I have written multiple times about this issue of a not so thin line that differentiates Apple and Samsung or rather the difference between being inspired by someone's idea and just blatantly ripping it off. Apple is known for its inspiration, like for example Johny Ive and Steve Jobs loved Sony's design but none of the Apple products looked like photo copies of Sony's, like how Samsung phones and tablets of today look like Apple's iPhone and iPad. There will be many more articles written about this issue and this will argument will rage on forever. There is a saying in my home country, "You can wake up people who are sleeping, but you can never wake up people who are pretending to be asleep". The morale is that, what you believe in depends on your scruples and of course that Samsung as a company lacks any. Anyway like I said before I can go on writing about this but might not convince anybody. But this guy (Dave Wiskus) knows what he is talking about and anyone who is even remotely interested in technology should see this short video. Heck his logic on "Copy Forward" makes and has made sense in every field of life. And this video is neither for people who are already awake nor for people who are pretending to be asleep, it is for people who are genuinely still asleep!
Antenna gate was the last major serious issue that plague Apple, and it was the iPhone 4 at that time. The way Apple or rather Steve Jobs reacted to it at that time, was typical of him. He basically said that iPhone was not the only one affected by that issue and that you can get to force the signal dropping issue by holding the iPhone wrong or rather deliberately tight shorting our the reception antennas. Well, this started a long series of memes and funny anecdotes of Steve jobs saying "you are holding it wrong". While it is debatable if the way Apple and Steve Jobs reacted back then was appropriate or not, Apple of today certainly seems very different. Apple seems to have matured (?). It seems to have become more open in its interactions with the Press and Media. Don't get me wrong, it still does not want its future product information to leak out even a bit, but when it faces issues like the nonsense-gate or the botched iOS 8.0.1 update, it has been prompt in responding.
On the flawed iOS 8.0.1 update Apple responded yesterday saying it was sorry for the buggy release and immediately pulled off the update, set up an area for more support on this issue and to reverse it back to the previous iOS version and promised a working iOS 8.0.2 update soon. Like I tweeted yesterday, mistakes happen, even at Apple and best thing anyone can do is apologize, fix anything possible and move on. And this time we got an apology as well...
In another series of unfortunate events for Apple and Tim Cook right after the successful September even and iPhone 6 launch, the so called bend-gate was blown out of proportion on the Internet. Though there were multiple videos as response to the original iPhone 6 Plus bending under strong pressure, showed that all modern smartphones succumb to similar pressure, in one way or the other, the damage was already done for Apple in terms of marring its image. But this time around, Apple instead of acting similar to the antenna-gate issue, handled this issue a bit more professionally (?), in my opinion. Apple invited a bunch of journalists (via The Verge) to its campus and showed them what kind of stress and reliability testing an iPhone goes before being sold to the customer. And from what Verge reports, it seems exhaustive and more than assuring. But more importantly by doing this, Apple is passing on the message that, others can insinuate Apple in whatever way they want, but here is what Apple does to avoid such issues and now the customers can be the judge of it. There was no "other smartphones also bend under the same amount of pressure" or "you are sitting wrong, with the iPhone 6 Plus in tight pockets", etc. For me this in another indication of a more matured Apple and that is a good thing!
As soon as Apple announced the iPhone 6 and the 6 Plus, it was clear that the iPhone 6 was the successor to the iPhone 5S, as the iPhone 5 was to the 4S. However the iPhone 6 Plus appeared so much better, hardware wise, well because Apple made it so much better. The iPhone 6 is clocked at a slightly but higher speed, it has a bigger battery that gives appreciable improvement from the iPhone 6's battery life, it has a much better camera and finally it is $100 more expensive. So of course the public's conception is that the iPhone 6 Plus is the best iPhone that can be bought at this time. I blogged about this even before the iPhone 6 announcement. As an Apple fanatic and a technology connoisseur, I want to have the latest and the greatest iPhone. So I should buy an iPhone 6 Plus, right? No.
However tempting it is for me to buy an iPhone 6 Plus, I don't think it is the right choice for me. For me the purpose of an iPhone is predominantly to use it whenever and wherever I need it as it is right there next to me, most of the times with only one hand and this one handed usability is very important to me. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are designed exceptionally thin and sleek and almost weightless for a reason and that is to make the taller phones seem comfortable to use or offset some of the weight and height increase by decreasing the thickness. But this sleek design comes at a cost. I feel like the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are so slippery (without the case), the 6 Plus even more so as it is too big to hold in one hand. So for me the ultimate choice came down to having an iPhone that is one tick "lower" in being the best iPhone available v/s the one handed use and decided to go with the one handed use. I of course did this after going to the Apple store and spending a good amount time with both the models, trying to recreate my everyday use cases with them. I am not happy about this, that is to having to choose between better hardware and portability, but that is life.
