Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Apparently I am an iSheep

The other day I posted on Facebook an innocuous question on the impending Apple announcement yesterday: what do you expect to see?  My only friends who responded were the ones who dislike Apple, apparently.  Fine, but one of them herded me in as an iSheep.  He's an Android lover.

Probably, I would venture to say, he doesn't keep up with this blog, and all of its well-reasoned posts that illustrate an eyes-open, don't-love-everything explanation of why every product Apple comes out with is simply well done, and that's why I enjoy the products, the customer service, and the overall synergy of the product ecosphere.  (Of course my thoughts are well-reasoned!)

So thanks for calling me iSheep, it made me reflect again, and question am I blindly following a company merely because that's what I did in the past?  Again, the answer I came up with after yesterday's announcement:  No.

So, in case you weren't following, Apple announced a replacement for the iPhone 5, called 5C (presumably for Color).  You have to compete, so it's a good move I think to dress up the single most popular smart phone in the history of telephony (just the facts based on unit sales, compared to any other single model of smart phone including other iPhones).

In some ways, the new high-end iPhone 5S left me disappointed.  However, in different ways from the responses of my friends!  They reiterated probably all the reasons you would go with a non-Apple phone in the first place: catch-up on features, no memory expansion, no removable battery, locked into an ecosphere.  Here's my take on it, not as an iSheep, but as an iThinker, constantly questioning "do I still want to stick with Apple, regardless of my existing media library?"

Feature Catch-Up

Am I the only one who sees the irony here?  First of all, Apple has almost never been first-to-market on a new kind of device.  Oh yeah, when they were, it flopped (remember Newton?)  Media players, smart phones, and tablets all existed before Apple introduced iPod, iPhone, and iPad.  Electronic computers for the home existed before the Apple and Apple II.  Heck, Microsoft Sync has been around for years - and I predict iOS in the car will KILL it DEAD (coming 2014).  GUI computers existed before the Mac.  So how are they innovative?  Because when they do a product, they do it 100% all the way.  It is done well as a complete product, not just hardware, but hardware and software and support synergy.  From concept, to design, to build, production, and use a well designed work of art.  As Jony Ive always says (and it makes me grit my teeth), it's the experience.

So, when the iPhone was introduced in 2007, it took Smart Phones a leap ahead, not in hardware technology, but in capabilities, in how it fit within our daily lives.  Multi-touch gestures, synergistic operation between phone, web, maps, text messages, and more.  Did they use standard connectors?  Well, they are standard now, but only on Apple products...which by the way they will ship the 700,000,000th iOS device this month.  I'd call that a de-facto standard.

I don't think Apple has ever caved in to the pressure of trying to match what their competition is doing - if they did, they would end up like Dell, HP, HTC, Blackberry, SanDisk, or any of their myriad competitors, and would never have been where they are today.  Instead, I see a thoughtful pause, a questioning of the fundamental underpinnings of the question posed to them "Why don't you put X in your product?"  They seem to have a piercing vision beyond the question to what's next.  Yes, after a groundbreaking product comes out, and the honeymoon period wears off, you wish it had more features.  But some of those wishes are coming from old habits, old ways of doing things, old ways of thinking.  Yes, computers make it easier to print - but do you still really need paper?

No Memory Expansion

Here my friends complained you can't put an SD card in the phone!  They do have a point, but again Apple is looking beyond today, and I can see it.  In 2012, Apple eliminated optical drives in their computers because the world needs to move on from CD and DVD and BluRay discs, to the reality of today - you don't need to spend money and toxic materials shipping around limited-use media, when you can just download everything from the Internet, virtually, wirelessly, and securely (oh, and with reduced production & distribution costs).  Same thing with memory on a mobile device - the future, my friends, is the cloud.  Cell Carrier policies need to catch up with this - they need to offer unlimited data, and upgrade their networks and coverage to support this.  Local municipalities and big cities need to "get with the 21st century" and have free, public WiFi everywhere.

The future of mobile storage is the cloud - and the iPhone is staunchly entrenched in that paradigm.  With iTunes Radio, the Music and Video apps now are able to play purchases directly from the cloud, and document and more storage in cloud space - what do you need on your phone?  Only the basics you might need for a trip where you are out of cell/WiFi coverage.  Increasingly planes have WiFi in flight.  Now it's up to the cell companies to up their infrastructure, and offer better unlimited data plans.

No Removable Battery

OK, yeah, this is really a big problem, because it has stopped millions from buying Apple products.  Vast wastelands of full warehouses have boxes of iPhones, iPods, and iPads collecting dust because people won't buy devices without replaceable batteries.  In fact, although the battery life on my 4S ain't great, I am always near a plug, and if I wanted I could have chosen a case with extra battery built in.  Hey, it works in my busy life, even when traveling.  And today's batteries have a long life.  They are good for many years, not like the old NiCad or NiMH laptop batteries that wouldn't hold a charge after a couple of years.

Locked Into An Ecosphere

I am locked into the Apple ecosphere in the same way the folks in New Orleans were trapped in the city during Hurricane Katrina.  Dude!  They had days of warning!  At worst, you buy a bus ticket, you walk and hitchhike, you get up off your butt and leave.  At any time I can convert my M4V and M4A and M4R files to non-Apple-supported formats.  Before I had an iPhone, I used iTunes to manage and buy music, and did a lot of that to put it on my SanDisk media player.  No biggie.

