What gaming will look like in a year or two, let alone 10, is a matter of some debate. Battle-royale games have reshaped multiplayer experiences; augmented reality marries the fantastic and real in unprecedented ways. Google is leading a charge away from traditional consoles by launching a cloud-gaming service, Stadia, later this year. Microsoft’s next version of the Xbox will presumably integrate cloud gaming as well to allow people to play Xbox games on multiple devices. Sony’s plans in this regard are still unclear—it’s one of the many things Cerny is keeping mum on, saying only that “we are cloud-gaming pioneers, and our vision should become clear as we head toward launch”—but it’s hard to think there won’t be more news coming on that front.
For now, there’s the living room. It’s where the PlayStation has sat through four generations—and will continue to sit at least one generation more.
If you re-read the first few chapters of The Innovator’s Dilemma and you insert “Apple” every time Clayton Christensen mentions “a company,” a certain picture emerges: Apple is a company on the verge of being disrupted, and the next great idea in tech and consumer electronics will not materialize from within the walls of its Cupertino spaceship.
The Innovator’s Dilemma, of course, is about the trap that successful companies fall into time and time again. They’re well managed, they’re responsive to their customers, and they’re market leaders. And yet, despite doing everything right, they fail to see the next wave of innovation coming, they get disrupted, and they ultimately fail.
In the case of Apple, the company is trapped by its success, and that success is spelled “iPhone.”
Take, for example, Christensen’s description of the principles of good management that inevitably lead to the downfall of successful companies: “that you should always listen to and respond to the needs of your best customers, and that you should focus investments on those innovations that promise the highest returns.”
Molly Wood (@mollywood) is an Ideas contributor at WIRED and the host and senior editor of Marketplace Tech, a daily national radio broadcast covering the business of technology. She has covered the tech industry at CNET, The New York Times, and in various print, television, digital and audio formats for nearly 20 years. (Ouch.)
Then think about the iPhone, which, despite some consumer-unfriendly advances like the lost headphone jack and ever-changing charging ports, has also been adjusted and tweaked and frozen by what customers want: bigger screens, great cameras, ease of use, and a consistent interface. And the bulk of Apple’s investment since 2007, when the iPhone came out, has been about maintaining, developing, and selling this one device.
In the last quarter of 2018, the iPhone accounted for $51 billion of Apple’s $84 billion in revenue. Its success, the economic halo around it, and its seeming invincibility since its launch have propelled Apple to heights few companies have ever imagined. But the device will also be its undoing.
Here’s what happens when you have a product that successful: You get comfortable. More accurately, you get protective. You don’t want to try anything new. The new things you do try have to be justified in the context of that precious jewel—the “core product.”
So even something like Apple’s Services segment—the brightest non-iPhone spot in its earnings lately—mostly consists of services that benefit the iPhone. It’s Apple Music, iTunes, iCloud—and although Apple doesn’t break out its numbers, the best estimate is that a third or more of its Services revenue is driven by the 30 percent cut it takes from … yep, apps downloaded from the App Store.
The other bright spot in the company’s latest earnings report is its Wearables, Home, and Accessories category. Here again, Apple doesn’t break out the numbers, but the wearables part of that segment is where all the growth is, and that means Apple Watches. And you know what’s still tied nice and tight to the iPhone? Apple Watches.
Even Apple’s best-selling accessories are most likely AirPods, which had a meme-tastic holiday season and are, safe to say, used mostly in conjunction with iPhones. (I’d bet the rest of the accessories dollars are coming from dongles and hubs, since there’s nary a port to be found on any of its new MacBooks.) As for stand-alones, its smart speakers are reportedly great, but they’re not putting a dent in Amazon or Google, by latest count. Apple TV, sure. Fine. But Roku shouldn’t have been embedded in a TV before Apple was.
And none of these efforts count as a serious attempt at diversification.
You may be tempted to argue that Apple is, in fact, working on other projects. The Apple acquisition rumors never cease; nor do the confident statements that the company definitely, absolutely, certainly has a magical innovation in the works that will spring full grown like Athena from the forehead of Zeus any day now. I’m here to say, I don’t think there’s a nascent warrior goddess hiding in there.
Witness Apple’s tottering half-steps into new markets that are unrelated to the iPhone: It was early with a voice assistant but has stalled behind Amazon and even Google Assistant. It wasn’t until last year that the company hired a bona fide machine-learning expert in John Giannandrea, former head of search and AI at Google—and he didn’t get put on the executive team until December 2018. That’s late.
But even if the streaming service actually arrives, can it really compete against YouTube, PlayStation, Sling, DirecTV, Hulu, and just plain old Netflix? Apple’s original programming is also apparently “not coming as soon as you think.” Analysts are, at this point, outright begging Apple to buy a studio or other original content provider, just to have something to show against Netflix and Amazon originals.