Since Apple let customers pre-order their iPhone 6 models this time and it was this time in a long while, the iPhone has gone through a "major" change, design wise, a lot of people pre-ordered iPhone 6 Plus without even looking at it in person. While, like I mentioned yesterday, many of them might already have experienced a "big" smartphone, as they were switching from Android Phablets, there are bound be a good number of them who have pre-ordered an iPhone 6 Plus and have never used a smartphone this big in their life. For these people it is going to be a surprise (and some shock) as to how bight the 6 Plus actually is. Some small portion of them might even realize it to be almost useless for their use case of the iPhone that might predominantly involve using it in one hand.
This issue with the iPhone 6 Plus is understandable as the iPhone jumps from the 4" form factor to a 5.5" form factor. However there are some worst case examples (Macworld) even with the iPhone 6. While there was some uproar at the increase in the iPhone size from iPhone 4S's 3.5" screen to the iPhone 5S"s 4" screen, it subsided quickly as customers got used to the taller iPhone 5. Now while I am sure this will happen soon with the iPhone 6, there will be more people this time missing a "new" 4" iPhone (Where is the "new" 4" iPhone?) than there were people who missed a "new" 3.5" iPhone two years ago.
In summary it is very important that you try out the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models before you buy them, particularly this time. due to the "significant" increase in the iPhone screen size or else be prepared to be surprised by the iPhone 6's bigger presence when you first get your iPhone 6.
The average customer
From the Apple I and II days, the Apple Steve Jobs wanted to build was a consumer electronics company or a company whose products can be used by the vast majority of the consumers, irrespective of their backgrounds and knowledge base. That is the reason he pioneered a computer that had a intuitive UI compared to the command line interface that was prevalent at that time. Apple of today is still that same company Steve Jobs dreamed of three decades back. Though Apple's computers could never become more prevalent than approximately 10% of the market, it was aimed at the average Joe. With the iPhone and the iPod, Apple realized that dream of making accessible consumer electronics products. The iPhone has remained the single most successful smartphone for the last seven years for a reason and that reason is that anyone, from a technology nerd to a blue collar worker can take up the iPhone and start using it right away. This is an almost impossible task and only Apple has done it not once, with the graphical user interface (that Microsoft borrowed heavily that made GUIs the standard for computing), not twice (with the most successful portable music player), not thrice (with the most accessible smartphone ever), but actually four times (with the first ever modern tablet). This is an achievement that no company in the world has managed so far and it is not likely that any company is even trying to take up this spot, nowadays.
First to make it work
When companies like Google or Samsung make products or services, it is seldom focussed on this one goal. When Tim Cook talked about what gets him going everyday, in his latest PBS interview, this is that one thing that he claimed motivates him and Apple everyday. So is Apple changing the world for good, one step at a time? Of course, yes. Think about a world that did not have a GUI or a world that had smartphones like the Blackberries of yesteryear. It is quite possible that some other company (even Google's realization of a smartphone before the iPhone was more like a Blackberry at that time and nothing like the smartphones we have now) might have come up with these or similar ideas eventually, but Apple came up with them first. I don't mean the actual ideas behind the GUI (Xerox came up with it), iPod (someone else came up with this), the modern smartphone (I am sure touchscreen devices existed prior to 2007) and the iPad (ask Microsoft who came up with a tablet first). Apple successfully converted these ideas into actual products that changed the way an average consumer embraced technology and that is Apple's true contribution to society and this is "Apple Innovation". Just like Apple "thinks different" about every thing, think about the meaning of the word "innovation", in a different sense, for once!
I might be able to make a better case of my point in the paragraphs before by taking an example. Take Touch ID, that Apple introduced in the iPhone 5S last year. Yes, using finger print sensor for authentication has been around for a few years now, started with the laptops (in the consumer electronics space) and then some "smartphones" had them before the iPhone. But think about the average consumer's average laptop, has this technology made its way to that consumer's laptop, nope. Or in other words have the finger print sensors become prevalent on laptops like say, the SD card slot has? The same thing holds true to the finger print sensors on the smartphones, before Touch ID (Apple's fancy term for using a finger print to authenticate) though the idea was floating around, it never was widely accepted/adapted. The day after iPhone 5S was announced with Touch ID, millions of smartphone users started using it and arguably bettered their smartphone security by a huge margin.
