AMITIAE - Thursday 21 August 2014

Cassandra: Completing the Circle - Apple and Product Releases (Amended)

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


It is that time of year, when the students are back at school, development work on the next versions of OS X and iOS are well under way and the run up to the New year period, when sales are at a peak, is just around the corner. It is also the time when Apple usually releases new products.

If Apple is to bring a number of new products to the market in the next weeks, the most anticipated is always the iPhone, which often produces three tiers of commentary: the popular press which talks the product down and raves about lack of innovation; the real analysts who read the technical specifications, and those later who dissect the products; and the customers, who go out and buy the devices, confounding the commentators in the popular press.

A side-effect of this is the confusion of the Wall Street analysts who have predicted low sales and forced the share prices down, only to find that real people buy the things.

After I uploaded this article, Philip Elmer-DeWitt wrote about a particular investment banker who advise his clients to get out of Apple. Elmer-DeWitt's closing comment is a gem: "Since Gold advised his clients to get out of the stock, Appleā€™s shares have climbed 60%."

The negativity of the press is not a one-off event. This occurs time after time. They would rather believe a writer who never buys Apple products and has an odd axe to grind or the CEO of a company whose success depends on low sales of competitors' products. This press reaction is reasonably illustrated by last year's iPhone 5s.

When announced, it kept the same basic shape as its immediate predecessor, which was a mistake in the eyes of many who sort of missed the A7 processor. That was the first 64-bit processor for mobile phones, which most experts in the industry suggested did tick the "innovation" box on the scorecard.

A part of the chip's internal design was a secure enclave which held mathematical data for fingerprints scanned by the sensor, itself covered with sapphire. For a wide-ranging discussion of the iPhone 5s and its technical abilities, see the multi-part article by Anand Lal Shimpi on AnandTech: "seriously impressive."

iPhone 5s

Many non-experts made noises about security aspects of the fingerprint technology, with absurd scenarios of amputated fingers and Apple stealing the data heading the list. Even Al Franken made a grandstanding appearance and after each point of his letter to Apple was covered, no one heard any more. There was no story.

When the A-series processors first appeared, I commented on the possibilities for future development - dreaming then of desktop class chips - particularly as any features integrated into the design, would be unavailable to other manufacturers (at least for a few months). They would also only work on Apple devices and the software they supported. A case in point is the 64-bit capability: only now, almost 12 months after the iPhone 5s arrived, is another chip maker preparing such a processor.

While the speed of the A7 at around 1.29 GHz is approaching that needed for a small computer (the basic MacBook Air uses a 1.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i5), Jean-Louis Gassée, who earlier thought that a move to desktops was unlikely, appears to have changed his tune. He now thinks that such a move for the A-series processors is more likely, but will not be before the (theoretical) A10, even though predictions for the A8 are for a processor capable of 2 GHz speeds. Gassée's arguments are centred more around cost (from Intel and economy for Apple).

Despite the arrival of the Haswell series, they are still based on desktop class hardware going back to the early 1980s. And he adds that updates to the current MacBook Pro range are delayed because Intel cannot produce the new Broadwell owing to technical difficulties.

With the iPhone 5s there was also the announcement of the iPhone 5c, an underrated device that used (or used up) chips from the iPhone 5. While not the cheap iPhone that many had predicted ("c" apparently stands for color), it sold respectable numbers in several markets, despite rumours to the contrary.

iPhone 5c

With Apple there are always rumours: good and bad. Apple's cachet is partly developed by the secrecy that surrounds it; and from that comes rumours as everyone tries to steal a march (and the advertising hits) on others. In most cases, the rumours are wrong. Mercifully, the tales of an Apple TV that have been circulating for a couple of years (both in the press and on Wall Street) have begun to ebb, partly replaced by the next flavour of the month: the iWatch.