Of course, lots of companies innovate through acquisition, and everyone loves to speculate about what companies Apple might buy. Rumors have ranged from GoPro to BlackBerry to Tesla to the chipmaker ARM. Maybe Netflix. Maybe Tesla. Maybe Disney. Maybe Wired. (Apple News is a hugely successful product … mostly on iPhones, of course.) But at every turn, Apple has declined to move, other than its $3 billion Beats buy in 2014 (which it appears to be abandoning, or cannibalizing, these days).
Now, let me be clear, once again. None of this is to suggest that Apple is doing anything wrong. Indeed, according to Christensen, one of the hallmarks of the innovator’s dilemma is the company’s success, smooth operations, great products, and happy customers. That’s one of the things that makes it a dilemma: A company doesn’t realize anything’s wrong, because, well, nothing is. Smartphone sales may be slowing, but Apple is still a beloved brand, its products are excellent, its history and cachet are unmatched. But that doesn’t mean it has a plan to survive the ongoing decline in global smartphones sales.
The Innovator’s Dilemma does say an entrenched company can sometimes pull out of the quicksand by setting up a small, autonomous spinoff that has the power to move fast, pursue markets that are too small to move the needle for a company making $84 billion a quarter, and innovate before someone else gets there first.
Well, Apple has no autonomous innovation divisions that I know of, and the guys in charge are the same guys who have been in charge for decades: Tim Cook, Eddy Cue, Phil Schiller, Craig Federighi, Jony Ive—all have been associated with Apple since the late ’80s or ’90s. (I mean, has there ever really been a time without Jony Ive?)
You see what I’m saying here: brilliant team with a long record of execution and unparalleled success. Possibly not a lot of fresh ideas.
And then there’s the final option for innovation, one that Apple has availed itself of many times in the past. As Steve Jobs often said, quoting Picasso: “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” The iPod was born of existing MP3 players; the iPhone improved on clunky, ugly smartphones already on the market. The MacOS and the computer mouse were developed to maturity (yes, with permission) after being invented at Xerox PARC.
So maybe Apple will find the hottest thing in tech that’s still slightly unknown and come out with a better version. But is there such a thing as a way-sexier cloud computing business?
I guess it’s possible that the rumored virtual- and augmented-reality headset that Apple is supposed to release in 2020 will take the world by storm and popularize VR in a way that no one imagined, and like AirPods, will take a look that’s painfully dorky on the surface and turn it into a not-quite-ironic must-have statement of affluence and cool. It’s happened before. But this time, I think the company will get beaten to that punch—or whatever punch is next. Apple will be around for a long time. But the next Apple just isn’t Apple.
Apple on Wednesday warned investors that its revenue for the last three months of 2018 would not live up to previous estimates, or even come particularly close. The main culprit appears to be China, where the trade war and a broader economic slowdown contributed to plummeting iPhone sales. But CEO Tim Cook’s letter to investors pointed to a secondary thread as well, one that Apple customers, environmentalists, and even the company itself should view not as a liability but an asset: People are holding onto their iPhones longer.
That’s not just in China. Cook noted that iPhone upgrades were “not as strong as we thought they would be” in developed markets as well, citing “macroeconomic conditions,” a shift in how carriers price smartphones, a strong US dollar, and temporarily discounted battery replacements. He neglected to mention the simple fact that an iPhone can perform capably for years—and consumers are finally getting wise.
As recently as 2015, smartphone users on average upgraded their phone roughly every 24 months, says Cliff Maldonado, founder of BayStreet Research, which tracks the mobile industry. As of the fourth quarter of last year, that had jumped to at least 35 months. “You’re looking at people holding onto their devices an extra year,” Maldonado says. “It’s been considerable.”
A few factors contribute to the trend, chief among them the shift from buying phones on a two-year contract—heavily subsidized by the carriers—to installment plans in which the customer pays full freight. T-Mobile introduced the practice in the US in 2014, and by 2015 it had become the norm. The full effects, though, have only kicked in more recently. People still generally pay for their smartphone over two years; once they’re paid off, though, their monthly bill suddenly drops by, say, $25.
The shift has also caused a sharp drop-off in carrier incentives. They turn out not to be worth it. “They’re actually encouraging that dynamic of holding your smartphone longer. It’s in their best interest,” Maldonado says. “It actually costs them to get you into a new phone, to do those promotions, to run the transaction and put it on their books and finance it.”
Bottom line: If your service is reliable and your iPhone still works fine, why go through the hassle?
“There’s not as many subsidies as there used to be from a carrier point of view,” Cook told CNBC Wednesday. “And where that didn’t all happen yesterday, if you’ve been out of the market for two or three years and you come back, it looks like that to you.”
Meanwhile, older iPhones work better, for longer, thanks to Apple itself. When Apple vice president Craig Federighi introduced iOS 12 in June at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, he emphasized how much it improved the performance of older devices. Among the numbers he cited: The 2014 iPhone 6 Plus opens apps 40 percent faster with iOS 12 than it had with iOS 11, and its keyboard appears up to 50 percent faster than before. And while Apple’s battery scandal of a year ago was a black mark for the company, it at least reminded Apple owners that they didn’t necessarily need a new iPhone. Eligible iPhone owners found that a $29 battery replacement—it normally costs $79—made their iPhone 6 feel something close to new.
