Why I’m not buying an iPhone X

After two years of iPhone ownership, I’ve awaited the September iPhone event with much anticipation, eager to see what Apple is going to deliver. I’ve been fortunate enough to get day-of-launch devices through my participation in the iPhone Upgrade program, satisfying my geeky indulgence of having the cutting-edge phone as soon as possible. However this year, with the launch of the iPhone X alongside the iPhone 8, a huge wrench got thrown into my plans. After watching too many “first reaction” videos and finally having the Reality Distortion Field effects ware off, I’ve decided to forgo the iPhone X and opted for the iPhone 8 Plus.  There are a few factors that weighed into my decision, while much ado has been made about the cost, it wasn’t really a factor in my decision.

I’m not sold on FaceID

Take away the Zapruder-Film-Level scrutiny that’s going on with the “Demo Fail”, I’m just not convinced that FaceID is going to deliver the benefit over the drawbacks for not having TouchID.  When phones started introducing fingerprint sensors, they were replacing PIN-unlocking – or for many users: nothing. Even if/when TouchID doesn’t work, it defaults back to the previous level of authentication. As other phones have tried face scanning, it seems that many still provide a fingerprint sensor, but Apple has gone all in with the face detection.

Let’s assume FaceID works at least as well as TouchID (and I’m not convinced that night-time phone unlocking is going to be reliable or pleasant), unlocking a phone with FaceID is going to require more attention and friction than TouchID.  Gone will be any opportunity to inconspicuously unlock your phone and triage a notification, you’re going to need to intentionally look at your bright screen to unlock your phone.  It’s also not clear to me how to differentiate between an intentional unlock request and an accidental unlock. Take Apple Pay, for instance: there have been a few times where I didn’t mean to get to the Apple Pay prompt and was glad I didn’t have my finger on the home screen. How long will it be before we see stories about people making accidental in-app or Apple Pay purchases?

Don’t get me wrong, FaceID looks cool – but it seems like a solution in search of a problem, and the fact that you don’t get a choice between TouchID and FaceID in the same phone is problematic.

iPhone 8 Plus still seems like a great phone

From what I can tell, aside from the OLED display, the biggest differentiator between the iPhone 8 Plus and the X are all the sensors associated with FaceID.  Given that I’m not interested in FaceID, that leaves me missing out on the Animoji- which I likely wouldn’t use much due to the fact that I’M A GROWN-ASS MAN!  Maybe there will eventually be a compelling app that will utilize all of those sensors effectively and give me FOMO next spring, but I’m willing to take that risk.

The iPhone 8 and X share the same processor, and the 8 Plus has the same dual cameras (although I’ve read that the X’s has slightly better low-light performance). It’s not clear if there’s a RAM differentiation, but I’m willing to bet it won’t be significant.  Of course, the Plus has the larger form-factor, but I’m not necessarily clamoring for a smaller phone. Apple did toss iPhone 8 users a bone and did offer wireless charging so there’s that.

No-Bezel OLED sounds great, but I don’t know what I’m missing

That screen sounds (and looks) great, but given the way I consume content on my phone (mostly through Podcasts, Social Media, Email and slight gaming), it doesn’t really feel like I’ll be missing out all that much.  It’d be one thing if I were watching a lot of 4k content on my phone, but that doesn’t appeal to me. I agree that Apple’s bezels make the phone look dated, but I’m not sure if the “notch” at the top and the absence of the home button was the right way to solve that problem.  I think both app-makers and users alike will be going through growing pains through the next year to figure out the new interface.

I’m not willing to wait until November (or even longer)

Make one thing clear: if Apple could have released the phone at some semblance of scale in September, they would.  There have been rumors for months that OLED production has delayed the iPhone X. Apple, who is not willing to set delivery expectations, to begin with (just ask AirPod fans), will likely not be able to meet up the pent-up demand for the iPhone X. When the X goes on PreSale on October 27, the question will be whether it’ll be a matter of seconds – not minutes – before it sells out. At that point, only a few lucky few X fans will actually get their phones on Nov 3. I’m willing to bet that there will be folks who intended to buy on the X on October 27 will be waiting into 2018 before they can get their coveted device.

This brings me back to the Apple Upgrade Plan.  Apple Upgrade enables users to trade in their phone if they’ve made 12 of the 24 payments on their current device.  They can elect to trade it in early but will be required to pay whatever amounts gets them to the equivalent of 12 payments.  I’m willing to bet that when the iPhone XI comes out in 2018, it’s not going to be November, but all the people who value having the latest in greatest will be paying at least 2 months worth of payments early as a luxury tax.  I don’t fault people who are willing and can afford that, but to me, it’s just not worth it, especially in light of all of the doubts I have about FaceID.

