The iOSphere analysed, dissected, interpreted and obsessed over Apple CEO Tim Cook's comments at the All Things D conference last week, and didn't change its hive mind about any of the iPhone 6 rumours.
The general idea is "If he didn't say something about something, then the something could still be something. Eventually."
[BACKGROUND: Even saying nothing, Apple CEO reveals something]
Thus the long-standing rumour, or hope, that future iPhones will have still-larger displays remains alive and well because Cook didn't say that Apple would never, ever build one.
Also this week, the iOSphere turns a favourable eye on Gaze Detection Technology, while turning a deaf ear to the American Civil Liberties Union; credible details, if still from anonymous sources, emerge about the Next iPhone's firmware - iOS 7; and the siren song of the Super Retina display.
You read it here second.
iPhone 6 will have a bigger-than-4-inch display because Tim Cook didn't say it wouldn't
Apple CEO Tim Cook's onstage interview at the recent Wall Street Journal All Things D conference has provided endless opportunity for obsessive analysis.
One example is the idea captured in a headline at GottaBeMobile: "Apple Leaves Options Open for iPhone 6 Models."
It seems astonishing that the idea that Apple is leaving its options open about anything would be considered newsworthy, as though somehow the past has shown that Apple closed off its options but has recently changed its mind.
GottaBeMobile's Josh Smith begins his analysis by dividing the "market" into two groups - "consumers who want a larger screen and... an equally adamant set of users who don't want Apple to mess with the one-handed ease of use that comes with a 3.5-inch or 4-inch display."
"Perhaps the easiest way for Apple to appeal to both markets is to offer multiple iPhone models," he continues. "Not an iPhone 6 with a larger display and last year's iPhone 5S, but a collection of devices that arrive at the same time to serve specific users rather than a one size fits all solution."
His conclusion; "Based on the industry and rumours, 2014 and the iPhone 6 is the ... [earliest that] we would expect to see Apple release multiple iPhone models. While at least one analyst feels Apple will do this with the iPhone 5S, it is more likely that Apple will save such a change for a new generation."
Smith's first mistake is seeing a binary market that's determined by one primary decision: the phone's display size. Apple doesn't see the market that way.
Smith gives a partial quote from Cook's interview: "When asked by Walt Mossberg if Apple would come out with multiple iPhone models in the same year, Tim Cook responded, 'We haven't so far, that doesn't shut off the future.'"
Here's a more complete paraphrase: "We haven't so far. That doesn't shut off the future. Why? It takes a lot of really hard work to do a phone right when you manage the hardware and software and services in it. We've chosen to put our energy on doing that right. We haven't been focused on working multiple lines."
(You can find the full one hour and 20-minute interview online via The Wall Street Journal. Cook's comments start at about minute 37.)
Cook contrasts the iPhone with the iPod music player that Apple developed into multiple different models:
"Think about the evolution of the iPod over time. The shuffle didn't have the same functionality as other products. It was a really good product, but it played a different role -- it was great for some customers that it was strikingly different than other iPods. The mini played a different role than the classic did. If you remember when we brought out the mini people said we'd never sell any. It was too expensive and had too little storage. The mini proved that people want something lighter, thinner, smaller. My only point is that these products all served a different person, a different type, a different need. For the phone that is the question. Are we now at a point that we need to do that?"
Cook's comments show something of how Apple thinks about products. First of all, it really thinks about them. It doesn't bring out products in different models as experiments, to see which one will prove to be popular. It creates a high quality product that satisfies, in a satisfying way, the job or jobs for which consumers "hire" the product.
As Cook says, "for the phone, that is the question. Are we now at a point that we need to do that?" It's not self-evident, at least not yet, that the answer is "yes." The iPhone is a handheld computer that's also a handheld phone. The iPod is a handheld music/video player, not a computer. Apple's other computers - desktops and laptops - don't constitute a wide or even deep portfolio of products aimed at different perceived computing consumers.
By contrast, this listing of Samsung smartphones shows 74 listed as "smartphones" (excluding 11 Samsung tablets that also appear on the list); every one of them was announced in 2012 or 2013. There are three more pages of Samsung smartphones, though many of the older ones probably are no longer available.
Here's how Asymco's Horace Dediu interprets Cooks comments.