“There definitely has been a major shift in customer perception, after all the controversy,” says Kyle Wiens, founder of online repair community iFixit. “What it really did more than anything else was remind you that the battery on your phone really can be replaced. Apple successfully brainwashing the public into thinking the battery was something they never needed to think about led people to prematurely buy these devices.”
Combine all of that with the fact that new model iPhones—and Android phones for that matter—have lacked a killer feature, much less one that would inspire someone to spend $1,000 or more if they didn’t absolutely have to. “Phones used to be toys, and shiny objects,” Maldonado says. “Now they’re utilities. You’ve got to have it, and the joy of getting a new one is pretty minor. Facebook and email looks the same; the camera’s still great.”
In the near term, these dynamics aren’t ideal for Apple; its stock dropped more than 7 percent in after-hours trading following Wednesday’s news. But it’s terrific news for consumers, who have apparently realized that a smartphone does not have a two-year expiration date. That saves money in the long run. And pulling the throttle back on iPhone sales may turn out to be equally welcome news for the planet.
According to Apple’s most recent sustainability report, the manufacture of each Apple device generates on average 90 pounds of carbon emissions. Wiens suggests that the creation of each iPhone requires hundreds of pounds of raw materials.
Manufacturing electronics is environmentally intense, Wiens says. “We can’t live in a world where we’re making 3 billion new smartphones a year. We don’t have the resources for it. We have to reduce how many overall devices we’re making. There are lots of ways to do it, but it gets down to demand, and how many we’re buying. That’s not what Apple wants, but it’s what the environment needs.”
Which raises a question: Why does Apple bother extending the lives of older iPhones? The altruistic answer comes from Lisa Jackson, who oversees the company’s environmental efforts.
“We also make sure to design and build durable products that last as long as possible,” Jackson said at Apple’s September hardware event. “Because they last longer, you can keep using them. And keeping using them is the best thing for the planet.”
Given a long enough horizon, Apple may see a financial benefit from less frequent upgrades as well. An iPhone that lasts longer keeps customers in the iOS ecosystem longer. That becomes even more important as the company places greater emphasis not on hardware but on services like Apple Music. It also offers an important point of differentiation from Android, whose fragmented ecosystem means even flagship devices rarely continue to be fully supported beyond two years.
“In reality, the big picture is still very good for Apple,” Maldonado says. Compared with Android, “Apple’s in a better spot, because the phones last longer.”
That’s cold comfort today and doesn’t help a whit with China. But news that people are holding onto their iPhones longer should be taken for what it really is: A sign of progress and a win for everyone. Even Apple.
Google just debuted a digital assistant, which it hopes to place inside smartphones, watches, cars and every other imaginable internet-connected device. It’s already hit a snag.
The Alphabet division launched new smartphones last week with the artificially intelligent assistant deeply embedded. It also rolled out a speaker with the feature at its core and announced plans to let other companies tie their apps and services to the assistant.
At first, the deal looked like a counter-punch to Samsung rival Apple — Viv is run by the creators of Apple’s Siri assistant. But buying Viv may be more of a problem for Google, because Samsung is the biggest maker of phones running Google’s Android mobile operating system.
Google strategy is now centered on the assistant, rather than its search engine, because it’s a more natural way for people to interact with smartphones and other connected devices. Getting all Android phone makers to put the Google assistant on their devices would get the technology into millions of hands quickly. But Samsung’s Viv deal suggests assistants are too important for phone makers to let other companies supply this feature.
Last week, despite the Note 7 crisis, Samsung executive Injong Rhee said the company plans to put Viv’s technology in its smartphones next year and then embed it into other electronics and home appliances. A Samsung representative and a Google spokeswoman declined to comment.
That’s a necessity for Samsung, according to some analysts and industry insiders.
„As AI is becoming more sophisticated and valuable to the consumer, there’s no question it will be important for hardware companies,“ said Kirt McMaster, executive chairman of Cyanogen, a startup that makes Android software. Mr. McMaster, a frequent Google critic, said other Android handset makers will likely follow Samsung’s move.
„If you don’t have an AI asset, you’re not going to have a brain,“ he added.
Google may already have known that some Android phone makers — known as original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs — were reluctant to embrace its assistant.
„Other OEMs may want to differentiate“ Google’s Android chief Hiroshi Lockheimer told Bloomberg before it released its own smartphones. „They may want to do their own thing — their own assistant, for example.“
Samsung and Google have sparred in the past over distribution. Google requires Android handset makers to pre-install 11 apps, yet Samsung often puts its own services on its phones. And the South Korean company has released devices that run on its own operating system, called Tizen, not Android.
Viv was frequently on the short-list of startups that could help larger tech companies build assistant technology. Founded four-years ago by Dag Kittlaus, Adam Cheyer and Chris Brigham, the startup was working on voice technology to handle more complex queries than existing offerings.
