Hey Siri, gimme some gimmicks!

Apple Pencil

I don’t know if I was just tired or Apple made me feel so during their keynote two days ago. Two+ hours felt like eternity this time. Apple did improve its lineup, presented new form factor device, but haven’t bought me quite yet. And this is important cause I’m an architect and they aimed for architects and designers (among the others) with that new iPad Pro.

So, why can’t I give them the love even if they tried hard? They are doing great financially, kicking some asses in China, holding ground in the US, gaining share in Europe, and they are getting cheaper and cheaper*, and still, they are not passive, but they rather push for more. Well, it’s because of their exegeration of their own achievements. The smaller the contribution, the bigger is their self-praise. They improved, but this was an “s” event from the beggining to the end, even if they presented what seems to be their long term strategy for living room, and even if they presented a new form factor. I’ll explain myself.

First, the iPad PRO. The new form factor came just as everyone expected. It came to fill the very small gap between Mac Book Air, and iPad Air. It’s not a huge new segment like iPad was, not even as big as iPad Mini was, but it is very welcome now that it exists. If it starts selling good it will certainly canibalize some iPad and Mac Book Air sales but that is not a problem for Apple as it will probably have a similar profit margin. Does it have a power to bring new people to Apple camp? IMO, very few. It is still the same multimedia platform that you have on a smaller iPad, just bigger and more tiresome to hold, and less mobile (think in terms of womens purse or just carrying it around in hands). On the other side, it can replace your Mac Book Air in most of the situations. So, one will have to choose its screens more wiselly. I remember the hype about the original iPad, and its great  sales numbers outpacing iPhone’s in the beginning, when it was widely believed that everyone will have one besides their smrtphones. Now it is obvious that iPad itself is a niche. There are many combinations that satisfy the personal computing equation: smartphone only, phablet only, phablet + PC, smartphone + tablet, tiny smartphone + tablet + desktop,… So, the new iPad is addition to this set of options that makes some additional combinations possible. But so is MS Surface, and many other incarnations of laptop PCs. Tablet is, and will always be a hybrid between smartphone and work station full of compromises and never quite there.

Then, Apple Pencil, hardware exclusivity of iPad Pro, unlocks some new possibilities, at least for some groups of people, or some group of professionals. However, the guys who draw comics (IMO, the most involved with this kind of technologies) will find little use of this new iPad. Maybe for some laisure sketching, idea scribbles, but for the actuall work they will use some Wacom’s professional tools with huge drawing area (I guess at least 22 inches). For others, it will be even less desirable item. You know, not everyone can draw, and certainly not everyone finds it comfortable or productive even among those who know how to draw.

The point of any technology is reducing the friction for user, and for drawing as a mean of communicating complex ideas this friction is complex, too. What Apple did with the pencil, and what I had no doubt that they will do correctly is reducing of one aspect of that friction – the input. They increased the sensitivity of the screen, eliminated the lag and that’s about it. Something else makes the big iPad more like a toy then a pro tool – its size. While for most of the people A4 paper size is the only familiar size for hand input, this is not the case of most of the professionals (maybe some portrait street artists actually find it usefull, though). Its size restrains you from making free, wide strokes from your shoulder. Also, doesn’t let you get a detailed drawing, but glanceable from one look. Yes, it makes you zoom and pan. That is why I, as an architect, consider any screen smaller then 22 inches as a punishment. Its even worse for collaboration. I’ve seen a tone of futuristic comercials depicting a pair of smiling collegues discussing some complex wireframe models on a small tablet (airplanes, buildings, and what not). That’s just hilarious. You can show your pictures from a cruise trip that way, show some finalized proposal to the client, but the building and airplane blueprints are discussed end edited on a much larger formats not without a reason. This kind of things goes against Apple’s most important contribution to the world of design and technology – a meaningfull innovation.

The tablet and the pencil are not useless, don’t get me wrong, but the “Pro” in the tablet’s name is quite exegerated. Its doesn’t come even close to what it means in Mac Book Pro or Mac Pro. I do see some professionals using it the future for some tasks, occasionally, and taking the price tag into consideration makes little sense of buying it. Probably the best application it can find will be in schools.