I have been using Touch ID for almost half a year now on my iPhone 5S and I don't even realize it exists on my iPhone 5S. Yes a great technology does what it is supposed to do, reliably and get out of the way for its users to do other things, those things that the users are supposed to do with their smartphones. That is why I don't even realize that Touch ID exists on my iPhone 5S, but continue to use it every day multiple times a day. This is Apple's take on "innovation". I am so used to Touch ID, that I keep trying to unlock my iPad Mini using the non-existent Touch ID on it every day. Was Apple the first to come up with this idea? No, was it the first to get it working, the way it is supposed to? Yes. Was it the first to get millions of people secure their smartphones in a better and an easier way? Yes. Has any other company managed to do this before Apple? No. Then isn't that innovation?
Another fortunate or unfortunate or an eventual by-product of Touch ID was the fact that Apple copiers (cough cough, Samsung) implemented its own version of the Touch IDs on its smartphone, right away. And though the reliability of these have been extremely questionable, it is at least there, at least the idea reaching more millions of smartphone users (Apple and Samsung phones for example make up more than 65% of the US smartphone market).
The reason I wanted to write this column was to address the questions/accusations I was hearing around me on how Apple is not innovating anymore. If the original iPhone was an innovative product, features like Touch ID (which might eventually find its way on to MacBooks), Apple Pay (we will see how reliable it is), big screen smartphones (is the iPhone 6 Plus and 6, the first big screen smartphones done right?) are also innovations. Just because they don't get the headlines that the iPhone got, doesn't mean that they are trivial, in fact some of these features might be more important to Apple and its customers, even more than the original iPhone itself.
Some of my friends were arguing with me saying Apple has lost its ability to innovate and is just following the herd with a smaller iPad, bigger smartphone, another smartwatch, etc. But I think we are missing the bigger picture here. Apple is innovating the way we think about innovation. What good is an "innovation" worth if you can't take advantage of it? Nada. What good is a spec on a piece of paper worth, if it does not reflect real world performance? None. And, by the way most of my complaining friends still upgraded to the iPhone 6 and when I asked them why they upgraded in spite of Apple not doing anything "innovative" with the new iPhone 6? their answer after a brief pause was, "but it is the only phone, that just works". Yeah that's what I thought too! Innovation is not overrated, it is just misconstrued!
Apple is well known to be the king of profits and this is primarily responsible for those billions of dollars in cash in its piggy bank. Apple has painstakingly achieved this crown though a process that required gaining customer trust and partly trusting its own instinct on not sacrificing quality over margins and marketshare. In its own unique way, Apple has again proved the point that if money is the motivator instead just being a by product, then you will never make enough money, ironically. Tim Cook repeatedly has stressed this point, as recent as in the Charlie Rose interview on PBS, where he said having those billions of dollars profit is a good thing, a very good thing, but that is not what motivates him and Apple everyday.
When Apple released the new iPhone 6 models recently, I wrote about the missing 32GB memory in the base models in both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and how it made sense for Apple to do that in terms of bettering its profit margins (but not in terms of improving customer satisfaction). Today a report from Re/code, that it borrowed from the research firm IHS, confirms most of what was already known. The iPhone 6 roughly costs the same for Apple to make as it did for its iPhone 5, making the profit margin on the base iPhone 6 model, to fall around 31%. And for the higher capacity (memory) models the profit margin for Apple goes up like crazy, for example for the 128GB model, the cost is only $47 higher for Apple to make, but it charges $200 more to sell it. The same holds true for the 6 Plus compared to the 6, 6 Plus costs $16 more to make for the base model, but it costs $100 more to buy. So the profit margins for Apple only increase from the iPhone 6 base model to the iPhone 6 Plus 128GB model. This has always been the case, but what I think makes it really interesting this time around are three things;
- More people are realizing that 16GB is not enough and will buy the 64GB model (of the respective iPhone 6 or 6 Plus) this year
- There is clearly more than expected demand for the iPhone 6 Plus
- The last year's iPhone 5S had similar margins as this year's iPhone 6, but the iPhone 5C had lower profit margins than the iPhone 5S
In summary putting all this together, Apple's profit margin for the year of iPhone 6 is going to increase significantly. While this is great for the company and its shareholders, Apple cannot ride on the good faith it has earned from its customers for long and has to sacrifice a little on the profit margins of the base iPhone models and up the memory to 32GB sooner or later.
