By John Gruber
This piece by Joshua Brustein for Businessweek — “Hey, Android Users, Don’t Buy the New iPhones” — is profoundly shallow:
For a Galaxy Note user, then, going over to the iPhone 6 Plus means building up again from zero. And for what? Apple’s operating system may be more intuitive to someone who has never touched a smartphone before, but it’s not going to be any easier for people who have spent over an hour staring at their Android phone every day for the last two to four years. Any benefits are probably outweighed by the drawbacks to abandoning the investment someone has already made.
I wouldn’t say it’s easy to switch from Android to iOS or vice versa, but looking at the history of personal computing, I think it’s easier to switch platforms today than ever before — in either direction. The move to cloud-based storage and syncing makes a lot of things less sticky. Gmail is Gmail. Dropbox is Dropbox. You can even access your iCloud email from Android, because it’s just IMAP. Add to that the fact that the overwhelming majority of mobile apps are free or extremely cheap.
Apple has posted a guide on switching from Android to iPhone, and it’s really pretty straightforward. Google could just as easily post a guide on switching from iPhone to Nexus. Brustein’s advice, to me, seems like an endorsement of laziness, ignorance, and tribalism.
Phone manufacturers make it hard to switch on purpose: They want you locked in forever. That’s the idea behind the Apple Watch and Apple Pay, which don’t work for Android. (Ditto for Samsung’s Gear S watch and Gear VR headset, which are made to work with the company’s other devices.)
This is just completely and utterly wrong. It’s shallow thinking. Lock-in is certainly something Apple (and Google, and Samsung, and everyone else) thinks about. But lock-in has nothing to do with why Apple Watch will only work with iPhone, or why Android Wear devices only work with Android phones.
Apple Watch can only work with iPhone because it does things that require the two be developed together. The hardware and software on both the Watch and iPhone all work together. Apple could make a watch that supports both iPhone and Android, but that watch wouldn’t work anything like Apple Watch, because it would be severely limited by the common features shared by iPhone and Android. And the same is true of Android Wear — it doesn’t work with iPhone because there’s no way Google can provide software that runs on an iPhone to do what Android Wear devices need their paired phone to do.
Pebble watches are cross-platform, but look at how severely limited they are in functionality compared to Android Wear and Apple Watch. And that’s not a slag against Pebble. They’re shipping. They’ve been shipping. And they have some devoted and happy users. And by doing so much less, they’re able to measure battery life in days instead of hours. But functionality-wise, something like Pebble is what you get if you set out to create something that works across iOS and Android, limited by the sandboxing rules for third-party apps. Apple Watch and Android Wear require software on the phone at the operating system level. Mobile apps can only provide shallow integration. To get deep integration requires software (and hardware) designed in coordination. Brustein’s argument is not too far removed from saying that we should be able to buy a Toyota Prius with a Tesla engine — like you can just mix and match these things like Lego bricks.
It’s a pipe dream to think that Apple Watch and Android Wear could be cross-platform without a drastic reduction in functionality, or to argue that they’re platform-dependent simply out of competitive spite in the name of platform lock-in.
Postscript: Keep in mind too that Google’s and Apple’s rivalry is asymmetric. Google is a very active, very popular developer of native iOS apps. They don’t treat iOS as a second-class platform — if anything, they’re more interested in iOS users because they’re a more lucrative demographic for advertisers. Apple’s only Android app is the one they bought with Beats Music. I think Google would support Android Wear from iPhone if they could, and who knows, maybe I’m underestimating just how much a background app can do in iOS 8. But even if Google unveils iPhone support for Android Wear, that too would only prove that Android Wear has nothing to do with trying to lock users in to Android. ★
A few days into testing the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, I accidentally left my personal iPhone 5S on a desk next to the iPhone 6 Plus. While my back was turned, the Plus tried to eat my 5S. It’s a monster.
I kid, but only sort of. The 6 Plus is ginormous. And it wants to be your only mobile device.
Last week after the announcement event, Apple provided me with review units of both iPhones 6 (a white/gold regular 6 and a white/silver 6 Plus, both running on Verizon, which allowed me to pop my personal SIM card into both phones for testing). I spent the first three days using the 6 Plus as my full-time phone, and the next three days using the 6. I wish I’d had more time with both phones before writing this, but my high-level take is very simple, and would not change with more time:
If you simply want a bigger iPhone, get the 4.7-inch iPhone 6. That’s what it feels like: a bigger iPhone.
If you want something bigger than an iPhone, get the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus. It feels more like a new device — a hybrid device class that is bigger than an iPhone but smaller than an iPad Mini — than it feels like a bigger iPhone.
If you don’t want a bigger iPhone — and in recent weeks I’ve heard from numerous readers who still pine for the 3.5-inch display iPhones — you might be disappointed by this year’s iPhone lineup, and should consider sticking with the iPhone 5-class models. (Note that Apple is continuing to sell two models of the iPhone 5S: 16 GB for $99, and 32 GB for $149. That 32 GB model to me looks like a hedge on Apple’s part.)
The Plus is a remarkable and striking device. Its 401 PPI display is the first display I’ve ever used on which, no matter how close I hold it to my eyes, I can’t perceive the pixels. Typography has rendered great on all retina displays to date; type looks perfect on the iPhone 6 Plus. I’m jealous that the 6 Plus camera has optical image stabilization. The bigger physical size makes the Plus a pleasure to thumb-type on.
But I have no desire to use an iPhone 6 Plus as my personal phone. I ordered an iPhone 6 for my own use. And if the iPhone 6 Plus were the only new iPhone this year, I probably would have stuck with the iPhone 5S.