 

There was a time where I cared deeply about having the latest and greatest, where I loved being an early adopter and a beta tester. Maybe it’s part of me getting older and having kids, but that priority is now subject to elevated scrutiny. Given the level of unknowns here, I’m not willing to pay the extra $200 just to be an early-adopter of technology that I’m not very enthusiastic, to begin with.  If you get very excited about the iPhone X, more power to you, but I just wanted to point out that there are valid reasons (besides cost), to stick with the 8 and watch the bugs shake out until next September.

Apple’s playing with “Monopoly” money

Spotify: Apple is holding up app approval to squash competition

Let’s get this out of the way: Apple is completely within their rights to set whichever app approval policies in their platform. It’s their OS, their store, their rules. I’m not a lawyer, but when it comes to Apple enforcing their own policies: I don’t think Spotify has a legal leg to stand on.

That said: Apple may (and should) lose in the court of public opinion, and their behavior is asshole-ish to say the least, and likely anti-competitive to the point that they may (and should) be punished.

I get it, you built the store and thus are entitled to take a cut for setting up and facilitating a profit center for app developers, and I realize Apple feels they deserve a cut for digital goods and subscriptions for apps that charge nothing up front.  Throughout the course of the app store, Apple has become competitors in many of these markets, and are now using their platform ownership to slant the playing field in their favor.

In the case of Spotify: aside from the fact that Apple Music is a red hot mess, Spotify has superior music discovery features and an easy way for me to interact with my friends and embed playlists in various posts.  At the time, it’s a superior product, but Apple is hiding behind their app store policies to give themselves a competitive advantage in price-point.  Sure users can sign up through the Spotify web site to get avoid the Apple tax, but it’s asinine that even mentioning that through their app prevents the update from being approved.  This “Minister of Truth” garbage makes no sense.

As the app ecosystem has evolved, many legitimate questions have arisen about how app makers can continue to monetize based off their apps.  Now that we’re reaching a saturation point with users, we’re finding out that it’s not sustainable to pay $3 for a Podcast app and expect feature enhancements until the end of time.  I’ve come to accept that in order for apps I love to stay in business, I’ve accepted that I may need to fork over an annual fee for an app like PocketCasts or Tweetbot.  Apple facilitates the platform and should probably maintain their cut. Their new subscription platform does offer some reprieve if users subscribe into their second year. This seems like a fair way to do business.

On the other hand, there are apps, platforms and business models that have developed their own sustainability and are expected to be omnipresent in all computing platforms: Amazon Kindle, Spotify, Netflix, Comixology to name a few.  These apps have their own revenue streams and ultimately the app store doesn’t play a meaningful role in delivering that content to the user.  Apple is just another platform – albeit one of the biggest – in this service’s eco-system.  By forcing these apps to tax their users or simply pretend they don’t sell the content (Comixology does this) and trust that you’ll figure out to go to their web site, Apple demonstrates that they don’t give a crap about your user experience while using this app on their platform – which goes completely against their mantra of simplicity and elegance in their UI.

Then there’s apps that are in all places (e.g. Social Networks), making their money by selling advertising through their own platforms (combined with the user data they can harvest).  I could be wrong, but Apple doesn’t get a share of that ad revenue. In many ways Apple and the social networks have a symbiotic relationship with one another.  I’m pretty sure that for some apps like Facebook, some money has exchanged hands with Apple to get the deep OS integrations – but I don’t believe for a second that the App Store is taking a cut from the ads that Instagram serves me.  How is this different than the content that’s being served up the previously mentioned omnipresent apps?

As much as I’ve enjoyed having the latest and greatest apps on my elegant piece of hardware, the anticompetitive stupidity that results in these awful experiences may ultimately drives away users like me.  What’s 30% of $0 spent, Apple?

Apple Reality Distortion

Given the amount of hype that goes into the launch of any Apple product, I thought I’d do my due-diligence to offer some good-natured balance from the other side:

First off there was an awesome video that Conan put together:

In a more articulate note, Fortune’s Seth Wentraub breaks down some misleading statements made during yesterday’s Apple keynote:

Steve Jobs’ reality distortion takes its toll on truth

Granted Wentraub’s blog is called Google 24/7, so you need to take that grain of salt, but his points are no less valid: how Apple conveniently picks & chooses the specs they care about when it comes to comparing it with other competitors (like Apple won’t tell you how much RAM is in the iPad), how they’re disingenuous about the price comparisons, as well as their claim that they’re the first to ship a dual-core tablet.  If you’re feeling a little warm from Jobs’ reality-distortion field, read this article to cool off.

Thoughts on “Thoughts on Flash”

It seems that every tech media outlet is frothing at the mouth this morning over Steve Jobs posting an open letter about Flash on the iPhone platforms.  I would be remiss if I didn’t share some of my immediate thoughts on what I read.