And this all comes from a Note user. Yes, the screen of my Note is even smaller for any meaningfull drawing so I rarely do it, although I can’t complain about the stylus sensitivity. I’m an architect, PHD student, so you can imagine, I would make a lot of sketches or notes or diagrams about my research, my ideas, my design, and communicate them with my collegues and professors, but I find that very easy to do with paper and pencil, scanner and printer (even smartphone camera is a decent way to do it quickly). What I use stylus for are very simple tasks like making a note after taking screenshot or making a note on the photo, then sending it through some of the many IM services or e-mail. Also, when I’m instructing my sister about the math over Skype it is easier to share directly from the device cause there is a lot of quick exchanges, and a small delay in demonstration can ruin the point and kill the momentum. Mathematical symbols and shemes are easier to draw than type and there we go: there is a problem, and a stylus is a meaningfull solution to the problem. Also, I take my stylus to draw Chinese characters that I don’t know and look them up in the dictionary when I am reading printed material. I find that easier than scanning the whole text by camera (both services work flawlessly with Google Translate FYI). But, all these occasions are rare and me-specific, so if I had to buy $1100 device just to be able to do that more comfortably than I can do now, then I would almost certainly give up on the idea. The stylus in the Note is Wacom’s and it comes with the thing for free. Its a zero hasle to carry around, and it works really nicely. It has dedicated apps from Samsung (and some lag that comes with it) and third party developers. Apple didn’t do much about it and it relies on developers to find its use. But this niche cathegory exists for a few years now, big players are already there (Autodesk, Adobe), is there any hot water to be invented now? We’ll have to wait and see.

It will be interesting to try the Pencil and see how Apple solved the problem of glass thickness. You know, for a good feedback about your line the tip of the pencil and the actuall line has to be close. With the glass between them you lose the feeling af actually drawing. So it’s not the matter of sensitivity so much, but very fundamental physical problem. In Samsung’s case the feedback is not bad, but when you come to tiny details you start losing the precision because of the glas thickness.Then, there is the thickness of the whole device and bezels which spoils the feeling as well. Apple showed the collaboration with MS on the pencil application (historical moment which more clearly then anything shows what MicroSoft’s core business is now). But, here Apple and MS are jointly fixing thing that is not broken. If you want to mark something in a document you can do that by tapping, changing collor of the cell, highlighting, inserting comments and what not. Anyone who ever made Power Point presentation knows that it is not as streightforward process as shown in Microsoft’s demonstration. The tinyest problem is that arrow shape. You still have to adjust the style of the arrow and its shape/size. And then do it all over few times until you are happy with the total layout of the slide.

Adobe’s demonstartion had much more sense, but just take into account that they had that design prepared in advance. You try it and you and up in hours of doing your own design. Think about your spine for a little. Yeah, that’s why most of the people do that in an ergonomic chair. Then think about your eyes for a second. Yeah, big desktop display has much more sense now, that’s right. They said some things they did there on the stage can be done only on iPad for now. But there is no reason why it couldn’t be done on any other platform or form factor. It’s like a famous trick to sell a pencil. If one doesn’t need the damn pencil give him to sign something and he will need it immediately. Same can be said for the really cool anathomy app. It shows the muscles (ha, you saw what I did there) of the hardware but that is not to stay iPad Pro exclusive in the future. The question is: can you live without it before it becomes widely available? It’s rethorical, don’t bother with thinking about that.

And one last thing about the iPad and Apple Pencil: the rechargable battery. This is potentially a serous deal breaker for some people and unbelievable piece of bad design by Apple. The way it is supposed to recharge is beyond my understanding and so not-Apple. I mean, you stick the pen in the port and leave it protruding like that hoping that you will not break it accidently!? Let me just make a quick photomontage of how that looks (picture bellow).

Apple iPad Pro + Apple Pencil

Apple Pencil charging! Seriously?! Jony?!

In their defence, it seems that it will be rechearging really quickly (15 sec of charging = 30 mins of battery life) and last 12 hours on a full charge.

To conclude this part, yes, the new iPad is a cool piece of tech which will make life a little better for a very few people. Its not meant to drive business growth, but to shut the mouths of customers and investors constantly crying for new products and forced innovation, and to be present from the beginning in the convergence game which will hopefully start in a few years.

