The Beats Thing

13 May 14

I’ve been wading through a lot of speculation on the why/how/huh of the proposed Apple purchase of Beats Audio. There’s little point to going back though all the various scenarios people have thought up, so feel free to check those out on your own time.

If this Beats acquisition is correct, then it may be as simple as this: Music, at Apple, was Steve Jobs’s passion. Without Steve, they need to get that enthusiasm back. He was at the helm when Apple purchased a cute little program called SoundJam MP and turned it into iTunes. He then drove the iPod project into a becoming a real product. Apple expanded iTunes to become a music retailer under Jobs’s supervision, and it was Jobs who went after many acts that he thought were crucial to making the store successful, such as U2. He even had Apple subsume the Apple trademark from the Beatles. Apple was betting heavily on music before the iPhone era began, and this was all because of the passion Steve had for music.

With Steve gone, that side of the business has gone stale. iTunes is a dinosaur, and the entire method of music retailing that Apple pioneered has changed to the point where that part of the business is in jeopardy. iPods don’t sell particularly well and kind of feel ornamental in Apple’s product line. They also are now competing with multiple music services. Streaming radio isn’t the imminent threat some make it out to be, but it is on a slow and steady rise in usage. All this is happening without a real sense of purpose for Apple. Without Steve’s involvement, and without his passion, there’s been no real fundamental movement in the music business at Apple.

Thats where Beats comes in. It’s not the headphones, brand, or the “street cred” that Apple is after, they’re going after the passion and focus for music they don’t have anymore. That’s not to say Apple execs don’t love music, but they’re working hard in other areas of the business. Eddy Cue, who had been in control of iTunes is now in control of iCloud, a crucial part of Apple’s future. One could assume that his ability to work on music is quite diminished.

By acquiring Beats, they’re getting an executive team that is all about music, and has shown nothing but focus and attention to detail when it comes to audio. They’re buying the passion. With Beats’ CEO Jimmy Iovine, a deeply rooted music executive who was closely tied to both Apple and Steve Jobs, they get someone who knows Apple and can take that part of Apple’s business to the next stage in it’s development. What could that be? It’s hard to speculate. He’s known to have pitched Apple on streaming music well before there even was streaming music, and that concept may have been refined and expanded to the point where they can innovate and come up with the next generation of music distribution.

Now, the streaming service that Beats offers today may not be as impressive as other offerings, but combined with Apple’s clout and market power, they could take streaming music to a new level and re-write the rules on how digital music works. Apple has also been recently rumored to be working with Shazam on song identification, and that may be related.

So it comes down to Apple needing a new direction in music, and someone with the passion to drive it. They also are a product-driven company, and Beats may have a new music product that makes sense for Apple. Both considerations would point to Beats making sense for Apple. Talent and product. The usual reasons Apple buys companies.

Of course, if they just want Beats for the headphones, that’s crazy.


Beware of Sports

2 May 14

In 1980, a friend of my father brought something with him on a visit. He called it something silly; he called it a “walk man.”

It was a ridiculous name, and as I understood it, that was because it came from another country where they don’t speak English. They spoke Japanese. How many languages were there, for goodness sake? I was ten, and I knew of the existence of at least two other languages. Were you telling me there’s a third?

Anyway, the “walk man” was a cassette player. A portable one. One you could hold in your hand. I’d heard of those before, but what made this one so special was that it was actually smaller than a cassette case. You had to pull the top to the side, like a transformer toy, to get it to be big enough to take in the cassette.

It was incredible. I’d never seen anything like it before.

It was all metal, precision made beyond anything I’d seen. The parts moved and fitted so closely and cleanly it was hard to believe it was real. This was future technology.

I was lucky enough to own my own tape recorder at a young age. I had a Panasonic cassette recorder that was about the size of a dictionary with a handle. I’d gotten it in 1978, if I remember correctly. I loved that thing and used it relentlessly for years. I knew how it worked inside and out. I had taken it apart dozens of times and was intimately familiar with its’ guts. So to see the same thing replicated in a device that was the size of a deck of cards was mind-blowing.