I am staying in this ecosphere, because it rocks.  I have my issues with Apple TV, but compared to other set-top-devices it rocks (in what it does).  My issues?  I wish it were open to developers, had localized content channels / apps available for download, and frankly it should be up to us customers what channels we want to put on it.  As a hardware and software platform, though, if it does the same to other devices (like Hulu and Netflix), I'd much rather watch the content on Apple TV, it's much faster and better UI.  And it works seamlessly with Mac, iPhone/iPod/iPad, etc.  (Can't wait for new OS X Mavericks - you can use Apple TV wirelessly as an external monitor.)

Innovation In Action

So, yes, Apple is not first-to-market always with new ideas (evidence: last week's introduction of Samsung's smart watch, solely on the rumor that Apple might be developing one).  But when they do come out with a product, I trust them implicitly to do it better than anyone else, more fully, and more deeply.  In many ways they have innovated before the rest of the industry, and the iPhone 5S is a perfect example: 64-bit processor in a mobile device?  I can't wait till 64-bit iPad!  Touch ID security device, and the sick hardware/software innovations in the camera - the only thing they are lacking is a snap-on zoom lens, it can compete with and probably destroy point-and-shoot cameras.  Another innovation they haven't really touted as strongly, is the ability to lock down a lost device and render it unusable (new in iOS 7).  This is true for a phone, but I frankly don't trust the technical ability of this to work on an iPod or iPad.

With the iPhone 5S, I can imagine from the hardware development standpoint what a difficult task it must have been to come out with a 64-bit mobile device (and rearchitect the OS to be 64-bit and 32-bit compatible), and further improve the camera, let alone the M7 chip.  True, we all would have liked to see a larger screen option - according to the rumor mills, that should be scheduled for next year (I find the arguments for why these are reliable rumors to be credible).  First priority? No negative impact on battery life, not willing to give up a millimeter. of ground there.  They did it.

The camera is truly groundbreaking.  Digital cameras have progressed from 512Kpixels, to a whopping 42 Megapixel.  I stopped at 6Mp, a home photographer does not need any more than that.  Apparently Apple mostly agrees - they stopped at 8, but they worked on the lenses, optical/CCD sensors, and software to produce a best-in-class camera that takes burst photos, 120fps 720 HD slow-motion video or 30fps 1080 HD standard speed video, and the crazy technology they introduced for improving your photo sharpness, lighting, and clarity.  That was their focus this time around, while I may not 100% agree with other areas they let lie, I am a big fan of the improvements.

Security, I have wanted a better way of unlocking my phone while in the car.  Motorola came out with a great idea, put a disc in your car that signals the phone it's OK to not ask for a password.  Of course Apple looked further ahead - why need a password, really?  In this day and age?  A single touch of your finger identifies who you are with built-in fingerprint scanner.  And why limit this convenience only to certain spots (home, car, etc.)?  Some may complain they don't make fingerprint ID API available to developers, but I say one thing at a time.  Get the product out, securely, then give it time to develop properly so that security is maintained as use matures.

So Apple is still ahead of the rest of the industry in the most important factors.  In fact, one area of security in which Windows, Ubuntu, and Android have still never even attempted to catch up, is what I call the single most important choice you can make if you value your privacy.  Viruses.  Come on, people!  Computers have had anti-virus software for decades, and yet mobile devices don't do anything to control malicious software proliferation?  Well, except Apple, they have a tightly regulated ecosystem that, while not 100% foolproof, at least both A) provides a single point of distribution for apps and revenue collection, and B) provides a gateway check for vulnerabilities, both of which are totally lacking in Android.

Am I an iSheep blindly following Apple?  No, I don't think so.  At least my leader tells me I'm not.


  1. Some good points. But you did nail the isheep label to your head.

    when they do come out with a product, I trust them implicitly to do it better than anyone else.

    That looks blind to me.

    1. Too true my friend! It's very very rare that I find a company that I trust like that. Saturn was the last one.

  2. Likewise, you have dismissed most/all oposing views by labeling others as iHaters.

    The Apple event delivered another year of rather boring updates to the phone and missed most of the features that people have been wanting in the next iphone. This seems to be the trend since the 4S was released. Likewise the camera is not groundbreaking or even the best on the market.

    I can't find a reason to replace my phone with the new 5S or 5C.

    1. I'm not dismissing opposing views as iHaters - just the couple of friends who responded to my FB post! I agree the updates to the phone left out what many wanted or hoped for. Mainly, I am sticking with iOS because it is secure, reliable, and works will in a digital life environment. Is it the best of all worlds? No, but the best phone for all the reasons above. I will replace my 4S just for the Touch ID, speed, and camera (in that order of priority). I think I'll create another post on Wish List for iPhones, because there are many improvements I think many would want to see in hardware and iOS, but it's frankly all a bunch of talk. Hopefully someone at Apple takes notice.

    2. I am not an iHater, that's too strong, I am an idisliker, I am getting miffed at the fact that if I walk in to any store that provides the rubber backing, not only is it stupidly expensive, but that's ALL they carry in stock...why? Also, all iphone products including the iphone are way over priced, that's not to say that any other comparable phone isn't. Just that how much profit should this company make? Most of the upper management are alread billionaires, so why do I want to buy into a over bloated company? It's a matter of principal. The new iphone S 32 G is $979 CAD, give me a break!!