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Analysis: Apple's media unveiling of the iPhone 6, Apple Watch
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Sep 9, 2014, 08:07 PM
 
A great deal of conversation between the MacNN and Electronista staff happens behind the scenes, especially when something like keynotes are ongoing. This week's annual Apple mobile announcement is no different. Writers Mike and Jordan, along with editor Charles, tackle some of the issues surrounding the mass-media Apple reveal that Tim Cook helmed today, showing the iPhone 6 family, and the Apple Watch.


First, some background. Mike has been with Electronista for just over two and a half years, is ex-military, and has worked at a half-dozen independent Apple shops over 30 years. He's been using Apple computers since 1979, with his first Apple an Apple ][ (not +, e, c, or GS) and his first Macintosh a Mac SE in the dawn of version 6 of the Macintosh Operating System on a 20MB hard drive. Once upon a time he bled in six colors, as the saying goes, but the saying itself dates how long ago this actually was.

Jordan is relatively new to the MacNN family of sites, having started with gadgetry reviews in the tail-end of 2013. He's now a full-time staffer, with a wide-range of cross-platform experience dating back 15 years. Jordan is primarily a Windows guy, but has been brought back into the OS X fold with a 2011 MacBook Pro. He has faded in and out of Apple hardware for the last 20 years.

Charles has been with MacNN off and on since 2000, and contributed to many other Mac-oriented print and web outlets. A decorated soldier in the Platform Wars of the 80s and 90s, he now finds himself in the odd position of believing that Microsoft is doing some of its best work ever, even as the Windows crowd turn their nose up at most of it. He is old enough that he is not just in the Apple ecosystem, he's actually part of it, like a fungus that's hard to get rid of.



The new iPhone introduces two more resolutions to Apple's stable, bringing the total supported by iOS 8 to three. Is this a problem? What about legacy apps?

Mike: Yeah, fragmentation is real, but not with the upwards migration of the phone hardware. I'm more concerned about the escalation of the hardware. There are already apps available that say that an iPad 4 or above are required, and there's no good "lockout" other than a hastily scribbled note in the app description. The new iPhones will aggravate this.

Jordan: As was stated during the presentation, all of the apps that are currently available will just work, as if through magic, with the new hardware without any changes. From what was being said, with iOS 8 there wouldn't be many changes, if any at all, for applications to work. I'm not sure what apps would be left to their own demise in this process, legacy or otherwise, if it's stated that everything will work on the new phones. Considering that apps native to older versions of the iPhone worked on the iPad when it came out, I don't expect there to be much of an issue here.

Charles: Apple was on the ball on this at the last WWDC, encouraging developers to work in landscape and develop 3x resolution art assets. Older apps that aren't updated will simply appear with black bars where the resolution ratio isn't right, the way old apps for the iPhone 4 do on the iPhone 5. The rest will be handled by upscaling.

Mike: Legacy apps will be brought along or not, at the developer's will. There are a number of apps that haven't made the jump to iOS 7 yet, and as the store ages, this is a fact of life. It's not up to Apple to guarantee that every app that worked on iOS 4 works on iOS 8. While I'm on the subject, though, there needs to be a paid upgrade function in the iOS app store. As it stand now, if I want to buy iOS Whatever App version 4 had I been an owner of version 3, the developer either has to offer the upgrade for free, or make a whole new app at full price. This seems both developer and consumer hostile.

Charles: Yeah, it's surprising that this can't be handled as an in-app purchase. So far, the apps I've bought are generally so cheap that a major upgrade is worth another $3-$5, but it would be interesting to see how a $40 or $80 app gets handled on this point.



Apple Pay. While many banks have lined up for the service, will retailers, the key of the system, adopt it?

Charles: I can't see any reason why not. In the US, merchants can upgrade to near-field communications (NFC) and chip-and-pin in one fell swoop, which should be painless with all the big credit providers behind it. The process is considerably faster than conventional checkouts, which in turn means more sales. Assuming Apple negotiated good rates for fees, a merchant would kinda have to be nuts not to get into this.

Jordan: It was announced that several large retailers and food chains are already jumping in with Apple over the implementation of the system. Macy's, Walgreens, Subway, Disney and McDonald's are stated to be adding the systems, which should expedite the adoption. These aren't small retailers, mind you, but national chains with huge saturation. If McDonald's saw enough value in Apple Pay that they are adding an option for its drive-thru, then I think it's fair to say that widespread adoption is just a matter of time.

