As we approach the second quarter of 2013, and Apple’s stock price remains down in the dumps, you have to wonder what the company is preparing for its next act. So far this year, Apple product changes or refreshes have been relatively minor in the scheme of things. The MacBook Pro with Retina display may be cheaper, or at least a little faster. You can get a 128GB version of the full-sized iPad, and a more power efficient chip is being used on the Apple TV. The phrase” big deal” doesn’t even come close.
Through this period, there have been loads of predictions about the next major Apple product launch. Some suggested a new iPhone, perhaps an iPhone 5s, which will look much the same as the current version with new stuff inside, will arrive this summer. Last year, the iPhone refresh occurred in September. But inasmuch as T-Mobile will only start carrying the iPhone 5 in April, that would mean a short shelf life. With a new carrier and a new marketing scheme that allegedly frees you of carrier contracts and early termination fees, maybe Apple will move a few million more iPhones in the next quarter.
Besides, Apple has traditionally released new iPhones with a new version of the iOS. Unless something is announced real soon now, details won’t emerge beyond the rumors until the WWDC, which will probably happen in June. What’s more, Apple will want to give developers at least a few weeks to check the betas, so that still takes us to an August or September timeframe.
But since no Apple media events have been announced so far this year, speculation reigns supreme. I’m just trying to take a middle-of-the-road approach and look at what’s reasonable rather than delve into baseless analysis and predictions. At the same time, I recognize that Apple is under severe pressure to produce and produce big in light of growing skepticism about continuing record-shattering growth patterns.
An iPhone may be the least of it, whether a new one arrives this summer or a bit later in the year. Let’s skip all the talk about whether Apple can compete with other players in the smartphone space, such as the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4. Let’s move to the “lowly” iPad. About the only possible certainty nowadays is that the iPad mini has or will become the best selling iPad. But when is Apple going to add a Retina display to the mini? Inquiring minds want to know, but it’ll all come down to whether Apple can continue to deliver the tablet for the same price with the display enhancement.
One larger issue is that other companies continue to attempt to play defense about what Apple may be doing, and deliver products that attempt to address the anticipated competition. In 2010, a number of tablets, mostly prototypes, were in evidence at the Consumer Electronics Show amid expectations that Apple was poised to enter the tablet space later that year. When the iPad came out — and the form factor was fairly predictable in light of the iPhone — many of those products vanished in the haze.
As the result of a statement about discovering the secret of the best TV interface ever in the authorized biography of Steve Jobs, the tech industry was clearly spooked. More and more so-called smart TVs were introduced at the 2012 and 2013 editions of the Consumer Electronics Show. You even saw so-called 4K TVs, which is, I suppose, roughly the equivalent of adding a Retina display on a Mac insofar as improving picture quality was concerned. This is the natural evolution of the TV industry, of course, but it was also, in part, about anticipating Apple’s next move.
Other than continuing the Apple TV “hobby,” Apple hasn’t indicated yet how interest in the living room will reveal itself in new cutting-edge products. The “interest” has yet to be defined, so the media continues to suggest the form factor of the alleged Apple smart TV. The latest round of speculation has it that Apple is considering 4K, but without actual 4K source material from the usual content providers, it’s just one of those neat ideas that may take years to appear in an affordable product that people can really use. A 4K today from Apple would be as much a fancy toy for the one percent as the ones from the rest of the TV industry. Besides, at a normal viewing distance, picture quality may actually not be that much better.
I won’t get into the iWatch, except to point out that, yet again, such companies as Samsung are working on their answer to something from Apple that still doesn’t exist.
It doesn’t help that Apple has been relatively quiet on the new product front, despite tantalizing hints that great things are in the works. But the question is when the next media event will be scheduled. Will it be about OS X and iOS, new iPads, new iPhones, something in the watch or TV space? Or are we all looking for answers in the wrong place?