Next, the iPhones. There is always a hype when Apple is about to introduce some new type of UI, rightfully. However, the hype about 3D Touch is exegerated, but not so much by Apple this time. It’s a good technology, it’s impresive how it is baked in such a small device (as it relies on mechanical deformations, not electronic signals only), but one shoul ask what does it really solve? Where was the problem? What can it do that long press could not on its own? Give you more options? Give you better haptic feedback? Oh, wait… Gimick, I tell you. Like most of the Samsungs S features – they are cool to have, but not all that helpful. And it makes further hardware fragmentation. The way you interact with your phone will be different from the way you interact with your iPad and in this case this is not justifiable by the different form factor. Touch is touch.

Performance boost (both CPU and GPU) is impresive, hats down. Not that this is so much important anymore as even cheap smartphones now can have deacent fluidity, but the performance boost of almost double is always welcome. Battery is little smaller, and given the long charging time for iPhones it is actually a good thing. Now, there is that new alloy, 7000 series aluminum, a rocket class material, presented as an improvement. And it is cool, but it only solves the last year’s infamous bendgate problem (actually, strengthens the phone quite a lot more than just fixing the bendgate issue). Anyway, it is nice that they didn’t just ignore the (relatively) small issue.

Camera was already among the best, if not the best, and now it got even sharper, there is 4K video, and it should remain on throne for another year. The Camera is probably the most widely important selling point on a smartphone, and Apple knows how to make its users happy. Fast, reliable, consistent. If there is anything to envy an iPhone users it’s the camera, honestly. Now even better, way to go Apple. But the GIF image thing… meh, another gimmick to use a few times and forget. Looks nice and easy when they do it, though, just like those super shredder devices presented on TV shop demonstrations. But it can’t hurt to have it.

So, the iPhones are OK. Better then ever (of course they are, Apple) they will sell like popcorns. But for me, probably the biggest announcement regarding iPhones is the additional pricing plan, that lets you upgrade every year (and T-Mobile is quick to follow>>>>LINK). This can help transform carriers around the world. Three birds are killed with this move: 1) carrier’s grip which makes user less comfortable to upgrade is loosened, 2) space for income growth in saturating smartphone market  in the comming years is secured, and 3) better user satisfaction and less fragmentation (yes, Apple suffers hardware fragmentation rather than software one). After all, iPhone is their main business, like advertizing is Google’s. Both companies are looking for some additional opportunity for rapid growth throwing their spaghetti to the wall waiting to see what sticks.

Long anticipated Apple TV is finally here. It is obvious what Apple wants with it. They want to be a middle man in contents market: movies, shows and games mostly, but they also suggested that you could be shopping your clothes from sofa. How they want to do it? Through the apps. This means that nothing really keeps you with Apple and that’s a good news. Any developer can make the same app for any other TV set or platform. So there is no deep HW/SW integration that makes Apple’s platform exclusive. But the contents is already there, and the app stores. You can connect your phone or PC, purchase the content and consume it on TV. So, again Apple didn’t really revolutionize the TV as Tim Cook suggested, they entered the game in their style – massive scale that brings competitive pricing and setting the trends.

In terms of new OS, there’s no real magic except for Apple’s buttery smooth performance. But it is good that Apple keeps this approach. It is recognized that every form factor has its own UI specifics which will slowly melt into one responsive OS when the time comes. But TV could be already controled over iPhone, iPad, even watch. I guess one can have an app for that.

And lastly (but in Apple’s presentation it was covered first), there are the Apple watch news. More designs, more straps, third party apps, and yeah… this is all ultimately boring. Some cool medical apps are there but the platform is still looking for its position under the sun and in our lifes, just as other smartwatch platforms do. I think Apple will establish its watch division as one of the watch manufacturers with distinctive design and identity (thinking about Movado right now), and create a nice and steady stream of income. This is the power of Apple brand which other smartwatch manufacturers don’t have, but I feel that Apple has not been using the whole potential of this flattering position. Smartphone functionallity will stay for some time in the background as something that your phone can do as well or even better. Also, even the traditional watch designers could follow the smarwatch wave by adding the sensors which can communicate with your phone. The watch surface is just to small, and the battery is just too bad in that form factor at this moment and it seems it will stay like that for quite some time.

Bottom line, this wasn’t a bad or small update at all, but it wasn’t “monstrous” as Tim Cook suggested. Fine tuning, facelifting, and lot of gimmicks. But they were working hard all year long, you can’t take them that away.