The thing about technical specs is that, they can mean different things to different people and situations. But if there is any company out there that promises a real world performance metric and meets it and in fact, mostly beats it, it is Apple. With the iPhone 6 and the 6 Plus, the company promised better battery life, overall better performance, better camera, etc. And looks like it kept up its end of the promise, based on a bunch of reports that came out today.
The first report from the ever so reliable AnandTech on the iPhone 6 models' performance compared to a bunch of previous iPhones and popular Android devices. In almost every test, the new iPhone 6 models beat their Android counterparts heftily and the only real competitor to the iPhone 6 models came in the form of a "Tablet" not a smartphone. So clearly the iPhone 6 models are again leading the smartphone race from the front. As far as the Android smartphones are concerned, only the Samsung Galaxy S5 comes close (and wins marginally in some cases) to the iPhone 6 models in some tests. But the most interesting point that I noticed from this article, is how even the iPhone 5 has almost the exact battery life of Samsung Galaxy S5 (for a specific situation here, web browsing over wifi), but the iPhone 5S lags behind it by an hour or so and the iPhone 5C is very close to the Galaxy S5. Either way for Samsung to base an entire Ad campaign on "poor" battery life of the iPhone (Wall Huggers) seems shallow and almost borderline, lying, but again who am I kidding here, we are talking about Samsung!
The second report from DisplayMate crowns the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus displays as the best ever smartphone displays it has tested, based on a variety of tests and comparisons. And the iPhone 6 Plus is more impressive than the iPhone 6 in its display quality.
And finally another article on the superior prowess of the iPhone 6 (not the 6 Plus) camera performance from Macworld. Looks like gone are the days comparing, a smartphone camera to a point and shoot. Now the point and shoot cameras, apparently are of no competition to the calibre of the iPhone cameras, that we have started comparing the iPhone cameras with the DSLRs. And the best part is that even the iPhone 6 camera's performance is comparable (not better, yet) to that of the DSLRs'. I wonder how the "superior" iPhone 6 Plus camera would fare in a similar situation.
As if we expected anything less, Apple announced today (via AppleInsider) that it sold over 10 million iPhone 6 and 6 Plus units over the last three days since the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus went on sale. This includes the 4 million units that were pre-ordered last week. So how does this compare to the previous iPhone launch weekends? Pretty impressively. iPhone 5S and the 5C sold over 9 million units over the launch weekend last year (there was no pre-ordering scheme then). So the iPhone 6 models sold a good 1 million more this year. If this is impressive, wait till you hear the exactly story. The iPhone 5S and the 5C were launched simultaneously in US and China and hence the 9 million figure includes iPhones sold in China. While this year, thanks to some regulatory roadblocks Apple has yet to sell even one iPhone 6 or 6 Plus in China (well... at least not legally). So 10 million iPhone 6 models in the launch weekend, even without China (one of Apple's biggest markets), is more than an impressive feat (looks like Apple might meet or even beat the 'analysts" bullish estimate of more than 60 million iPhones sold this holiday quarter). Also as usual Apple's iPhone demand far outshines its supply.
People following this blog know that I was waiting to decide between the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus modes, till I actually get to try them out myself. So since I am not (yet) one of those who get the review units from Apple, I had to wait to go to an Apple store to get to see the new beauties in person. So this afternoon I got to go to a local Apple store in the Bay area, that is located inside a mall. Firstly there were at least fifty to a hundred people still waiting in line (two lines, I guess for different models or something) for the iPhones, so the demand seems to be steady in the opening weekend, but the store itself was jam packed, with all the display iPhone areas being fully occupied by eager potential buyers. So after waiting for a few long minutes, I got to see the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in person.
Awesome, so I get to play with the new iPhones all I want, right? That is what I thought, but unfortunately none of the display iPhones had any charge left in them. I mean NONE of them had any ounce of juice left in them. I cannot blame the store staff though, there were approximately fifty iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models on display and there were at least four or five times more people waiting to play with them! So what can the Apple store staff do? Nothing much. But they could have done one thing. All the iPhones have a security lock like device attached to them, that allows customers to handle the iPhones at a reasonable distance from where the security wire is connected under the table. But the charging cable is docked to the table and the you cannot have the iPhone is hand and have it charge as well, if you want it to charge, you need to keep it docked to the table. So I had to spend most of my iPhone 6 time with it connected to the dock and hence not being able to try out much.
