Is a less expensive iPhone in the works? Why Apple might do this.

We’ve heard this rumor before, usually in the WSJ:   Apple is planning to introduce a lower-cost iPhone so they can expand their market share, particularly in the Third World.  This one also has the questionable stamp of approval of Digitimes, who usually get these things wrong.

It hasn’t made much sense in the past.  iPhones have been selling briskly, about as fast as Apple can make them, and the high margin has kept Apple at the top of the heap in profits from mobile.   Why would Apple need to sweeten the deal, so to speak, by shaving hundreds of dollars off of their margin? Apple has traditionally not been concerned with market share over profit margin.  Furthermore, it’s not clear what compromises in the design could lower the cost without compromising user experience, other than the outer shell, a small portion of the manufacturing cost.

There are some recent shifts that may make this a good move now, however:

Apple wants to accelerate uptake of its new Lightning connector. Apple is obviously serious about transitioning its devices to Lightning as quickly as possible; it’s introduction of a 4th-generation Retina iPad with a spec bump and Lightning risked alienating a lot of the folks who had bought the iPad 3, but they did it anyway.  All of their iPod products have also been updated to eliminate the old connector.  This movement to Lightning is being slowed down by the continued offering the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s as lower-cost models, committing Apple and its OEMs to another 2 years of supporting and offering accessories for the old, tired iPod connector.

T-Mobile is eliminating device subsidies, and planning to offer the iPhone for the first time. A lower-priced iPhone makes sense here, as T-Mobile customers are not likely to be as enthusiastic about paying $649 for the iPhone 5 out of their own pockets.   Furthermore, a new iPhone model with a less expensive $199/$299 price point, different materials, etc.  would serve the need without necessarily cannibalizing sales of the fancier subsidized model at other carriers.    Other US Carriers are waiting to see the results of T-Mobile’s experiment , so whatever move Apple makes here will need to anticipate a future where people are paying out-of-pocket for their own phones.?  IMHO, Apple could get away with a slightly higher price point for the non-subsidized phone, but they are going to have to reduce the premium paid for their product in this market — an iPhone selling at twice the price of an unlocked Galaxy Nexus 4 would be a non-starter for many people.

The iPhone 4 is kind of off the table for T-Mobile, because it doesn’t support LTE,  though T-Mobile does say that they already have 1.9 million iPhones on their network.

Apple could get a lot of mileage out of retrofitting the iPhone 4S with Lightning and using a polycarbonate back, preferably in colors. It would be a hoot to see Bondi Blue and some of the other iMac colors make a return.    At the right price point, this could be a serious switcher device to lure back people burned by the lackluster Android phones on T-Mobile.   However, it’s not clear where Apple can cut the corners on its newer devices to even hit a price point like $199, given estimates for the build cost of the iPhone 5 at around $200.

Some of the other speculation, like larger screens, makes very little sense given the needs of the developer ecosystem.   It’s going to be at least another year or two before developers switch their apps to the new iOS6-only method of automatically managing app screen layout, because the technology does not gracefully extend to iOS 5.  Given that many apps (including my own) have not been updated for the new iPhone 5 screen size even now, this isn’t realistic.

TheNextWeb ending its Android magazine version

80 iOS magazine downloads for every 1 Android download, so they are throwing in the towel.

You can’t argue with their logic, but you have to wonder why the big discrepancy.

One area that screams opportunity is that it was taking them about 3-4 extra days to author the magazine for their Android targets, compared to a few hours to adapt their Retina iPad version to non-retina iPad and iPhone versions.

If you have an authoring platform that easily can generate for all the targets without manual intervention, then it really doesn’t matter how small your Android audience starts out.    This seems to be the issue, that they built for the retina iPad, then ‘dumbed down’ the content to hit a broad range of Android devices.  They use the Mag+ platform to publish their magazine.   It starts with InDesign, and maybe that’s part of the problem.  There’s a pressing need for a publishing workflow that is more organic to mobile rather than based on print content.

