Thoughts on the September 2012 Apple event

Update 2012-09-14: There are three iPhone 5 models that support different bands (Sect. 7).

This post gives a few thoughts on the September 2012 Apple event.

Is the iPhone 5 boring?

So, the new iPhone has been introduced. Because of the invitation, it was already obvious that it would be called “iPhone 5”. It is also quite remarkable that we already knew almost everything about it, thanks to the rumor mill. That is probably a sign that Apple is now too big to keep secrets efficiently. The general reaction of the media was one of boredom. Two examples: The smartphone market is maturing to some degree, so it’s natural that new developments are not as exciting, any more. I’m wondering why Apple has to “dazzle”, why it’s not enough for them to simply keep on doing solid work. It’s not as if that strategy has failed them, so far. It’s one of Apple’s virtues that there is a strong sense of continuity in its products, of iterative refinement. You also have to appreciate the craftsmanship, especially regarding the hardware. They have achived something that is quite impressive: The new device is both thinner, lighter and less voluminous than its predecessor. And has a bigger battery.

“Playing catch-up” with LTE

That’s the second meme in the media: Apple has just now caught up with Android with regard to the faster transmission standard LTE. But Apple reportedly bases its decision on whether or not to include a feature in a product on its usefulness. And what good is LTE to you, if you can only use it for a short while before your battery gives out?

The larger screen

Useful. I’m surprised that many people ignore the importance of the screen. Initially, the iPhone 4 had “just a higher-resolution display”. Now the iPhone 5 has “just a larger screen”. This matters, it’s normally the most-used component of your phone. The iPhone 5’s display is still smaller than those of most Android phones. I suspect that not making the screen larger is partly due to design reasons and party due to technical constraints: you don’t want to fragment the iOS market even further. Apple has done a good job of getting the word out that a portable phone has to easily fit into your hand. That is good marketing, but also makes sense.

More vertical space. The larger screen gives you more space to display information. The application that benefits most is watching videos. For movies with a 16:9 aspect ratio, there won’t be any black bars. But other apps work better, too. For example, in landscape mode, the calendar can display 5 days instead of 3. In portrait mode, the software keyboard will hide less content. I wonder how they handle the keyboard for legacy applications that have black bars on top and on bottom (so that they are vertically centered). I also wonder how the landscape version of the keyboard will be displayed. It will probably not occupy the whole width. The trade-off that Apple made with the screen is smart: You do have more space, but because the expansion is only vertical, the shape of the device remains largely the same and it’s easy for apps to adapt.

Lightning: the new dock connector

It was overdue: the old dock connector was getting long in the tooth – tt’s large and fragile. The new connector is called Lightning, a name that complements Apple’s other connector, Thunderbold, nicely. Lightning is more sturdy than the old dock connector and can be plugged in either way, because it’s symmetric. It is also 80% smaller, which is important for mobile devices. Obviously the new connector is also a major nuisance, because it makes your current cables and accessories obsolete in the long run. Yes, there are adapters (one, two), but those are incredibly clumsy. @billygoat sums it up nicely:
I predicted the new iPhone connector months ago. I believe my exact words were, “I finally have enough iPhone cables.”
Given that syncing etc. works well wirelessly, I mostly use the connector for charging my iPhone, but for that use case it is essential. Should I buy a new iPhone, I won’t be able to use the same cable for charging my iPhone and my iPad. Apple could have used an industry-standard micro-USB port (which is almost the same size as Lightning), but didn’t, probably to control the accessory industry around the connector. Also notable: The Lightning USB cable only supports USB 2.0.

The “new” iTunes

So Apple has slightly redesigned iTunes and sells it thusly:
A completely redesigned player. A newly remodeled store. And even more iCloud features. The new iTunes looks easy, because it is easy.
That doesn’t change the core problem of iTunes: it’s too bloated an application, it does too much. If I were Apple, I’d break it up. There’d be an app for playing media and a web-based iTunes store [1]. How much sense the latter makes becomes obvious if you look at how Apple is slowly bringing functionality to the Store that is standard in web browsers. For example, the latest version now keeps a history of where you have been. It would be great if bookmarks were next.

Question: does anyone ever use the MiniPlayer? I only see by accident, when I actually want to maximize the window (you have to option-click the green button in the top left corner to do that on a Mac).

My guess is that Apple is already working on breaking up iTunes (a web-based store will probably never happen), but that is a huge task that takes time – think years, not months.

The presentation

You can watch the video of the presentation online. I’m growing tired of the words “gorgeous”, “stunning”, “thrilled”, “amazing”, etc. Paraphrasing an idea of my brother’s, I’d love Apple to just once say “It’s the second-best thing we’ve ever done.” But everyone in the tech industry uses this kind of hyperbolic language, so I don’t think there is much hope of product introductions ever being understated.

I didn’t like how Tim Cook spoke. The breathless enthusiam seemed pretentious. He would probably have been more comfortable with a more conversational tone. Thankfully, they let Phil Schiller do most of the talking, who sounded more real. He even managed to infuse some irony into the presentation:

The ocean just looks bluer on the iPhone 5. Kids look happier. The world is just a more beautiful place.
I found it interesting that they first showed the back of the new iPhone – that’s where it looks most different from the iPhone 4S.

More material on the web


Wired puts it well: “The iPhone 5 Is Completely Amazing and Utterly Boring”. I would argue that it’s a good kind of boring.

Related reading

  1. Why the iTunes store should be web-based
  2. Apple’s WWDC announcements: a summary [iOS 6 etc.]
  3. A wish list for iOS 6