Anyway, enough cribbing. Here are my impressions of the two iPhones. I was myself surprised by some of these!
- Both the iPhones are impossibly thin and feel even lighter than iPhone 5S. How is that possible when the iPhone 5S weighs the least amongst these three iPhones?
- The first thing you notice is the edge to edge glass display that makes it look like you are just holding a slab of glass and nothing else in your hand. It is truly beautiful, like nothing I have seen before.
- The iPhone 6 can comfortably replace the iPhone 5S with the one handed use, while giving a good boost in screen real estate.
- Unless you have them side by side, the iPhone 6 itself offers a significant improvement in display quality to the 5S, though it has the same pixel density. But if you compare the 6 Plus and the 6, 6 Plus beats 6's display to a pulp. 6 Plus display is outright gorgeous.
- I hold my iPhone 5S with three fingers circling it and a thumb on the longer side and the little finger supporting the bottom of the iPhone. I don't know if this is common, but for me this the most comfortable position to use my iPhone 5S one handed. I can do this with the iPhone 6 with a little difficulty but it is impossible with the iPhone 6 Plus. The only way to hold the iPhone 6 Plus in one hand is to wrap all the four fingers around it with the thumb supporting the longer side closer to your hand.
- I can still reach the top left hand corner of my iPhone 5S's screen using the above mentioned scheme of holding it one handed (I am right handed). But with the iPhone 6, I can only reach the second row's top left of the screen with my 5" 11' sized hands. With the iPhone 6 Plus, third row top left is itself a tough reach. I can reach both the power button on the side and the home button holding the iPhone 6 Plus, one handed, quite comfortably.
- Both the iPhones are extremely slippery, I will not recommend using them without a case. Also the fore mentioned edge to edge curved glass display is not going to bode well if you drop your iPhone 6 or 6 Plus. If a case was just for added safety on the iPhone 5S or the previous modes, a case for the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus is a must.
- The iPhone 6 Plus's optical image stabilization works wonders. I shook the iPhone while recording a test clip (quite vigorously) and the resulting video was almost shake free. I was actually surprised that even the iPhone 6 with its digital image stabilization did almost as good as the iPhone 6 Plus.
- And yes I did try to put them in my Levis slim jeans pocket (like so many people I saw doing in the store). I was surprised to find that the iPhone 6 (without a case) fit in just like the iPhone 5S (albeit with a case). Even the iPhone 6 Plus (that I had previously thought would never fit into my pocket), fit just well. It was not protruding out or anything but was just in.
- The speaker on even the iPhone 6 is at least 30 - 40% louder than the iPhone 5S.
- The Apple cases for both the iPhone 6 models, actually look good and for once worth their price tag, unlike the iPhone 5S and 5's cases.
- Finally this was probably the first time, I have seen so many Samsung smartphones in an Apple store. Almost 2 in 3 of them were comparing their Samsung (Galaxy or Note) phones with the iPhone 6 models, mostly for the screen size comparison. Looks like a lot of people bought Samsung phones mainly for their bigger sizes. Size apparently does matter in smartphones, nowadays!
So what is my conclusion? Unfortunately since there were literally many people waiting in line, behind me to just check out the new iPhone 6 models, I got to spend only a few minutes with each one of the two new phones and that too with them docked to the charging station most of the time. So I could not reach any conclusion. My wife definitely likes the iPhone 6 and she did not think it was too uncomfortable to hold one handed, compared to the iPhone 5S, so Apple might get away with not having a "new" 4" iPhone 6 after all... And I want the iPhone 6 Plus so badly and the fact that I might have to do some adjustments to even hold the iPhone 6 to use it one handed (similar to the iPhone 5S), might actually convince me to buy the iPhone 6 Plus. But its not that, even if I decide on the model anytime soon, I will get it immediately. Most of the Apple stores are out of the iPhone 6 Plus models and the model I want, 64GB space gray iPhone 6 Plus seems to be the most in demand and out of stock. So I will have to wait a while before I buy an iPhone 6 myself. Even the AT&T and the Verizon stores in the mall had long lines with more than a few dozen people in each queue, waiting for the iPhone 6!