The probable source for the ideas behind such a device as a TV made by Apple, came from a comment made by Steve Jobs, and reported in the Walter Isaacson biography, that he had cracked it. As with the iPad, the importance is not so much the device itself - even though Apple is a hardware company - but content availability.

Apple TV

In recent months, in the US market at least, Apple has signed up several channels for news, movies, sport (this week the National Football League with NFL Now). Other sports channels include, "the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball TV, Major League Soccer, ACC Sports, Red Bull TV and ESPN" (Adario Strange, Mashable).

To view these, users need the Apple TV - that little black box that, in my home, sits nicely just behind the TV screen and connects to the world via WiFi. Although the number of channels I have available (in Thailand) is considerably limited - it will take a while for inwardly-looking local media to catch on to the possibilities - that WiFi link is another strand to Apple's strategy: integration of devices within the home and office.

Apple TV

As well as wireless synchronisation of iPhone and iPad to the Mac, these can all (Mac included) display content on the HDTV via AirPlay. That WiFi router, which in my case is the latest Airport Extreme, capable of 802.11ac connections is significant for the future and smooth interoperability.

Airport Extreme I made a mistake last year, when the 802.11ac router was announced by speculating that all Macs and iOS devices would be able to connect at the higher speeds 802.11ac allows.

While new Macs come with the enhanced WiFi connectivity, 802.11ac is not yet available for iOS devices, a point that surprised Anand Lal Shimpi too in his iPhone 5s review. The Apple TV also only has the earlier 802.11n standard available: reasonable enough nonetheless.

Along with the Apple TV that isn't, the most consistent rumours, after those concerning the iPhone 6 (whatever it may be called), concern the device widely known as the iWatch. Like the threads that created the Apple TV rumour industry, the iWatch originated from when Steve Jobs was still alive.

The sense is that there may be a wearable device under development, but the idea of a watch per se is too limiting. There is already a large watch-making industry (and has been for centuries), that contracted after the introduction of the digital watch, but still survives. There are too many companies making such watches - analog and digital - for there to be the sort of space Apple would need for any major success. Anything less than a major success would have the critics baying.

While the rumours of the iWatch have mellowed to "wearable device", helped by health apps that are to be included in iOS 8, and by the withdrawal of Nike from the market, despite its comparative success with the FuelBand, many critics will not let go of the iWatch name.

Predictions that it was to be released in September of this year (it was predicted for September last year too), now seem to be wrong as several sources, including Juli Clover on MacRumors have reported this week that "Apple may be planning to delay the launch of its iWatch until 2015," which presumes that Apple has such a device and that it is to be called iWatch, of course. Note that the original source for this rumour KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has been wrong several times in the past.

I think we are safe to presume a new iPhone will be released soon, along with OS X 10.10, Yosemite and iOS 8. A Tweet from a Thai official last week that confirmed his FCC equivalent had approved two iPhone 6 versions for sale in the kingdom, sent the press (and Apple) into a tailspin.

Mac Pro Apart from ethics problems in the Thai agency, Apple sent two representatives from Singapore on the morning plane to make enquiries and it was stated that, just because a local official called it an iPhone 6, did not mean Apple was going to use that. On return to Singapore, they were to report to Cupertino who may not be sending any officials in Thailand Xmas cards this year.

There may well be new iPads released around the same time. Whether there will be other hardware, is guesswork: the iMac could do with a refresh, as could the MacBook Pro (see comments above about Broadwell delays). The Mac mini likewise has a due-by date and revisions to that have been expected for a while, some even suggesting a redesign on the lines of the impressive Mac Pro.

As regards the iPhone release, many sources favour 9 September because one source was positive that Apple had set this date for a media event. This is nothing more than a rumour, despite the number of times that it has been repeated (and reprinted): as yet, no invitations have been sent by Apple for any such event.

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. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



Made on Mac

For further information, e-mail to

information Tag information Tag

Back to eXtensions
Back to Home Page

All content copyright © G. K. Rogers 2014