- Apple, the WWDC and the Wacky Run-up After quite a run, and ahead of a 7-to-1 stock split, Apple's stock price had declined slightly before the WWDC keynote on Monday. I suppose this was to be expected. The event was presaged with optimism, skepticism and silly claims about what the company must do to survive. Some weeks back, for example, one online pundit who doesn't deserve to be named or linked suggested that the company would be toast if the iWatch wasn't released in 60 days. When that date passed, and Apple was still here, it merely represented yet another example of commentators lying through their teeth or making downright foolish claims to generate online traffic. Having a respect for facts and logic played second fiddle. There was also the "Apple must" meme, that the WWDC keynote must be filled with new hardware and new product categories, even though it was ostensibly for developers. Thus, we know there would be news about iOS 8 and OS 10.10 because Apple said as much. But expectations that there would be new hardware weren't met. There was no Apple TV or iWatch demonstration for developers, but the people who build apps for Apple gear still got plenty to consider, including a new simplified programming language known as Swift. But OS 10 Yosemite? What about that Looney Toons cartoon character? Clearly Apple isn't taking that into consideration with OS 10.10, which will sport the rumored flatter look and feel, reminiscent of iOS. The improved transparency effects and cleaner text and windows seem interesting enough if a new OS X skin appeals to you. While Mavericks was heavily laden with hardware improvements to use RAM and power more efficiently, Yosemite is heavily disposed towards improvements for Mac users. Front and center is Continuity, which greatly simplifies the passage from Mac to iPhone to iPad, and back again. Email and messages can begin on one, and be completed on another. You can also use your Mac or, with iOS 8, your iPad to make and receive phone calls on your iPhone. Of course your iPhone has to be active on the same Wi-Fi network for this Handoff process to work. SMS messaging is also supported; again with a networked iPhone. You can also use your iPhone to set up an Instant Hotspot, though that would appear to require support from your wireless carrier, as Apple indicates on their site. Clearly Apple's critics will complain that Continuity is yet another way for Apple to rope you in to depending on their ecosystem. But there's nothing wrong with that. Other companies and their sycophants in the tech media are probably jealous. So iCloud becomes iCloud Drive, since you can now use it as an online repository for all your files, and even set up a traditional file/folder hierarchy that can be accessed on all your Apple gear, including your iPhone and iPad, along with a Windows PC. In a sense, Apple is going after Dropbox and the cloud storage systems from Microsoft and Google to set up seamless ways for you to store and easily transfer larger files. Mail for Yosemite, with the promise of greater speed and efficiency, has a new feature, dubbed Mail Drop, which lets you use your iCloud Drive as an intermediary for file attachments of up to 5GB. This will help you avoid the usual problem of sending large files to a recipient. Email services traditionally limit attachments to less than 20MB. Windows users will simply receive a link in their email to retrieve the file, which definitely rains on Hightail's parade. Since iCloud now plays a larger role in storing your stuff, new storage plans are coming. You'll still get 5GB free, but 20GB is just 99 cents per month, and 200GB is $3.99 per month. For small businesses, or families with loads of photos and other files to store and back up, the latter plan is the sweet spot. You'll be able to get up to 1TB of storage once all the options are in place. Spotlight has been enhanced to include both online and local searches, which is something you can already do under Windows. I suppose Apple is hoping you'll move away from Safari searches and rely on Spotlight to find everything. Here's why: While Google search is still supported and remains the default on Safari, Spotlight uses Microsoft Bing. I wonder how Google will react when they get the memo. As with Mavericks, OS X Yosemite will be available this fall, probably between late September and late October, as a free download and is reportedly compatible with the very same Macs that can run OS 10.9. While developers are already downloading the first Yosemite preview, up to one million Mac users will receive access to Yosemite betas this summer. So be prepared to sign up as soon as possible. I expect they will want to get a few releases out before letting non-developers gain access to the seeds. While iOS 8 also comes across as a compelling release, Apple has yet to say anything about side-by-side multitasking