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Apple and Being Late to the Game

This is a curious situation. Time after time, Apple is attacked for being late to add a feature to one of its products. Over that time, feature after feature will be listed as something Apple must have to avoid total ruin.

Or something.

Take the arrival of LTE service from a growing number of wireless carriers, offering far better data speeds. Although other smartphones had it, Apple seemed to take its sweet time.  But it was also true that those early LTE cellular radios were inefficient, power hungry. If Apple took that direction, battery life would be worse. And, except perhaps for the iPhone Plus models, battery life is no great shakes as it is.

We don’t talk about LTE performance anymore, or do we? Well, nowadays, Apple is sourcing parts from Qualcomm and Intel, but the latter supposedly achieves a lower potential performance level than the former, so both are throttled. This is supposed to be some huge deal, except for the fact that real world performance is still a lot more than your wireless carrier can probably deliver. So does it even matter?

In the world of Apple critics, it does. But so does the fact that competing CPUs often offer more cores and clock speeds than Apple’s A-series chips, but Apple consistently delivers better performance in actual benchmarks. Some years back, Samsung tried to pull a fast one, by deliberately overclocking chips when some benchmark apps were being run. It sort of reminds me, to a far lesser degree, of the stunt Volkswagen pulled when it only activated most emissions control features when a car with a diesel engine was running on a test machine.

And, yes, other smartphones had a variation of OLED before the iPhone X, but the Apple’s real ace in the hole is Face ID.

Facial recognition is not new with Apple and the iPhone X. Such features were already around on other gear. The Samsung Galaxy S8, for example, has three biometric features. But two of them, facial recognition and the iris sensor, can be defeated with digital photographs. It’s enough to make you doubt the security of such features, and I can see where the critics have a point, at least about previous technology.

Obviously, the efficacy of Apple’s Face ID will not be certain until lots of people have an iPhone X, and we can see whether “edge cases” of one sort or another can confound the system. I’m not expecting perfection, but I would hope it’ll be superior to the competition. It’s clearly not something Apple added at the last possible moment because they couldn’t embed a reliable Touch ID sensor beneath the device’s OLED display. That’s just nonsense.

Even then, if Face ID might be a little flaky at the start and require some software updates to reach something close to perfection, just as Touch ID did.  We’ll know the particulars in a few weeks.

In the meantime, however, just as smartphone makers attempted to add fingerprint sensors after Touch ID debuted on the iPhone 5s, you can be assured they will be working hard to perfect facial recognition for future products. Rather than just a feature that can be included in a bulleted list, they will have to at least make the effort to deliver a reasonably reliable and secure system.

Face ID will be the benchmark, and it has been suggested it puts Apple more than two years ahead of the competition. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Face ID migrate to “lesser” iPhones if it proves successful, and Apple can deliver enough product on a scale of hundreds of millions of copies. Touch ID is destined to disappear over time.

By the same token, the Apple TV 4K delivers a much more expensive solution to Ultra HD streamers. The flagship Roku Ultra, which lists for $109 until the new Apple TV arrived, is now $99. Does it make sense to pay nearly twice as much for Apple’s set-top box? Are the apps so superior, is the interface better?

Does Apple offer better quality video? Probably not with Netflix, but maybe with the 4K movies you stream from iTunes. The specs for both product don’t reveal potential advantages except in theory. Both Apple’s HDR and Roku’s HDR include HDR10. Apple also has Dolby Vision, but how many movies are going to come in that format and is it visually superior on streamed content, assuming you have a 4K set that delivers both?

But the Apple TV 4K features more digital audio formats, touting Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital Plus 7.1. Dolby Atmos is coming in a future update. In comparison, the Roku Ultra evidently limits multichannel support to DTS Digital Surround, so if superior audio quality is important to you, Apple’s streamer is far superior. That advantage is not getting as much attention as it should.

Then again, Apple didn’t build the first personal computer, the first digital music player, the first smartphone, the first tablet, or, for that matter, the first smartwatch.

But Microsoft copied the Mac OS with Windows, digital music players that arrived after the iPod tried to match Apple, and we all know about the iPhone and the iPad. Roku would not have become successful with video streamers had it not been for the Apple TV to set the standard.

That’s the way it’s always been with Apple, but some members of the tech media still aren’t paying attention.