seat (I often do not) or even that I will have more room than physical dimensions of my body at times. I need one hand to hold on to the disgusting hand rails, and so I have a single hand free to operate my iPhone. I want to use Tweetbot, Byword, Instapaper, Unread, Tapatalk, Safari, and Messages constantly. I need to access back buttons and menus and the tap-the-top-to-scroll-back feature (I use that a ton). Many of these things are too far to reach without shuffling the iPhone 6 in my hand — begging for trouble on a crowded and often lurching Elevated Train car — or using ‘Reachability’ (Apple’s stupidly named double-touch-the-home-button-to-lower-the-top-half-of-the-screen-so-you-can-reach-it feature) which makes every tap up top take 3x the interactions to compelete. 3x! That’s insanity! Exclamation points!!

Near the end of his piece Marco describes the edge-case for people like me:

When you only do a few things on your phone and it doesn’t really matter how big the screen is, you don’t demand bigger screens as much and it’s nice for the phone to be as small as possible.

Or, maybe, if you’re like me, you really just want a phone you can use with one hand.


Change: What is it Good For?

July 25, 2014

Jason Snell, writing for Macworld:

Beyond the system font, the most obvious visual change in Yosemite is that the gray light-to-dark gradient atop most windows is now much more subtle, so much so that I didn’t even register that I was looking at a gradient. In addition, the red, yellow, and green “stoplight” buttons on the corners of windows—the ones you use to close, minimize, or zoom that window—have been stripped of the shading effects that made them look like pieces of candy. They’re just flat circles now. (When you move your cursor over them, you’ll find the same X in the red circle and minus-sign in the yellow circle. The green circle no longer displays a plus-sign, however; instead, it shows the two-headed arrow that indicates full-screen mode. If you want to zoom a window’s size in and out, old-school style, you’ll now need to hold down the Option key before clicking the green button, or just double-click on the window’s title bar.)

Can I just say: ugh? This sizing behaviour is one of the things I hate most about capital-w Windows. Full-screen or nothing, baby! I mean, fine, if thats what you want or if you’re rocking an 11“ MacBook Air that’s cool. But one of things I love about my Mac — and one thing at which Microsoft’s product is particularly awful — is window management. When I click that green ”+" button my window expands only to the size it needs to be. What an amazing concept! And with features like Mission Control (I still lovingly call it Exposé) I jump to any window I want or any of my virtual desktops.

I guess what I’m really saying is… at least give me a check box?



May 2, 2014

Mark Moskowitz (JP Morgan):

While not a new idea, our global tech research team believes Apple could be on the cusp of introducing a new category with iAnywhere, a converged MacOS-iOS operating system that allows an iPhone or iPad to dock into a specially configured display to run as a computer,“ Moskowitz said. ”In our view, this category would be a leapfrog event, potentially jumpstarting iPhone and iPad growth as well as peripherals and cloud-based software and services sales.

With Dub-Dub (Daniel Jalkut’s preferred vernacular for Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference) just around the corner, it seems like now is as good atime as any to address this, uh, topic.

First of all this has been tried — it was called the Motorola Atrix and C|Net’s Scott Stein had this to say about it:

So, who is this laptop dock for? It’s unclear right now, but probably no one you know.

And his was one of the more generous reviews of the thing. The fact that the current product page on the Motorola website doesn’t even have a picture tells the whole story there, doesn’t it?

As for the merging of the operating system that’s really a damned-of-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation there. Apple’s tasked with one of four options. Either (1) taking away some of the freedom Mac users are accustomed to, (2) adding a boat-load of complexity to the iOS operating system to bring it up to modern standards, (3) making everyone angry or confused by doing a little bit of both, or (4) do what Microsoft has done with the Surface which hasn’t really done all that well.

Mark Moskowitz suggests that if only Apple would combine these two failed approaches it would “[jumpstart] iPhone and iPad growth”. Uh-huh.