But you’re feeling better now, right?

This could not possibly exist, I told myself. To get the electronics that small, to get the motors that small, that was not something I’d ever conceived of. Just to get the mechanisms that engaged the motor and moved the playheads and capstans down to that size was beyond my comprehension. It was all metal, too. Shiny, cool metal. It made these extremely appealing little clickety-clack noises when you pressed the buttons that fought you just a little bit before they released. And the feeling of an independently-powered motorized device spinning away in your hand was incredible, even somewhat alien. It felt alive.

It was definitely the first time I’d considered that products were designed and manufactured by people who really worked hard to get things right. My ten year old brain hadn’t yet grasped the concept of industrial design or even just the notion of technology until that moment.

What my dad’s friend had was the WM-10 model of the walkman, still a bit of a design marvel today. It was the very beginning of the “Sony Age” of consumer electronics, and in this product, you could see how they were earning their reputation for design and technology.

To make the WM-10, Sony came up with new techniques to move the heads, to move the capstans (the spindles for the tape) and do it with as tiny a motor as possible, taking as little power as possible. It wasn’t like the cassette players which used your finger pressure on the play button to push out the play head. All mechanisms were motorized. The WM-10 did both fast-forward and rewind, it had Dobly and metal modes. It was so small that you couldn’t get more than one AA battery in it, so to keep the player from wasting power, a switch was installed in the headphone jack that turned the player off if there was no headphone plugged in. Sony also employed a unique way to get that one 1.5V battery to fully power the motor and the headphones which involved printing an up-converter onto a flexible circuit board that was then wound up on a roll and stuck inside a tube so it could fit. They created a new process for making the metal cases ultra-thin, came up with a new gear and belt system to drive the heads, built a new kind of motor, and pioneered new methods of printing circuitry for the electronics. Sony re-thought how cassette players worked and re-engineered every process to make the WM-10.

This all sounds very familiar to any Apple aficionado, doesn’t it? Smaller devices, re-thinking, re-engineering, metal casing, battery conservation, those are common Apple themes.

As you might guess, I wanted one of these desperately. But they were way too expensive. Besides, I already had a tape player, right? So it wasn’t until I went to college eight years later that I was able to finally able to get a portable player. By then, the prices had come down and I could afford one. But the one I bought was three times as big, didn’t rewind, was twice as heavy and was made entirely of cheap plastic.

So what happened? The design trend should have been that the cassette player would get smaller and smaller, until the cassette itself was too big. Then they’d move on to some new format that would be smaller. That never quite happened. CDs were bigger than tapes and the smaller Sony MiniDisc and DAT formats fizzled.

The WM-10 was the smallest popular cassette player ever built. It still has that title. Also amazing is that it was never even matched for size by anyone else. From that time on, portable cassette players just got bigger, uglier, and features were removed. Two things drove this: commoditization and sports.

Commoditerization? Are we talking about toilets?

To get the cost down to where I could afford one in 1989 meant that you had to ditch features, get cheaper materials and simplify both the mechanism and electronics. Sony already had a “cheaper” line of the original Walkman, the TPS-L2, and as that Walkman started to explode in the US, many other makers and manufacturers got involved in a race to make cheaper portable cassette players. Soon, there were dozens and dozens of manufacturers, all in a race to the bottom.

Still, that should have left a market for upscale buyers who didn’t want the cheap stuff and wanted the best stuff. However, as described above, the device had a lot of moving parts and was subject to damage. Modified models were produced, but ultimately, the slender and delicate WM-10 and its’ predecessors faded out as more and more mid-priced and low-priced models took over. The less expensive TPS-L2 was favored for better durability and therefore, a better value. The high-priced WM-10 was too expensive to risk breaking.

So commoditization helped seal the fate of the WM-10, but then there was also sports.