The other issue seemed to be discoverability — there is one place in iOS where Magazines are showcased (Newsstand), and they are also discoverable in the App Store proper.      On Android, you have multiple app stores — Google Play, Amazon, and whatever storefront the carriers may have added.  This means you need to submit your app to multiple stores and try to get it showcased there.   If Apple has 100,000 downloads of your app, it will show up in popularity rankings, but that same 100,000 will be diluted across multiple stores on Android.  And given the split they saw, it’s really 1250 downloads spread across Google Play, Amazon, Verizon, etc.

iOS 6 also has a feature that will tell you if there is an app for any sites you visit in Safari, and that certainly must drive downloads as well.  The feature is called “Smart App Banners”.  You basically put a meta tag in your web page that tells Safari about the app, and voila, a banner with an App Store link is visible to any Safari users using iOS 6.    Android doesn’t have a similar feature.

My 5 favorite iOS apps of 2012, and some disappointments

SafariScreenSnapz001

RealMac Software’s Clear, introduced a fun, minimalist to-do-list manager that you’ll actually use.   As an added bonus,  version 1.2 includes iCloud syncing, and there’s a companion desktop OS X version as well.   The gesture-based interface is easy to learn, fun to use, and includes very satisfying use of color and sound to reward you for washing the dishes, feeding the cat, etc.

Clear's gesture-based interface makes it fun to check off your chores.

Clear's gesture-based interface makes it fun to check off your chores.

This is hands-down my favorite app purchase of the year,  an app I use nearly every day, and one only made better with the addition of iCloud.

Flickr came out with a major update that puts it back into play after being overshadowed by upstarts such as Instagram.

Sketch Club: This inexpensive, but powerful drawing program has had several important features added this year: improved brush handling, the ability to record your drawing process, and improved sharing features.  Add in the online community with the app, and it’s a great buy at $2.99.

Propellerhead Figure: Sure, it’s just kind of a toy compared to the excellent desktop music package Reason, but man is it fun, and the music engine underneath sounds great.   This has also evolved new features since its launch, like export of sound files.    I’ve spent 99 cents on worse apps, including my own.   I hope that Propellerhead extends their line to make other apps of this type, perhaps something more like a sketchpad for capturing music.

Evernote 5.0: Evernote gave its app quite an overhaul on both desktop and mobile.  While the redesigned desktop client seems to make a bunch of commands much harder to use, the mobile version is much more streamlined and polished.

Hall of Meh:

Google Maps: The UI is not nearly as intuitive as the old Apple-developed Maps app, the typography and layout stick out like a sore thumb, and the app asking for you to sign in with your Google identity doesn’t serve any purpose that helps you.  Lack of address book support is a big step backwards, too. You may find it a must-have app, particularly if Apple Maps isn’t working well for you, but it really seems like a half-hearted effort from Google.

Paper (iPad only): Sure, it’s gorgeous, but its sketchbook UI paradigm gets in the way fast.  The pens are responsive and aesthetically pleasing, but the pricing model of purchasing them individually at $1.99 makes this a very expensive drawing program considering its limitations.  The lack of being able to pinch to zoom on the pages, along with the lack of layer support, make this package pretty much useless for anything but simple doodles.  Also, the reliance on gestures makes it less intuitive than you’d think.

Facebook: While getting rid of their HTML5-based mistake was a good step in the right direction, the new version still lacks the elegance of the original native version, and the addition of advertising that can’t be filtered out only serves Facebook’s bottom line, not the user.

Mobile Links for the end of the year

We’ve all been busy with the last-minute shopping, travel, cooking, and hangover cures, so here’s a rundown with lots of “Best Of” lists, predictions, etc. for the end of the year.

This piece from TechCrunch talks about how the lower advertising return on mobile will affect future sites and products.

UX Magazine talks about the top 5 user experience trends in 2012.

Warren Ellis shares his workflow for writing his new novel GUN MACHINE, using an iPad. Apparently you can write a novel on it after all.

BlueStacks is a desktop virtualization app which enables you to run Android applications on OS X or Windows machines.

The creators of Spun, a new news app for iOS, share their tips for creating a great iOS app.

This is a little bit older, but a great analysis of the inter-company politics behind Apple’s decision to drop Google’s Map API.

Ars Technica presents their in-depth review of the new Google Maps app for iOS.