But some people are going to absolutely love it. Like I wrote at the outset, the 6 Plus wants to be your only mobile device. If you want to leave the house — or at least just leave your desk — with just one computer, the iPhone 6 Plus is it. For many people, it might replace not just an iPad, but a MacBook, too. It’s that big, and iOS devices are getting that powerful.
Me, I don’t want that. One week in and I’m still unsure about the size of the iPhone 6 relative to that of my iPhone 5S, but I’m very sure about the size of the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus: it’s too big for my taste.
Here’s what I wrote two years ago, reviewing the iPhone 5, the first iPhone with a larger display:
There is no argument that some people really do like these big closer-to-5-than-4-inch Android and Windows phones. I was in a Verizon retail store yesterday (long story; don’t ask) and overheard a relatively small woman buying a Galaxy S III. A companion asked if she wasn’t worried that it was too big, and she said no, big was exactly what she wanted, because she doesn’t have a tablet and wanted to do a lot of reading on whatever phone she got. She even said she was thinking about the 5-inch Galaxy Note (which Verizon doesn’t carry). It was like a conversation out of a Samsung commercial. Such people surely think the iPhone 5’s display remains too small. But, trust me, there are going to be many long-time iPhone users complaining that it’s too big after they upgrade.
In an ideal world, perhaps Apple would offer two iPhone sizes — like they do with products such as MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs, and iMacs. A smaller one with the classic 3.5-inch display, and a larger (say, 4.5-inch?) one for people who want that.
That holds up pretty well, except that my personal bias1 towards smaller devices skewed my proposed sizes. Roughly 4.5-inches isn’t the big iPhone in a two-size lineup, it’s the small one. But what was clear to me even two years ago is that no single size could please everyone; the iPhone needed to come in at least two sizes. In my piece two years ago, I continued:
But there’s another factor. I believe many people would choose poorly. Bigger looks better. It’s like the old chestnut about TV sets in big box stores — side-by-side, standing in the store, people tend to choose TVs that are oversaturated, the ones with the boldest colors, rather than the ones with the better, more accurate colors. I can’t help but think that many people would choose the big-ass iPhone in my hypothetical two-sizes scenario, and later regret it with tired thumbs sore from stretching. (My thumbs feel sore just by looking at photos like this one of the LG Optimus G.) Design is making decisions, and Apple has always decided what the best size is for an iPhone display.
After spending a week with both phones, I think my concerns above were premature. When people see the iPhone 6 Plus in the flesh, their opinions are polarized. Either “Wow, that’s huge. I would never want a phone that big,” or, “Wow, that’s huge. I can’t wait to get one of those.”
As for Apple making decisions so we don’t have to, I think the difference between the two devices is so vast, so obvious, that it’s not really an issue. To me, choosing between the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is far easier than choosing between the 11- and 13-inch MacBook Airs, or the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros. It’s more like choosing between a 13-inch MacBook Pro and the old 17-inch “lunch tray” MacBook Pro.
Again, they’re more like two different device classes than two variations of the same device. My understanding, talking to people at the event last week, is that Apple’s industrial design team mocked up prototypes of every single size between 4.0 and 6.0 inches, in tenths-of-an-inch increments, and from those 20 sizes selected the two that best hit the sweet spots for “regular iPhone” and “ginormous iPhone”. We might never see new iPhone sizes again — or at least not bigger ones.
The most important question regarding both of the new iPhones is the same: Is it too big? If you want a ginormous iPhone, one that’s almost as much “iPad Nano” as it is iPhone Plus, I don’t think the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus is too big. My guess is that it’s just right — but I really do just have to guess, because this device class is not for me.
The more pressing question for me is whether the iPhone 6, at 4.7 inches, is too big to serve as the standard-sized iPhone. “Too big” mainly pertains to two separate issues: one-handed usage and pocketability.
One-handed usage has been the rallying cry for me, and other fans of smaller phones, for years. So centered on it was I that it almost wholly informed my (clearly wrong) prediction that Apple would never make an iPhone bigger than 5 inches. But here’s the thing: one-handed usage isn’t everything. I needed to remind myself what I so often remind others: design is about trade-offs. No doubt about it, one-handed usability suffers greatly on the iPhone 6 compared to the iPhone 5 series — and the 4.0-inch iPhone 5 displays are themselves less one-hand-able than the classic 3.5-inch iPhone displays. But there are advantages to the larger display of the iPhone 6. I find myself typing much faster and more accurately. That’s a function of physical size, not any improvements to the keyboard in iOS 8, because I’ve been testing iOS 8 on my iPhone 5 all summer long.
In short: the increased size of the iPhone 6 makes it worse when using it one-handed. But it makes it better when using it two-handed.
For people with anything smaller than extra-large hands, the iPhone 6 Plus is only usable two-handed.
Reachability — the new feature that pans the whole screen down to better enable you to reach buttons at the top of the display — is pretty clever. It’s a one-handed shortcut, not a mode, and that makes a big difference. When the screen pans down, it only stays down there for one tap. Reachability might make it possible to do everything you want while holding the 6 Plus one-handed, but it’s nothing at all like using a 3.5- or 4.0-inch iPhone in one hand. (Clever detail: Reachability on the 6 Plus moves things further down the display, percentage-wise, than it does on the 6 — it’s all about moving the top of the display to a typical thumb’s length from the bottom of the device.)
Pocketability is going to vary based on your pants and pockets. (I’ve been wearing Levi’s jeans every day I’ve been using both phones.) With the regular iPhone 6, I haven’t had any problems. The fact that it’s so much thinner than the iPhone 5/5S, and now has curved sides, makes it easy to slide into a pocket. The overall volume of the device just doesn’t feel that much bigger in hand or pocket.