Notes:

*1) One of the common myths about Apple is that it is for the rich, and that Android is a budget deal. This is so wrong when we talk about the flagship  Android phones. Due to the carrier subsidies you end up paying more for your Samsung Galaxy S or Note line, HTC One, LG G4, Sony Experia Z4,… while carriers do everything to destroy your UX by adding bloatware, optional deals and generally – a lot of hassle. I am talking mostly about Japan, but its not much different in my home country Serbia. So, as for iPhone owners, it goes like this. If your economic power come over certain treshold, congratulations, you are most probably iPhone user, or if you have more money you can add Android flagships into consideration. So, iPhone is for the masses, for average Joe and this is the key for looking at its design as well.

*2) I don’t know what to think about that, honestly. If there is some third party app that can make a 3D model of me and put me in those clothes, then I think I would never go again to the shopping mall.

Samsung reacting fast

Picture WSJ.com

Picture WSJ.com

There is much that we can read from Samsungs latest presentation in Barselona. All the comments seems to be about the S6 and S6 Edge, but there is more to it which I would like to write down, for me, and all you rare duds who find yourself on this page.

So Samsung’s reaction to the weakneses that it started showing last year are fast, bold, and well measured. They addressed many small issues they had in the past including the way of presenting their flagship phone. We had girls on the stage, people who worked on the project, not actors and comedy. If JK Shin had a shorter text it would be impressive. I mean, the change for the better would be impressive in scale. It is important that CEO can come out and say a few words, but this guy doesn’t have inborn skills to do it. They were also short for data. Show us something on those big screens while you walk left and right repeating how proud and trilled you are. The girl after him was not much better, but that is a matter of political correctness that a giant like Samsung has to obey. They have to show you that they have techy girls on the stage in order not to get criticised. On the other hand, the second girl that was there, the real engineer girl, was like a fish in the water, she was the best presenter. By organizing this presentation Samsung actually says: “I am listening to the good willed critics and here I am improving, give me the next assignment.”

The product. No specs. Who cares. “You know me, I know you”. Samsung is gonna give you something better then the previous time, there is a trust, finally, well earned and Samsung wears it like a boss, like finally aware of it. No S things bragging about, but even more “we listened carefully” talk. “We scraped this and that, and we know no one’s gonna cry for it”, but without sentiments and much bragging how nice they are. They swallowed the big green frog right in front of you without blinking or making faces. And that is a virtue, too.

They changed their strategy boldly without making a drama. They kind of entrenched on their present positions, realizing they are not in the best shape to continue the rally like before. And yet, nobody is speaking about that, but about the product. When I say entrenched, I mean that they hauled the simultaneous offensive on Google and Apple. Samsung made partial truce with both of them, while they see what to do in China and the rest of the Asia. Cause this is where Samsung failed to grow, not in the US (they are winning the US battle pretty confidently, growing continuously and at almost the constant pace). So, consumers wanted premium built phones, they got them. Choices that were hard to make before are now made without much regret. Cause if someone wants SD card or replacable battery there will be Samsung again, you will find it right next to this flagship phone. Advertizing only the best, but giving choice to the people, and doing so from one market to the other, having localy tuned ears, and globaly tuned ears, is Samsung specialty.

They accepted some Apple’s design solutions (this is not the same as copying!) swallowed the vanity and just went for it. Cause it is better, and there is nothing bad at choosing to do the same as your opponent if it is better. Like the direction of oppening the doors of the car. Through the history there were many ways, but the one is much better than the others so there is no point in inventing hot water. Therefore, the 3.5mm jack is going to the bottom side, speakers too, and the fingerprint scanner is not swipe type anymore. The metal is chamfered here and there. Same did the Apple when moved the power button where Samsung had it the whole time, or when making a screen sizes that Samsung introduced, or when protruding the camera to get a slimmer device. By not chasing the megapixels, the picture taking experience seems to be much improved. Like they were reading my mind. What I want to see is if they fixed the shutter speed, so that there are not so many blured pics because the exposure is too long. That’s the software trick I need them to do, not another S feature. Polishing and purifying of UX. Nothing of that can be easily advertized, cause it’s the way it should be, that’s why this is entrenching, not the heroic expansion.