While it drummed up considerable attention and investment, Viv has not yet released its product to the public. And some analysts are skeptical of Samsung’s ability to convert the technology into a credible service, given its mixed record with software applications.
„It will be very hard to compete with Google’s strength in data and their AI acquisitions,“ said Jitendra Waral, senior analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. „Samsung would need to prove that its AI solutions are superior to that of Google’s. They are handicapped in this race.“
Samsung is also focused on handling the fallout from its exploding Galaxy Note 7 phones, potentially taking management time away from its Viv integration.
But it’s a race Samsung has to join. In recent years, Samsung acquired mobile-payments and connected-device startups to keep up with Apple, Google and Amazon. Digital voice-based assistants may be more important, if they become the main way people interact with devices.
Silicon Valley titans are rushing into the space because of this potential. Amazon is trying to sign up developers for its Alexa voice technology. Apple has recently touted more Siri capabilities and opened the technology to other developers. And now Google, considered the leader in artificial intelligence, is making its own push.
„I don’t ever remember a time when every single major consumer tech company — and even enterprise companies — have been singularly focused on an identical strategy,“ said Tim Tuttle, chief executive officer of MindMeld Inc., a startup working on voice interaction software. „They’re all following the exact same playbook.“
It’s a great phone, but where’s my headphone jack?
At a glance, you’d be hard-pressed to tell Apple’s new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus models, which go on sale Friday, from their 2015 and 2014 counterparts. They look almost identical, and are the same sizes. But once you get your hands on them, the differences are clear: better cameras, longer battery life, water resistance, doubled memory at essentially the same prices, and more.
Oh, and upon closer inspection, you’ll notice something else: the disappearance of the age-old, standard, perfectly fine audio jack that fits every earbud and headphone you own. Yeah, I know. I’m not crazy about that change either.
I’ve been using both the 4.7-inch iPhone 7 and the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus for nearly a week, equipped with the much-improved iOS 10 operating system (which will be available for older models as well starting today). And I’m impressed. But I’m also annoyed. And impatient. All at the same time. Let me explain.
The most important thing about the 2016 iteration of the iPhone is that, overall, it takes a truly excellent smartphone and makes it significantly better in a host of ways, even without overhauling the exterior design, and despite the removal of the standard audio jack.
From Apple’s usual long list, I’ve picked five big improvements that impressed me most.
First, Apple is doubling the memory at every price point on both models, starting with 32GB at the low end ($649 for the smaller iPhone 7) and going all the way to 256GB ($969 on the costlier iPhone 7 Plus). The increase in base memory is long overdue, but it’s great to see higher memory at essentially the same prices on costlier models (the larger Plus costs $20 more this year than last).
Then, there’s battery life. Apple claims it’s adding two hours of battery life between charges to the smaller model, and one hour to the bigger one. This is mainly because of a bigger battery plus a clever new processor, which uses low-power cores for routine phone functions and only kicks in high-power cores when needed.
Battery life on phones is notoriously hard to test, because it depends so heavily on what you’re doing, and on how hard the phone has to work to find a strong cellular or Wi-Fi connection. Still, in my short test period, on both coasts, the new iPhones had great battery life.
The bigger Plus easily turned in 13–15 hour days, often with power left in the tank, doing a wide variety of tasks. For instance, my test iPhone 7 Plus was at just a few minutes shy of 14 hours with 14 percent left, when I got to my DC-area home after flying from San Francisco and using the phone heavily on cellular networks, and hotel, airport, and airplane Wi-Fi. That’s a scenario I usually find to be a battery-killer, unless I charge. The smaller model was typically in the 12–14 hour range, even after hours of streaming video and music.
Then there’s water resistance — the ability to withstand being submerged in a toilet, sink, or puddle for long enough to fish it out and still find it fully functioning. (Samsung phones have been water resistant for a while.) I left an iPhone 7 submerged in a large mixing bowl of water for about 20 minutes (it can go deeper and longer, Apple says — 1 meter for 30 minutes). It was fine when I fished it out and dried it off. No rice needed. The only effects were somewhat gravelly sound quality for about 5 minutes, and an admonition not to charge it for five hours thereafter.
Next, cameras. In my opinion, as a determined amateur who has never bought expensive cameras, the iPhone already had the best camera I owned. But Apple has redesigned it, with a larger, f/1.8 aperture that pulls in more light, a better flash, and the ability to capture a wider range of colors. Yet that’s just the start. On the smaller iPhone, the camera now has optical image stabilization, which limits shaky shots — a feature available only on the larger model last year.
And that costlier iPhone Plus now has two cameras, one a wide-angle version and one a telephoto version. Through software, they act as one single camera with easy, elegant controls. With just the tap of a button labeled „2X,“ I was able to get vivid, detailed shots at true 2x optical zoom, not the grainy digital zoom smartphone users have been wise to avoid forever. For me, and I suspect many other average folks, real zooming is a huge deal, bigger than some of the more esoteric effects photo hobbyists might value. In fact, this beautiful zooming dual camera is the first feature I’ve seen that might lure me to a large-screen phone.