On Clickless Trackpads

April 10, 2014

Stephen Hackett:

Lastly, the bit about these machines coming with “a new trackpad design that doesn’t include the mechanical button” makes me sad. As shallow as the movement is on Apple’s current trackpads, the physical click gives users a sense of place and execution that that tap to click simply doesn’t. While I’m sure I would adjust over time, I find tap to click disorienting and accident-prone when I spend time with it on.

I share Hackett’s skepticism regarding the fan and the trackpad, but mine goes much farther. Far enough, in fact, that I will state unequivocally that the clickless trackpad will not happen.

Why? The simple matter of manipulation of items on the screen. Say I have a file on my desktop and I want to drag it into a folder. How would I go about doing that? How does the OS determine the distinction between a click, a click and hold, and a stray finger? What if I’m attempting to use a gesture to rotate an item or trigger another command — such as with BetterTouchTool?

Essentially, I think such a decision would be an ergonomic nightmare.


A Larger-Screen iPhone

February 17, 2014

There is currently a lot of buzz around bigger iPhones with one of the more prominent advocates being developer Marco Arment, who has stated that he would buy a larger iPhone if one were made available. Putting aside my feelings about a larger-screened iPhone1 for a moment I will say that this particular piece by Richard Padill seems suspect to me based on this one line:

Citing industry insiders who have “seen the prototypes,” the publication also states that both phones will feature a pixel density of 441 pixels per inch (PPI) compared to the 326 PPI currently found on the displays of the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c.

What is the advantage in Apple doing this? I suppose it would give them a checklist item about why they are better than tablet X, but it seems to me that the downsides are many more.

Firstly; it throws off the pixel ratio of the device (or makes the content on-screen smaller and less tap-friendly), which means that every nook and cranny of the OS needs to be re-done and every app needs its assets updated or they will looks skewed and blurry.

Secondly; as John Gruber and Marco Arment discussed in the above-linked podcast, there is more taxation on the GPU and the battery life of the device.

Thirdly; and somewhat facetiously, what will they call it? Retinaer Display? Potential pitch at media event:

I know we told you guys that anything greater than 326ppi was indiscernible by the human eye, but we lied! So we made a new, more pixel-dense screen that will even more indiscernible-er! This time it’s for real, though. So totally go buy one!

I’m not saying Apple will not make a bigger phone, but I don’t buy these specs. Marco’s suggestion of just using the iPad Air’s pixel density and releasing a larger iPhone at the same resolution is the best course. I guess we’ll find out when (or if) Apple ever releases this bigger phone.


On Rumors Of A Lower Cost iPhone

August 7, 2013

The intertubes are buzzing with rumors of a lower-cost iPhone. There’s obviously too much smoke for there not to be fire here, so something is coming out of Cupertino this fall in the phone space. While it has been suggested that Apple is sacrificing profit margins to make this “budget iPhone”, I think that theory has largely been shown the door. None of this, in my opinion, definitively answers the question of why Apple would create a custom-built low-cost iPhone.

My theory? Feature parity.

If you live in the US and wanted to get a $0 iPhone last year you bought the iPhone 3GS on a 2-year term. This means you are still using an iPhone without a Retina Display, without a 4-inch screen, without a front-facing camera, without Bluetooth 4.0. And if you live in Canada it’s even worse, with our 3-year wireless terms.[1]

Put that together with this snippet from Andrew Cunningham’s coverage of Apple’s Q3 2013 earning call:

According to Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer and CEO Tim Cook, the dip in margins is due in part to strong sales for the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S, which have lower margins than the high-end iPhone 5.

This all means, of course, that when a new technology or service comes out; Apple’s customers are increasingly not benefitting from that, thus the advantage that comes from being an Apple customer is reduced and fragmentation, which plagues the Android platform, increases for iOS also.

By releasing a new array of hardware from top to bottom with each release cycle Apple can better ensure current and future compatibility[2] as well as faster roll out of marquee features[3].

Additionally — and I’m not putting any money on this — if Apple were to drop back to 18-month release cycles, and it’s customers were to opt for 6-month early upgrades with their carriers, that means Apple could put the newest, best technology in the hands of anyone who was even remotely interested with every single release. And it’s not like that release cycle is unprecedented in the iPhone realm.