They gave up quietly the self-forced race with Google, too. Only essential S apps remained, but smoothed up. Touch wizz is still there, the Samsung DNA is there to stay, not alienating the user nor trying to impress on the other hand. Tizen needs time, it cannot ride on the sole market share, that market share is Samsung’s as much as Google’s. But Samsung will never scrap the attempts to move up and become relevant in software technology. They can’t, the whole country’s development depends on that, and because they are much more vulnerable without it.

One huge thing that happened is Exinos, the in-house processor. The first benchmarks show abnormal improvement. That means that one strategic technology that was outsorced to Qualcomm is now back in da house. Knowing the problems that Qualcomm has in China it can be interpreted as a chance for Samsung to escape to some extent regulatory hand of China which unleashed its long time incubated tech companies and is doing a lot to protect them in their expansion plans, and got recently Qualcomm on target. The other thing about the Exinos is its energy performance if the data Samsung showed is true. Smaller battery, better resolution, but same or little better battery life. In the house processor, battery, screen, and lightly skinned Android 5 make a huge potential for the great battery life optimization and this is what is happening. Up to last year the battery life was improved with enlarging the battery, now it is the optimization. The UX smoothness ceiling is hit*1, and the standard of charging every night is there to stay, so these improvements leads to even better competitiveness. With peaking battery efficiency in this form factor, fast charging push makes a sensible and meaningfull difference, (and I can bet that Apple will have it in the fall as their batteries grew much bigger, iPhone 6+ charging time is 3 hours). As for the wireless charging option, it is great that you are not limited to Samsung’s propriatery solutions, cause they accepted the global standards. This will make small impact, though, because of the previously mentioned fast charging. Wirelles is wirelles, but twice the fast is twice the fast. Anyway, if not to expensive I would be glad to see it next to my bed, or in the lab (for my Note 5, off course).

Now, let’s talk beauty. There are some seducive lines of SGS 6 Edge (long name). The reflecting surface on the back is sexy, too, but for a phone that is unlocked by fingerprint it will collect one too many fingerprints on it. I still think that the most beautifull iPhone was 4s, partially because of the glass on the back, and that the antena reception is probably better this way – with the glass, not aluminium on the back. But this is not a Miss Universe, not S6 Edge, and especially not S6. In fact, no phablet can be, cause of the clanky proportions. M9 is close to being one, Experia Z is close to being one, but something is missing, something in proportions that 4S and Nokia 3310 had. IMO. So it will come down to how it feels in the hand, is it cold enough to the touch, is the mass balanced well, and how does it fall. If I have to say how it compares to the iPhone, which is the crowned king of attention, I would say that Samsung did a decent job and closed the gap, but is not quite there. Given that Apple made suprisingly many design compromises and inconsistencies going for the bigger, thinner slab, I would say that the iPhone’s “wow effect” will vanish in the next itteration which will probably be slightly facelifted (and if Jony Eve doesn’t make radical changes (like going for the translucent, waterproof, unibody, no connector, saphire glass slab 🙂 )).

One thing that I think Samsung didn’t get enough love for is the Samsung Pay. It is so elegant solution that can make the switch from mag stripes to NFC painless for both small merchants and buyers. It can make your wallet significantly slimmer if not obsolete as of tomorrow. As a merchant, you don’t have to praise the god that your customer is having eligible iPhone, and that all of them will have. You can keep your universal unit until another universal unit replaces it. It is not hard to imagine that big players, banks, will be happy to back this solution, to save their cut.

To sum it up, Samsung did a good job. It’s a good response to the chalenges that emerged last year. One more time it showed zero vanity and inertia which sent Nokia, Blackberry, Sony back to the cradle. Will this proactive attitude be enough to increase the profitability again in a world where Apple iPhone is not just a smartphone, and where Chinese smartphone makers that aim really high have a backwind from the most liquid government, well, we’ll see pretty soon. But let me give these guys from Samsung some credits for their efforts!

*1 Since Note 2 there is no easily noticable improvement of speed of common operations. In a way that improvements are in the same order of magnitude, similar to the fact that our eye cannot see nothing faster than 4ms, or not more than 300 pixels per inch from 25cm distance. We still need some time to register the change that happened in front of our eyes as a concequence of previous actions, and to decide on the next one. Also, because the phones are not used to do heavy tasks and calculations like work stations, or for 8 hours productivity work, and because the games are made to run on almost any phone so any flagship will naturally have the best possible experience. The real multytasking of Android still waits to be better expoloited (additional screen, anyone?).

iOS and Android becoming the one, Apple and Google are those who are different

The smart phone platforms flame wars are not ending, the trenches are well digged out and you have probably noticed those who are reasonable enough to say that it all comes to the personal preferences and that comparing two platforms makes no sense cause they represent two different design philosophies. Well, if you ask me, that’s not the case anymore. I’ll try to explain.