for iPads. I suppose that could come later. Meantime, in addition to the Swift development language, Apple is moving towards giving developers more flexility in building and selling iOS apps. There is, for example, support for Touch ID and third-party keyboards. So, although the new QuickType predictive keyboard scheme may appeal to most users, those who want a Swype or another third-party keyboard to replace Apple's will get full system support. Would that were true with other apps, and it would be nice to be able to pick something else as the default for such tasks as email and browsing. As predicted, HealthKit will be designed to allow developers of health and fitness apps to seamlessly communicate with your iOS device and the new Health app. Such major medical institutions as Mayo Clinic have announced full support, which means you'll be a tap away from monitoring your physical condition, and your doctor can receive immediate updates should test results require their attention. Apple, by the way, promises what appears to be bulletproof security for Health and also for HomeKit, a tool for developers to build apps to better integrate your connected home. The HomeKit feature is called Secure Pairing, which supposedly means that only a registered iOS device can unlock your home, adjust the lights, turn on the microwave, or perform many other functions in your home. Developers will be able to bundle apps at a special discount and offer beta testing functions via the App Store. A new "Explore" feature will make it easier for you to discover the more than 1.2 billion apps now available for iOS users. While iOS 8 won't look altogether different from iOS 7, and thus isn't apt to be quite as polarizing, that can't be said for Yosemite. Right after the initial announcement appeared in the tech media, one of my friends, who has already had a love/hate relationship with Mavericks, responded with just one word, "YUK!" Her concern is that it looks more like iOS, but I reminded her that it's still OS X and her Mac will still run like a Mac despite the changes. Oh, and by the way, the iPhone 4 is not on the iOS 8 compatibility list. It was hit or miss with iOS 7, so it makes sense it has been retired from future iOS updates. In any case, Apple's stock price resumed its upward climb Tuesday morning. Evidently Wall Street was impressed.
- 2014 — The Year the Sky Didn’t Fall for Apple At the start of 2014, even the most diehard Apple fanatic might have wondered about the future prospects of their favorite fruit company. Sales didn't always meet Wall Street projections, and profits were flattening. The stock price was way down from historic highs. To no surprise, some members of the mainstream media were calling for CEO Tim Cook to take a hike. Could it be that Steve Jobs' handpicked successor was a monumental screw up, or was there a long-term plan in place that would set things right before long? Questions, questions. Many of the particulars are ably recorded in a no-holds barred editorial from Daniel Eran Dilger, a frequent guest on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, over at AppleInsider. So I will be brief about some of the details. Now understand that the perception that Apple was on the rocks was largely manufactured. When Steve Jobs introduced iterative upgrades to Apple gear, that was part of the standard upgrade cycle. When Tim Cook did the same, there must be something terribly wrong with Apple's mojo, and the company clearly lost its power to innovate. After all, Cook was the supply chain expert. What right did he have to operate a company known for its amazing innovation? You'd think that Apple was supposed to upend a market every year. The critics forget the years that passed between the first iPod, the first iPhone and the first iPad. Miracles don't come every day, but where were the trendsetting products from Tim Cook's Apple? This didn't stop iPhone sales from climbing, at a time when Samsung's sales began to falter. The claim that Samsung had it all over Apple when it came to high sales and meeting the needs of a variety of customers was shown to be shaky. Yes, Samsung still sold loads of mobile handsets, but far too many were cheap, with little profit. While Apple continued to make huge profits from iPhones, Samsung's margins continued to shrink. Tepid response to the latest Galaxy series didn't help. Apple moved far more iPhones. Amid rising sales, Apple's first maneuvers for 2014 were financial. Stock buybacks and the seven-to-one stock split pleased Wall Street. But was Apple just stalling, avoiding the question of what innovative products were in the pipeline? Yes, Apple made promises, but when were they going to deliver? WWDC came, as usual, in June. The critics said it was all about the software, but Apple added an amazing number of new features to iOS and OS X. The bill of particulars was