Mike: Time wise, I think it will take a year to 18 months for any kind of wide adoption at retail, far less at any straggler banks. I'm interested to see that Apple Pay works on Target's web page, but no mention was made of it at retail.

Apple dominates the US for cellphone share. As retailers replace credit card machines either by accident or design, I think that Apple Pay compatibility will be a checkbox that most will like to have. It'll all come down to if it's worth it for the retailer to upgrade the hardware. Plus, US retailers have a major upgrade coming this year by necessity. It might be the perfect storm for adoption, at least in the US!

Jordan: On that note, it'll also be interesting to see how Apple Pay interacts with the upcoming change to chip-and-pin processing in the United States. While Apple Pay will get the jump on the EMV rollout being forced by Visa and Master Card by October 2015, Apple is introducing a valid method of payments here with a token approach.

With no information stored on the phone itself, it gives off the feeling that it will be a great sense of security. How much security is offered won't be revealed for some time though, leaving consumers to decide the best course of action for the immediate future. It isn't like consumers will have an option to adopt EMV, but having something as widespread as Apple Pay could be, based on device circulation alone, a viable alternative.

Mike: I am glad that Apple said that they don't care what you're buying and aren't collecting data. This could have been a marketing gold mine, and they took the high road. I'm sure they didn't for particularly Apple-esque reasons, but I don't care why -- it's just the right thing to do.

Jordan: More interesting to me is the effect Apple Pay will have on NFC. Where NFC was only on Android devices and appeared to show minimal use outside of Bluetooth pairing or some payment methods, with the saturation about to increase substantially it'll be interesting to see where NFC is headed. Will consumers see more options opening up because of this? Will vendors start to see NFC as playing an important role in design? It's hard to tell at this point, but I would like to think that it will.

Charles: Thanks to the Apple Watch having the necessary equipment, more than 200 million devices will be capable of using this technology before the iPhone 6 line even makes a dent. I might even get an Apple Watch just for this purpose, never mind the other benefits (which are numerous).

As for Apple not collecting data, I'm glad to see them making more of a point of this -- it is a major differentiator between them, Facebook and Google. Apple is the only one of the three that doesn't rely on advertising (and thus heavy user tracking) for its revenue. That's why Apple will, I think, succeed where Google (specifically) has failed with an "e-wallet" thing thus far.



What's the "killer feature" of the new phones? What didn't you like? Are they just too large?

Jordan: While the health features are certainly neater than I thought they would be when Health was first announced, I have to say that Apple Pay is the must-have feature coming in the new iPhone 6 models. Upon the reveal, I knew that this was a feature that would finally convince me to stick to the Apple platform rather than go back to Android from my dated iPhone 4S. If the security end of it holds up, it something that holds the potential of replacing payment methods crowding up a wallet.

Charles: The "killer feature" is size. Plain and simple. These iPhones have been created almost solely to sell to Android switchers and people who would have gone to Android if Apple hadn't done it. Users already on Android are not, by and large, heavily invested in the system unless they are IAH (irrational Apple haters), so being able to have what is clearly the best possible smartphone and the big screen and health and touch ID features (that actually work!) will seem like a no-brainer to anyone who can afford a premium smartphone. And that still leaves a huge market for Android.

I'll reserve judgement on the size until I can handle one, but I would think the 4.7 would be more than enough. I have no complaints about the four-inch iPhone 5s.

Mike: Boy, are they large. I'm not a fan of the "Phablet" concept, but many are. The killer feature is Apple Pay, I think! The processor is an upgrade from the previous version, but not loads faster than the 5s. The screens are larger but I think benefits of that are offset by the sheer size. Have you seen a Galaxy Note hanging out of somebody's pocket? Ludicrous!

Jordan: I'm still not 100 percent sold on the designs, as I preferred the look of the iPhone 4 and 5 models, but at least it's something slightly different. I'm on the fence about the size of the phones, all but counted out for the 5.5-inch model based on its footprint alone. I love that it has a 1080p screen, but it doesn't do me much good if it doesn't fit in my pocket. The 4.7-inch iPhone 6 is almost too large already, but it's the better of the two options in my case.

Charles: As for disappointments? Nothing much. It would have been nice if the camera had moved up to 10 or 12 megapixel, but that's about it.

