The iPhone 7 and Apple’s Vision of a Wireless Future

As announced, Apple hosted a keynote event on September 7th delivering annual number updates, updated products, and Pokémon Go on the Apple Watch. Oh, and they deprecated the audio jack, a staple of most handheld devices since there were handheld devices.

Hit the Road, Jack

Phil Schiller (Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing at Apple, Inc.) eagerly took the mic from Tim Cook during the keynote to talk about the hyped up and shiny (literally) new iPhone 7. For anyone with an ear to the ground on Apple rumors, they weren’t surprised when Phil talked about the absence of an audio jack on the new model flagship products. As if acknowledging the backlash that the internet would fire upon Apple, he immediately rushed to justify their decision and explain why they pulled the trigger on this controversial choice: ‘Courage’. The bloggers had a ball with that one… I can’t help but wonder if people would have had the same reaction if Steve Jobs would’ve been up there giving the same speech.

BACKGROUND

Apple is notorious for making large, unprecedented, industry-framing decisions. Whether it was introducing the floppy disk drive on their desktop PC’s. And then replacing that with a CD drive. And then deprecating the CD drive completely. Or placing a camera on every single laptop and most desktop PC’s they offer. Or placing a front-facing camera on all of their mobile devices. These are all very purposeful, very deliberate, controversial, decisions that Apple has made. By no coincidence, these have also all been industry firsts that were then imitated by all other players in that vertical.

While imitation is very much the most sincere form of flattery, it’s a bit funny to me that all of these imitators did copy Apple without really questioning them. (Also note that users weren’t very opposed to a front-facing camera on their phones, or making their laptops extra thin by taking out the disk drive on their MacBook Airs). You see, all of these controversial decisions were very deliberate and were part of a much larger image. An image that you can’t see yet. An image that is being created right now, behind the large curtain. An image that as of this moment, only a handful of people at Apple know.

Do you think it’s a coincidence that Apple created the App Store and started offering OTA (over the air) OS updates just before they stripped out the CD drive from the MacBook Air? Or the fact that all of their devices had a front facing camera before they released FaceTime? The truth is that all of these, (sometimes) seemingly insignificant decisions are actually quite significant in the long run.

Headphones, Be Gone

Apple is notorious for making large, unprecedented, industry-framing decisions. Whether it was introducing the floppy disk drive on their desktop PC’s. And then replacing that with a CD drive. And then deprecating the CD drive completely. Or placing a camera on every single laptop and most desktop PC’s they offer. Or placing a front-facing camera on all of their mobile devices. These are all very purposeful, very deliberate, controversial, decisions that Apple has made. By no coincidence, these have also all been industry firsts that were then imitated by all other players in that vertical.

While imitation is very much the most sincere form of flattery, it’s a bit funny to me that all of these imitators did copy Apple without really questioning them. (Also note that users weren’t very opposed to a front-facing camera on their phones, or making their laptops extra thin by taking out the disk drive on their MacBook Airs). You see, all of these controversial decisions were very deliberate and were part of a much larger image. An image that you can’t see yet. An image that is being created right now, behind the large curtain. An image that as of this moment, only a handful of people at Apple know.

Do you think it’s a coincidence that Apple created the App Store and started offering OTA (over the air) OS updates just before they stripped out the CD drive from the MacBook Air? Or the fact that all of their devices had a front facing camera before they released FaceTime? The truth is that all of these, (sometimes) seemingly insignificant decisions are actually quite significant in the long run.

The Flip Side

While I support Apple’s controversial and difficult decision, I do think there are a few things they could’ve done to slightly appease the people.

One major argument against this move is the fact that phone accessories (think about the Square Card Reader or the iPhone thermometer) will now be much more difficult to produce. This is without a doubt the case. For a few reasons.

The first being that the Lightning connector (the only connector left on the new iPhone 7) is a closed protocol heavily governed by Apple. If one wishes to implement the Lightning protocol, one must first of all apply to be able to use the port. Then, assuming they get an MFi license, they must pay Apple for each chip they use to connect to a Lightning connector. While a company such as Square would be able to go through that process today, they may not have been able to do so as a small start up.