And then there’s the operating system. This isn’t a review of iOS 10, which is a separate product from the iPhone 7. But, since it comes with it out of the box, the two are wedded. And I found almost every aspect of it to be faster and better. Lock screen notifications and widgets, and the Control Center are more logically organized and easier to use. Messaging, Maps, Music, News, and other features are improved. And then there are small things: for instance, to my surprise, the phone even automatically saved a map and directions of where I’d parked my car.
The phone is also faster, its screen is brighter, and it has stereo speakers. But I wasn’t wowed by these things in my testing. You might be.
Apple has also replaced the home button with a non-mechanical, non-moving button that uses a vibration „engine“ to simulate the feel of pressing a button. Three people I know said it felt like the whole bottom of the phone, not just the button, was being pushed. But it didn’t bother me, and it’s one less mechanical component to break.
What did bother me was the aforementioned removal of the headphone jack. Yes, Apple has a long history of removing (and also pioneering) standard components, going back to the removal of the floppy disk from the first iMac in 1998.
I have often complained that Apple was acting too soon, but I always agreed that the move made sense at some point, because the displaced component (the floppy, the optical drive, the Ethernet jack) were being used less and less and there was something better (optical drives, the cloud, Wi-Fi) to replace them.
In this case, I see zero evidence that the 3.5mm audio jack is being used less or has hit a wall. It’s happily transmitting music, podcasts, and phone calls to many millions of people from many millions of devices as you read this sentence. Apple says it needed replacing to make more room for bigger batteries and other components.
I also don’t see that Apple has come up with a better replacement. The company is clearly trying to move the whole industry toward wireless audio, which has never been great due to patchy Bluetooth connectivity, poor fidelity — especially for music — and limited battery life.
As a transition, the iPhone 7 includes Apple’s familiar white earbuds — and a free adapter — only with a Lightning connector at the end instead of the standard audio plug. It sounds the same. But now you can no longer charge your phone while making long phone calls or listening to music without a bulky adapter or dock. I label that worse, not better.
Apple says very few people do charge and listen at the same time. I respectfully disagree.
Next month, Apple will ship its take on wireless Bluetooth earbuds — called AirPods — which it hopes will solve some of the old wireless headphone woes and push the transition. Using a custom chip called the W1, the sophisticated AirPods supposedly make Bluetooth connections steadier and Bluetooth audio better. In my tests of preproduction AirPods, they delivered on these promises. And I could charge the phone while listening.
But the $159 AirPods only give you five hours of music listening time and two hours of talk time between charges, though they come in a handy little white case that provides 24 hours of additional juice. Apple notes that it’s proud of those numbers and that a 15-minute charge in the case gets you another 60 percent of rated battery life. It adds that if you use only one AirPod for phone calls, and keep swapping it out for a fresh one, you could talk on and on. Still, to me, they impose a limitation that standard, wired earbuds don’t have.
(Note: during my testing one of the AirPods had trouble holding a charge, so Apple swapped it out. It didn’t affect my tests of connecting and listening, and, since the product isn’t due out until late October, I can’t assume production units would have that problem.)
Not only that, but you have to charge the case periodically. Oh, and they kind of look like white plastic earrings. So, you should hope that’s your style, if you’re planning to buy them.
I’m sure the wireless earbud and headphone revolution is upon us now, and that, in a few years, the battery life will double or triple. For now, though, this Apple change of a standard component adds a hassle to your phone use, whether you are wired or wireless.
It’s an annoyance and a negative.
I am impatient for Apple to do a top-to-bottom redesign of the iPhone, and the iPhone 7 isn’t it. Apple concedes this and strongly suggests a dramatic redesign won’t appear until next year, the iPhone’s 10th anniversary.
Let me stress: I am not for a redesign just for the hell of it. There are good reasons to change the look and feel of the iPhone, some of them evident in Samsung models. For instance, Samsung and others manage to fit a large screen like the one on the iPhone Plus into a smaller body and still squeeze in a big battery. But the iPhones still have big footprints for their screen sizes and big top and bottom bezels.
Another example: the iPhones still lack wireless or inductive charging. Adding that might require a redesign.
The iPhone remains an outstanding smartphone, and this latest model makes it even better in many ways. And, unlike rival Samsung, Apple isn’t beset with the very serious problem of exploding batteries. But the whole audio jack thing makes choosing the iPhone 7 more difficult than it might have been.
You won’t go wrong buying the iPhone 7 if you can tolerate the earbud issue, especially if you’re on an installment plan like Apple’s that just gets you a new iPhone every year. You could get the iPhone 7 and then the big redesign next year, as long as you keep paying the monthly fee.
But, despite the undisputed improvements, this new iPhone just isn’t as compelling an upgrade as many of its predecessors. Some might want to wait a year for the next really big thing — and maybe a better audio solution to boot.