The iPhone 6 Plus, however, makes itself felt in your pants pocket. It is pocketable, at least for me, and I wouldn’t call it uncomfortable. But when I switched back and forth between different phones this week, I’d never forget when the iPhone 6 Plus was in my pocket. (I would sometimes forget whether I had my 5S or the regular 6 in my pocket.) For security purposes I don’t think Apple Stores (or carrier stores) let people try putting display models in their pockets, but in the case of the iPhone 6 Plus, maybe they should. It’s going to be an issue for some.
An additional pocketability problem: I found myself inadvertently toggling the silent switch on the 6 Plus while pocketing and un-pocketing it. This happened several times, and even after I became conscious of the problem, it kept happening — particularly while pocketing/un-pocketing while sitting down.
In summary, I don’t know how to say it better than I did at the outset.
The regular iPhone 6 feels like a slightly bigger iPhone. I’m not entirely used to it yet, but I suspect after a few more weeks, I will be, and I’ll be perfectly satisfied with the tradeoffs involved with the larger size. Being able to see more emails, more tweets, more text at once is really nice. I’ve never been one to read e-books on my iPhone, but I might start. 4.7 inches feels a little bit more practical as a “small page” for reading.
The iPhone 6 Plus is fascinating and gorgeous — I’d love to have the higher pixel density on the regular iPhone 6 (but I totally understand why it doesn’t: see my section on battery life below, and note that the iPhone 6 Plus is already on a 3-4 week backorder) and it pains me to think about the optical image stabilization in the camera — but it feels like a new device, bigger than the iPhone but smaller than the iPad Mini. One size doesn’t fit all, and a 5.5-inch display is just too big for my taste.
Those are the numbers from Apple’s own tech specs. In practice, however, the iPhone 6 doesn’t feel any heavier in hand than the 5S — I think because it’s less dense. It’s kind of uncanny comparing them side-by-side. The 6 Plus is obviously heavier, but only in a way that feels commensurate with its vastly increased volume.
The rounded sides and pill-shaped profile of the iPhones 6 is a sharp departure from the right-angled puck-like form factors of the iPhone 4(S) and 5(S). It’s been a while since I used a rounded iPhone. It’s nice. With the iPhone 6, I’ve found myself reverting to a habit I formed back in 2007 with the original iPhone: slowly spinning it around in my hand, over and over, side over side, like one of those “worry stones” that were popular back in the 1990s. It just feels nice in your hand. (The 6 Plus is too big for me to do this with.)
There’s one use case where I think I prefer the flat-sided iPhone 4/5 design: using the iPhone as a camera. In hand, the flat-sided iPhones simply feel more like thin cameras. And, those flat sides allow the iPhone to be carefully stood on its side. On the whole, though, rounded feels better, and also feels nicely unified with the current iPad lineup.
The rounded glass edges of the iPhones 6 are a great touch. It’s very hard to feel the seam between glass and aluminum. Examined closely, it’s just a phenomenally nice enclosure — tolerances seem tighter than ever before.
After seven years, it is hard, really hard, to get used to the new side placement of the sleep/wake button. Clearly it’s the right place to put it for the 6 Plus, and I see the appeal of matching the placement on the regular 6, but man, reaching for the top right corner of the phone to hit that button is too hard a habit to break in just seven days. Long-time iPhone users should expect to be weirded out by this change.
The regular iPhone 6 has a 1334 × 750 pixel display, and to apps it reports itself as 1334 × 750. Like all other iOS devices, in other words, the display is what it claims to be, from an app’s perspective.
The Plus, though, works differently. Physically, it is a 1920 × 1080 display with 401 pixels-per-inch. Virtually, however, it appears to apps as a 2208 × 1242 display with 463 pixels-per-inch. Those latter numbers should sound familiar to regular readers. The iPhone 6 Plus automatically scales the 2208 × 1242 interface to fit the 1920 × 1080 display. This on-the-fly downsampling sounds crazy — it sounds like something that might be slow, and that might lead to fuzziness on screen with small text or fine lines. In practice, it just works. Text and fine lines appear sharper on the 6 Plus than on the regular 6 (or any other iPhone with a 326 PPI display, like the 5’s). 401 pixels per inch is high enough that things still look great even if they’re not pixel-perfect. I was deeply skeptical of this on-the-fly downsampling when I heard about it, but having used it for a week, I’m sold.
(When you take a screenshot on the iPhone 6 Plus, you get a 2208 × 1242 image — you get a screenshot of what the app thinks it is displaying, not a screenshot of the actual pixels on screen. If you really do care about pixel-level precision, I’m not sure how you can tell what is being rendered on screen other than to examine the actual iPhone display using an optical loupe.)
But why is Apple doing this? It’d be simpler, for sure, to just use an actual 2208 × 1242 display and to continue rendering truly pixel-perfect interfaces. Well, simpler conceptually. In practice, though, there would be trade-offs. More pixels would consume more energy, and higher density displays are harder to manufacture. There are diminishing returns to packing more and more pixels per inch — and having used the iPhone 6 Plus for a week, I can’t complain about a single aspect of this downsampling design. I can definitely tell the difference between the pixel density of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. I’m not sure at all that I’d be able to tell the difference between the actual 1920 × 1080 6 Plus and a hypothetical next-generation model with an actual 2208 × 1242 display.
(There is one thing I’ve seen where animation on the iPhone 6 Plus sometimes gets jittery: the animation in Safari when you hit the Show Tabs button, and all open tabs glide into a scrollable 3D view. Sometimes, but not usually, this animation has jittered slightly on the 6 Plus. I haven’t seen the same thing on the regular 6.)