Because the WM-10 had a reputation for being fragile, the people at Sony wanted to counter the idea that their products would break too easily. Getting water in the device was also a huge issue for active users. The market was increasingly wary of the WM-10 and other expensive portable players from Sony that might break. What the marketing people came up in 1984 with was the WM-F5. Or as it was also called, the “Sports Walkman.”

The Sports Walkman used an existing “fragile” Walkman design, the WM-DD, removed the metal housing and replaced it with bulky impact-resistant plastic. They added giant knobs and stuck foam into the two headphone jacks, then invented in-ear headphones for use in active environments. It was not a waterproof device, but was advertised as “splash proof.” To make an even more audacious statement towards the new device’s rugged capabilities, it was colored bright yellow.

The device sold like crazy. It was easily one of the biggest successes in Sony’s history. It perfectly satiated the consumers, who wanted a rugged product that wasn’t going to break, or at least imagined themselves leading active lifestyles in the health-crazed 80’s. Soon, almost all portable Sony products would have a bulky yellow “Sports” version, from boom boxes to cameras. Other manufacturers followed suit, making their portable tape players larger and yellow.

In a few years, the Sports branding would start to fade, but the impact on the products was permanent. They were still big, bulky and made of plastic. They became silver or black, but the legacy of the Sports Walkman line allowed Sony the freedom to continue to create products that were produced cheaply, didn’t push technology, and were sold on the basis of appearance rather than features.

This also marked the end of Sony.

Spoiler Alert!

Sony’s fall took a long time, and it really wasn’t until the early-2000’s that it became clear what was happening to Sony’s consumer electronics line. But their course was set with the Sports Walkman. Over the course of twenty years, their technical innovation in consumer electronics slowed to a trickle, replaced by marketing and branding.

They had introduced the CD player in 1982, and a portable CD player in 1984. But that was before the Sports Walkman. After the WM-F5, the consumer 8mm camcorder would be introduced in 1985. The DAT tape in 1987. The MiniDisc in 1991. The Playstation platform would be introduced in 1994. In 1995 Sony introduced the first consumer digital video camcorder. In 1999, a robot dog. Six years later they would debut the Blu-Ray format.

The lesson Sony took away from the Sports Walkman was that styling and marketing was the preferred way to innovate their products instead of advancing the core technologies behind them. That’s not to say Sony is not technologically proficient. They still produce several components used in the most innovative products on the worldwide market. Its just that they, themselves, can’t put together a compelling product with their own innovative technology or push themselves beyond short-term consumer demand.

The company also diversified broadly, gradually becoming as much about content as it was about products. When you go to, it’s all about their movies. In the last several years, Sony sold off TV manufacturing along with it’s PC manufacturing and the hardware side of the business loses money.

That leads us to today, a world where mobile phones and tablets dominate consumer tech, and Sony doesn’t offer a competitive product in either space. Though they do make phones and tablets that are splash-proof.

And Apple?

Where this ties into Apple is in a little bit of healthy paranoia. Having watched what happened to Sony after the Sports Walkman, one might reasonably become hyper-sensitive to the use of aesthetics over innovation. Apple continues to create products that truly do push technology forward, but at the same time they will occasionally launch an old product in a new case. For every iPhone or Apple TV, there’s a Dalmatian iMac.

The concern is, when does marketing overwhelm the innovation? When does a Sport iPhone take the company in a new direction, tempting the executives with higher margins and broader sales? There’s no question Apple has been resistant to this, even as they release old iPods with new color options. They say the right things whenever they are challenged, but they do make products from time to time which are warmed-up leftovers.

There are choices Apple needs to make in the future. They, like Sony, have diversified from hardware into content. It’s a little different, in that Apple’s content offering is not it’s own packaged entertainment but selling entertainment and software as a service. There’s a lot of money to be made in selling services with ultra-high margins. Apple could face a future where their iCloud suite of services, combined with their software offered over iCloud and the entertainment sold over iTunes could supersede the actual manufacturing of hardware. For a lot of reasons, the business of making hardware is trouble to maintain. Offering internet services is far less of a nuisance.