In order to understand Apple and their doings, one have to know the 80-20 rule. The “rule” says that 80% of things that matter are basically covered by 20% of the total thing, whatever it is*¹. Sounds weird but this is what is the core of Apple’s approach to the money, which reflects to the design, and to the technology they use. One would say that the most important design point is their focus on user experience, but I would argue that this is only a tool to achieve the previously stated goal. That is why only “one phone to rule them all” for all these years. Google, on the other hand, has totally different approach and it was based on formula 20%+80%=100%. Of information, of course, cause they are marketing company after all. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing evil in any of these approaches and both companies contributed to the world development in an unprecedented way. Apple helped mobile fly and disrupt Microsoft OS monopoly, Google is doing a great job in sorting the information and the knowledge of the world for all of us.

What points did they make regarding design process and principles. First, Apple made a big point about meaningful innovation, although not even they are always following this simple guideline. Google made a point of the power of community and collaboration. One does not exclude the other and I think they both have figured it out. Apple started actually to listen to its users and developers, Google on the other hand, started guiding theirs. In the most fundamental way, in terms of trends regarding platform development, they are on the same path, so there should be no surprise if their products Android and iOS actually become the same side of the coin (if not already). Functions of iOS have finally caught up, stability of Android is now impressive. Walled garden of iOS apps is thoughtfully pierced here and there, and Material design finally gives a good starting point for standardization of the appearance of different distributions of Android (and not only Android but the whole web and other UIs). I will maybe go over the line calling iOS a refined distribution of Android. It cannot be the other way arround because of the general approach which I was talking about in the beginning – Apple pursues meaningful 20% and Android the whole 100%. 20 is included in 100, can’t go against logic.

But, if from previous seems that Apple is losing the battle, think again. They are not, they just changed their original strategy to get to the meaningful 20%. When they started this smartphone thing, they were Apple Computers. The day they unveiled the original iPhone they dropped the “computer” part. It was so obvious cause Steve Jobs covered this in his famous presentation. The change in course that happened after Jobs was not that easy to notice but it is not less dramatic. Apple turned to fashion-tech company. It is now selling its brand still looking for those 20% willing to pay for it. The hype about their products is not explainable by specs or by user experience any more (or productivity or stability and reliability, not even by distinctive design…), cause two platforms are more comparable than ever, devices as well. It is very obvious that restricting the multitasking and the big screens to its users gave Apple opportunity to manage bearable battery life with only 1500mAh capacity. All the optimizations of A and M chips and iOS seamed magically effective only if you forget about those two functions. On the other hand, Samsung finally made full aluminium body phone sporting only a 1700mAh battery, sharp difference from other phones they make. But they can’t just drop multitasking, right? So, where seems that one company or product is superior to the other is just the matter of design decisions (both hardware and software design). As the design principles converge to each other, their magical strengths and weaknesses suddenly are proved to be just normal outcomes of their design goals.

Fragmentation of Android was the discussion theme for a long time. Here, too, we can see how the gap is closing between two operating systems. Apple quietly introduced the whole new screen resolution, and not just that but they kinda want developers to make different modes for their apps for 6+ which, at least means to rethink your app one more time. In case of iOS the design consistency is really important, so even slight changing of resolution could be a lot of work and tweaks and testing. Also, without fanfare they brought two new phones slightly different in hardware (OIS only). On the other side, Google introduced its Material design which I cannot praise enough for hitting the bull’s eye. It’s not a design language, its is a design meta-language we are talking about. It goes with all the screen sizes, but in a very structured and organized way, great foundation for solving the fragmentation issue. We have yet to see how it turns out but this is pretty promising. Also, they adjusted the OS for all kind of phones stressing the standardized UX as a goal, putting specs in the second row. So now you have a cheap Moto G ($179) running on 1GB  with a non-flagship CPU providing 80% (if not more) of the experience of flagship phones. The range of prices is widened, but the capability of the device is not. If we compare the difference between iPhone 5c and 6+ we could maybe find bigger gap in functionality and user experience there. And that is not just old phone, this is Apples present low-end phone (very cheap development, obviously). So, yes, you have a feature or two implemented by various OEMs which are not standard Android features because of which automatic upgrades doesn’t work in Android world (custom hardware is another reason, actually big one) but it doesn’t mean you cannot have almost the same functionalities as newer devices have. It just means that your cheap phone will not become better over the time, and your expensive phone will not be supported forever and instantly, but will stay good enough for as long as you need it. And guess what, neither older iPhones become better with the new upgrades but quite contrary they can have a lot of performance issues because of the new software. See, there is a silent fragmentation in fruit garden, too.