Next, for each company creating a phone/device accessory, they now would need to account for both iPhone and Android devices. If they already have an MFi license and developed it for iPhones, Android users won’t be able to enjoy that device because Androids don’t have a Lightning connector. And vice versa with micro-USB.

To slightly pacify this major speed bump for hardware start ups (and hackers and tinkerers!), I think Apple should have open sourced the Lightning protocol, or at the very least, got rid of the fee. Through a move like this, Apple could have completely gotten rid of the ‘closed protocol’ argument, while also seeming like a ‘company for the people’ by open sourcing a protocol that is already widely used.

With the Phil’s audio jack deportal defense, he introduced a new product that has been in the works for years, AirPods. These tiny Bluetooth headphones are no ordinary EarPods. Wireless, with a built in mic, wireless charging (in their container), and slick Apple-like features such as pausing your music when you pull them out of your ears and instant pairing with your device when you open their container. Sounds lovely, right? Except for their price point… $159. If I just bought a phone for over $600, I’m going to be very hesitant about shelling out another $159 for a wireless pair of headphones, no matter how many slick features they have. Yes, Apple did include a pair of Lightning headphones in the new iPhone box, and even a Lightning to audio jack adapter (a very smart move or else they might’ve had a riot at the Keynote…). But I think that if they really wanted this vision of a wireless future to come to fruition with minimal friction from the people, they should have included these AirPods in the box with every new phone.

Say ‘Cheese’

As with all iPhone releases, Apple did not hesitate to flex on their camera updates. With an updated 12 MP camera, 7 MP HD front facing camera, optical image stabilization, and True Tone flash, this is the ‘best camera ever in an iPhone’. However, there is one more thing…

While the specs above are true for the iPhone 7, Apple has further fragmented their narrow iPhone lineup by making the 7+ that much more. The 7+ has 2 cameras on the rear side, not only 1. The second telephoto camera allows for optical zoom at 2x and digital zoom up to 10x. I don’t use zoom on my iPhone very often, but maybe that’s because software zoom isn’t all that great. This duo-camera combo is meant to fix that very issue. It also provides new ‘depth-of-field’ effects that let’s users take portrait shots with a beautiful blurred background (shout out to PrimeSense for 3D sensing technology). For some, this feature alone will persuade them to buy the 7+ as opposed to just the 7.

iPhone users take advantage of their practical cameras constantly and take amazing pictures every day without thinking twice about it. Seeing this portion of the Keynote helps realize that Apple does not take that privilege lightly and are constantly working to better one of the more used features on their phones with every release.

Watch Time

Apple also announced their new version of their take on the smartwatch, labeling them Series 2. This update is the first hardware update to their watch lineup since its introduction, and shows a slight pivot of where they’re trying to go with the product in the future. While the first generation of Apple Watch focused on style, this generation took a major turn towards personal fitness. This includes a built in GPS that will allow for tracking of runs without having to bring your phone with you, water resistance up to 50 meters, and a comprehensive new workout app. This, paired with a new processor and the upcoming watchOS 3, means it’s time to think about upgrading your watch and gym regiment.

Apple also introduced a partnership with Nike and Hermes. The former releasing a brand new watch altogether with special athletic bands and watch faces and the latter releasing bands to make sure that while there was an emphasis on personal fitness, the Apple Watch did not lose its style.

Software

Of course, one cannot forget that world revolves around software. Therefore, there are plenty of mentions of the upcoming large software releases (iOS 10, watchOS 3, macOS Sierra) throughout the entire Keynote. Each of these are very respectable updates in their own right and give developers something to be excited about.

Remains of the Day

The features and products listed above are by no means comprehensive from the Keynote on the 7th. Some honorable mentions: live collaboration in all of iWork applications on all platforms (taking a stab at Google Drive and Microsoft Office Online), stereo speakers on the new iPhones, a new ceramic body to the Watch, and of course, upgrades to screens, batteries, and CPU’s all across the board.

All in all, it was a very solid Keynote with some much anticipated updates and one very controversial one. It will be interesting to see what Apple has in store for their wireless future, and I’m very excited to see it and be a part of that future. Until then, you can find me bumping to my Bluetooth headphones. 

LIthios Apps

Lithios is a web/mobile app development shop located in Raleigh, NC. The blogs feature a variety of individuals from the Lithios team spanning from design-technical development expertise areas.

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