far larger than what Google and Microsoft were promising. True, some suggested Apple bit off a little too much this time, but the bugs are being vanquished, and the end result presents many new opportunities for developers to make a profit and to benefit customers. For regular people, the real significant event came in September, with the introduction of the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus, a phablet with a 5.5-inch display. The critics had been long clamoring for Apple to enter the larger smartphone space, but Apple, as usual, took its sweet time about developing the right product. Certainly the public embraced the new gear, with record sales the very first weekend and chronic shortages through most of the holiday season. But some people realized that the romantic ideal of the larger smartphone wasn't quite so compelling after you spent a little time with one. One-handed operation meant something, and the larger handsets could be difficult to fit in a smaller pocket or purse. And don't forget Apple Watch. An early production model was demonstrated, and delivery was promised in early 2015. October brought new iPads, but the flagship model, the iPad Air 2, thinner than its predecessor, was the lone compelling upgrade. The iPad mini 3 was little different from its predecessor aside from Touch ID, and it still cost $100 more. It wasn't such a great deal, and the jury is out how well tablets sold this holiday season. But the iPad Air 2 is, as my friends across the Atlantic are apt to say, a marvelous piece of kit. It will be hard for my wife to give up the one she is using when the Apple editorial loan expires in February. The other product intro in October, the iMac 5K, was simply stunning, particularly the picture and the technology that makes it happen for a price that even Dell couldn't match. Last I checked, Dell's 5K display is just about the same price as the 5K iMac, but Apple gives you the computer as part of the package. None of this means everything went perfect for Apple. Don't forget the missteps — or alleged missteps — depending on your point of view. So those celebrities whose nude photos, stored in iCloud, were hacked and circulated online have only themselves to blame for poor password choices. Why did they have those pictures there in the first place? But the iOS 8.0.1 update was the worst sort of failure, fixing most iPhones, but causing some to lose their cellular connections and Touch ID capability. Apple pulled the update in little over an hour, and released a fixed version the very next day, but the publicity fallout continues. Yes, Microsoft has done worse, far worse, but this is Apple. Please don't get me started about iTunes 12. The complaints haven't been stilled, and I wonder whether Apple needs to get back to the drawing board to sort things out. Some alleged scandals were just nonsense. An iPhone 6 Plus was no more prone to bending than other large mobile handsets. No, Apple didn't suddenly out of the blue sneak a security update onto Macs with OS X Mountain Lion, Mavericks and Yosemite. That particular update came using the App Store update mechanism, the successor to Software Update. Where there's an automatic install option, as there is in Yosemite, you can switch it off. Besides, the NTP security flaw, impacting the time syncing feature of OS X, Unix and even Linux distributions, could allow a remote attacker to gain control of your computer. Even the U.S. Department of Homeland Security got in the act to report the danger, so was it wrong for Apple to protect you in a way that did no harm? For 2015, we know the Apple Watch is coming, but there is no consistency on how well it'll do. And what about the fate of Apple TV? Is there an Apple TV set on the horizon? An iPad Pro, a version with a display that's 12 inches or more? Is there something out of the blue in store? And what will Apple do to flesh out the features for iOS 9 and OS X 10.11? And I will not speculate on the code name for the next Mac OS.
- Apple and Product Saturation Once upon a time, it was a very rare thing to see anyone with an Apple product. Consider all those years where the Mac barely made a dent in the PC business, and many people who did use Macs were often regarded as being just a little weird. Well, maybe I just took it personally, but it was a lonely world out there when I visited friends and family and found computers that, to me, were more than a little alien. Now even though Apple owns the premium PC market nowadays, and the overall market has seen better days, it appears that there’s still plenty of room for the Mac to grow. Apple clearly isn’t following Microsoft’s playbook — to merge desktop and mobile platforms — and there still appear to be a fair number of people for whom a tablet is not a PC replacement. In other words, there are still untapped markets for Apple to sell more Macs, at