 It Just Works

I wrote about selling my smartphone in February 2014. And now that I bought a new one and have been using for a couple of months, would like to share my thoughts about it. Unlike previous instances, this time I managed to buy the best in the market – iPhone 6. I didn’t get the delivery on October 17, 2014 (the India launch date), as I chose to buy most sought after Space Grey 64 Gigabytes version. Many of my friends and acquaintances are aware that, I have been using Apple products for a couple of years with a 21″ iMac (2011) and an iPad 3. Ever since the launch of iOS 8, I knew what was coming in my iPhone 6 as I had also watched the keynote – live. Let us see how the device has helped for me to have better lifestyle. Throughout this post, I would try to draw comparison wherever applicable – some of them are opinions and others are perspectives.

During my experience with Nexus 4, I had talked about the network issues and hence the battery drain, consequently a very bad experience to own a smartphone. Has the situation improved since I sold the Nexus 4? Slightly better but more importantly I got a very good Cellular Plan in which, I can use first 1.5 Gigabytes 3G and unlimited 2G after that during a month. In addition, the carrier officially allowed to tap into a competitor’s network along with 2000 free minutes of monthly mobile to mobile calls. Apple does make a better phone as a package but the battery is just about adequate. It can get charged up from 0% to 100% in about 2 hours time and unlike last year, there are alternatives such as portable power banks.

Lifestyle and Entertainment
Storage is the biggest factor as media file size and quality going up in the recent past. 64 Gigabytes version does not require media/apps back-up/replace too often. iPhone does not slow down even if you fill 100% of device storage capacity. Good quality camera should be the first reason to buy a high-end smartphone. iPhone 5c would mostly do the job here in India for a smartphone, considering the infrastructure and moderate technological penetration. However, iPhone 6 can give way better camera performance as against any previous iPhone models. I have a less than one year old son and would like to capture moments. DSLR is meant for professionals, while I would not like to buy/use a point and shoot camera whenever my son is crawling or learning to stand up. It is so convenient for me to just take my iPhone out and click the moments of joy with my son. The options that are available (third party apps help) and reliability of functioning in iPhone camera 6 is unmatched. If we look at photography history, we have seen tremendous advancement in last five years or so. Photos become memories of our lives and hence it is better to take good quality photos all the time. How many of us would like to see a 3GP quality video these days, and how would do we like to look at bad quality family album of our own? It is true – if you wan’t to beat iPhone, beat the iPhone camera. I have been using flickr to store my photos and planning to migrate to Microsoft One Drive. It is a painful process to bulk download Flickr photos unless you have iPhoto or soon to be retired Aperture on iMac.

iPhone Clicks
Apps such as DayOne, Storehouse, Memoir, Movist, Buy Me a Pie, Thunderspace, etc. vastly help in various situations during a day. Places Around, (Google) Maps, Anchor Pointer, Local Scope, Über (or any cab service), Paytm etc. lets the user to get best out of smartphone in a unfamiliar situations/locations. Some of the app referral programs can be really rewarding too. These days, my wife need not write grocery list on a piece of paper and call again to add something else when I drive to the store. Calendar and Reminders will get used if the device is engaging – iPhone is one for sure. Store ten movies before going on a week long vacation without storage worries. Apple indeed charges not based on components of the device but the on value offered to the user.

This is where one can or fail to justify the purchase of a computing device. For me it starts with two apps – Dropbox and 1Password (check out here, here and here). I do not need to get back home and dig up any of my documents such as copy of PAN card, marriage certificate, rental agreement, or a latest tax filing acknowledgement. There are many cloud storage services but developers support for Dropbox is unmatched. I can take a picture of a document at a bank or in any office and convert that to text (using Translate Photo). Come back home pick up the text from the iMac and do whatever next step in the whole process. 1Password is more than a typical password manager. I’m yet to buy Mac version but amount of flexibility it offers for iOS alone is awesome. Ask me the bank account along with IFSC, address and phone number, I have it anytime. AgileBits have the best features for a password manager and the best security architecture in the industry. iOS 8 has most advanced security measures and also the convenience of inter-app sharing. I am yet to use pro functions of Launch Centre Pro or Workflow or even for that matter IFTTT. Be it finding a definition of a word, creating and sending a dropbox link on email, identifying QR code, sharing a link from Safari on Whatsapp (for whatever reasons Whatsapp does not show up in Safari sheet), creating GIF, speed dials/messaging, Launch Centre Pro and Workflow are the best solutions available. Instapaper and Instacast are the apps that I keep out to reach at one tap launch. Newsify, Nuzzel, Circa, Twitterific and Longform are my favourite apps for keeping myself up-to-date with whatever I have to follow in the world connected by web. Documents and Scanner Pro by Readle, Evernote, Screenshot, Clips, Kindle, etc. are a few of the other apps that really help me to be productive. Of course, cross platform learning apps like Coursera and Lynda do the best job. However, depth of iTunes U and iBooks (Books not sold in India) are a great value add too.