As for other display-related topics, I don’t know what to say other than that both displays look incredible. Colors are bright, vivid, and accurate. Viewing angles are noticeably improved over the 5S. The new polarizing filter works like a charm — previously, if you wore polarized sunglasses, iPhone displays would often suffer from all sorts of gross color shifting and banding. With polarized sunglasses and the iPhones 6, everything on screen pretty much looks just like it does wearing non-polarized sunglasses.
I’ve seen some speculation that Apple might have somehow cheaped out by going with a 1920 × 1080 display. That line of thinking goes something like this: 1920 × 1080 is the standard size for 1080p, so Apple probably just bought these commodity-sized displays because they’re cheaper, and now iPhone 6 Plus users, who paid a $100 premium for their devices, are being forced to suffer scaled graphics because 1920 × 1080 doesn’t work out well as a native (non-scaled) display size for a 5.5-inch iPhone. This is misguided for several reasons. First, as outlined above, the on-the-fly scaling looks great. It doesn’t look like a scaled UI, it looks like a crazy super-high DPI UI. I don’t know if it’s distinguishable with the naked eye from that of a true 2208 × 1242 display, but it’s certainly the best display I’ve ever used. But more importantly, Apple doesn’t use off-the-shelf displays. 1920 × 1080 is a common display size, but I don’t believe any other phone on the market has a display like this.
It’s interesting to me that Apple is referring to both iPhone 6 displays as “Retina HD”, even though only the iPhone 6 Plus display is running at a higher pixel density and using @3x UI graphics. That they’re already qualifying the iPhone 6 display as “Retina HD” makes me more dubious that we’re going to see a 2001 × 1125 4.7-inch display with @3x graphics in the next iPhone generation than I would have been if they’d only used “Retina HD” to refer to the iPhone 6 Plus display.
Both models of iPhone 6 offer a new feature: display zooming. Go to Settings → Display & Brightness, and there’s a new option: a choice between Standard and Zoomed. The difference is the numbers of points (not pixels) used to render the display. In standard mode, the 6 Plus runs at 2208 × 1242 virtual pixels, which at @3x resolution works out to 736 × 414 points.
The regular iPhone 6 in standard mode runs at 1334 × 750 pixel resolution, which at @2x resolution comes to 667 × 375 points.
In zoomed mode, the 6 Plus acts like a virtual iPhone 6 (non-Plus) display, albeit running at @3x instead of @2x retina resolution: 2001 × 1125 (virtual) pixels. Divide by 3 (because it’s running at @3x), and you get: 667 × 375 points.
In zoomed mode, the regular iPhone 6 acts like a virtual iPhone 5(S) display: 1136 × 640 pixels, 568 × 320 points.
In short, zoomed mode makes each iPhone show the same UI as the standard mode of the next smaller iPhone, scaled up to fill its bigger display. It’s a great solution for anyone who wants a bigger iPhone to show larger content instead of more content. On the iPhone 6, zoomed mode looks a little fuzzy to my eyes. Not bad at all, just a little fuzzy. It should be unnoticeable to anyone whose vision is such that they’d want to use this feature. On the iPhone 6 Plus, it looks nearly perfect. I’m not sure I detect any fuzziness at all. Using the downsampling technique that allows the 1920 × 1080 display to masquerade as a 2208 × 1242 display in standard mode, in zoomed mode, the 401 PPI density and @3x retina graphics allow it to just work, and look nearly perfect, masquerading as a 2001 × 1125 display. It makes sense — in both modes, standard and zoomed, the iPhone 6 Plus is scaling down at @3x, not scaling up at @2x.
When you run existing apps that have not yet been updated for iOS 8 and adaptive display layout, you simply get a scaled up version of the 1136 × 640 version of the app. It actually doesn’t look too bad, even on the 5.5-inch 6 Plus, where they’re really getting scaled quite a bit, and at @2x instead of @3x. But it doesn’t look good either, and scrolling is a bit weird, and the keyboard is too tall, which makes typing feel wrong. With apps that are updated to support these larger displays, typing is better on both new phones than it was on the 5S, simply as a function of the keys being larger targets, but not so large that you have to move your thumbs too far to get to them. With scaled apps, the keyboard is too tall, and it does feel like you have to move your thumbs too far to reach the top row.
Visually, these scaled apps are far better than @1x apps running on the first retina iPhone (the 4) back in 2010. And they’re less annoying spatially than the letterboxed apps running on the first 16:9 iPhone (the 5) back in 2012. But simple scaling does not magically make them look sharp or feel properly sized. Developers should update their apps to support these new displays as soon as they can.
(Games shouldn’t matter as much. No rush there, I think.)
Phil Schiller only spoke for about 30 minutes at last week’s event. That’s all the stage time that the iPhones 6 got. And an inordinate amount of that limited time was spent talking about the iPhone 6 cameras. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’d rather have an iPhone that couldn’t make phone calls than one that couldn’t take photographs. It’s far more of a camera to me than it is a telephone, and I think that’s true for most of us.
A full camera review is beyond the scope of this review, but suffice it to say, in my testing, everything Apple has proclaimed about the iPhone 6 cameras is true: they focus faster, they work better in low light, and they shoot better video. 240 FPS slo-mo footage is really pretty cool.
Ah, but then there’s The Bulge. Both iPhone 6 models have a camera lens that protrudes from the back of the phone. It’s noticeable, and, let’s face it, a little gross. But this was foreseeable given that the presciently-designed iPod Touch from two years ago had one too. (The iPod Touch is just 6.1mm thick, thinner even than the iPhone 6.) This is a conflict with the laws of physics: image quality improves when the lens is further away from the sensor (which allows for physically larger sensors), but devices feel better in hand and weigh less when they are thinner. Apple’s only options for the iPhone 6:
Use a camera with worse optics that would sit flush with the rest of the case.