When the Apple Watch debuted in 2015, Apple told us it would be fashionable. It would usher in a new platform for high-tech fads covered in Vogue. It was going to save us time—one second at a time. It was going to do all sorts of things we couldn’t even imagine yet, like sharing your heartbeat, or scribbling a shape to a loved one.
It was a remarkable pivot, and it hints at the watch’s fundamental shortcoming: It’s a product without an apparent use case. Whereas the iPhone put miniature computers into our hands, and the MacBook fulfilled the promise of truly portable personal computing, the watch is a solution in search of a problem. Apple does not disclose sales figures, but a recent report from the research firm IDC claims Apple Watch sales dipped almost 57% in the first quarter of 2016—this despite that sales at competitors such as Fitbit are up.
Perhaps it should come as little surprise, then, that Apple has backed into the de facto selling point of wearables, a new, old narrative: The watch will make you swole.
The Fashion Pitch
It made sense why Apple chased fashion. The field was crowded with fitness bands, and Apple no doubt wanted the watch to be something more desirable. Apple recruited Burberry’s Angela Ahrendts, and paid her $70 million to build Apple into a bona fide retail powerhouse—along with an all-star fashion team including Paul Deneve, Mark Newson, Catherine Monier, and Marcela Aguilar. Apple’s fashion push was about more than the watch, of course—it was about turning Apple into a lifestyle brand. But the watch was a linchpin.
When the watch debuted publicly at Paris Fashion Week, and Karl Lagerfeld was photographed trying one on, it seemed destined for immortality. The company recruited big-name designers, like Hermes, to create bands as easily as they do developers to make apps. And what were assuredly highly coordinated sponsorship campaigns, stars like Beyoncé wore them on Instagram. They even made a version in gold—for five figures—and forced appointments to try it on with white glove service. That watch has since been discontinued.
The problem with positioning the watch around fashion? At best, the Apple Watch can’t be fashionable for very long because fashion is fleeting. At worst, the Apple Watch just wasn’t that fashionable to begin with. Apple may have sold a billion iPhones, but iPhones don’t live all day, every day, on your wrist.
The Productivity Pitch
So fashion was a reach. The Apple Watch just needed a killer app, something that made it indispensable to a modern connected worker. The Apple Watch’s value at launch became „glances,“ which was supposed to help make you a more productive person. That meant checking your wrist for the time, or a text message, as if this was a breakthrough the world had never imagined before.
And so we’re back to this week, at Apple’s iPhone 7 event, where they showed off the Apple Watch 2, a device that’s almost entirely unchanged, except for a new way of marketing it. Did you see the watch controlling smart lights? Or appearing on a catwalk? Or giving someone directions to a meeting?
No. But there were burpees and golf swings! Aside from introducing a new, white ceramic version—a nod to current design trends—and quickly mentioning some new bands from Hermes, Apple ignored all this fashion and productivity stuff. But Apple was sure to show a splashy home-brew dunking machine, a metal arm that stress-drenched Apple Watches in a tank like they were strapped to an angry Michael Phelps swimming the 200-meter fly. Apple was sure to give Nike several minutes to introduce its custom Nike Plus branded version. „You can wear it when swimming, surfing, or just doing that occasional cannonball,“ Apple COO Jeff Williams said. The Cannonball: The Apple Watch’s first killer app.
And in case you think I’m editing the presentation for argument’s sake, realize, no moment was free from fitness. Heck, even when the software developer Niantic introduced Pokémon Go Apple Watch support, the script rounded about to tease the 4.6 billion kilometers players had taken since the game launched. Even this moment of unbridled, monster-catching recreation had to become quantified fitness on Apple’s stage.
Who Cares If The Apple Watch Is A Fitness Thingie?
So by now you’re probably thinking, „Okay, fine, Apple backtracked a bit, but now it knows what the Apple Watch is for. It reverse-engineered its purpose. Isn’t that enough?“
There’s one problem with Apple backing into this position selling a wearable fitness tracker: People abandon their fitness trackers. Multiple studies have found that after a few months, many people stop caring about all their pedometer graphs and sleep cycles. (Anyone who has worn a Fitbit knows why. Sooner or later, all of this life quantification isn’t really all that meaningful unless you’re literally in training.) Even Nike knew to abandon ship after more or less creating the category with the FuelBand. It’s a lot easier, and lower risk, to leave the hardware to Apple and just brand it.
And let’s be honest about the Apple Watch as a fitness device: It’s fine. Call it great if you want. But it’s not the 10-generational-leap better than all of its competitors, like the iPhone was when it changed the entire smartphone market. It’s just the shiniest of fitness bands in a largely commoditized fitness band market.
But perhaps the company has its eye on the long game. Aside from being yet another fitness tracker, the Apple Watch is also also a network-connected health-focused gadget that interfaces with the most popular smartphone in the world, on the wrists of millions of test subjects in the sort of worldwide, cross-ethnographic field study that that health industry could never match. And while the U.S. smartphone market makes a healthy $400 billion in revenue, the U.S. health care market pulls in $1.668 trillion.