Mashable ran some great advice for media companies on how to adapt or die.

Bad online search practices taken into real-life situations, courtesy of Google.

Mobile Links for Dec 2-9 2012

This week’s big news on the app side of things was the imminent closure of The Daily, an iPad-only newspaper.  I can’t even type in all the links analyzing why this failed,  just Google ‘The Daily Closes’, and you’ll see.

Craig Mod, one of the developers of Flipboard,  had a very insightful analysis of why News Corp.’s The Daily failed.   It all comes down to something he calls ‘subcompact publishing.’

The term has taken off to describe a very nimble approach to magazine publishing on tablets — content-forward, rather than trying to emulate the paper magazine experience.   This follow-up article from him summarizes some of the discusssion he’s inspired.
My take on things:

  1. Stop trying to squeeze a magazine down into a tablet.  Tablet software needs to be reductive, think of building the least-instrusive means of getting people to the content.
  2. There is a serious gap on the authoring side of things, especially if you want a truly cross-platform experience.  Any workflow starting with Adobe’s professional publishing tools is going to end up with a heavy, slow, hard-to-use mess on mobile.  There is definitely a need for something which makes ‘selling magazines for iPads as easy as blogging.’

I’m not the only one who was a bit put off by Brent Caswell’s  iOS lockscreen redesign proposal, which started with the very arguable thesis that iOS is slow and boring, and therefore needed a whole new layer of UI added before you even unlock the phone.   Jonathan Sutter also addresses the issue, with some intriguing alternatives. He points out that the purpose of the lock screen is not to display random information, but to avoid butt-dialing. Any information on the screen is gravy at best, but adding additional information from background apps would simply require some modification of the current Date/Time layout, not a whole new set of taps and gestures.  Even the current up/down gesture of the camera grabber complicates the screen and undermines the consistency of the UI.

Asymco had a great article about the dangers of outsourcing too much of your manufacturing, with Asus and Dell’s relationship as a cautionary tale.

Apple is assembling some of their new iMacs in the U.S., and Tim Cook hinted that more Macs will be manufactured domestically.   This would especially make sense for a new Mac Pro line, and help explain why a case redesign has taken so long.  Remember long ago when Tim Cook talked about a pleasant surprise in the Mac Pro line in 2013?  The Mac Pro line is the one that relies most on built-to-order manufacturing, so it would be a good fit.

Tim Cook’s interview with Brian Williams this week was very telling about his efforts to run Apple his own way.

T-Mobile, the one US carrier that actually gives you a plan discount for using an unsubsidized phone, is doing away with phone subsidies entirely. Just in time for them to introduce the iPhone on their network.

Square has just announced support for Apple’s Passbook feature, and for gift cards.

New iPad magazine showcases graphic journalism

The comics medium has been used for journalism for a while now. Joe Sacco’s Palestine is a prime example; a personal and immediate first-hand account of life in the occupied territories.

Symbolia Cover ArtSymbolia magazine takes this form of journalism to the iPad as a Newsstand app.

Symbolia is available in the iOS App Store. Download is free, an annual subscription is $11.99 for 6 issues. Single issues will run $2.99. The app comes free with the preview issue, which showcases Susie Cagle’s piece on the Salton Sea.

Newsstand Icons

Newsstand Icons are rendered differently from normal apps, like the Zinio icon at left.

Apple’s Newsstand is a very underrated iOS feature. Newsstand apps are essentially iOS apps with additional privileges that allow pushing of new content to your device so that the latest issue is available to you offline. Apple hasn’t promoted Newsstand much, but there are an impressive number of major titles available, including the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, Wired, and others. You can easily differentiate Newsstand apps from others on the app store by their icons; instead of the rounded square icons, Newsstand apps are rendered to look like magazines or newspapers. It’s a good thing, too, as the ‘store’ feature in Newsstand is kind of broken.

Ironically, today News Corp. announced that they are shutting down The Daily, but tablet-based magazines such as Symbolia and Marco Arment’s The Magazine seem to be gaining momentum. The Magazine is already profitable, has hired an editor, and increased its rates for writers. The economics of these magazines are very compelling in comparison to print magazines, and the barriers to entry have never been lower.