Make the entire device thicker to sit flush with the camera lens.
Allow the camera lens to protrude from the back of the camera.
The first choice is unacceptable. Image quality is too important to allow it to suffer — and Apple certainly couldn’t allow image quality on the iPhone 6 to be worse than on the 5S. So the choice was between #2 and #3, and as a fan of smaller thinner devices, I can’t say I disagree with Apple’s decision to go with #3. It’s reasonable to argue that the iPhone 6 would have been better if Apple had gone with #2 (and filled the additional volume with a slightly thicker battery), but that’s not really Apple-like.
Apple Pay isn’t going live until October, and though Verizon is supposedly set to enable VoLTE when the iPhones 6 ship, it’s not enabled yet. I do think regular voice calls sounded better than usual, but that could be my imagination or just good luck finding a strong signal.
I didn’t run any battery-specific tests or comparisons, and I’m curious to read the results from other reviewers who did. I simply used both phones, extensively, for three days each. Battery life for the iPhone 6 seemed as good or better than that of my iPhone 5S. Battery life for the iPhone 6 Plus seemed noticeably improved. I was in San Francisco for a few days after the Apple event. All-day battery life in the SOMA neighborhood, without any mid-day recharging, is pretty unusual for me, but the iPhone 6 Plus did it, without even reaching the red zone. For anyone on the fence between the 6 and 6 Plus regarding physical size, the 6 Plus’s extended battery life may well prove the deciding factor.
As I suspected before the product announcement, I don’t think the iPhone 6 is large enough to fit a battery that supplies sufficient energy to power an @3x retina display. I hope that changes eventually, but I don’t think it’s possible today.
I don’t know if it’s that the nerves on my right thigh have started dying through over-stimulation or what, but I miss an awful lot of notifications and sometimes even phone calls when my iPhone 5S is in my pocket in Silent mode. The iPhone 6 has a noticeably stronger vibrator to me, and with the iPhone 6 Plus, it’s so powerful it’s actually a bit noisy — the sound made by the 6 Plus vibrator is so strong, I wonder if there are going to be complaints that it’s not “silent” at all.
As someone who runs his iPhone in silent mode much of the time, I definitely appreciate the stronger vibrator.
I never had many problems with Touch ID on the 5S. It worked pretty well for me right from the start, and it got even better after a few updates to iOS 7. Touch ID on both new iPhones 6 is even better. Faster to set up, and more accurate and faster to unlock on a regular basis.
In just about every built-in iOS app where it makes sense, in landscape mode on the iPhone 6 Plus, apps use an iPad-style two-column split view. Two-column view is available in Mail, Messages, Notes, Reminders, Calendar, and even Settings. At first I thought it might be a gimmick, but after playing with it, I think it’s legitimate. But the thing is, I personally almost never use my iPhone in landscape orientation.
The extra keys on the keyboard in landscape mode are cool, but the regular iPhone 6 gets many of them too. Most notably, the left/right arrow keys for precisely moving the insertion point. (Pro tip: Engage caps lock and the arrow keys will extend and shrink the text selection. This doesn’t work while pressing and holding the Shift key, for some reason.)
Update: There’s one “let’s take advantage of the larger screen” iOS 8 feature on the Plus that I really wish Apple had added to the iPhone 6 too: avatars in the list of messages in Messages. There’s plenty of room for that on the regular 6, and it really helps when you’re switching between several message threads at the same time.
Pricing decisions are sometimes subjective, but to me it feels just right that the 6 Plus costs $100 more than the regular 6 at each storage tier. The superior display quality, optical image stabilizer, and larger battery seem like a fair deal for $100. This also means this is the first year ever in which I’m not buying myself the most expensive iPhone.
I’m glad to see Apple double the middle and high storage tiers, from 32/64 to 64/128. I like to store my entire music library on my iPhone, but with “only” 64 GB of total storage, that meant I kept running out of space as I shot videos and took photos. (I love panoramic photos, but they’re very large.)
But I don’t understand why the entry level storage tier remained at a meager 16 GB. That seems downright punitive given how big panoramic photos and slo-mo HD videos are, and it sticks out like a sore thumb when you look at the three storage tiers together: 32/64/128 looks natural; 16/64/128 looks like a mistake. The original iPhone, seven years and eight product generations ago, had an 8 GB storage tier. The entry-level iPhones 6 are 85 times faster than that original iPhone, but have only twice the storage capacity. That’s just wrong. This is the single-most disappointing aspect of the new phones.
(Don’t even get me started on the 8 GB iPhone 5C.)
If there’s a certain flatness to this review, a lack of enthusiasm, it’s not intentional. Apple keeps repeating that the iPhones 6 are “better in every way”, and as far as I can tell that really is the case. Better fit and finish, better feel in hand, better display quality, faster CPU and GPU performance, better still photos, better video, better battery life, faster Wi-Fi and LTE networking speeds. I don’t know what more we could ask of Apple from a year-over-year improvement over the iPhone 5S, which remains an astounding device. And I’ve barely mentioned iOS 8, which I think is an improvement over iOS 7 in nearly every regard, with a strong focus on improved utility and no unnecessary gimmickry.
I’m not yet completely sold on 4.7 inches as a replacement for 4.0 as the standard iPhone size, but give me a few more weeks and I suspect I will be. I love the old iPhone size so much, and I’ve spent so much time with it, that it’s going to take longer than a week to adjust to a new size — especially so when I spent half the week using the ginormous iPhone 6 Plus.