least so long as PC demand remains fairly decent. But if it continues to fall at the current rate, Apple will be playing in a smaller and smaller market. In the mobile universe, smartphones and tablets have grown really fast. It’s hard to find anyone nowadays who doesn’t have one or the other — or both. Even folks at the low end of the income scale can get a smartphone free or at a really low price with a fairly cheap wireless plan. Tablets can be had for $50-$100, although I wouldn’t say much about the quality. And I suppose if a smartphone does a decent job of handling phone calls and texting, that may be all that some people actually need. Regardless, smartphones dominate, so it seems that fewer and fewer people don’t have one. This means that the handset makers, and that includes Apple and Samsung, are fighting to make new sales in a smaller and smaller pool of customers who don’t have one of these gadgets. In the U.S., the wireless carriers have made sales a little more difficult by lengthening the time before they allow early upgrades. Well, that’s one excuse Apple CEO Tim Cook gave for fewer iPhone sales. But he ignored the fact that the largest wireless carriers were also busy advertising extra-cost schemes where you could upgrade your mobile handsets more frequently. What this means, though, is that a large portion of customers for current smartphones are upgraders. It’s not their first purchase, so sales growth is being reduced. If the upgrade cycle lengthens, as it has with the PC, it also hurts sales, and it’s clear Apple isn’t the only tech company to see reduced growth. Apple, however, shows no inkling of moving down-market. The iPhone 5c, which may or may not have been successful — depending on whom you ask — was simply a repackaging of the previous year’s technology for $100 less. Apple clearly intends to play in the most profitable segments, as they’ve done with Macs. So will Apple have to accept growing sales at maybe a few percent a year, which is typical for a large company serving a saturated market, or are there different ways to go? One way is to succeed in emerging markets where a growing middle class will aspire to more expensive gear. This is the logic behind Apple’s expansion into China. If Apple’s efforts to gain traction in China, India and elsewhere succeed, sales may grow at a faster rate, but probably nowhere near the levels achieved in the early days of the iPhone and iPad. So what is Apple to do? Well, the financial community demands new products in new categories, and Tim Cook keeps claiming they are planning just that. In fact, he’s said it again and again, and I can well understand why some media pundits might just be a tad skeptical. But it’s also true that the refreshed Mac Pro clearly demonstrates that Apple still has it in them to innovate in surprising ways, although that product obviously didn’t create a new product category. So if the pressure was high in 2013, it is far higher in 2014, particularly after releasing financials and guidance that the investment community regards as underwhelming. But what are the new product categories that Apple plans to enter? Cook says more than one, so where does Apple go next? Clearly Apple won’t tell you, although it’s possible, I suppose, for increased pressures, particularly from the investment community, to force disclosure of at least a few hints. Up till now, Apple hasn’t listened to Wall Street because, frankly, financial analysts have never understood the company. That may not change now, but if the hopes and dreams for new product initiatives don’t play out by spring or summer, increasing skepticism from the media and Wall Street could force a different response. But there’s clearly precedent. Remember that the original iPhone was announced months before it was actually released. There was no product to make obsolete, of course, and it’s also true that FCC testing would have revealed its existence before long. Certainly one excuse Apple gives to withhold information on a new product is how it would impact sales of existing models. If those existing products are made by other companies, of course, Apple could still stage an early preview, build demand, and, in turn, possibly kill sales of the competition as customers wait for Apple’s solution. This could play out nicely with a smartwatch, the rumored iWatch. If Apple plans a connected TV set, a surprise demonstration might really spook the rest of the industry, particularly since most competing products were already presented at the CES earlier this month. Sure, Apple usually doesn’t spill the beans on future products, except, of course, when they do. Maybe it’s time for Cook to rethink the strategy, not just to satisfy Wall Street but to tempt millions of potential customers. There’s a lot to be said for building demand early, particularly if Apple has a real hit or two in the wings.