Apple also has a reputation for making expensive devices like the iPhone and iPad that are easy to damage. A lot of folks buy cheaper devices not because they like using them, but because they don’t want to worry about them breaking. If Apple is ever put into a situation where their high-end products start to decline significantly in terms of margins, they might turn to cheaper products that have higher margins.

That’s when you really start to worry about products like the iPhone 5c. It’s the same temptation as the Sports Walkman. A more durable case with aesthetically pleasing colors, but the same phone that was for sale two years ago. The problem is that the 5c has not sold particularly well. It’s done okay, but it was clearly positioned as a “new” budget iPhone alongside the flagship model 5s and was advertised heavily.

So what does Apple do to change the fortunes of the budget iPhone? Do they make it cheaper and remove features while dressing it up in prettier colors, or do they invest more into development of the budget iPhone line to make that phone more unique and differentiate from the flagship?

One way leads you to selling off your hardware division and falling back on high-margin services. The other keeps you making great stuff.


Who Watches the iWatchers?

24 December 13

In every bit of reporting about 2013 and 2014 that I’ve read about Apple’s future, there’s a wink and a nod towards the presence of something that’s been dubbed the iWatch.

This speculation has been unprecedented in tech history. Writers and analysts have assumed, as fact, that such a product is coming. Customers anticipate every Apple announcement as the opportunity to announce the product. It’s gone beyond certainty and borders on becoming a liability. How long until Apple stock tanks because there’s no iWatch?

Some can’t wait. Folks have taken existing Apple products, like the 2011 iPod Nano, iPod shuffle and iPhone and strapped them to a wrist band and called it the future. Not to mention that there’s suddenly dozens of new watch-like “fitness bands” on the market that tie in to iPhones and iPods.

This phenomenon has even spurned competitors to committing millions in developing and releasing iWatch-like products to grab marketshare from a product that is merely tech press speculation. Even more shocking has been Samsung’s release of the Galaxy Gear, a product that has been roasted in the tech press and was so rushed to market it only worked with one of their eleventy-billion models of phones.

The anticipation of what Apple might do next has broken through some kind of invisible barrier between the real world and idle speculation. Products now exist that were made, designed and marketed merely on the guess that Apple was going to make a similar product. This is borderline insanity.

What’d you just call me?

But there has to be something behind this, right? Indeed.

When the Google Glass project was unveiled, there was a lot of hyperbole about it, and it made a strong impression on consumers and pundits. Like Apple tends to do, they didn’t decide to break open a new market, they saw a market evolve, and then they decide if they want to do something. They saw this new category of “wearable computing” start to get some traction. Now they’re clearly exploring the idea.

This must have come as something of a surprise, because Google Glass is not a product that excels at what it does, and did not really advance the idea of eye-mounted computing. A lot of the interest in the device was centered not around practicality or utility, but around Google as a company. The most attention it gathered was focused more on privacy issues and distraction of its users. Was this the future? It was from Google and it was depressingly dystopic, so yeah, it had to be the future, right?

Don’t take my dystopia away from me

Fortunately, the product did not catch fire and the next generation of the product has not inspired anyone. But it did kick up enough dust for Apple to look at this phenomenon and try to figure out if it was worth exploring.

Shortly after the introduction of Google Glass, and in the midst of the short-lived Glass-Mania, Tim Cook was interviewed at the 2013 D11 conference about it.

“The likelihood that it [Google Glass] has a broad appeal is tough to see,” Cook said, while also saying that it would appeal to “vertical markets.” As to wearables, he was much more enthusiastic, saying it could be a “profound area.”

In regards to if wearables were a part of the post-PC trend, he said, “I see it as another branch on the tree.” He also said that Apple had been asking themselves these questions on wearables for several years and that the iPhone and iPad have accelerated the discussion.