The most amazing thing about the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is how utterly un-amazing it now seems to see Apple pull off this level of year-over-year improvement year after year after year. ★
I’ve used an 11-inch MacBook Air since 2011, but just this week ordered a new 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro to replace it. I wanted the smallest possible MacBook with a retina display. I’ve used an iPad Mini as my iPad for the last two years. ↩
Consider Vertu, the company that sells $6,000 Android phones (and which, back in the day, sold $6,000 Symbian phones). Back in January 2012, I wrote a short entry saying that Vertu always reminded me of this wonderful quote from Andy Warhol:
“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.” —Andy Warhol
That’s what the iPhone and iPad are like. There are hundreds of millions of people who have bought these products, and they now own the best phones and tablets in the world. A few years ago at SXSW in Austin, I saw Michael Dell waiting outside a restaurant. The thought that popped into my head: He’s a billionaire, but I know for a fact that I have a better phone than he does. Not everyone can afford an iPhone, not by a long shot, but everyone who can knows they’re getting the best phone in the world.
Apple Watch changes this dynamic.
Adam Fields, writing on Medium, drew the same comparison to my Warhol-on-Coke/Vertu piece:
Gruber was talking about the $6,000 Vertu there, but he might as well have been talking about the Apple Watch. Apple has long been ‘the luxury brand’, but it’s been an accessible luxury, unlike luxury cars or jewelry. The products are expensive, but they’re not outrageously expensive (and if they are, it’s because they’re so massively overpowered that most people really don’t actually need them). Apple has even been steadily pushing prices down and making their products more consumer-friendly so they’re now in some cases a markedly better value than what their competitors offer. With the Apple Watch, that is no longer the case — there’s a gold version whose only substantial differentiating feature is that it’s more expensive. Because it’s “gold” and not “gold-colored”, it’s not just a style choice, it’s a lifestyle choice. In other words — it’s the watch that most people won’t have. I’m sure the fashion experts have plenty to say about this from the perspective of desirability, but it’s a real shock to the standard approach of the tech world. I think Apple knows this, too — which results in the strange nomenclature. The only way they could name it that doesn’t sound overtly elitist is the awkward “Edition” edition.
Apple Watch is not a product from a tech company, and it will not be understood, at all, by the tech world. Apple creates and uses technology in incredible ways. The Apple Watch may prove to be the most technologically advanced product they’ve ever built. But again: Apple is not a tech company, and Apple Watch is not a tech product.
The most fun I’ve had over the past week is speculating with friends about how much the different tiers of Apple Watch are going to cost. One thing that is absolutely clear, to me at least: when Tim Cook said the starting price is $349, that’s for the aluminum and glass Sport edition. My guesses for starting prices:
In short: hundreds for Sport, a thousand for stainless steel, thousands for gold.
Most people think I’m joking when I say the gold ones are going to start at $5,000. I couldn’t be more serious. I made a friendly bet last week with a few friends on the starting price for the Edition models, and I bet on $9,999.
The lowest conceivable price I could see for the Edition models is $1,999 — but the gold alone, just as scrap metal, might in fact be worth more than that. Here’s a link to a forum discussion pegging the value of the gold alone, as scrap metal, of a Rolex GMT (including bracelet) at $5–6000. Just the gold alone.
A few days ago John Biggs at TechCrunch wrote “The Gold Apple Watch Could Cost as Much as $1,200”:
A jewelry contact familiar with the matter told TechCrunch that the gold, 18-karat version of the Apple Watch could cost around $1,200 retail when it launches in January. This has been corroborated, based on size and weight, by jewelers familiar with the material Apple is using to make its Apple Watch Edition pieces. It should be noted that this is an estimate and the piece could come in well below that price.
Although there is still some confusion as to whether the watch will be gold plated or actually made of gold, the jeweler suggested that it would be sub-optimal not to make the watch out of solid gold alloy, a decision that will drive up the price.
There should be no confusion on that last part. The Apple Watch Edition is solid 18-karat gold, not gold-plated. I confirmed this with Apple last week. You can feel it when you try one on: the stainless steel watch is noticeably heavier than the aluminum Sport one, and the gold Edition models are noticeably heavier than the stainless ones.
Try to find a premium solid gold watch that sells for under $20,000 retail. Most luxury watch companies don’t publish their retail prices — they leave it up to their authorized dealers to set final prices. But, no surprise, if you search around, you can find leaked copies of their catalog price lists. Here’s one for Rolex from 2012. To pick just one example, compare a few Submariner Date models:
Now, Rolex is Rolex, and their watches are all priced at a significant premium based on the brand alone. But the only difference between those four Submariners are the materials from which their cases and bracelets are made. Functionally, they are identical, using the exact same movement.
Compare prices on the used market — solid gold Rolexes carry at least a $10,000 premium over stainless steel, and depending upon the condition of the watch, often more like $20,000. Or look at other brands, like, say, Omega.
Or consider just the bracelets. A replacement stainless steel Rolex bracelet costs $2,500; a gold one costs $9,000. Those prices are gray market — I’m guessing bracelets from an authorized dealer cost even more. That’s the market Apple is entering. And consider what Apple is saying about their bracelet:
Crafted from the same 316L stainless steel alloy as the case, the Link Bracelet has more than 100 components. The machining process is so precise, it takes nearly nine hours to cut the links for a single band. In part that’s because they aren’t simply a uniform size, but subtly increase in width as they approach the case. Once assembled, the links are brushed by hand to ensure that the texture follows the contours of the design. The custom butterfly closure folds neatly within the bracelet. And several links feature a simple release button, so you can add and remove links without any special tools. Available in stainless steel and space black stainless steel.
