AMITIAE - Wednesday 11 September 2013

Cassandra: Apple Event - New Products, New Directions, Mild Disappointment

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers

All Apple events these days are so well-covered that adding my voice to the output as it happens would be wasted. There are now several reports - some good, some not so good - telling us what Apple announced. I prefer to wait till the dust has settled and examine the event, the products and the implications in the cold light of day.

Another reason of course is that, as I am on the other side of the world, in relation to Cupertino, such events start late at night here. Better to sleep and comment when refreshed. This time, however, I was up a couple of times in the night and saw a friend in Chiang Rai making comments about the event using Facebook. I knew fairly early that the main releases were the iPhone 5S and the 5C. iOS 7 was also announced and there are some software surprises.

There had been rumours about the two main products for months as well as some of the final specifications. I am never convinced about such rumours as Apple tends to guard its secrecy. This wall now seems to be somewhat porous, despite Tim Cook's demand that leaks should be stopped.

Apart from the secrecy aspect, this is certainly now Cook's Apple. Those who bring up the mantra, "Steve would never have. . ." ignore the point that Jobs himself knew that Cook would change the company in certain ways, but would retain the core of Apple. The products evolve, adding new technology when the time is right, while the newer iPhone 5C adds market flexibility with cosmetic additions that will appeal to more buyers. I cannot see much wrong with that. Look at other major IT companies if you need examples of stagnation.

There are a couple of things I look for immediately with a new iPhone. The first is not the exterior. I liked the 4 and the 4S; I liked the 5, so the 5S is just fine for looks. Black will suit me just fine. It is what the iPhone does that I want to examine.

iPhone 5S

The first main report I linked to for this examines the iPhone 5S. AppleInsider writes on the major specifications: Touch ID fingerprint security, 64-bit A7 CPU, and mention that there is to be a gold option, to go with the black and white finish. Initial screen shots suggest that the gold is not as gaudy as I had feared: a little more subtle. It is easy to see why some used the colour, "champagne" to describe this.

The iPhone 5S is to go on sale Friday week (20 Sep) in the usual favoured nations: U.S., Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Singapore, and the U.K. The prices are to be the same as the iPhone 5.

The fingerprint scanner is an unusual inclusion although there had been rumours for months. We are told that "The sensor is 170 microns thin, senses 500 pixels per inch, and scans a user's sub-epidermal skin layers." It seems to me that "70 microns thin" is Schiller-speak. A couple of articles had the identical term.

Speed is catered for with the A7 processor which "includes over 1 billion transistors," double the A6. The speed is doubled as has graphics performance. There is also a new M7 motion co-processor which constantly measures motion data, for a new generation of health and fitness applications. This is an area that Apple is thought to be moving towards and may be complemented with wearable devices at a later stage.

I have always been keen on the camera, especially with the way this has improved with the evolution of the iPhone and with some of the exceptional apps I have that make full use of this. When I saw a Twitter link to an item by Jeff Gamet on The MacObserver, I read that first.

I was slightly surprised to see that the iPhone retains the 8MP camera, although there are a number of improvements, including aperture, that should improve output. The rumours all had this at 12MP. The lenses is also improved, as it was in the iPhone 5. The camera is helped by the faster 64-bit, A7 processor, which was correctly predicted and a number of features are added including slow-motion video capture. I already have apps that produce such output. Are these now redundant?

iPhone 5C

The rumours of a less expensive iPhone had been around for months, and when some suggested it was to be the iPhone 5C, I suspected this was a model destined for the Chinese market. It is not "C" for "Cheap": Apple does not do cheap. It seems that "C" stands for colour. The report by Cody Fink on MacStories has a photograph of the 5 colours available: green, blue, yellow, pink and black. This brightness may well suit some customers more.

The device is aimed at "young adults and emerging markets" and has more or less the same specifications as the iPhone 5, but with a "contoured hard polycarbonate shell and a traditional black glass faceplate". A steel frame inside ensures rigidity.

None of the early reports I read (and I skipped several) mentioned the WiFi capabilities which, with the software integration will be critical. I am quite shocked to see that the latest 802.11ac standard is not to be avialable on the iPhone 5S, nor on the iPhone 5C: both have 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi (802.11n 2.4GHz and 5GHz) and Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology


With the iPhones, there will also be a new version of iOS (iOS7). The first report I read by Andrew Cunningham on Ars Technica tells us that this is ready and will be released next week as was expected. There is a good run down and commentary on iOS7 which is "broadly similar to the preview that Apple gave us back at WWDC." The article outlines not just the cosmetic appearance, but some of the core changes that are always included with such major updates. This update will not be available for the iPhone 3G or the iPod touch, Generation 4.

Writing on Macworld, Serenity Caldwell gives the release date as 18 September (Wednesday): which is the usual 2 days before the iPhones are given to the first customers.

As well as the iPhones and iOS 7, there has been a lot of work done on Apple's iWork suite. With the availability of iWork for iCloud (this works really well, even in the beta form I tried) there are apps for the Mac and for iOS devices. Of these I only have Keynote installed on my iPhone and iPad, but that may change as Apple is to make these free with new devices, along with iPhoto and iMovie (I hate that: I paid for these). As AppleInsider reports, this will tie in nicely with the use of iCloud and availability of data across all a user's devices. Take that, Microsoft (and Google). Several other reports covered this.

Nattering Nabobs of Negativity

There are always negative reports following anything that Apple does. This event was no exception:

  • The Huffington Post Tweet was "The truth about Apple's "cheap" iPhone" which is bound to garner a number of hits. The headline with the article by Timothy Stenovec told us that Apple's "Cheap" iPhone was not so cheap after all, although it was never Apple that suggested that "C" stood for cheap. Apple doesn't do cheap. The other part of the headline was that it "Doesn't Feel Cheap At All", so the article was actually positive unlike the Twitter entry: that was cheap.

  • The headline for Pete Pachal's article on Mashable went immediately for hits over facts with "iPhone 5S Fingerprint Sensor Will Soon Have Competition". I am sure it will, but in the meantime, there is a lot in there that the competition does not have.

  • ZDNet spoiled the party by suggesting that the party had been spoiled by the rumours: "there wasn't much announced we hadn't heard before," writes James Kendrick adding that Apple seems to have lost its way. Despite the excitement of everyone attending, it didn't work for him, but as he had already programmed this into his earlier output, this is hardly a surprise. There is no technical information in this item. Love the smug photo, James. I usually check releases from ZDNet last, just after CNet.

  • This time I read CNet after and Shara Tibken joins this section with the comment that "Apple's iPhone 5C misses the low-cost mark". Apple would disagree: but Apple does not do cheap.

  • For a better look at negativity and reporters that are flat wrong, I suggest the Macalope. Any column will do.

I will be looking at the various products that were announced as more details emerge and I can view the Apple video of the event. With that I can hear the announcements and see the body language of the participants.

We may also be looking forward to more product announcements, particularly for Macs, in the near future.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.



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