The powerhouse
I just cheked the number of apps on my iPhone – 125 is the number! Guess what? my phone works without stuttering! I managed to create a video and then reverse it – no iPhone did not hang (suicide), did not require reboot. I hardly play games and the one I play is Real Racing 3 – play for half hour, no it does not require a restart to open navigation. So what can make me upgrade this phone to 2015 model? Superlative camera, or an improved battery life, or probably iPad Air 2 level architecture (provided my personal finance permits the expense). I said iPhone 5s as the ‘s’ class last year and unless they bring such under the hood advancements, no need to upgrade my hardware. Except for a bit Wifi issues, iOS 8 has generally been stable for me. Best of 2014? Like it or not Continuity and Extensibility bring the joy of ecosystem. I do not need to figure out where is my iPhone when it rings!

Apple and a #gate

I have been actively following tech press since 2012. Noticeably every time there was a new announcement from Apple, some video or a blog would pop-up that purportedly unearthed shortcomings of that product. Latest has been about the issue of iPhone 6+ bending after applying concentrated pressure. I think this is one of the stupidest controversy, largely popularised by sites such as MacRumors, CNET, the great Boy Genius Report, YouTube, etc. News aggregator Apple Spotlight did a great job of putting together a brief history and called it iPhonegate, specifically talking about iPhone issues. But I totally fail to understand why CNET or BGR could not make a featured story out of the following articles and keep that on for a week at the top of the webpage!

Of course I would not bother to question their journalism but clearly I can see it is so easy to attract more viewers with a negative propaganda. It was not long ago that CNET found itself in a bit of a mess, and later on renowned Apple follower Daniel Eran Dilger put together an extensive story about how Apple gets bad press so often. Why would not CNET or BGR publish a featured story on Surface Pro 3 issues, the MacBook Air killer (in its previous role it was an iPad killer)?

In 2013, Apple came up with a unique polycarbonate material for iPhone 5c and a few people called that a cheap plastic. Later on, Apple was bold enough to come up with a public document for environment report of iPhone 5c. Every year Apple sells 100s of millions of iPhones, iPads and Macs. Apparently others do so as well! How about a report on environment footprint white paper like this from Samsung, LG, HTC, BlackBerry, Sony, Lenovo, Xiaomi, Microsoft and Huawei? As much as I would like all Apple products to be durable, I would also like them to recyclable and cause lesser harm to environment. Apple bothers to spend time and resources for device recyclability as we know e-waste is a huge issue.

In 2014, consumers want a thinner and lighter smartphone which is also a bit larger. Should Apple have come up with a 12mm thick smartphone, which weighs 250grams? How many of the tech press guys would want to use that? Or for that matter, which company wants to produce a brick like smartphone? Apple is a market leader in polished, high value products and those products are expected to be used in a certain way. Why would someone want to use a 6.22″ smartphone just the exact same way he/she used Sony Ericsson W700i? This year’s iPhones are bigger than ever before, and they are expected to be used differently than, say an iPhone 4s. Apple does carryout robust testing for their products and they were bold enough to show those secretive test labs. I would like to know how many of the Android OEMs can afford custom built test labs for each of their devices.

"At 275,000 employees, Samsung (just Samsung Electronics) is the size of five Googles! This explains Samsung's machine-gun-style device output; the company has released around 46 smartphones and 27 tablets just in 2014" via Arstechnica

Samsung for its part at least has a muscle power to take a jibe at Apple. But HTC and BlackBerry? They should get their Balance Sheet and Profit & Loss account in right order so that stakeholders (share holders, consumers and employees) get rewarded well enough; and then try to teach people how bad are Apple products. I feel sorry for the whole saga but these two statements sum up the story:

People really love to hate Apple. It should be considered a disorder at this point. ~ J. Gobert (@MrGobert)
About one-fifth of the people are against everything all the time. ~ Robert F. Kennedy

iPhone 6 Plus vs. BMW Car – Durability Test

iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

Ever since the leaks and rumours started coming in from various sources for this year’s iPhone, it was clear that Apple will not hold on to 4″ display devices. Last year Apple trashed the tradition of announcing only one device per year, in the form of iPhone 5s and 5c (albeit internals were same as previous year’s iPhone 5). Lots of questions asked were over the last 12 months about the saturation of top-end smartphone market. This year Apple did something new – in line with rumours and leaks – two new sizes of iPhone with identical internals. The two models are only differentiated by pixel density, battery life and optical image stabilisation in camera. Instead going downhill with pricing Apple launched larger version with a highest ever starting price for an iPhone, appropriately called it iPhone 6 Plus. There was an Average Selling Price obsessed decision too. 16GB version lived on and for every $100 increment, 64GB and 128GB variants were available. No one hates top two variants but 16GB is too suffocating for 2014-15 usage.

