Parsing the latest Apple earnings.

Business Insider is not my favorite source for Apple news, they are one of those sources who have a pretty obvious anti-Apple bias, and still post advice on how Apple would be so much more successful if they did business more like Dell, HP, and Microsoft.  

This piece sticks to the facts, though.    

The hype for iPhone 8 has definitely slowed down current handset purchases, but one thing that seems to be missing from a lot of analyses is the dramatic change in how carriers offer handsets in the US since the iPhone 6 introduction.   Most of the US carriers are no longer fully subsidizing phones, which means that the old cycle of automatically getting a new phone when you are eligible is no longer a factor.  

Personally, I’m overdue for an upgrade.   I want a better camera, I want the M2 motion processor so that I can include stair climbing in my Health app, and I want force-touch and Apple Pay.   However, now, it’s much more confusing to buy a new phone, so I’ve held off on replacing my iPhone 5S, which still runs iOS 10 like a champ.   Do I wait for the new announcements or get something now?   Should I wait until WWDC at least?

Let’s face it, most of our devices are good enough these days.   If it isn’t effortless and free to upgrade, we aren’t going to do it without a substantial benefit for our trouble.   The market is different now from the days of explosive iPhone sales growth, and I think analysts are overlooking Apple’s ability to sell some of their devices twice via their own phone plan and high-quality refurbishing program.

So, I’m not panicking about the stock, even if the price goes down, Apple has the lowest P/E ratio in their sector and a pretty solid and profitable business.   But I still can’t make up my mind about when I’ll replace my current phone.

Digesting the new Apple Announcements

Was on my way back from Burning Man when the latest Apple announcements came out. The iPad Pro plus Apple Pencil combination looks like it will give Wacom some heartburn. The larger form factor of the iPad Pro combined with the 3D touch should enable some new forms of interaction; it will be interesting to see what developers do with this, but it’s going to take a while before the ecosystem gets comfortable.

Same goes with WatchOS 2.0 and the new tvOS. That’s a lot of stuff for devs to embrace, especially when they are scrambling to prepare for the iOS 9 release. I know I have a lot of woodshedding to do, including an update to iBuddha for iOS 8 compatibility, and perhaps an iBuddha for Apple Watch.

I don’t think the expansion of the ecosystem is a bad thing at all, and it’s likely to weed out a lot of casual hobbyist developers. The companies most able to take advantage of this explosion of alternatives will be bigger companies, but that also creates an opportunity for someone to provide smaller developers with tools for building apps that can run appropriately across all the platforms. Games are going to go crazy on the new Apple TV, especially if you can handoff from your iPhone or iPod. These announcements are the fruit of the Handoff work that was done in Yosemite; Apple is playing a long game, and it’s not obvious how any one move is supposed to stack up.

More when I’ve had a chance to digest the announcements further and look at docs on the new OS offerings.

iOS Messaging improvements subtle but powerful.

This article about the iOS8 Message app has a lot of great insight about how one can improve a commonly-used feature , and the importance of attention to detail. The genius of this change is that they added an amazing amount of power, but what the user sees is not so different from iOS7 that they would get lost.

The only downside is that the change isn’t easy to discover for everyone. Tap and hold is pretty common now — he points out that many messaging apps like WhatsApp have it, and it’s something that Pinterest uses as well — but it’s not always clear in an interface what things support it.

These instantly sent pieces of media are also ephemeral. You have to explicitly ask to save them, or they self-destruct after 2 minutes.

tl;dr – if you tap and hold on the microphone or camera icon in your iMessage screen, you can send voice or pictures or video without launching another app. They’ve also made tapping on the camera icon show you the most recently taken photos so you can send them without searching. Easy-to-miss, but smart changes.

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.

Facebook Messenger a disappointment on iPad

The new Facebook Messenger app looks like a nice streamlined UI to Facebook IM, one that uses location and push notifications to provide an alternative to both IM and texting.

However, they dropped the ball when it comes to the iPad. The app is built as an iPhone-only app, which means it appears on the iPad in a little window that you can pixel double up to full-screen size. Yuck.

One wonders why they didn’t at minimum build it as a Universal app, which lets the UI scale up to full screen using the full resolution of the device. This takes literally 5 minutes to implement in Xcode. The ideal solution, however, would be to use the iPad split view, which would show your list of chat buddies on the left, and your conversation thread on the right. This is a bit more work to implement, but still easy to do for an iOS developer with any iPad experience.

Facebook seems to have the opinion that the proper way to use their service is through the iPad web browser, and that certainly works, but having the ability to take advantage of push notifications and all the other native goodies and access your conversations with a couple of pokes would be a better way to exploit the immediacy of the iPad interface.

Think Alike

Apparently apple has already patented one of the things on my personal wish list for the iPad: a conductive stylus that transmits pressure and or tilt information. This type of a pen would basically turn the iPad into something like a Wacom Cintiq, at a fraction of the cost and with far better portability.

Up to now, drawing on the iPad has basically been fingerpainting, though several of the drawing apps have taken some novel approaches. Sketch Club, for example, can use your drawing velocity to control the line. Though there are styluses which you can use with the iPad now, none can support pressure or tilt sensitivity. Because of the way the iPad handles touch events and gestures, this has to be directly supported in iOS. While many of the drawing programs for the iPad are already pretty good, pressure sensitivity is a must for any serious professional drawing program, especially those that mimic traditional art materials such as charcoal.

This article goes into a lot more detail about their approach. This particular approach requires a special pen with a conductive disk tip that can trigger the touch panel sensors more effectively.