Is Apple Stumbling?

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Yesterday, Apple executives took to the stage in the Steve Jobs Theater beneath their new ‘Spaceship Campus’ headquarters to unveil, among other things, 3 new iPhones. Skipping the 7S generation, the company detailed the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, before announcing, with their famous ‘One more thing…’ prelude, their latest flagship; the iPhone X (pronounced ‘ten’).

You can see the specs of these phones here, but I want to talk about why I think this is the first time I’ve seen signs of Apple struggling for original ideas, scrambling to retain market share and making decisions which could well turn out to be instrumental to their undoing as a brand.

The first thing that struck me as strange was the naming of the new iPhone; ‘iPhone X’ or ‘ten’. For weeks we’ve seen leaks of the ‘iPhone X’ branding, and in my mind I’d always pronounced it ‘ex’, and with good reason. The ‘X’ conveys the idea of the iPhone’s 10th anniversary through the Roman numeral symbol, while offering a striking and memorable name – this makes for a very marketable device. However, named the iPhone ten, Apple have given the impression that the iPhone 8 is at least two generations old, purely looking at their names side-by-side. I can see no good reason why they decided to do this.

 

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Wireless charging was pushed hard during the Keynote, and is a feature found on all 3 of the new phones. I was surprised Apple did not introduce a new wireless charging standard, but instead went with Qi (as used by Samsung, LG and other OEMs). However, we saw another error from Apple, this time well-disguised by Phil Schiller – a delay in the release of their own charging pad. I had seen information a few days earlier saying Apple had wanted to release the new AirPower charging pad during the event, but had not got the product ready for unveiling in time. That felt strange to me – this isn’t a very complex accessory to design and manufacturer, so a delay seems surprising. I should say that AirPower does also push alerts to your iPhone which detail what is charging on the pad, and their battery status, so perhaps this intricacy is the cause of delay. It must be said that the delay in release could be forgiven if they’d named the charging pad ‘Apple Juice’, but you win some you lose some I guess.

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“Touch ID wasn’t broken, and it didn’t need replacing. Agree? ”  

 

The iPhone was, indeed, identical to the many leaks released in the past weeks, and impressed me at first. This quickly changed when Craig Federighi went to demo the big new feature – Face ID. Using IR sensors and a ‘flood illuminator’, the cameras scan your face to apparently give even higher security than Touch ID, with only 1 in a million faces unlocking your phone (vs 1 in 50,000 fingerprints unlocking Touch ID), besides your own face/fingerprint obviously. So when Mr Federighi tried to unlock the demo iPhone X on stage and Face ID failed twice, it was fairly embarrassing. You can see the moment below:

Apple’s stock price fell instantly and a seed of doubt was sewn into many minds as to whether this new security feature could compete with the speed and convenience of Touch ID. Face ID requires you to be alert, looking at the phone, with the device held up and pointed at your face. How many times have you unlocked your phone when it’s been on the desk in front of you, or maybe you placed your thumb on the fingerprint scanner as you pull the phone out your pocket, so it is unlocked once it reaches your eyes. There are so many scenarios where having to have your phone seeing your face, and you looking directly at the screen is inconvenient and unpractical. I think we will see a lot of complaints around Face ID and its inconvenience and maybe also its speed. For me, Touch ID worked great for people and perhaps putting a scanner on the back of the iPhone X, like many Android phones do, would have been a better decision. Touch ID wan’t broken and it didn’t need replacing.

Another issue that troubled me was the OLED display. Apple claimed they hadn’t used OLED panels before, partly because they were not bright enough. Well, as you can see in the tweet below, Samsung’s Note 8 display (also an OLED) is almost twice as bright.

(N.B. A ‘nit’ here is a unit of visible light intensity, not a scalp-dwelling, blood-sucking insect. Just thought that was worth clarifying.)

This makes a huge difference in direct sunlight, and could be the source of more complaints from iPhone X owners.

Finally, the pricing. Well, while we’re on the topic, Apple have, this year, decided that the $/£ conversion rate is $1 = £1, but that’s besides the point. The US pricings are:

  • iPhone 8 starts at $699
  • iPhone 8 Plus starts at $799
  • iPhone starts at $999 (up to $1,149)

This pricing issue ties into the questionable iPhone ‘ten’ name. Obviously everyone wants the X, but for many it is simply too expensive. However, the iPhone 8/8 Plus may well feel too downmarket and even ‘last generation’, considering how advanced the iPhone X looks, at least. So, will customers be stuck in the middle, wanting the iPhone X, but only being able to afford the 8/8 Plus, which is bit of a way behind the X on paper, in many ways? If so, this may mean they start looking across to Android, and with $700 or even $800 in their pocket, they could get their hands on the Samsung Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus. This is a phone with all the features of the iPhone X, plus fast wireless (and cable) charging, a higher resolution screen, a headphone jack (now a USP in the smartphone market), a fingerprint scanner, a heart rate monitor – the list goes on.

I sat watching the Keynote, in awe of the cinematography of the VTs and enjoying the incredible marketing and branding masterclass by Apple, just like everyone else. But having processed the event, maybe we could see cracks starting to show in the iconic Apple ecosystem, that so many millions rely on each day. Are Apple stumbling? Are they falling? Only time will tell.

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Edit [14/09/2017]:

There is some evidence that the Face ID error was down to the fact the iPhone demo device had been restarted, and therefore required the passcode to be inputted before Face ID worked. If this is the case, then Craig Federighi has been stitched up in front of millions by some moronic Apple employee who was in charge of the demo devices…

4 Responses to “Is Apple Stumbling?

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