On the question of different iPhone products: "The iPhone portfolio may still arrive. It hasn't so far because the cost/benefit is not there for Apple. On one hand it would take a great deal more sourcing effort and risk while dealing with constraints in production. On the other it would not offer meaningful additions to the customer base. At least so far. The economics and the demand may change (or have changed) and the time will come for a broader portfolio."
On the question of iPhone's difference from the iPod: "As a computer, the iPhone has a near infinite set of jobs to be done and it's the hundreds of thousands of apps which help it perform them. But as a result the iPhone needs to conform to the dynamics of ecosystems and that means consistency of APIs and user experience."
On the question of how the iPhone product line might be extended: "On the question of what the extension might be, changing screen size is one dimension but it has to be balanced by performance gains that don't detract from other dimensions. Engineering is all about compromise and consumers pay Apple to make these compromises in an intelligent way."
The other conclusion to draw is that Apple doesn't accept the "necessity" of larger-screened iPhones, or presumably of "cheaper" iPhones, based on sales of large-screened or cheaper devices by rivals, or on the presumption that "market share" is the sole or dominant criteria of the success of a given product.
iPhone 6 will have Gaze Detection Technology
A recently published Apple patent application, which is actually derived from an earlier one, is about Gaze Detection Technology or GDT. If you say "Gaze Detection Technology" in a hushed, reverent tone, it will be easier to believe this is a Really Big Deal.
The Eyeball Trolling websites, or "news aggregators," like NewsTribe and TheFullSignal, are the ones jamming "iPhone 6" into the iOSphere's coverage of this latest patent news.
PatentlyApple noted the publication, by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, of the new application and summarized various details, without suggesting that we'll see this soon in the iPhone 5S or iPhone 6. One or more "gaze detection sensors" which apparently means a camera, is used to "see" when the user is looking at the display, or a specific portion of the display, or looking away.
That awareness would cue the smartphone (or tablet or laptop) to change its state "to determine an appropriate mode in which to operate the electronic device." If there's a video running, and you look away, the phone pauses the video and dims the screen, for example. You look back, and the screen brightens and the video continues. Apparently, according to PatentlyApple, this is intended as an advance in power management, because it automatically minimizes screen use, a big drain on the phone's battery.
To some Samsung Galaxy S4 users, this might sound familiar. That's because, as AppleInsider notes in its post on GDT, "Such functionality is now being touted by Samsung as a major feature of its latest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S4. Dubbed 'Smart Scroll' the system operates in much the same way as Apple's invention, using the device's front-facing camera to track a user's eye movement to dim the screen and pause media. Samsung's implementation goes further, however, and includes webpage and email scrolling functionality."
So how well has this Major Feature been implemented? You can get a sense from this YouTube video posted by HighOnAndroid.com. The overall effect, despite the demonstrator's enthusiasm, is underwhelming. Just watching him gave us a headache.
At TalkAndroid, Robert Nazarian has a video demo on how to set up Smart Scroll and Smart Pause on your new S4. On Smart Pause: "It's pretty nifty when it works, but I found that it's very dependent on light. You can forget it working in the dark, but I found it didn't want to work in average light either." On Smart Scroll: "This one is pretty spotty as well depending on how you set it up."
We anticipate the obvious objection: "But Apple will do this way, way better!" Undoubtedly. But one can only hope that the company doesn't waste it's time and money on Gaze Detection Technology and instead focuses on something really worthwhile, like Telepathic Detection Technology.
And let's not ignore the Privacy Concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union on this emerging technology. Sure it's "clever," says Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, in a blog post. But.
He quotes UCLA electrical engineering professor John Villasenor's worries: "Once the technology for eye-tracking is in place, it will glean information conveying not only what we read online, but also how we read it. Did our eyes linger for a few seconds on an advertisement that, in the end, we decided not to click on? How do our eyes move as they take in the contents of a page? Are there certain words, phrases, or topics that we appear to prefer or avoid? In the future, will we be served online ads based not only on what we've shopped for, but also on the thoughts reflected in our eye movements?"
Mind reading via eye reading.
"[W]e could see the technology become a standard part of an analytics toolbox plugged in to every surveillance camera fixed on the public," warns Stanley. "And regardless of how much of the above ever comes to pass, it's yet another reminder of the huge wave of privacy-invading technology that is headed our way, and of our need to get ready for that."
iPhone 6 will run iOS 7, which will look really, really different
Exactly how it will be and look different remains unclear, despite a fair amount of detail in Mark Gurman's post at 9to5Mac, which is based on his talks with anonymous, multiple "sources."