If the Apple Watch is ready and waiting—with 5 or 10 years of proven reliability—whenever our doctors and insurers inevitably tag us like cattle to track our daily activity? Then it’s the one purpose for the Apple Watch that’s worth backing into.
FOR A CERTAIN sort of smartphone user, closing apps becomes almost automatic. You double-tap the home button on your iPhone or hit the multitasking key on your Android, and you just start swiping. You close all the apps you’ve been using. Days, weeks, months’ worth. Not only is there something deeply cathartic about it, but it feels like a cleansing, a reset. Best of all, with no apps running, your battery’s in great shape! Right?
Wrong. In the last week or so, both Apple and Google have confirmed that closing your apps does absolutely nothing to improve your battery life. In fact, says Hiroshi Lockheimer, the VP of Engineering for Android, it might make things worse.
@pierce@mcwm@MarcusDPK@qz could very slightly worsen unless you and algorithm are ONE (you kill something, system wants it back etc)
Really that’s all you need to know. You can stop here. This isn’t even particularly revealing, really; it’s just nice to hear the people who built the platforms confirm it. Here’s the takeaway, once again: Stop closing your apps, because it’s not doing you any good. But if you want to know why, it helps to have a basic understanding of how multitasking works.
On iOS, for instance, there are five different states an app can be in at any given time. (Android’s setup is similar enough that we don’t need to go over both.) Not Running is obvious: You haven’t launched it, it’s not running. Active is up on the screen and doing stuff. Inactive is a transitional phase, where it’s on the screen but not doing anything as you switch to something else. Background is when the app isn’t in front of your face but is working, refreshing your emails or bringing in the latest fire tweets. Last, there’s Suspended, which is when an app is in the background and doing absolutely nothing. It just sits in memory like a bump on a log.
On both Android and iOS, algorithms run memory management. They’ll close apps that need to be closed, typically ones that have been dormant for a while or are using more power or memory than they should. And they’re very good at knowing when you’re going to need data, or want a refresh, or open an app again. Apps that are already in memory open quickly, rather than having to fully start again; it’s like waking your computer from sleep rather than rebooting it completely. You’re far, far better off letting the system work for you rather than forcing it to re-open and re-start everything every time. Battery questions aside, it makes your phone slower and less coherent.
If you’re into saving battery, there are lots of things you can do. Turn down screen brightness. Turn off background refresh for apps. Use Low Power Mode in iOS, or enable Doze on Android. Turn off location sharing for apps that don’t need it (which is a good idea regardless). Put the whole thing in Airplane Mode, if you’re feeling really crazy. But stop swiping your apps out of view, because it’s not helping. If anything, it’s making it worse.
It’s not your imagination: Millennials really are glued to their smartphones.
Nearly four in 10 millennials (39%) say they interact more with their smartphones than they do with their significant others, parents, friends, children or co-workers, according to a survey of more than 1,000 people released Wednesday by Bank of America. That’s compared with fewer than one in three people of all ages who say they engage with their smartphones more.
This means that, on an average day, millennials — defined here as being ages 18 to 34 — “interact with their smartphone more than anything or anyone else,” the survey concluded.
This may not surprise anyone who has looked at millennial smartphone usage. More millennials (77%) own smartphones — and spend more time on them (over two hours a day) — than any other age group, according to a 2014 report that examined the behavior of more than 23,000 adults, and was released by Experian.“In fact, millennials spend so much time on their smartphones that they account for 41% of the total time that Americans spend using smartphones, despite making up just 29% of the population,” the report concluded.
Furthermore, nearly half of millennials — significantly more than any older age group — say they “couldn’t live without” their smartphone, according to data released in 2015 by the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit and nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C.
Millennials are also far more likely to use their smartphone as a social escape: More than seven in 10 millennials say they have used their smartphone to avoid a social interaction, compared with fewer than half (44%) of others, according to the Bank of America data.
To be fair, millennials have many compelling reasons for using their smartphones: Experian data show that roughly one in five millennials (again, more than other age groups) use their phones to read the news during a typical week, and millennials are more likely than other cohort to use their phones to stay in touch with friends. What’s more, Pew data shows that millennials are more likely than other groups to use their phones to look at educational content, find and apply for jobs and learn more about a health condition.
Look, I know you’re going to tell me that the traditional TRS headphone jack is a billion years old and prone to failure and that life is about progress and whatever else you need to repeat deliriously into your bed of old HTC extUSB dongles and insane magnetic Palm adapters to sleep at night. But just face facts: ditching the headphone jack on phones makes them worse, in extremely obvious ways. Let’s count them!
Oh look, I won this argument in one shot. For years the entertainment industry has decried what they call the „analog loophole“ of headphone jacks, and now we’re making their dreams come true by closing it.
Restricting audio output to a purely digital connection means that music publishers and streaming companies can start to insist on digital copyright enforcement mechanisms. We moved our video systems to HDMI and got HDCP, remember? Copyright enforcement technology never stops piracy and always hurts the people who most rely on legal fair use, but you can bet the music industry is going to start cracking down on „unauthorized“ playback and recording devices anyway. We deal with DRM when it comes to video because we generally don’t rewatch and take TV shows and movies with us, but you will rue the day Apple decided to make the iPhone another 1mm thinner the instant you get a „playback device not supported“ message. Winter is coming.
