[Op-Ed] A completely unbiased Android users opinion of iOS 7 – it sucks

Image courtesy of Apple.com

So…yeah.  I’m an Android guy.  Have been for a long time, and its still my current phone.  But as many already know, I DO own Apple products.  Yes, even me.  For all my bashing of their not really being a tech company more than a marketing company and not having had an innovation since the iPad first debuted, I do like and purchase (or ask for as gifts) some of their devices.  This puts me in a unique position: to be on the outside looking in.  No “iSheep” fanboiness here…I’m looking solely at how the device works best for me.  And I have to be honest – I wish Apple would have left my iPod touch the way it was before iOS 7.

I really couldn’t live without my iPod.  For all my posturing, I love this piece of tech.  It makes my daily commute more bearable and allows me to listen to my entire library of music in a small, portable package.  And it has done so since they had little trackwheels and clicky buttons.  And when I got my latest iPod touch (see my review here) I was elated.  And recently, when I heard about the upgrade to iOS 7, I figured “why not?”  I was actually a little interesting in getting a chance to play around with it, and I’d seen the early release photos of what it was supposed to look like as well.  But the reality did not match the idea I had of what the experience was going to be like in my mind.

First off, lets get the obvious out of the way – the colors are hideous.  Flat out annoying.  And standardized icons have been changed (along with some of their names) to boot.  Which (for me) means that after downloading and launching it for the first time, my first thought was “did something go wrong with this install?”  Because things sure look and feel off around here.  Folders no longer look like folders, but more like grey blobs in which other, more colorful blobs reside.  Facetime was moved out of the folder blob where I had placed it, and it was now front and center on my home screen.  Really, Apple?

Image courtesy of Apple.com

Okay, okay – maybe I’m being overly critical you might say.  The colors don’t look that bad.  And haven’t you been saying that iOS is tired and could use an update?  Yes – perhaps all of these things are true.  But there’s tweaking and there is radical redesign; this is the latter.  And not all change for the sake of change is good.  Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean others won’t either…but as with most things Apple, you don’t get a choice.  With my Android phone, if I don’t like how the stock look and feel of things is, I can install a custom launcher and then choose from dozens (if not hundreds) of other icon packs, themes, and other such to change it over and over and over again until I find something I like that works for me.  Rather than the “Apple tells me that I will love it” (whether I love it or not) approach.

My annoyance with iOS 7 is more than skin deep however.  There are other relatively minor changes that are puzzling too.  For example, on iOS 6 one of the features I used most was a double button press to wake the screen which, if your last activity was playing music, would wake the iPod to the music player and allow you to play the current or next track with just a single additional tap on the screen.  This is gone in iOS 7, now replaced with the double button press taking me to the lock screen and asking me to swipe to unlock, then pressing again on the music player to start my track playing.  While not important to some, this is one of the main features I used with my iPod, and now it takes longer to get my music to play.  Perhaps this has something to do with more security in this version of iOS, but honestly, its more irritating than anything else about the operating system to me.

Image courtesy of Apple.com

Hey, its not all bad – the Control Center feature (accessing your settings from a single contextual swipe up menu from the bottom of the screen) is useful and actually decently implemented.  Not something radically innovative again, as this “feature” (in various forms) has been in versions of Android for a while now, but at least it was well thought out. The new animations for things opening and closing/launching is neat, but hardly something I would hang my hat on if I was touting the merits of the overall operating system.  The sorting of pictures (excuse me, Photos) into Collections and Moments is long overdue, and a vast improvement over the glut of photos en masse in Camera Roll – but again, this is something that should come as the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.  And all these changes come at a price – even my less than 1 year old iPod touch (5th gen) stutters and lags a bit when performing routine tasks.  I can’t imagine what the new iOS its doing to owners of iPhones from the 3S-4S range.

Most of the changes seem forced, copies of other operating systems innovations (the tabbed multi-tasking or Safari tab switchers come to mind immediately) or fall into the catagory of just plain “why haven’t we had this until now?”  I think that Apple’s leadership realized that they needed to make a big splash with something and they were counting on iOS 7 and the new iPhone 5S/C to do just that.  Well, maybe just the iOS 7 and 5C since the 5S (as usual) is mostly just a spec bump and a new gold color chassis.  For my money, I’ve been thinking more and more often how I wish I had my old drab looking iOS 6 look and feel back.  At least with it, I knew where everything was.


[News] T-Mobile to carry iPhone in 2013

Last of all the major carriers, T-Mobile announced during their annual investor conference they will carry the iPhone in 2013.  This is surely good news for T-Mobile customers as well as T-Mobile themselves, since no doubt many folks interested in T-Mobile’s low price point for voice and data plans will likely be attracted now that the iPhone can be had on their service.  Also announced at the conference was that T-Mobile plans to end carrier subsidies for their phones, likely meaning that new customers may have to pony up between $300-700 for a new phone (depending on device).