  1. Thankfully this is finally ending soon.  ↩

  2. Including the low-end models which have typically fallen off a cliff in terms of compatibility with new OS features.  ↩

  3. Features like Siri — which was withheld to make the top-end iPhone more appealing at the time — not withstanding.  ↩


Gang-Jumped By Paid App Upgrades

July 19, 2013

Gedeon Maheux:

Perhaps a better way to answer the question might be, how willing would you be to re-purchase your favorite apps if they are optimized for iOS 7? Look at your device’s home screen and go down the list of apps you use most and ask yourself if you could live without it once you upgrade. I think that most users (at least those that matter to developers) would answer that they would gladly pay again if it means having the latest and greatest version of their favorite apps, at least I would hope so.

If I take a quick look at my home screen I’ll find:

  • Byword (with IAP) – $10
  • Craigslist – $2
  • Downcast – $2
  • Felix – $3
  • Reeder – $5
  • SkyMotion – $3
  • Tweetbot – $9
  • 1Password Pro – $14
  • Assorted games ~$30

Each of those apps was well worth the money and I use most of them daily (Reeder is more of an addiction than an app). But if all of those developers jump on the iOS 7-is-the-time-to-release-a-paid-upgrade train then I’m out almost $80. That inches closer to $100 if you count my second page apps. Each on their own in worth the money, but all of them together would break the bank.

I believe in paying for good software, really I do, but I’d appreciate if all the devs of apps I use didn’t take advantage of the new iOS launch to make my entire phone out of date.


Overpaying For Mobile

July 18, 2013

Eric Silvka posted an article today talking about how US carriers are gouging their mobile customers with their upgrade programs, then concludes with the following paragraph:

In all cases, customers would seem to be able to save some money by purchasing a contract-free phone upfront for $650 and then reselling it on their own terms whenever they wish to upgrade, almost certainly saving hundreds of dollars in the process.

You think this is bad? You should see what Canadian wireless carriers have been getting away with for years[1] — the CRTC is finally reigning them in this December, though.

  1. And keep in mind, those prices are on 3-year terms. I bought my iPhone 3G on a 3-year term and still paid $199 for it. I actually called my service provider — Fido and asked why I was paying the same subsidy as Americans who are on 2-year terms. I was told that Apple mandated those contract lengths. So I called Apple, they told me my carrier was a liar. Armed with that information I called Fido back and told them what Apple said to me. Then I was informed that it was, in fact, Fido themselves who set the contract lengths. When I recovered from the shock I asked for the number to the corporate headquarters so I could ask someone about why 3-year terms were necessary — the CSRs have no access to any such number and it’s not on their website, just an email address. I took it upon myself to email them daily for about two months… no reply. I gave up. With 6 months left on my contract I lined up on launch day for a brand new iPhone 4S (that’s right my early upgrade from my iPhone 3G was a 4S). After signing my contract and coming home I got my confirmation email. Turns out I did not extend my contract to 3 years, I extended it by 3 years! Meaning my contract is up in April of 2015. 2015! I signed a 3.5-year contract to get an iPhone 4S 6 months early. Absolutely incredible.  ↩


The App Store’s Upgrade Model

July 16, 2013

Federico Viticci today pointed to Apple’s brand-spanking-new[1] Logic Pro X’s price and took it as “another data point” when trying to figure out what Apple intends — and intends others — to do about the App Stores’ upgrade model. I agree entirely, but what was more interesting to me was the article he linked to from last year by Gabe Glick:

Developers and longtime computer users may be used to the shareware, time trial, pay-full-price-once-upgrade-cheaply-forever model of buying and selling software, but regular people, the mass market that Apple continues to court first and foremost, aren’t. Adding demos (“I thought this app was free, but now it’s telling me I have to pay to keep using it? What a ripoff!”) and paid upgrades (“Wait, I bought this app last year and now I have to pay again to keep using it? Screw that!”) would introduce a layer of confusion and make buying an app a more arduous process, which would result in people buying fewer apps.