2. Wireless headphones and speakers are fine, not great
I am surrounded by wireless speaker systems. (I work at The Verge, after all.) And while they mostly work fine, sometimes they crackle out and fail. It sucks to share a wireless speaker among multiple devices. Bluetooth headphones require me to charge yet another battery. You haven’t known pain until you’ve chosen to use Bluetooth audio in a car instead of an aux jack.
3. Dongles are stupid, especially when they require other dongles
Shut up, you say. All of your complaints will be handled by this charming $29 dongle that converts digital audio to a standard headphone jack!
To which I will respond: here is a photo of Dieter Bohn and his beloved single-port MacBook, living his fullest #donglelife during our WWDC liveblog:
Everything is going to be great when you want to use your expensive headphones andcharge your phone at the same time. You are going to love everything about that situation. You are going to hold your 1mm thinner phone and sincerely believe that the small reduction in thickness is definitely worth carrying multiple additional dongles.
Also, they’re called fucking dongles. Let’s not do this to ourselves. Have some dignity.
4. Ditching a deeply established standard will disproportionately impact accessibility
The traditional headphone jack is a standard for a reason — it works. It works so well that an entire ecosystem of other kinds of devices has built up around it, and millions of people have access to compatible devices at every conceivable price point. The headphone jack might be less good on some metrics than Lightning or USB-C audio, but it is spectacularly better than anything else in the world at being accessible, enabling, open, and democratizing. A change that will cost every iPhone user at least $29 extra for a dongle (or more for new headphones) is not a change designed to benefit everyone. And you don’t need to get rid of the headphone jack to make a phone waterproof; plenty of waterproof phones have shipped with headphone jacks already.
5. Making Android and iPhone headphones incompatible is so incredibly arrogant and stupid there’s not even explanatory text under this one
6. No one is asking for this
Raise your hand if the thing you wanted most from your next phone was either fewer ports or more dongles.
I didn’t think so. You wanted better battery life, didn’t you? Everyone just wants better battery life.
What’s happening is pretty simple. The hardware and the software running on any device itself have become way less interesting than the web apps and services, like the ones that Google and Amazon have made the core of their business.
Why buy a $700 iPhone when a $200 Android phone can access the same YouTube or Amazon Music as everyone else? All you need to do to get new Facebook features is refresh your browser or update your app. You don’t need a high-performance device to participate in the 21st century.
It’s a stark contrast with the traditional model for consumer electronics, where you’re expected to upgrade the hardware to keep pace with the new features they release.
And it could be a dire omen for high-margin hardware companies like Apple.
Meanwhile, web-first companies like Amazon and Google are more than happy to exploit this, even as our notions of what a computer actually is continue to shift. Just look at devices like Google Chromecast and the Amazon Echo.
The real brilliance of the Chromecast lies in what it isn’t, rather than what it is. It doesn’t have an interface of its own. You just push a button on your phone and have whatever YouTube video you’re watching or Spotify album you’re listening to appear on your TV screen.
A nice side effect: It’s relatively simple to take an existing smartphone app and add Chromecast streaming capabilities, and literally tens of thousands of apps have done that integration.
You don’t have to think about it or learn a new interface; you just click and go.GettyAmazon VP of Echo Mike George.
It means that every single day, I get more return on the initial $35 investment in the Chromecast I bought in 2014. But since all of the good stuff is happening in the apps, not the Chromecast itself, it’s extremely unlikely that I will ever have to replace this Chromecast, barring a hardware malfunction.
You could probably say the same thing about the Amazon Echo home voice assistant. Developers have released almost 1,000 „skills“ for the Amazon Echo’s Alexa platform, including the ability to call an Uber, play Spotify music, or order a Domino’s pizza.
These gadgets are getting better, not worse, the longer they stay on shelves. And while there may be periodic minor hardware improvements, they’re way more minor than the gap between an iPhone 5 and an iPhone 6, and far less necessary to keep getting maximum value from the device.
The pressure is on
This move is going to keep putting pressure on hardware-first manufacturers — especially those who rely on high margins, like Apple.
The Chromecast and the Echo are relatively cheap gadgets — because all the important, useful stuff about them lives in the cloud, they’re optimized to be small, efficient, and unobtrusive.
TeslaTesla’s autopilot mode scanning the road.
Amazon doesn’t need to make money on the Echo itself, as long as it drives more commerce to its retail business. Same with Google: as long as the Chromecast gets more people to watch YouTube videos and download more stuff from Google Play, they don’t have to make money from the gadget itself.
This trend isn’t going to kill off the smartphone, or the PC, or the tablet. But it means lower-cost gadgetry that lasts a lot longer. We’re only seeing the early stages of this shift now, but it has a lot of potential to shake up how we think about and how we buy our devices.