The big pull quote from this interview was that Cook said “I think the wrist is interesting. I think the wrist is natural.” What most didn’t hear was his extension of that thought, which was that if they asked kids and young adults if they were watch-wearers, few would say they were. Further, that it would be only be clear over the arc of time how this was going to play out. Cook had also said that he’d know more at “D20” – a conference that would theoretically be nine years away from that interview.

From the “wrist is interesting” pull quote alone, a thousand column inches were written, and what most of them missed was Cook’s uncertainty of how wearables were going to develop, in what form, and even if it was a currently viable market.

What we’ve also read about is that Apple has been hiring in areas that could suggest an iWatch was in development. Apple has made executive hires from fashion retailer Burberry, fashion brand Yves Saint Laurent, and a designer of the Nike FuelBand.

See? Incontrovertible proof.

Unfortunately, further reporting revealed that the hire from Nike was not involved in the FuelBand project. The Burberry executive was hired to run the Apple Retail division, not for any product development. That kind of dampers those headlines.

But the Yves Saint Laurent executive, Paul Deneve, was hired for what was called “special projects” and is a direct report to Tim Cook, a very significant position. That could indicate his involvement in the iWatch. On the other hand, it should be noted that he was a previous Apple employee from 1990 to 1997, working at Apple Europe in sales and marketing.

I know less now than when I began reading this

Put everything together, and we have a pretty reasonable conclusion. Apple has been working on wearable computing as a concept for several years and now they’re working harder on the idea.

What we don’t have is a product ready or even near ready. In development, certainly, but not imminent.

What type of product are we talking about? Tim Cook’s statement about the wrist was not as certain as we may have been led to believe. He also said that glasses needed to be light and unobtrusive, and reflect the user’s sense of fashion, and all this would be “difficult.”

“There are other wearable ideas,” Tim Cook said. “The whole sensor field is exploding. It’s a little all over the place right now.”

I love explosions!

The preoccupation with the shape and look of “wearable computing” overlooks a basic notion. What the hey does a wearable computer do? Taking an iPhone and cutting it down to wrist size may have some appeal, but that’s not really a new device. It’s just a new way to carry an existing device.

A new device would have a new function. Apple’s Touch ID technology gives some insight into where their interest is. They might see their devices as mobile electronic identification, and could be a solution for unlocking homes and cars, as well as for secure financial transactions. A wearable device could serve a similar identity verification purpose with a higher degree of security than the fingerprint.

Apple has also shown interest in health applications, beyond exercise. They could develop a device that monitors not only just emergency health conditions but long-term health. IBM has been working on diagnosing patients using artificial intelligence, and if that proves to be a reliable way of monitoring health, a wearable device could ensure that the wearer will have the earliest possible indications of health issues and suggest avenues to improve health.

The original electronic wearables, headphones, are also due for an update. With wireless now finally able to produce high-fidelity sound, the idea of wired headphones may disappear quickly. A future generation of Apple earbuds could be two small in-ear buds that just exist independent of each other and the device, untethered. Headphones may also be the “in” for wearables. Folks are used to them, and the first generation of wearable computing could be based around them.

Finally, Apple has also been intensely pursuing accessibility features for their products, and making glasses that can enhance certain vision conditions could be a possibility. Also, using head-up displays could help those who can’t speak choose words for voice synthesis, help the paralyzed operate devices with fine control, and the deaf could get a speaker’s words captioned.

These are the sort of applications I’d expect from Apple in working on wearable devices, rather than just slapping the iPhone on your wrist. Wearable computing has a big future ahead for everyone, but not everyone can quite articulate what it will be. Without that, speculation on an iWatch misses the point. It’s not about the shape, the color, or the curved glass – it’s about the function.


Oct. 22 Event Debriefing

23 October 13

So, I’d say my record is kind of so-so this time around and but I did get a long-term prediction fleshed out a little. So here’s how it played out:

iPad with Retina Display (5th Gen)

I, like everyone, didn’t see the name change coming. However, as I’ve been claiming an iPad Pro must be in the works somewhere, the name change to iPad Air does have some implication that an iPad Pro is a possible product, just like there’s a MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.

