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.

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.

We’ve Droid’ed Up!

A few days overdue, but relevant anyway:

droid

Last weekend Bethany and I went out upgraded our smart phones over to Motorola Droids.  We didn’t stand in line or anything crazy, but as it turns out we were able to get pretty good discounts and buy them on Saturday.  A few weeks ago I wrote about how I was drooling about the Droid, and the opportunity to have a good smart phone experience on the Verizon Network.  After 5 days of using the device, I can saw that device definitely lives up to the hype and offers everything I was looking for.

My first entry in to the SmartPhone world was using the Treo 600.  The Palm had a really nice OS that I enjoyed using, but the 600 was a 2G device.  I upgraded to the Treo 700w, which was probably the single-worst phone that I had ever owned. It was a Windows Mobile phone that was packed into hardware that was too underpowered to run it.  That phone drove me nuts and as soon as I had a chance to upgrade, I did – to the HTC Mogel (or Verizon xv6800).  Windows Mobile didn’t really bother me at the time, but it served my needs.

Now, nearly two years after getting that phone, after the iPhone 3G and the application ecosystem, I grew increasingly frustrated with Microsoft’s lack of drive in the mobile space.  Windows Mobile was quickly becoming stale, and while there was a historically large application offering, there was nothing new and dynamic coming about.  You could tell that all of the great developers have moved onto bigger and better things.

Enter: the Droid.  This phone may not *yet* have the application offering, but it delivers a sleek, colorful mobile experience on a fantastic network.  This phone does everything that I want it to do, and does it very well.  It gives me the ability to use a keyboard, to multi-task, and to be able to tether if I’d like to.

Back to “5 Days in” and I am exceedingly happy with the device. I’ve discovered that most of the big apps (like Shazam and Pandora) have ported to Android and have a good offering there.  I love the phone’s performance and some of the little thing things that Android does to make an awesome experience.  For example, I really like my “Contacts” interface, which combines my Google contacts with my Exchange contacts that I use on Outlook, without any duplication or redundancy.  To make things better, Facebook has imposed pictures onto all of my contacts, without screwing anything up on the Google or Exchange side.

The touch is definitely sensitive on the Droid, and coming from an older touch platform like Windows Mobile (that really never adapted from the stylus to the finger), it’s taken a little bit of getting used to.  One of the things that I’ve missed from my Windows Mobile phones (and a feature that Blackberry has) is the scroll wheel on the side of the phone. The “flicking” motion is nice, but something that I will need to adjust to when it comes to scrolling content.

There are a few things that I don’t like about the phone, but they are relatively minor things like not being able to accept/reject Exchange calendar invites in my email.  The keyboard is a little flatter than even my XV6800 and does take a little getting used to.  I remember switching from the Tero (which had one of the best keyboards ever) over to the XV6800, and I expect a similar adjustment time over to the Droid’s keyboard.  The on-screen keyboard works really well when I’m looking to do a search or enter in my password.

The camera is really nice as well.  I took a picture of our house using the Droid, then took the same picture with on Sony DSC-W290 12Mp Camera:

picdroid

pichouse

The first picture was taken with the Droid, the second being the camera.  You can definitely see the clarity in the camera, but the Droid seems to hold it’s own for a quick picture.

Bottom line: I believe the Droid is a big win for Verizon and their users.  I love having my phone on Verizon, and while the iPhone may still be the sexier device, the Droid – combined with the Verizon network – delivers a better experience that ultimately satisfies me as a Verizon customer.

The Motorola Droid – Punching Apple in the Mouth

By now you may have seen the new commercials for the Motorola Droid, which looks to be the next competitor to the iPhone.  What makes this viable is the fact that a phone with a nice form factor and runs Google Android is now on the Verizon Network.  This first ad takes a shot at the iPhone – right in the mouth.

The iPhone looks great, but the experiences that my friends have with the AT&T Network has deferred me from  getting an iPhone.  I own the Verizon xv6800 (which is basically a rebranded HTC Titan), which I have been mostly happy with.  However, Windows Mobile drives me crazy.  The fact that Microsoft doesn’t seem to put any serious development into the Windows Mobile roadmap really leaves me wondering if I’m riding on a sinking ship.  The fact the Microsoft has taken this long simply  to release Windows Mobile 6.5 – let alone 7.0 – is pretty appalling.

At the end of the day: It’s the Apps, stupid.  iPhone has all of these great apps that you read and hear about, that are capturing the attention of the Smartphone consumers market.  Android looks to have a promising app ecosystem, especially with the fact that they have a free SDK and an open platform.  Now, if they can continue to build up their compelling App inventory, we may have a viable competitor.

The key to this whole thing is Verizon.  Verizon, which is notorious for crippling their devices, will need to let Android to have free reign over the hardware to make this successful.  They have the strongest network by far, which has been the compelling reason for keeping me as a customer.  If I can have a phone that has access to the GPS, allows tethering and lets me do all that my hardware is capable of – Verizon and Motorola will have hit one out of the park.

Now I’m simply left to wonder if this will be my next phone.  I’m up for a renewal discount next month, maybe this will be it.

Worth Reading: AT&T to Data Cap iPhone Users

One of my biggest pet peeves is businesses that are too busy to address their failing business models and resort to going against their customers. We’ve seen this time and time again with the RIAA and MPAA, and now you’re seeing this with the these Wireless and Internet Service Providers.

Case in point, Gizmodo posted a prediction that AT&T may impose a cap on data usage for the iPhone customers.  AT&T justifies this by saying that 3% of their smartphone users (which are iPhone users) use 40% of the Smartphone Data.

Sometimes I wonder if AT&T is happy with the deal they signed with the devil – in this case Apple.  AT&T got a lot of new customers over being the exclusive iPhone provider in the US, but somehow they failed to understand that when you have one of the most feature-rich phones out there that boasts the largest applications store, you’re going to see increased data usage.

I’m on Verizon and don’t have an iPhone (I have a Windows Mobile phone, which I have a love/hate relationship), but I can tell you that my data usage far outweighs by voice usage, and the sooner that Wireless Carriers realize that the better off they’ll be.  Instead they’re going to start battling customers, imposing these continued caps and restrictions – pages directly from the record industry’s playbook.

I understand that bandwidth isn’t free and these carriers aren’t a business but there are two issues that I have: 1) Carriers lock their customers into their contract and have sneaky ways of keeping you tied down with these new terms. 2) In the case of Telcos, the government provided them money to expand their networks, and they spent that money but seemingly can’t manage contain without “managing the network” steps.