Nine hours per bracelet, 316L stainless steel, and it’s just gorgeous. I don’t think it’s going to cost $2,500, but it’s going to be expensive. I’ll bet this bracelet, alone, will cost more than the $349 Apple Watch Sport. I got to see all the bands in person, and design-wise, they’re simply amazing. Whatever you want to say about the functionality and design of the Apple Watch itself, Apple has raised the bar for the entire luxury watch industry in terms of band and bracelet design.
(Consider too, that Apple has only shown metal bracelets for the stainless steel Apple Watch. Why not a solid gold link bracelet for the Edition, as well? That strikes me as a glaring omission.)
In short, Apple is taking on the entire hundred-dollar-and-up watch industry at once, with a range of models and prices that span the gamut from $349 to $10,000 or more. They never even mentioned the word “smartwatch” last week, just “watch”, and never once even acknowledged any competition from the tech industry. (Nor does the word “smartwatch” appear anywhere on Apple’s website.) The only comparisons Apple is making are to the traditional watch industry, and their prices are going to reflect that, I believe.
When the prices of the steel and (especially) gold Apple Watches are announced, I expect the tech press to have the biggest collective shit-fit in the history of Apple-versus-the-standard-tech-industry shit-fits. The utilitarian mindset that asks “Why would anyone waste money on a gold watch?” isn’t going to be able to come to grips with what Apple is doing here. They’re going to say that Jony Ive and Tim Cook have lost their minds. They’re going to wear out their keyboards typing “This never would have happened if Steve Jobs were alive.” They’re going to predict utter and humiliating failure. In short, they’re going to mistake Apple for Vertu.
And then people will line up around the block at Apple Stores around the world to buy them. I think Apple Watch prices are going to be shockingly high — gasp-inducingly, get-me-to-the-fainting-couch high — from the perspective of the tech industry. But at the same time, there is room for them to be disruptively low from the perspective of the traditional watch and jewelry world. There’s a massive pricing umbrella in the luxury watch world, and Apple is aiming to take advantage of it.
Apple has never announced a product like this before. They pre-announced the original iPhone months in advance, but at its announcement they demonstrated nearly all of its functionality, they gave a firm shipping date, and they announced the full pricing range.
Last week Apple only demonstrated a portion of Apple Watch’s functionality, gave a vague shipping date of only “early 2015”, and announced only a $349 “starting price” that I believe has grossly misinformed the expectations of many people for the prices of the steel and gold models.
What does Apple Watch actually do? Or, rather, what does WatchKit allow? We don’t know. And Apple is not talking, even off the record. One factor is that the software (and perhaps the hardware internals) remains a work in progress. It is far from a finished product. Apple’s executives were all wearing working prototypes — I saw Apple Watches on the wrists of Tim Cook, Jony Ive, and Eddy Cue (who wears his left-handed). I’m guessing most of the people listed on Apple’s leadership page were wearing them after the event. But none of the hands-on demo units were running the actual Apple Watch software — all of them were running a canned demo loop, like what you’d see running on one inside a glass display in a store. (This is also why they’re being so vague about battery life; I don’t think they know the final battery life yet.)
But another factor, clearly, is a desire to keep much of the Apple Watch’s functionality and software design secret until it’s closer to shipping. They announced early to keep it from leaking from the Asian supply chain — just look at what happened with the iPhones 6 this year. There’s no Osborne Effect to fear because they aren’t yet selling watches or wearables of any sort — the only watches whose sales might suffer this holiday season because of the Apple Watch pre-announcement are those from other companies.
But we know so little at this point that it’s folly to judge the Apple Watch. Last week, in my prelude to the event, I wrote:
I’ll be very disappointed if this is just a device that shows a fake analog watch face, displays notifications from a tethered iPhone, and tracks your footsteps and heart rate.
After the event, a lot of people pointed to that line and asked how I could not be disappointed. But I don’t think that description aptly describes Apple Watch. For one thing, it definitely does a bit more than that. It has internal storage and Bluetooth, so you’ll be able to use it for music playback without taking your iPhone with you. With just your Apple Watch and Bluetooth earbuds you’ll be able to listen to music (and make Apple Pay purchases). I’d probably pay $349 just for that, using the Sport edition as a modern day iPod. Even better, though, I strongly suspect that WatchKit will allow for something like a native version of Overcast — syncing while within Bluetooth range of your iPhone, but working entirely independently as a podcast player, using the watch’s internal storage, when you’re out of range. A version of Vesper where you can dictate new notes on the fly? Now you’ve got something I’d pay at least $349 for in a heartbeat.
Do I know that those things will be possible? No. But Apple Watch’s third-party integration is clearly deeper than just showing notifications from apps on your iPhone. And though it depends upon a tethered connection with your phone for Internet access, it’s far more functional while out of range of your phone than any smartwatch I’ve seen to date. It’s a full iOS computer. If it actually doesn’t do much more, or allow much more, than what they demonstrated on stage last week, I am indeed going to be deeply disappointed, and I’ll be concerned about the entire direction of the company as a whole. But I get the impression that they’ve only shown us the tip of the functional iceberg, simply because they wanted to reveal the hardware — particularly the digital crown — on their own terms. The software they can keep secret longer, because it doesn’t enter the hands of the Asian supply chain.