As for the specs, the big miss for me was the lack of the Touch ID. This was also a common mistake made by Apple prognosticators. If it was left our for technical/manufacturing reasons, that’s perfectly understandable. If it was left out for strategic reasons, then we’ll have to wait and see how this develops. It’s very clear that the tech it self is not only the superior biometric ID system available in consumer electronics, it may be the best for any application, consumer or otherwise. I think Touch ID could be a product in itself in the future – and I’m slightly surprised it didn’t go into the new MacBook Pro.

What I did get right was that the iPad refresh was going to be evolutionary, simply with faster speeds and the case change. Prices and memory also remained the same. I was also right about the battery life going up 2 hours, and I was wrong when I thought that the camera would go to 8 megapixels, and wrong that the chip would be an A7X. They’re just going to put the A7 in both the iPhone 5s and the iPads, which is a new thing. I was also wrong about the iPad 2 being dropped, which was maybe the single most questionable move of the event. I’m not sure about stereo speakers. The grille looks like it has stereo, but the tech specs don’t say.

iPad mini

My call that the iPad mini would increase the price to include a retina display was right, and I was also right about the 1st gen mini being kept and dropped to $299. But I did underestimate the price increase, I thought it would top out at $359, not $399.

I was wrong about there being a gold case option, thank goodness.


The iLife and iWork apps were indeed refreshed, but the iOS upgrade was 7.0.3, not 7.1. I also mentioned in my “What is iCloud?” article that I thought Apple would leverage their apps and iCloud into a package Google could not match. Making the iLife and iWork apps free and adding iCloud collaboration in iWork was exactly what I was talking about, and is a first step in what iCloud will ultimately become.

A few columnists have opined that this is a broadside to Microsoft, and Microsoft’s Office package was mentioned in the keynote, but I regard this more as a swipe at Google. With a new Mac or device, you get free email, maps, photo, music, movie, word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation software. That’s a huge package of free stuff – and none of it has ads or is dependent on faith in Google.


I was reasonably sure that Apple would only talk about the Pro and Mavericks, and hold off on the MacBook Pro. I seem to have miscalculated. So I didn’t make any predictions about how the MacBook Pro would be upgraded, beyond the Haswell CPU. My thought that there was a case upgrade coming also proved false.

As for the Mac Pro, my suspicion that it still wasn’t ready to ship proved correct.

OS X Mavericks

I did think iWork and iLife were in for a Mac refresh, but I left it in doubt if it would actually happen. So a pleasant surprise. As for the free price of OS X, I didn’t predict it, but it was a somewhat predictable move. I should have seen that coming.

Apple TV

I hoped for a software refresh, but all we got was iMovie Theater. Oh well. The Apple TV has become the black sheep of the Apple product line.

Thoughts on the event

It was a jam-packed event, and had good energy throughout. The best in a long time.

I was struck with how many videos were being shown. Cool videos, yes, and Apple does a terrific job with them, but four or five is too many. The reason for that is that they had “a lot to cover,” and my impression is that they’re releasing too much at once. They need to return to something like a quarterly announcement schedule, rather than jam it all in such a short period of time. In five months, Apple refreshed the iMac, MacBook Pro, iPad and iPhone lines. They released a new line of iPhones, the 5c. They also beta-tested and released iOS 7 and OS X. All the these were (or will be) released in the last 25% of the year.

Certainly they can spread things out just a little and open the barn door in the winter or spring. That would take a burden off these mega-events, and let the public focus on a few things at a time. I’ve talked about Steve Jobs and the rule of three’s, and that proved to be a very successful strategy over the years. Three topics, no more. Anything else can wait until the next event.