- Apple in 2014: Are There No Original Ideas? So you've heard nearly the same chatter from a number of sources about what Apple might do in 2014. Certainly Tim Cook has made some big promises, about great products and some new product categories. That ought to be quite sufficient to fuel the speculation, and there has been plenty of that. But even the vaunted tech site Ars Technica hasn't delivered any compelling new ideas. It's all about variations on the theme. Now before I go on, let me confess that I am not a product designer or engineer, and I do not play either on radio or TV. But I have written sci-fi novels and I do have a slight feeling for the future, so maybe I can contribute a little. I would, though, expect more of the tech media, and it doesn't seem they are delivering very much. So first we have the usual iterative upgrades. A faster, more energy-efficient Mac lineup, an iPad that, after a major change to the flagship product this year, will be confined to modest updates in 2014. Maybe there will be slight changes to the aging iPod lineup, but then there's the iPhone. Apple revises form factors in alternate years, even though the media hasn't gotten the memo. It would seem, then, that an iPhone 6 would look at least somewhat different. Maybe it'll have a larger screen, and several measurements between 4.5 and 5 inches have been bandied about. Logic dictates that the iPhone 5s and 5c will be sold for $99 less, each, meaning the 5c will be free with a two-year contract. Nothing surprising so far. In fact, if the iPhone 6 goes this route, the only question will be whether Apple will divide the product line with more than one new size. But since fragmentation isn't their game, I expect not. Sure, it'll have snazzy looks and all, with more powerful guts, perhaps more battery life and a camera with a higher megapixel count, but there are no surprises in any of that. So what's left? Well, the tech bloggers, and the financial pundits for that matter, demand Apple do something original. But when you ask them what they are thinking about, it's pretty much the iWatch and an Apple connected TV set. Sure, perhaps there will be an iWatch or some other wearable device of some sort. There is that unconfirmed rumor that Apple has over 100 engineers working on the product, and some executives from the fashion industry might have been hired to handle the development and marketing of wearable gear. Apple is also trademarking iWatch in some countries, but that could be a defensive move to reserve the name in case something does come down the pike. It doesn't mean it's happening in 2014. Indeed, is there a demand for a smartwatch from anyone? Does Apple have to build one? So far, smartwatches haven't gone very far. The overpriced and underpowered Samsung Galaxy Gear was a miserable failure, with Samsung being forced to confess that the claim of 800,000 sales was based solely on shipments. But that's their usual game when it comes to reporting sales. The other supposed "lock" from Apple is some sort of enhanced Apple TV box, a connected TV, or perhaps both. Much of this seems to come from the statement from Steve Jobs in that authorized biography about developing the magic interface that will revolutionize the industry. Maybe. But Jobs might also have said that to spook the competition, forcing them to deliver something, anything, to head off Apple. Just remember how a number of tablets were introduced ahead of the arrival of the iPad in 2010, but most never saw the light of day when Apple's tablet solution was launched. Of course, they've been saying that Apple has a TV set in development for a couple of years now if not longer. There are rumors that several display sizes have been sampled, no doubt for prototypes. There are no doubt prototypes aplenty in Apple's secret labs, but most of those prototypes will never be released for manufacturing and sale. True, Tim Cook has said that TV and the living room remain areas of intense interest for the company, but how or when that interest will manifest itself is still anyone's guess. All right, that's the 2014 story that you've heard about in various and sundry ways across the media. There are minor variations here and there, but does any of it come as a surprise? Well, maybe a larger iPad, but is that all Apple can do? The real question is whether there are other product segments that Apple is working on that may be reflected in new products this coming year and beyond. That's the real question that isn't being answered. Just this week, there were published reports about Google's pact with Audi, the luxury car maker owned by Volkswagen, which would install Android as part of the brand's infotainment systems. Microsoft is already there with mixed results. It seems to do all right with the Kia UVO system, but not nearly so well with MyFordTouch, a flawed design that has caused Ford to get far lower initial quality and reliability ratings. Apple has iOS in the Car under development, and Siri support is already beginning to appear. The media wants to portray this as a fight to the death between Apple and Google to control the auto interface. So far so good. But that is fairly predictable. It doesn't mean Apple will release an iCar, a full-blown motor vehicle. What's more, purchasing Tesla, the electric car maker, wouldn't make very much sense either, although some have demanded just that. At the end of the day, is Apple planning something us that'll amaze us and send us scurrying to consult credit card and checking account balances? That's the real question, but I've yet to see a compelling answer.