Jordan: There are other odds and ends that don't make a break the phone for me, like the camera, video options and gaming with Metal, but I think for the most part the iPhone 6 is a balanced offering. It'll be hard to see if it truly fits my needs until I've spent time with it, but I see the potential for a lot of new uses coming from the phone.

Mike: We're in a mobile rut. Annual upgrades will be incremental, and not revolutionary anymore, and I don't care who you are. The iPhone 6 is incremental, as the 5s was over the 5. Where the "revolutionary" comes in, is 5 to 6, as the iPhone 4 was to the iPhone 5.



The Apple Watch (iWatch) is finally here. What sets it apart, or fails to differentiate it?

Jordan: I have to admit that it isn't the best-looking smart watch on the market, as offerings by LG and Motorola have it beat with round face options. I guess I expected more out of Apple in that regard, but at least you can change the bands for a different look, I suppose. It was nice to see that sapphire was being used in at least one of the new products, though it's a little bit of a letdown that it wasn't in the phones. Time will tell how that goes in the future, as it could have been an immediate supply issue for now.

Mike: This is all about Apple execution. During the product launch, Cook and company said it all. Apple's major new product categories mandated an interface change. The mouse, scroll wheel, and multi-touch. The digital crown dial as an interface zoom, coupled with a home button is a UI invention that will surely be copied within months, and it should come as a watershed moment for the whole smartwatch concept.

Charles: Some thought behind the design and implementation is what sets it apart, particularly in terms of the UI. The other so-called "smartwatches" look pretty dumb in hindsight. There are some that are a bit better-looking, but don't do nearly so much. There are some that are ridiculously over-egged with features, but look terrible (or are built poorly, or have awful battery life, etc). I think Apple hit the right balance on this one, and in particular the fitness-band makers are either going to have to charge a lot less, or just exit the business. There's no possible way I would pay more than $50 for a regular fitness band now.

Jordan: Disappointing looks aside, the functionality and use looks to kill anything that is being powered by Android currently. Using an updated version of a standard rotary watch staple -- the crown -- was a smart move by the company, as it allows precision control and familiarity, something lacking in current smartwatches. Having a combination of touch and force to register actions along with the crown allows all sorts of control options, solving a problem with the scale of the device in the process. The little drawings that can be sent to other people and a dedicated button for contacts will help set it apart from Tizen or Android Wear options.

Mike: The price at $349 generated some discussion. Some of the staff said too high, others said it was about where they thought it would be. Remember, an iPhone out of contract still sells for $600 and up! The pricing is where Apple wants it to be, and where the market will bear. What I'm concerned about is the "and up" part. How much "and up" are we talking?

Jordan: It could have be much better had it not required connection to an iPhone, but that could just be a limitation of scale more than anything else. That, and it could be that people wouldn't really go for a wireless plan on a smartwatch. The $350 price tag is already large enough without having to manage a wireless contract along with it.
( Last edited by NewsPoster; Sep 9, 2014 at 09:04 PM. )
     
c. haynes
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Sep 9, 2014, 09:52 PM
 
I have been watching Apple's "Events" for as long as there have been those events. This was the worst I've watched from a technical standpoint.Through the entire presentation the level of the Chinese was almost as great as the English... very annoying. I had four devices to try for some continuity and the result was comical. The iPad would be fine for a while and then recycle to something that was said 5 minutes before. The Macbook was never really on at all. In the long run the iMac was best but not until enough people got bored and tuned out. Really frustrating.

But the Apple Watch was amazing and the iPhone may be as good as a phone gets, that is of the phones that actually work as advertised. Funny to see the ads that show the Samsung phones breezing along and to be around people who have them and they don't breeze along at all. And I love the one about the brightness of the iPad when it's obvious they just turned down the screen brightness.

Another day another Apple event. Thank goodness they pay more attention to the products than the method by which we are informed.
     
sunman42
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Sep 9, 2014, 10:31 PM
 
I believe US banks are transitioning credit cards to chip-and-signature, not chip-and-PIN, as in Europe (and elsewhere?). The absence of the latter looks like a major opportunity for Apple to get its foot in the door as a major enabler of secure transactions, assuming all the software and hardware involved have no major security issues.
     
Charles Martin
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Sep 10, 2014, 01:51 AM
 
c. haynes: yes, the first 40 minutes or so of the video stream was nothing short of a major fiasco. I am sure there is a TV truck in San Fran somewhere tonight whose operators have an extra orifice and a pink slip.
Charles Martin
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