Gabe goes on to contend that the above are, he speculates, Apple’s motives. I disagree. The objections put forward seem unlikely to me.

“I thought this app was free, but now it’s telling me I have to pay to keep using it? What a ripoff!”

This first theorized objection is the stronger of the two in my mind. But, the iBookstore allows Samples. That model seems to be working for iBooks, I’m sure if Apple allowed App Store demos that would encourage people to try out more apps — possibly even more expensive apps — which might lead to more sales, and maybe even stem the race to the bottom.

“Wait, I bought this app last year and now I have to pay again to keep using it? Screw that!”

Anyone who has ever bought computer software knows that when you get new software (upgrade or otherwise) you need to pay for it. And besides, you don’t have to upgrade — you can keep using what you’ve been using, no extra charge. I think the real issue is support and bug-fixes for older software. That — it seems — would become a thing of the past.

Let me be clear — I don’t mean to say anything negative against Gabe or his piece for Macstories. He’s trying to come up with a theory as to why Apple is not giving developers the opportunity to offer an easy paid upgrade or trial mechanism in the App Store. The reasons, to me, are as opaque as the approval process of the App Store itself. It seems, at least to this observer, that Apple just doesn’t care — they don’t make their real money off software anyway.

  1. And totally GAS-inducing.  ↩


Apple’s Manifesto

July 15, 2013

Apple’s new ‘Designed By Apple’[1] and ‘Our Signature’ ads are garnering a lot of attention — in both positive and negative[2] lights.
But what I think people have largely overlooked since John Moltz pointed out that Samsung is/was a client of Ace Metrix (The source often cited when deriding Apple’s latest ads), is that these new spots harken back to Apple’s ‘Here’s To The Crazy Ones’ ad from the late 90s.

Lee Clow, the big dog at Apple’s advertising agency, recently said — rather off-handedly — that “Crazy Ones” was made to ‘buy time’ between Jobs’ re-arrival and the iMac[3], but I sincerely doubt that’s the whole story.

I believe the entire ‘Think Different’ campaign was a manifesto; an anthem; a rallying cry. Apple had rediscovered itself. It had dusted off its original identity and it wanted to let everyone know. It wasn’t just for Apple as so many have claimed — it was also for it’s customers. Apple wanted to let people know that they shouldn’t listen to all the negativity, that good things were coming, and that those things would be decidedly different[4].

I believe these new ads serve the same function. With every two-bit “analyst” crawling out of the woodwork to talk about how Apple is losing it’s cool, or waining in public support, or that innovation at Apple is dead since the death of founder and resurrector, Steve Jobs, it has become time once again to rally the troops.

This is Tim Cook’s Apple. And while it may not have some of Jobs’ alleged design tendencies, it still believes those things it clung to in the late 90s when death was knocking at the door. Apple doesn’t ship a product just for the sake of shipping it[5] — each product has a purpose, it fills a need. And Apple will not be rushed to market before it’s ready. And Apple’s string of successes seem to indicate that they know what they’re doing.

I, for one, love the ads and am excited for the fall.

  1. Apple seems to be drawing a lot of heat about their claim that these products are “Designed by Apple in California” — as though they are trying to draw attention away from their place of manufacture. And while I’ve no doubt that Apple would be pleased if these ads reminded people that much of what they do does not take advantage of China’s manufacturing prowess, I think the emphasis is all wrong. Jason Zimdars put it very well in a piece he wrote back in 2010 (emphasis his):

    [I]t wasn’t “Made by Apple in California,” it was Designed. I can’t think of another company that holds design in higher esteem or even one that touts every product as designed, not made. This might be the best expression of the company’s mission available.

  2. A lot of people are basing their conclusion that these ads are a ‘flop’ on a report by Ace Metrix, a company that numbers Samsung among their clients.
  3. And OS X.
  4. And not just different for different’s sake. Apple took a radical approach to make computers into functionally integrated, simple, and beautiful appliances — in terms of hardware and software.
  5. iPod Socks not withstanding.