First off, outside of being a normal Smartphone consumer, I really have no dog in this fight.  I’ve written some things in Flash before, but truth be told I try to avoid this platform because of the inherent usability and accessibility issues that surround it.  However, Flash has definitely found it’s niche in media: both in video players, as well as an audio player. I currently use Flash music players on Greenfoot’s site, and there still isn’t really an open standards answer out there for music players.

I also do find it funny that Apple and Adobe are feuding, given their extensive history together.  I remember when design products like Photoshop were only available on the Mac, and what a big deal it was to have a Windows version.  Now, according to Steve Jobs, half of the Creative Suite tools are now on Windows.  I seriously believe that if Adobe never bought Macromedia in 2005, these companies would still be BFF’s.

Also if you know me, you know that I do have a disposition towards Apple – I cannot deny that. My difficulty with Apple is that they employ many monopolistic practices and actions, yet somehow get the tech media to view them through some rose-colored glasses.  They definitely know how to work the hype machine, and as someone who generally doesn’t like overzealous hype, it really bothers me. However, I think it’s important to tell you where I sit before I talk about where I stand.

Reading through the letter, there are a few things that stand out to me:

First, there’s “Open”.

Oh this is great, we’re going to get a lecture on Adobe’s proprietary from Apple, a company that wont’ let you install their OS on any device they don’t personally manufacture, while also employing a completely locked-down mobile platform where they are the sole gate keepers to what is allowed on that phone. Thanks pot, but I know the kettle is black.

Apple has many proprietary products too. Though the operating system for the iPhone, iPod and iPad is proprietary, we strongly believe that all standards pertaining to the web should be open. Rather than use Flash, Apple has adopted HTML5, CSS and JavaScript – all open standards

Great, we’re glad you’re adopting HTML5, but at the heart of the matter is the fact that HTML5 still isn’t widely adopted on most browsers.  Firefox doesn’t currently support most aspects of it, while Internet Explorer has little support for it.  Whether or not the two major browsers should now be supporting it is debatable, but the fact is that the majority of the web still doesn’t have access to HTML5.  Apple is very forward-thinking, but you need to come back to the present on this.

WebKit has been widely adopted. Google uses it for Android’s browser, Palm uses it, Nokia uses it, and RIM (Blackberry) has announced they will use it too. Almost every smartphone web browser other than Microsoft’s uses WebKit. By making its WebKit technology open, Apple has set the standard for mobile web browsers.

That’s great, but there’s a difference between the mobile web and the mainstream web, and the majority of the Internet still consumes the mainstream web through desktop browsers.

Adobe has repeatedly said that Apple mobile devices cannot access “the full web” because 75% of video on the web is in Flash. What they don’t say is that almost all this video is also available in a more modern format, H.264, and viewable on iPhones, iPods and iPads. YouTube, with an estimated 40% of the web’s video, shines in an app bundled on all Apple mobile devices, with the iPad offering perhaps the best YouTube discovery and viewing experience ever. Add to this video from Vimeo, Netflix, Facebook, ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, ESPN, NPR, Time, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, People, National Geographic, and many, many others. iPhone, iPod and iPad users aren’t missing much video.

This is a little ingenuous.  He’s right, much of the video is encoded in H.264, but much of today’s availability of H.264 is due to Apple strong-arming content providers into making this available.  iPhones are hot right now, and everyone wants their content to be made available for Mobile Devices. Apple’s resistance to Flash has forced YouTube and other providers to go through this route.  I took felt the above statement conveniently forgot this pandering, and is taking a “what a coincidence!” approach.

However, we’re talking video here. What about audio?  Aside from using some of the major streaming services, people who visit bands web sites typically haven no way to consume audio streaming from web sites.  There may be some standards conforming to video, but audio streaming still has a ways to go.

Another Adobe claim is that Apple devices cannot play Flash games. This is true. Fortunately, there are over 50,000 games and entertainment titles on the App Store, and many of them are free. There are more games and entertainment titles available for iPhone, iPod and iPad than for any other platform in the world.

I love this, he completely sidestepped the issue and cast his reality-distortion-field so that you feel comfortable in their Walled Garden.   I have some fun games on my Droid, but you’re conceding that rather than have a ubiquitous game across multiple platforms, the answer is to splinter the game developer community.

Symantec recently highlighted Flash for having one of the worst security records in 2009. We also know first hand that Flash is the number one reason Macs crash. We have been working with Adobe to fix these problems, but they have persisted for several years now. We don’t want to reduce the reliability and security of our iPhones, iPods and iPads by adding Flash.

That may be true for Macs, but for Windows platforms Flash has been pretty stable.  The instability of Flash in Macs is because Apple has held tight reins in who can access their video hardware acceleration.  Apple is dragging it’s feet on Adobe’s coattails, then has the gall to complain about performance. I would surmise that Adobe’s problem with Flash on Macs is really Apple’s problem.

