My First Week Not Using the New iPhone X

Nope, that is not a typo. I’m really not using the new iPhone X and it really is an unusual event because I’ve purchased a new iPhone every year since the 3G. I remember it like it was yesterday. In 2008, while waiting in line at the Apple Store in Santa Monica for hours to buy my first iPhone, I spoke to several people near me. One was a neurosurgeon, another was a musician covered in tattoos, and a couple were computer science students from nearby UCLA. Despite our differences, we all agreed that the iPhone was going to conquer the mobile world which then consisted of horrible phones like the Blackberry and Windows Mobile based devices. At the time I was using a state of the art Samsung “Blackjack” which I nicknamed the “Crapjack” because it was so bad.

Then, like now, the release of a new iPhone’s was met with immediate criticism. Blackberry wrote it off as an “expensive toy” and Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer laughed at the $500 price tag. The video of him laughing out loud almost has three million views on YouTube.

Fast forward almost 10 years and the iPhone has been a great ride for Apple. It has transformed computing, spawned numerous imitators such as Android, and has brought the Internet to the masses around the world. Personally, working with Apple catapulted my career and transformed the company I worked for. It was certainly no fun visiting them before Steve Jobs returned, but afterwards it was a high octane trip in the Silicon’s Valley’s version of the Autobahn. Each new iPhone model added irresistible features: better cameras, better (and bigger) displays, faster processors, better industrial design, higher WiFi speeds, better security through TouchID, etc.

So why didn’t I buy the biggest and baddest iPhone ever when it was released this week? It has a bigger, better display (OLED!), FaceID, a faster processor, two cameras that are both optically image stabilized, and a whole host of other improvements including a special “image signal processor” in the main A11 CPU that creates special effects like the one below. I took this with an iPhone X in the Apple Store in Phoenix. No special lighting, no special background, in broad daylight just using Apple’s “Stage Light” effect.

The answer is complex. Part of it has to do with the idea that at some point, the iPhone 7+ is “good enough” for 90% of the tasks I use it for. In fact, my phone sometimes sits on my desk the whole day lonely and neglected because the Apple Watch has taken over some tasks and the iPad others. Also, TouchID is still great, the camera is excellent, it has not slowed down with iOS 11, and is not too big for my pockets. It’s a similar story as to why I only recently upgraded my 2012 MacBook Pro (explained at the end of this post). Other reasons include the price. While 64GB for $999 is not unreasonable, it is not enough storage for me, but the next step up is 256 GB for $1,149 which feels like a waste of money because it is definitely too much space. Like Goldilocks, 128 GB is “just right.”

In general, the iPhone X seems to be made for a slightly different use case than mine and the iPhone 8 doesn’t seem like enough of an upgrade to justify the cost either so here I sit for the first time in 10 years without the latest greatest from Apple. Is Apple in trouble? No way! FaceID and other enhancements will probably get me to upgrade my iPad next year and there will certainly be something to lure me into the iPhone 11 eventually. In the meantime, it’s all about the software at the moment and iOS 11 is a major breakthrough for mobile operating systems. How can Apple possibly survive giving something this valuable away for free? Well, that sounds a topic for the next post. Stay tuned!

Apple Demonstrates the Problem With Being “Perfect” – Part 3

As Part 2 of this series demonstrated, the truth seems to be that technology doesn’t have to be perfect to be usable. Microsoft and Google are posting record profits despite a wide variety of serious flaws in their products and services. Apple is clearly being held to a higher standard. To a large extent, people don’t know or care if their phones, tablets, or computers aren’t perfect. They just want to use them to get work done without issues requiring convoluted fixes and the threat of viruses. I constantly see people in companies, airports, etc. with their phone’s apps just as they were when it came out of the box plus a few standards like Facebook, News, and Sports. Often people only upgrade when they replace the device with a newer model. Apple has done an great job with this less tech savvy group. For example, Apple stock apps like Mail, Maps, and Calendar are very functional and sync seamlessly between mobile devices and desktop computers. Even more impressive, Apple’s utilities like macOS Time Machine and iOS backup are outstanding. I restored my computer after a rare filesystem problem and an hour later the computer rebooted exactly how it was at the end of the last backup. Try that with Windows or Android. Also, macOS and iOS are mostly secure from online threats. Even the techie Mac users I know don’t run anti-virus software.