There is no firm date for when the iPhone will be offered, as well as how much it might cost on T-Mobile.  If it is released in the middle of next year, it might coincide with the release of the so-called iPhone 5S, if Apple does do a mid year refresh to its flagship device.  Without a carrier subsidy, the iPhone would probably run somewhere in the $399 range to start however.  Speaking of removing carrier subsidies, this represents another change in the way the mobile wireless industry does business, and is something that was first embodied by Google offering their Nexus 4 device unlocked for as little as $299.  This selling of devices direct to consumers (see our article here) is something new to the US shores, but is fairly common in Europe and the UK where carriers operate much differently.  If T-Mobile is looking to stand out from the crowd, this new business model might be a really good start.  It would likely take the American smartphone buyer a while to get used to, but the profits it brings to the carrier and the freedom it gives the buyer make this situation a true “win-win” scenario.

*Source:  Digital Trends

[Op-Ed] How the iPad mini dilutes Apple’s brand

iPad mini (front and rear)

I heard a report on the local news Friday morning about how there weren’t the same long lines for the iPad mini (which launched on November 2nd) as there were for the iPhone 5 and iPad 3, and it got me thinking.  With legions of Apple fans around the world, why would the iPad mini go on sale with less fanfare than other devices from months or years past?  Is there a crack in the facade of a company that can seemingly do no wrong when it comes to the launch of a new product?  Let’s dig deeper and see if there is evidence of what I believe to be true:  by making the iPad mini, Apple has diluted their own brand and potentially made a serious business blunder.

Long, long ago in 2010, on an earnings call for Apple, Steve Jobs had some (now very famous) comments on how he felt about the 7 inch tablet market.  An excerpt from this call is below:

“Well, one could increase the resolution of the display to make up for some of the difference. It is meaningless, unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one quarter of the present size. Apple’s done extensive user-testing on touch interfaces over many years, and we really understand this stuff. There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touch screen before users cannot reliably tap, flick, or pinch them. This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps.
Third, every tablet user is also a smartphone user. No tablet can compete with the mobility of a smartphone, its ease of fitting into your pocket or purse, its unobtrusiveness when used in a crowd. Given that all tablet users will already have a smartphone in their pockets, giving up precious display area to fit a tablet in our pockets is clearly the wrong trade-off. The 7-inch tablets are tweeners, too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with an iPad.
These are among the reasons we think the current crop of 7-inch tablets are going to be DOA, dead on arrival. Their manufacturers will learn the painful lesson that their tablets are too small and increase the size next year, thereby abandoning both customers and developers who jumped on the 7-inch bandwagon with an orphan product. Sounds like lots of fun ahead.”

These comments have been picked apart ad nauseum, but the salient point is this – at the time, Jobs did not envision his company making a smaller iPad product because he felt that they were ahead of the curve, and other OEMs would be forced to compete on Apple’s terms.  Until, lo and behold, Apple has in fact now made a 7 inch product – they now are competing on someone else’s terms.  Tim Cook, Apple’s current CEO, begs to differ however:

“Let me be clear: we would not make one of the 7-inch tablets,” Cook said in response to a question about why the company seemingly changed its mind. “We don’t think they’re good products, and we would never make one. […] One reason is size—the difference in just the real-estate size in 7.9-inches versus 7-inches is 35 percent. When you look at the usable area, it’s much greater than that: it’s from 50 to 67 percent.”

Right to Left – Kindle Fire HD, Nexus 7

Let’s not do as Cook did and split hairs:  Apple made a 7 inch tablet to compete with the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7.  While Asus recently announced that they are selling almost 1 million Nexus 7 devices a month, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster is predicting between 1 and 1.5 million iPad mini’s will be sold on launch weekend.  However, this figure is sharply down compared to 3 million iPad 3’s sold during its launch weekend.  Some might say that the iPad mini lines are shorter due to internet pre-sales; long lines for iPhone 5s sold within the last 3 months (which were also available for pre-sale) would beg to differ.  Some consumers might be holding out for the 4G enabled version slated for sale later in November.  Could it instead be as some critics have said that people are better served if they want an iPad mini to wait for the improvements that will likely be coming in an iPad mini 2 next year?

The business world in general was concerned after the iPad mini announcement, and Apple’s stock price has been dropping ever since, now hovering around $580 a share (as of this weekend), down close to 18% from its previous record high of over $700 per share.  Pricing is a factor here, and the iPad mini’s $329 starting point is well above those of Android competitors.  Screen and processor specs are also lower end, compared to current iPad tech, and also lower than those of Android competitors.  In addition, there was a recent announcement of a management shake up at high levels within Apple (see more details here); all of these things paint a clear picture to me:  Apple is becoming aware that they can no longer do business as they have for so many years and expect consumers to continue to support them.

The Apple brand has been as much about innovation and forward thinking as it has been the “cool” factor of their products.  The last truly innovative product released by Apple was the original iPad, more than 2 years ago.  Apple has been all but forced into moving into the 7 inch tablet space by the success of their competitors.  And what they did was release a product that isn’t as good one of their own, similar products released earlier in the same year (iPad 3) and is priced in such a way that it doesn’t really give anyone who’s not already a loyal Apple fanboy a compelling reason to rush out and get one.