Adobe publicly said that Flash would ship on a smartphone in early 2009, then the second half of 2009, then the first half of 2010, and now they say the second half of 2010. We think it will eventually ship, but we’re glad we didn’t hold our breath. Who knows how it will perform?

Adobe definitely has been slow on their mobile strategy, it’s true, but Apple is hardly an innocent bystander in all of this.

Fourth, there’s battery life.

If Apple wasn’t so arrogant in their hardware by not allowing removable/spare batteries, this wouldn’t be an issue.  At this point people have accepted the trade off, understanding that if they’re going to have a snazzy phone, they’re going to need to recharge it at least once per day.  I ware down the battery on my Droid all the time, but I also have a spare battery for those days that I can’t easily recharge it.  Apple has created their own problem by not allowing removable batteries in their devices.

Apple’s revolutionary multi-touch interface doesn’t use a mouse, and there is no concept of a rollover. Most Flash websites will need to be rewritten to support touch-based devices. If developers need to rewrite their Flash websites, why not use modern technologies like HTML5, CSS and JavaScript? Even if iPhones, iPods and iPads ran Flash, it would not solve the problem that most Flash websites need to be rewritten to support touch-based devices.

As a developer, I can tell you that it’s easier to enhance something you’ve already written than completely re-write it on another platform.  Also the “modern technologies” point is moot because (like it or not) the reality is that the majority of the web can’t use HTML5.  These are not “modern technologies”, they’re bleeding edge, and for many the risk still outweighs the reward.

Sixth, the most important reason. This becomes even worse if the third party is supplying a cross platform development tool. The third party may not adopt enhancements from one platform unless they are available on all of their supported platforms. Hence developers only have access to the lowest common denominator set of features. Again, we cannot accept an outcome where developers are blocked from using our innovations and enhancements because they are not available on our competitor’s platforms.

Wait, a few paragraphs up weren’t you telling me that I should port my Flash app to HTML5?  You’re advocating HTML5, which isn’t conforming to the lowest common denominator.  Plus, I’m not really sure why you see Adobe as a competitor in this, aren’t they a consumer and a partner of your technologies?  This is the problem when you blur the line between owning the platform, and being the sole gatekeepers into the platform.  There is where comparisons to a certain board game involving Boardwalks come into play.

Our motivation is simple – we want to provide the most advanced and innovative platform to our developers, and we want them to stand directly on the shoulders of this platform and create the best apps the world has ever seen. We want to continually enhance the platform so developers can create even more amazing, powerful, fun and useful applications. Everyone wins – we sell more devices because we have the best apps, developers reach a wider and wider audience and customer base, and users are continually delighted by the best and broadest selection of apps on any platform.

I don’t understand how these goals can’t be accomplished without bashing Adobe.  If people want to have the best experience, then yes, use your native tools.  If an App sucks because it’s a crappy port, it’s the App’s fault. I think you need to give the intelligence of your customers a little credit here.   If an App sucks on my Droid, I delete it and avoid that App, I don’t chuck my phone out the window.

Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.

So rather than let Adobe evolve their technology into the next platform, you’re just going to cut them off at the knees and dictate their business for them through your strong-arm tactics.  Very competitive.

This is definitely a complicated issue, and I in no way am I an Adobe apologist, but this isn’t as black & white as Steve Jobs would like you to believe.

When will Apple open up iTunes LP’s?

At the recent Apple’s iPod Gushfest, they announced a new feature in music purchases in the LP format.  This is supposed to be the next generation of the album format’s liner notes, photos and additional goodies you get when you pony up money for a CD.  This looked like a feature that may turn out to be cool (depending on how much they charge for this), but as a band that sells on iTunes I was very interested in how the LP was going to become available.

Details are starting to formulate, but because Apple hasn’t been very forthcoming with details (as if that’s a surprise), it’s given away to rampant speculation.  Initially the news broke that Indie (Independent) artists trying to implement the LP solution were told by iTunes reps that LP’s weren’t available to Independents.  Not only that, but to get an LP into iTunes, labels needed to pony up a $10,000 production fee.

Apple refuted the claim saying that they’re going to release open specs, and that no production fee would be charged. The fact that they’re going to release the open specs should hopefully enable content creators to create them – but we’ll see if they really become successful.  It’s surprising that iTunes doesn’t appear to have a sense of urgency about putting these specs out, considering that these have been out for over 6 weeks and only has 16 LP’s to show for it.

My guess is that unless they open LP to include a lossless audio format, there’ really isn’t going to be much incentive to get people spend the extra money and buy these instead of a CD.  I would also guess that Apple probably put these together due to pressure from the record companies and probably won’t invest their full attention towards this – not unlike the Apple TV.