Technology breakthroughs don’t have to come on a yearly schedule like clockwork. In an article in 9to5Mac that explored if Apple has become “boring” recently, Ben Lovejoy made the following comment, “It is, of course, a recurring debate – but one often fueled by the myth that Apple was inventing new product categories on an annual basis. We insert here our usual reminder that the Mac was launched in 1984, the iPod in 2001, iPhone in 2007, and iPad in 2010.”

To be fair, Apple has slipped lately. The battery life controversy with the new MacBooks and iPhones, software issues with iCloud, high prices, and other issues are worrisome, but Apple products are still the best option for a large majority of users. So what is behind the anguished screams that seem to be coming from every direction? A future post will focus on the different, but related issue of explosion of fake online news that is fueling the fire. Where has “real news” gone? Even a guy who was helping us with a bathroom tiling job was bragging about becoming a writer for “referral networks” which is just another fancy name for creating fake reviews. Negative articles about Apple make people click on them, generating revenue, so another future post will provide some concrete ways to work around this. Even one of my favorite tech sources has commented on the situation in his own industry. Here’s a quote from the full article.

Combine those two factors and we’re looking at a world where large swaths of the American public (and the rest of the world) will have very bad information about crucial news, because they’ve created their own very bad newspaper. It’s a problem technology has helped create, but it’s hard to see how technology will fix it.

— Peter Kafka

Maybe technology won’t fix it, but making people aware is the first step.

Apple Demonstrates the Problem With Being “Perfect” – Part 2

To continue the short rant that ended Part 1 of this series, Windows 10 is far from perfect and continues with the tradition of bizarre Microsoft design decisions. For example, the “system tray” found on the bottom right of every Windows main screen is full of obtuse software by default including something called the Intel Rapid Storage Manager (don’t touch these settings!), Synaptics Touchpad (I have adjusted my Mac touchpad once in four years), Lenovo Solution Center (an oxymoron), McAfee Anti-Virus, etc. McAfee is a joke in itself, more like buying a used car than software.

On the other hand, macOS shows only Bluetooth status by default. Also, high end Windows machines aren’t cheap anymore either. Microsoft’s Surface Book is pushing $2,200 and has several serious issues.

In the world of mobile operating systems, people threatening to jump ship from iOS to Android should read the balanced, well written article: “What I Learned about My iPhone After Switching to the Google Pixel.” The author sums up his experience with Google most recent phone by saying, “If you’re predisposed towards Android, or don’t enjoy iOS, the Pixel presents a superb overall experience… For now though, even though I’m still carrying around my Pixel, my iPhone remains my main device.” I have a Android Nexus 6 phone that I keep updated and I came to exactly the same conclusion. Even Google’s flagship phone from last year, the Nexus 6P, is experiencing a software problem (boot loop) so severe that it disables the phone completely. The thread on Reddit has almost 500 comments. If the iPhone had the same problem… Ugh, I shudder to think of the media frenzy. “Coincidentally,” the Pixel XL with 128 GB is EXACTLY the same price as the iPhone 7+ with 128 GB, $869. So much for Android being the less expensive option.

Finally, since I love acoustics, I found this article to be a fascinating glimpse into what happens when people stray away from the closed systems that Google has created: “An Audiophile Switches From iOS to Android.” His conclusion, “My journey from iOS to Android on a Google Pixel phone has been frustrating with respect to audio playback… Google could make all of this a nonissue, but based on the company’s responses, I don’t have a good feeling the company will ‘Do the right thing.'” By contrast, his iOS audiophile configuration is straightforward: Lightening Connector to USB, then the DragonFly USB DAC.

So where does that leave Apple in the wild world of consumer electronics? We will see in Part 3 of this series!

Apple Demonstrates the Problem With Being “Perfect” – Part 1

Welcome to 2017! It would be great to start the year with a post about Apple creating the next generation of breakthrough products and providing them at reasonable prices, but unfortunately 2016 was rough. To make matters worse, lately the news has been sounding like Chicken Little, “The sky is falling!” Even the smallest complaints are being screamed from the rooftops. Last month’s Monthly Recap explored this in detail, but with the continuing deluge of negativity, it’s worth taking a step back to try to see the big picture.