For Apple, a year breaks down into two principal selling seasons for electronics: Christmas and Back-to-School. You also have federal agency purchases, which tend to have more purchasing around the beginning and end of the federal fiscal year, which is the end of September. Releasing products only in the last four months makes federal purchasing tough, because they can’t plan for it, and ignoring back-to-school is a liability.

I was also struck by how Tim Cook was a bit melodramatic at the end. I think it’d be a better event of he were more of a “host” of the event, transitioning between the big announcements and making his comments then, rather than trying to compress all the emotion in at the end. I’ve never doubted Tim’s passion for what he does, I’ve only had doubts about his ability (or anyone’s ability) to manage Apple beyond Steve’s original game plan.


Oct 22 2013 Event: The Mele-a at Yerba Buena

19 October 13

First things first, I need to evaluate how I did on my last round of predictions. Which is to say I need to find things to blame why I was so wrong.


No, no, no: Right

Apple TV

No announcement, but let’s roll this over to the October 22 event. Wrong for now.


Fingerprint ID: Right. 12-megapixel camera: wrong. Thinner: wrong. Battery at 10 hrs: right. Upgraded LTE: right. No payment system: right. Price: right. Name: right. No gold: yes gold. Wrong.

iPhone LC

I was wrong all around here. I was hoping for a low-cost phone, and what we got was a candy-coated iPhone 5. I still think the 5c could become a low-cost phone later in life, but the 2013 iPhone 5c is not that phone.

I was right about the 5 being completely discontinued, and right about the color scheme of the 5c. I was wrong about the 5c taking the 4s free price.

iOS 7

Something new: wrong. It was just what we saw at WWDC. Not even the highly debatable icons were changed. But a new home-screen app could debut when the iLife apps get updated, which may happen on Oct. 22. I was right about the iLife apps becoming free (not including GarageBand), and the iWork apps were thrown in, too.

Next Event

I did call for a late October event, but I was a week off. Wrong.

Some observations

The fact is, if I had just held myself to predictions that followed the leaks exactly, I would have been 100% right. The event got duller as time went on when you realized nothing new or surprising was coming. Tim Cook has said previously that Apple was “doubling down” on security and stopping leaks. Either they are doing a horrible, pitiful job, or Tim was blowing smoke. I’m not sure which explanation I’d rather believe.

I ordered and received a Space Grey iPhone 5s 32GB, upgrading from a 4s. The lighter weight is amazing and the screen even brighter and better than before. I don’t get much out of the taller screen, and I can’t say I like the feel of the Touch ID button. I’d like to have more of a “piston” feel when I press it. It swivels around on a center pivot point and it feels delicate.

I’ve had iOS 7 since it was released, and I like the core features like the control panel and security features, but the interface remains a huge issue for me. I find the interface changes made to iOS 7 nearly useless and purely done for nonessential reasons. In some cases, they make the device harder to operate. I’ve turned off the parallax effect because it was a bit too jumpy. Almost all animations jump and stutter from time to time. The button-less interface takes closer observation to work correctly, and creates more problems than it solves. I have little doubt it will get better, but I have to look forward to iOS 8 to see if what I don’t like about it gets resolved or I just have to lump it.

My general take on the iOS 7 design is that it’s over-designed and under-tested. It feels like a college design project that puts idealist theories into practice and ignores the practical. It also feels like whoever called the shots wasn’t taking outside advice. As I’ve said in the past, Apple needs to get a new senior VP in charge of “No.” They’re not saying it enough.

The Oct 22 Event Predictions

The plate is full here, and the title of the event, “We Still Have a Lot to Cover,” hints that this may be a dense presentation. It also hints that there’s a new iPad cover. Which must mean…

iPad with Retina Display (5th Gen)

I have a standing prediction that Apple will introduce an iPad Pro at some point, but this probably isn’t the time. Without that, what do you do to improve the iPad? The basic features of the iPad are the case, the display, the touch sensors, the camera, the speakers, the memory, the speed and the battery.