By not innovating and moving first to dominate this smaller tablet space, they have allowed Google (and their partners) as well as Amazon to take money out of their pockets.  Without innovation – all you’re left with is cool.  And cool comes with a hefty price tag these days.

[News] iPhone 5 jailbreak "Close" and Class-Action Suit filed against Apple

Photo courtesy Macrumors

So you have the iPhone 5 and have been patiently waiting to get your jailbreak on. Well, you may be in luck. Recently a member of the Chronic Dev Team announced that a full tethered jailbreak for that iPhone 5 of yours is “close” to being done. Unfortunately for now, a developer account is needed to run the jailbreak.

Sorry to disappoint you regular users such as myself but since the iPhone 5 has a completely new chip as well as a completely new operating system, it’s simply not an easy task.

The good news is that even if the tethered jailbreak won’t work for everyone this more than likely means an untethered jailbreak may be just over the horizon.

If you do have a developer account then good luck with your jailbreak. The rest of us will try to obediently wait.

To piggy back on that news, a pair of iPhone users Zach Ward and Thomas Buchar filed a class-action suit against Apple in San Francisco. The complaint lists a single count against Apple of “Conspiracy to monopolize the iPhone voice and data services aftermarket in violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Act.”

The suit alleges that Apple conspired with AT&T to lock iPhone users to the AT&T network for five years without receiving consent from the consumer. The plaintiffs are seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, treble and exemplary damages, legal costs, and the software unlock codes. It also seeks to force Apple to disclose that the iPhone is locked to specific network.

According to CNET, previous lawsuits against carriers have been unsuccessful thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2011 that found consumers no longer have the right to file class actions suites against wireless carriers.  That’s probably the reason that the plaintiffs are attacking Apple rather than AT&T.

 Source: Slashgear, CNET, iphonebuzz

[Op-Ed]In defense of the iPhone 5

Like clockwork the new iPhone 5 was announced and the naysayers came out in force.  Where’s the innovation they asked?  A 4″ screen – welcome to 2010.  An LTE modem – welcome to 2011.  Only 1GB of ram?  No NFC?  How can anyone possibly consider the iPhone 5 to be anything other than an incremental upgrade?

While some of these points are valid, to say the iPhone 5 is anything but one of the top 3 smartphones on the market using any criteria is ridiculous.  It has a brand new cutting edge A6 CPU.  It has three PowerVR SGX543 GPU cores.  It has one of the absolute highest quality screens in the business and is the first phone available with in-screen touch sensor technology .  It gets excellent battery life, has a fantastic camera, and is built from premium materials (something Samsung could learn from).  By the way, it’s also one of the thinnest and lightest smartphones currently in existence.

(Photo courtesy of apple.com)

I had a chance to use an iPhone 5 on launch day and came away impressed.  It’s an excellent phone and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

What it isn’t is the unquestionable best smartphone on the market anymore.

From the time the first iPhone was launched in 2007 through the iPhone 4 in 2010 the iPhone was the best smartphone on the market and everything else was playing catch up.  Sure some of the Android phones were great, but as an overall package the iPhone was better.  Part of this was due to software, but the hardware was also behind.  Whatever the newest iPhone was had the best CPU, the best GPU, the best camera, and the best screen.

Then a funny thing happened.  Between the release of the iPhone 4 and the 4S the Android manufacturers started to close the gap.  The Samsung Galaxy S II was the first Android phone that felt like it was every bit the equal of the top iPhone at the time.  It had a beautiful Super AMOLED Plus screen, a fantastic camera, a cutting edge CPU and GPU and was also quite a bit thinner than the iPhone 4.

(Photo courtesy of Androidauthority.com)

When the iPhone 4S was announced in October of 2011 the general reaction was disappointment.  It didn’t have LTE (something Android phones had since March of 2011) and looked identical to the iPhone 4. It moved to a dual-core processor, but Android phones had been dual-core for almost a year by this point.  It still had the best GPU of any phone on the market, but again the gap had been closed by phones like the Galaxy S II.  By the end of 2011 multiple Android smartphones had 720p screens, dual-core processors, state of the art GPU’s, more ram, removable batteries, sd card slots for expandable storage and LTE.  The iPhone 4S lacked many of these features and was no longer the undisputed leader of the smartphone market.

In many ways Apple is a victim of its own success.  The iPhone was years ahead of the curve, but it was inevitable that other manufacturers would catch up.  Over the last couple years that’s exactly what’s happened.  The backlash against the iPhone 5 stems from the fact that most people still think it’s light years ahead of the competition when that’s no longer the case.  In fact, in a lot of ways the iPhone 5 was catching up to the current crop of Android flagships.

Does that mean that the iPhone 5 is no longer one of the best phones on the market?  The answer is clearly no.  The iPhone 5 is an absolutely fantastic device and still one of the top phones available.  But the fact that it is one of the best, and not the best, is a relatively huge shift in the industry.

Apple has forced all the other manufacturers to step up and produce better phones, and the other companies have responded.  Now Apple needs to step it up with the iPhone 5S if they want to be the undisputed king again.  I look forward to seeing what they come up with.