It's now widely expected that Apple will disclose iOS 7, along with the next release of OS X, at the upcoming Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, largely because Apple said it would, in its announcement of the event. In a quote attributed to Apple SVP of Worldwide Marketing Philip Schiller: "We can't wait to get new versions of iOS and OS X into their hands at WWDC."
There are two "halves" to the OS: the underlying kernel and the user interface that rides above it. Much of Gurman's post is about the UI -- what iPhone and iPad users will see and touch. This is the work being overseen since last fall by Apple Senior Vice President of Industrial Design Jonathan Ive.
"Sources have described iOS 7 as 'black, white, and flat all over,'" Gurman writes. "This refers to the dropping of heavy textures and the addition of several new black and white user interface elements.
"Sources say that over the past few months, Apple has re-architected iOS 7's new interface several times, so until the new software is announced at WWDC, interface elements could dramatically change from what Apple has been testing internally in recent weeks," Gurman writes.
Among the changes mentioned by Gurman:
- dropping the shiny, transparent time bar on the top of the Lock screen, replacing it with a "shine-free, black interface"; the square-grid for entering a PIN code gives way to "round, black buttons with white text and white borders."
- replacing textures, such as "linen" and "leather," with "flat white and black coloring." The Notification Center's dark linen background becomes a dark grey or black with white text.
- removing gradient textures from a variety of navigation and tab bars.
- redesigning most of Apple's own apps to reflect this visual flattening, and minimalist use of white and black; the Notes app drops the "yellow notepad" metaphor, in favor of a white background; and along with Mail, Calendar and Maps, there's a more uniform use of white; and "each app has been given a unique button colour" or theme.
Besides the UI elements, there also are a range of kernel and API changes in the works also. "We previously reported that iOS 7 will likely include integration for Flickr and Vimeo in addition to improved in-car support for Maps and Siri," Gurman writes. "While the new interface will be a major change for consumers, sources say that iOS 7 is also an ambitious update for developer-focused features."
Words are an inherently unsatisfactory way to describe something so visual and in a sense tactile as iOS. Despite Gurman's details, it's hard to visualize at this point what the UI will actually look like, or how it will "feel," as a unified experience. But in about two weeks, we'll all know.
[Related: iOS 7 release date, rumours and leaked images | iOS 7 to be 'very, very flat,' with redesigned Apple app icons | Apple expected to preview iOS 7 with 'killer app' at WWDC | Apple iOS 7 'will feature Street View option for Maps']
iPhone 6 or 5S, whatever, will have a "Super Retina" display, and 1.5 million pixels
A Chinese language website started this rumour with a post that the Next iPhone will double the Retina display resolution of the iPhone 5, as summed up by Sam Oliver's post at AppleInsider. That would mean packing 1.5 million pixels into the same 4-inch display, according to Oliver.
The iPhone 5 has a Retina display, with a resolution of 1360 by 640 pixels and a pixel density of 326 pixels per inch, for a total count of about 730,000 pixels, according to Oliver.
He points out that HTC's recently announced HTC One smartphone has a 4.7-inch screen that supports a full 1080p HD resolution: screen density is 486 pixels per inch, and total pixel count is over 2 million.
Oliver doesn't asses this news, but iMore editor Rene Ritchie does.
Ritchie links back to his January post, "Imagining a 5-inch iPhone," which looked at Apple's options for increasing the screen size to 5 inches. Then, he concluded that doubling the current iPhone 5 resolution -- to 2272 x 1280 pixels at 522 ppi -- on a 5-inch screen would "require even more graphics processing power, more LED light, and more battery, and it would be absolutely bats**t insane. ... Going to 5-inches @4x probably isn't something within the current realms of technology, economics, or reason, however."
Trying to do that on a 4-inch display, as the rumor has it, "to put it just as bluntly, is even more bats**t insane," Ritchie writes in his current post. "Until humans grow hawk eyes, there's just no need. If and when Apple goes to 5-inches, maybe @3x [three times the original iPhone resolution] will make sense, or maybe a more painful switch to the 1080p standard. Maybe there's even something in the Apple labs that does 2x Retina in a very different way than what's being reported right now..."
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
Email: [email protected]
Read more about wireless & mobile in Network World's Wireless & Mobile section.