This seems now like a bashing of Apple, but it is really not. It is rather demystification of its alleged superiority which is not something that Apple marketing team invented on purpose. It just happened, no one knows why and how. Not even Tim Cook, or late Jobs. Not even Jony Eve! Brands happen, just like Louis Vuitton, just like Cartier, Prada, Gucci or even Ferrari if you want. If this seems like another “Apple is doomed!” story just look at the brands above. Moving to fashion is a good thing, it is moving upwards. But, the good chance that Apple will continue to make a lot of money doesn’t make iOS or iPhone better tech then its Android counterparts. It makes them better branded and better sold.

If waiting for the upgrade on Android still seems like a big problem, let us try to put it into perspective. Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread was ambitious piece of crap. If you stick to it more than a year on a premium phone (which Galaxy Note was in 2012) you would risk your health. There, I’ve said it. I had it for 4 months when I got 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich which meant a lot. It meant so much that I even went to the local provider store to ask when is it coming, few times. Cause it was out and I was depending on Samsung and Docomo to push it to my device. Since then, I never cared about when the new version is coming.The phone even got 4.1 and since 4.1 it really doesn’t even matter which version you have. They are all stable, smooth and we can say that the improvements are cosmetic. It would not, by any means change your smartphone experience completely. And this is by far the biggest Apple contribution to the world. Meaningful improvement. basically, that means that if you need a measuring device to notice an improvement than it is not worth mentioning. I am not saying that it is not important (Dalvik to ART transition is pretty important, Extensibility is pretty important and bald) but it is not something that will immediately make a noticeable difference. Not like introduction of copy/paste function in iOS back then, or Project Butter in Android. And the fact is that Apple made more bald strategic moves with iOS 7 and 8 (design overhaul from skeumorphism to flat, opening up the apps to work with each other, screen fragmentation,…), but all of that in the area where Android already is. We are in the zone of “seen that already” for quite some time. It is increasingly hard to make a distinctive meaningful innovation on both sides. Anything that seems so (fingerprint sensor, 64 bit processing, waterproofing, heartbeat sensors, etc.) can be implemented by the other camp within a year or two, which is just enough for people not to switch that much.

Feature wise, both Android and iOS are heading in the same direction, having some minor advantages and disadvantages, but productivity wise they are even more on pair. Apple will use its brand strength to try to push some things where the technology is not a crucial point, but the trust. Like Apple Pay. Also, they will push their brand into the fashion arena with the Watch, where technology again is of secondary importance. Added value is biggest in unmeasurable categories. So Apple will run away from measurable fights (like, who has better screen, more accurate colours, better battery life and all those categories where Huawei can do as much as Apple) and will embrace fighting in the fog where it has a bigger advantage cause emotional counts more. You can’t measure it, but you can measure the amount of money it brings you, quite exactly actually. Yes, it’s called counting. 🙂

Google will remain to put its efforts to be omnipresent and neutral as much as possible, but will intervene and control its ecosystem more actively than before. On one hand they will stand against (decleratively) OEMs pushing their pandans to Google services, but n the other hand they will implement some breakthrough features back into the stock Android (like Samsung’s Knox). They are also trustful company and if they do not try to expand its existance to other slippery fields but remain focused on marketing mediating, they will remain to be perceived as such. The issue for this approach is geopolitics and their problems in Asia and especially in China. But that is another story.

*1 – 80-20 is not my idea of course. I first read about it on a great Japanese language blog alljapaneseallthetime.com where a guy calling himself Katsumoto will blow your mind with deep thoughts and meaningful generalisations. He is a great read, whether you learn Japanese or not.