- The Apple Event: Talk About Being Slammed So what was the biggest news from Apple Tuesday morning? Forget the Apple Watch, the Apple Pay digital wallet, or even the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. What may be the most important announcement is that Tim Cook and U2 arranged to have the band's newest album, Songs of Innocence, released free on iTunes. That makes it available for up to 500 million users through October 13. Of course, they made it seem as if this was a spur-of-the-moment decision, but of course it had been in the works for a while. There's even a TV spot to announce the free album. But let's get to the more-or-less expected developments at the media event, which was held at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino, the site of the launch of the original Mac in 1984. After a very brief introduction from Tim Cook, Apple VP Philip Schiller got down to the business of talking up the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus. But if you tried to watch the event live, you might have felt as frustrated as I did. Clearly Apple's servers — perhaps the entire Internet — were slammed as millions of people across the world tried to watch the stream. I actually tried using my Apple TV, but the stream kept freezing there too. Finally things settled down on my iMac for awhile. However, the people handling the audio feed screwed up, as you heard the English track with an Asian language feed in the background that made it difficult to follow. This flaw might not have been the case for everyone, but I confirmed the problem with multiple devices, and it was extremely distracting for a while until the audio was fixed. I still had to constantly refresh the stream when it stopped, and that's on a broadband connection with an average download speed of over 40 megabits. In the end, it might have been better to hold your breath and watch the recorded version, after all the Web traffic died down. Now the new iPhones were fairly predictable what with all the rumors and prototype photos and videos. The 4.7-inch version is the iPhone 6, whereas the iPhone 6 Plus has a 5.5-inch display, and there goes the sole meaningful advantage of any Android smartphone. Predictably, battery life is said to be better, particularly on the phablet version, which has room for a beefier battery. The A8 chip is much faster, and some preliminary benchmarks are already online. Camera components are better, though Apple continues to stick with eight megapixels. The opposition will continue to ride Apple on that, although an iPhone still takes better pictures under more conditions than much of the competition. At long last, there's NFC hardware, but with an Apple twist. While makers of Android smartphones have had NFC for a while, Apple included the hardware as part of a new ecosystem called Apple Pay. Initial deals have already been made with U.S.-based credit card providers, banks and retailers, and the list will only grow as time goes on. Apple Pay will debut in October. With recent hacks to major retailers, such as Target and Home Depot, Apple made a huge deal of the fact that Apple Pay data is secure. Indeed, the actual credit card numbers, says Apple, won't be stored on your device or on Apple's servers. According to the press release, "Instead, a unique Device Account Number is assigned, encrypted and securely stored in the Secure Element on your iPhone or Apple Watch. Each transaction is authorized with a one-time unique number using your Device Account Number and instead of using the security code from the back of your card, Apple Pay creates a dynamic security code to securely validate each transaction." Now remember when the iCloud accounts of celebrities were hacked, it resulted from figuring out their usernames and passwords. None of that applies to Apple Pay, and if your device is stolen, Find My iPhone can be used to stop payments. You don't even have to request a new credit card. So what Apple has done is to address the limitations of NFC, and create a sophisticated Apple ecosystem to manage the payment and digital storage features. Compared to Google Wallet and Samsung, this is a huge change. Of course, it requires the new Apple mobile gear to work. Pricing for the iPhone 6 is the same as the current iPhone 5s when it debuted last year. But each $100 step gets you more storage than before; $299 for 64GB, the sweet spot, and $399 for 128GB. The iPhone 6 Plus will retail for $100 more with the same storage options. And, despite the claim that the iPhone 5c was a huge failure and would be discontinued, it remains in the lineup as the free iPhone with a contract. In any case, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus will ship beginning September 19, and iOS 8 will be available for download two days earlier. The return of "one more thing…" had also been predicted. While the Apple Watch spots lots of sensors and features to crow about, I was particularly impressed with the digital crown, which very much resembles the one you see on a regular watch. It's used to scroll and select and thus reduce dependence on the touchscreen. Just as important, Apple intends to make a fashion statement with the new device, dividing the lineup into three collections in two sizes, with multiple choices of removable watchbands. The Apple Watch will debut early in 2015 with a starting price of $349. It'll no doubt be far more expensive if you opt for the 18-karat gold version. The Apple Watch will mate with any model from the iPhone 5 or iPhone 6 series, but battery life hasn't yet been rated. So this is, predictably, one area where the critics are already ragging on Apple.
This article was posted on Thursday, March 28th, 2013 at 12:00 AM and is filed under News and tagged with: Apple, Apple Tv, Consumer Electronics Show, HTC, iOS, iPad, iPad mini, Iphone, iWatch, Mac Os X, MacBook Pro with Retina display, Os X, Samsung, Smart TV, smartphone, Steve Jobs, T Mobile.