In short, Apple is a victim of its own success. For the past decade, every year has brought another industry changing product or feature. The video of Steve Jobs’ iPhone 1 unveiling is a reminder of how revolutionary it was and still is. So much so that the rest of the industry is just not beginning to catch up. This dominance has made Apple a favorite target for critics, which begs the question: Why does Apple have to supply a continuous stream of “perfect products” when nobody else does? ReCode’s article, “All Apple gave us in 2016 was a thinner iPhone, a touch bar, and too many dongles” paints a bleak picture, but where consumers are spending their money sends a different message. Other tech news sources wrote recently, “Huge demand for Apple’s ‘boring’ iPhone 7 may lead to Apple’s highest revenue in history” and “From Apps to iPhones: Holiday Shoppers Invest in Apple.”

Maybe Apple products are becoming boring, but they’re profitable workhorses. I’m currently using an “ancient” 2012 MacBook Pro which feels almost as fast as it did four years ago and still runs the most current version of MacOS. It’s so good that a year ago, Cult of Mac wrote a post, “Why is Apple’s ancient 2012 MacBook Pro still so popular?” By comparison, a brand new Windows 10 machine that I purchased for a specific project last month already has had a two hour “anniversary” upgrade and still constantly bombards me weekly with forced update notifications requiring a reboot. The anniversary upgrade took so long that I almost turned it off midway through (which would have been a disaster). The 2012 MacBook took less than a half hour for its most recent major upgrade.

The next part of this series will look at Apple in relation to the other major players in the tech world: Microsoft and Google. Certainly some of the recent criticism is warranted, but how much?

Acoustics – Apple’s Future is ‘Ear’

Last month’s recap ended by citing one expert’s opinion (John Kirk) that the future of Apple is potentially intimately entwined with acoustics. His article, “Apple’s Future is Ear” from Tech.pinions provided a detailed analysis of the historical and current events leading to his conclusion. It’s obviously a clever title. To summarize, the author thinks that Apple is paving the way for an audio user interface accessed through the soon to be released Apple AirPods. This is not as far fetched as it sounds. Siri had an early lead in this area and currently Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Now personal assistants are gaining popularity. What didn’t do well was the visually based system called Google Glass. Due to its invasive nature, people who wore them became known as “Glassholes.”

With all the negative press about Apple these days, I was concerned that Kirk’s lengthy analysis might be fundamentally flawed so I took the time to carefully reread the almost 7,000 word post. I came away even more convinced that the naysayers do not understand Apple’s core values when it comes to innovation. Buried right in the middle of Kirk’s article is the section called “Socially Awkward.” In it, he says “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that resistance to the new AirPods is anything new. There has never been a meaningful change that wasn’t resisted by self-righteous, holier-than-thou, know-it alls” and goes on to list the “technologies” that have fallen into the same category such as the cell phone, Walkman, radio, automobile, bicycle, phonograph, and kaleidoscopes, and books. “Novels were considered to be particularly abhorrent. In 1938, a newspaper ran an article with some top tips for stopping your kids from reading all the time.”

It’s true that Siri is not up to the job yet, but as Kirk points out, Apple has always had a long-term plan and the benefits would transform the technology world… again. A few of the benefits of an AirPods based interface could include:

  • Walking instructions – Which are in their infancy, but on their way… It’s not a good idea to look at a screen while walking.
  • Spatial awareness – They’ll remind us to take the mail with us when we leave the house, and to buy toilet paper when we pass by the local supermarket.
  • Contextual awareness – Sensors in the device will know if we are in conversation and will break in only with the most important verbal notifications.

Kirk mentions many more and the quotes he uses to support his assertions are wonderful. The entire piece is a far cry from the negative knee jerk reactions that are filling the Apple news outlets lately. Overall, the Tech.pinions website seems to be true to its name. It has “the singular vision of providing the technology industry with quality opinion based columns.” They also explain that they “only allow contributions by those who have credible, respected, original, authoritative and informed opinions on the technology industry.” From the balanced, high quality articles they post, I believe them.

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