Every leak regarding the iPad 5 shows a “iPad mini inspired case” which is to say rounder edges instead of tapered edges and thinner bezel sides. I don’t like the idea of thinner sides, and I honestly think that’s a bad design choice. I frequently grip those bezels and now I won’t be able to without triggering something on screen, something I do too much already. Now I think I’ll have to handle it differently. I also rest it sideways on my chest when I’m lying down, and I lose some of the display in the folds of my clothes. Now I’ll lose even more. Where does thinner side bezels benefit the user in any way?

The display could be brighter, but I don’t see a point to increasing the resolution. If it can be done without a price increase, they’ll do it, but there’s no push to do it. The touch sensors could stand for an upgrade to make it touch-sensitive, though I think that’s part of an iPad Pro. The camera could also stand for a bump to at least 8 megapixels. It would be tough to hold on to 5 megapixels for another year.

The speakers will be a little better because of the squarer case, and we may get stereo. Memory hasn’t gotten sufficiently cheaper, so I think that remains the same. The battery can and should improve a smidge, bumping it another two hours of life. The processor should be called an A7X, based on the new A7.

So, an incremental upgrade. But what about the Touch ID sensor? I have no doubt Apple wants it in the iPad, and a Touch ID feature would be a big sales point for many businesses who value security. It must be a priority, but is it something they can produce at a decent cost and at volume? I think if they could get it into the iPhone, then yes, they can get it into the iPad. My call is that it’s going int the iPad 5th gen.

As for case colors, I think we’ll see the same as the iPhone 5s. In terms of price, it’ll be the same as current, and the iPad 2 will be dropped, to be replaced by the 4th-gen version.

iPad mini

So many people are expecting a retina display on a new Mac mini, I’m not sure where reasoned analysis ends and rampant speculation begins. My take on it is that Apple wants the base model to go to $299 from the current $329. That would spike sales and make it a spectacular Christmas item. But can you do that, go to a retina display at retain the same margin? I don’t think you can. So what I think Apple will do is keep the A6X iPad mini and price it at $299, then introduce a new A7X iPad mini with Retina display that starts at $329 or $359.

I do think that this will come in the 5s colors (including gold) and be priced either at current levels or at $x59 for the WiFi models.


Rumors point to an iLife and iWork refresh, or at least new icons, so that’s a possibility. It would be a good match to an iOS 7.1 upgrade, which is expected sometime soon.


Is it even possible to introduce two different line of Macs at an iPad event? I don’t think we’ll see it. The Mac Pro is a known, and it’s reached it’s deadline date of “Fall.” The Mac Pro may not be ready to roll, but we’ll definitely get a date.

The absence of a MacBook Pro update to the Haswell-generation processors is an obvious omission, and I’d even say it’s suspicious. The only reason Apple would not have upgraded them to Haswell alongside the iMac upgrade would be if there’s another shoe to drop. I can only assume that a case redesign is the reason. If so, I’m not convinced this is the event to release them. Christmas is not the prime season for the MacBook Pro, and if the plate is full, moving this release to 2014 might be the smart thing to do. That can give the best-selling Mac the spotlight it needs. You could do a Mac mini refresh at the same time.

OS X Mavericks

As someone who lives in California, the name “Mavericks” sounds completely natural to me, and I’m kind of irritated that people keep making an issue of it. Next year, I propose we call it “OS X Nob Hill” and let people’s heads explode.

No shock here. We’ve had over five months of betas to see what OS X Mavericks is, and it’s about time to get the damn thing released and move on. After all, the iOS 7 design team needs as much time as possible to ruin the Mac interface for 2014.

I’d love to see refreshes for the Mac iLife and iWork apps, but my impression is that they’re in maintenance mode, and any development is happening on the iOS side.

Apple TV

As noted above, I think there is a significant content upgrade coming for Apple TV, and that could be a part of this event. I don’t expect a real hardware upgrade, but it is possible that an Apple TV refresh with an A7 processor might happen.

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