Let us face it, world has evolved in seven years since the first iPhone introduction. Lots of smartphone manufacturers have come in at various price points and configurations in the market. Even though Apple launched devices at two sizes in first six years – people have gotten use to larger sizes and they learnt how to operate. Last year, in iOS design overhaul Jony Ive said, people have gotten used to touch glass and interact, hence skeuomorphism was no longer needed. Similarly, larger screens offer new possibilities in user experience and hence Apple has decided to barge in at the right time. Should we call Apple playing catch-up with device screen size? Say yes and no depending on your emotions. I would thank all those large size Android/Windows phones for helping Apple to decide the design – and as customer I am even more happy to better iPhone.

Even though we are still awaiting AnandTech review for hardware specific understanding, the new iPhones appear to be the best smartphones in the market today. People who know about Apple products usually have an opinion that, Apple does not care for specs but it only cares for user experience. But I feel they do care for both and call it a product that is greater than sum of its parts. iPhone 5s running iOS8 is still better than many other smartphones in the market, including Samsung Galaxy S5. How are they achieving this? They take time to craft the product. How many iPhones in the works right now? There could be 100s but how many final models are going to pushed to the market in a year? Earlier it was only one, and now two. If we look at this year’s iPhone models, we realise that it is only one new product packaged in different screen sizes. Tim Cook said a few times a in last couple of years that, Apple wanted to do the best product that can deliver highest user experience satisfaction and display size or price was not the starting point. iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus deliver distinctive user experience for the different sizes they come in. iPhone 6 Plus is a 1920*1080 device packing 401 ppi density, while the higher contrast ratio (1400:1) on iPhone 6 makes up for lower 326 ppi density. What more? iPhone 6 Plus has optical image stabilisation which looks nearly impossible on a 4.7″ model which happens to be 6.9 millimetre thin.

Regarding protruding camera lens:
Apple had three choices.

  1. Use a camera with worse optics that would not do the job
  2. Make the entire device thicker in accordance with the camera lens
  3. Allow the camera lens to protrude from the back of the camera

and they made the last one, cannot complain until we see engineering advancement to make thinner 5 lens element camera. Surely nothing to complain as long as the device works as well as this. iPhone camera is no longer the hobbyists’ camera, it has become a pro tool!

Apple Pay and NFC
Apple tries to solve the problem, and hence they innovate. But we need to remind ourselves with a few definitions here.

  • Novelty: Something new
  • Creation: Something new and valuable
  • Invention: Something new, having potential value through utility
  • Innovation: Something new and uniquely useful

NFC has been around for a decade solving no one’s problems. Apple introduced NFC Chip in iPhone 6 and for now will only work for Pay. It is not a brand new technology but Apple made the best use of it, just as they did with Bluetooth LE based iBeacons last year. Any successful business is about partnerships and that helps technology to reach the right end-user. Pay is expected to start in the United States by October 2014 with Apple website reading, “Apple Pay lets you use iPhone 6 to pay at over 220,000 locations accepting contactless payments and within participating apps. And there are even more stores and apps to come.” Pay helps to avoid credit card fraud, makes the device even more personal and valuable, and guess what – banks are busy marketing for Apple! Last year, after iPhone 5s release, tech press said, Touch ID is gimmicky and 64Bit Hardware and iOS were useless with 1GB RAM on board. This year, by the time Pay was getting introduced, Touch ID and 64Bit technology on iPhones were second generation and people loved the new secured way of unlocking the iPhone. 64Bit OS and Hardware sync well, Apple is 12 months into the whole new way encryption and decryption technology! Again, making hardware and software work well is not an easy job, any doubts ask Microsoft. Apple Pay easily qualifies for an innovation.

OpenGL has been a standard for a long time in computer graphics, but Apple decided to design its own language for that though Metal. For starters, Apps developed by using Metal are getting a banner in iOS8, and along with Swift, Apple scores one more point in vertical integration! Motion coprocessor was introduced last year and this year chip is even better with its capability to measure distance and elevation. Of course, new generation sensors are likely to make user experience even better. A few of the lesser spoken-out but very important ones get the nod in this year’s iPhones – FaceTime video call technology enhancements, Voice over LTE, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi‑Fi, etc.

Before iPhone introduction in 2007, Apple was an underdog and they took time out for ‘I am a Mac vs I am a PC’. These days, they do not get into negative marketing simply because they know it takes hard work to reach leadership level in consumer technology business, and it takes even harder to retain that position. I am wrote this during the first weekend sales, and hence no data for the launch weekend, while people seem to be really happy to get their hands on the new iPhones. Let us wait till the high-end smartphone market saturates!