The biggest mystery of all to me, though, is this. We know for a fact that people will spend thousands, even tens of thousands, of dollars on watches. As a piece of jewelry, Apple Watch is a worthy entry in the market. It’s not to everyone’s liking, and it may not be to yours, but judging from the initial reaction it’s clearly very appealing to many people. (To my mind, it passes my “Would you consider wearing it before you even see what it does, based solely on what it looks like on your wrist?” test.) But Apple Watch is not just a piece of jewelry, and it’s not a mechanical device. It’s a computer. And all computers have lifespans measured in just a handful of years before obsolescence. If you buy a $6,000 mechanical watch and take care of it, you can expect it to outlive you and become a family heirloom. Paying even $1,000, let alone a multiple of that, for a premium Apple Watch seems like folly if it’s going to be obviated by faster, sleeker, longer-lasting versions in just a few years. And I don’t see how it won’t be replaced by faster, sleeker, longer-lasting versions, because that’s how all computer technology goes. Apple Watch is not a tech product, but technology is what distinguishes it — and computer technology gets old fast. A Rolex purchased in 2007 is every bit as good today as it was then. (Arguably even better, given some of Rolex’s questionable design decisions of the last decade.) An iPhone purchased in 2007 is 85 times slower in CPU performance than an iPhone 6, and I don’t even want to think about how much slower EDGE is than LTE networking.
Apple only enters markets where they can be a market leader in quality. They unabashedly claim to make the world’s best computers (portable and desktop), the best phones, the best tablets, and the best MP3 players. The best. Of course not everyone agrees with that. But many of us do, and even those who prefer, say, Lenovo laptops or Google’s Nexus phones and tablets, would agree, if they’re at all reasonable or have any sense of taste, that Apple’s products are in the running for “best”.
The Apple Watch only works for Apple if it is, in some sense, the best watch in the world. Not the best smartwatch. That’s not enough. The best watch, period. The best thing you can wear on your wrist. It doesn’t have to pass that test for everyone. It may well be targeted more at people who’ve stopped wearing or have never worn a watch than at those who love fine mechanical watches. But it has to pass that test for many people.
Further raising the bar: battery life. Judging by what Tim Cook said on stage last week, the best we can hope for is that Apple Watch will make it through each day with room to spare, with nightly charging. Worst case, it’ll be like the Moto 360, which most reviews claim needs to be recharged by mid-day. That’s a deal-breaker to me. But even nightly charging compares terribly to the traditional watch market that Apple is seeking to disrupt. Quartz watches use (inexpensive) batteries whose lifetimes are measured in years. Automatic watches, if worn daily, have no batteries and never need to be wound. They just run for years and years, with regular servicing once or twice a decade. (I own a Citizen Eco-Drive watch that runs on solar power, needing neither winding nor replacement batteries; it cost $100.) We’re already slaves to the daily charging of our phones. We agree to this not happily but readily, thanks to the amazing utility of the modern (post-iPhone) phone. With the Apple Watch, Apple is asking us to commit to the daily charging of a second device. Two things to plug in every night (each with its own different charging adapter). Two types of adapters to remember to pack for travel, for even a single overnight. That’s a lot to ask, especially given that a decade ago, most of us didn’t own a single device that required daily charging.1
My guess is that it’ll play out something like this. The Sport models will vastly outsell the regular (steel) and Edition models. They’re priced like iPods and iPads. The fitness wearable industry is in deep trouble — Apple Watch Sport seems poised to do to Fitbit et al what the iPod did to the MP3 market. And I think it should prove to be the best iPod Apple has ever made — especially in terms of audio playback while working out. That justifies a $349 expenditure right there, full stop.
My impression of Android Wear is that it’s best thought of as a wrist-worn terminal for your Android phone and for Google’s cloud-based services. An extension for your phone, not a sibling device. Android Wear devices are almost useless other than for telling time when out of Bluetooth range from your phone. I don’t think that’s a device that many people want; it’s a solution in search of a problem. Call me biased if you want, but I think Android Wear is simply the result of the rest of the industry trying to get out in front of Apple, out of fear of how far behind they were when the iPhone dropped in 2007. On the surface, they do look like the same basic thing: small color LCD touchscreens on your wrist. But all Android Wear devices are larger and clunkier than the larger 42mm Apple Watch, and none of them are even close to the smaller 38mm one. Is there anyone who would dispute that Apple Watch is far more appealing to women than any other smartwatch on the market?
But the true difference isn’t on the outside. It’s not about the fact that both Android Wear and Apple Watch have color touchscreens. It’s not about the difference in size or style of the hardware. It’s not about price. I think it’s about the fact that Apple Watch is a true breakthrough in terms of how powerful a computer can be shrunk to an amazingly small size. With the iPhone in 2007, you could see that Apple was years ahead of the industry just by looking at the outside of the device. With Apple Watch, I think we’re only going to realize just how big a breakthrough it is after Apple fully unveils its computational power and the depth and complexity of WatchKit. And if I’m wrong, and Apple Watch’s computational hardware is in fact only slightly ahead of existing smartwatches, and that WatchKit is really just a glorified notification display system for iPhone apps, then Apple is in deep trouble.
I do not think Apple is in deep trouble.
As for the stainless steel and gold (with sapphire) versions, as stated earlier, I think they’re going to be priced far higher than the aluminum/glass ones, and will thus inevitably sell in far lower quantities. But I also think they’ll sell in numbers that boggle the minds of the functional-and-spec-minded tech industry. That they’ll have severely limited lifespans compared to traditional timepieces will only make them more notable in terms of fashion and as personal statements. What’s the more ostentatious purchase — a $20,000 Rolex that will last a lifetime, or a $5,000 Apple Watch Edition that will be technically obsolete in four years? If you think Apple is polarizing today, you haven’t seen anything yet.
The most intriguing and notable thing about Apple Watch’s design, to me, is the dedicated communication button below the digital crown. The entire watch is fully operational and navigable using just the digital crown and touchscreen. You can go anywhere and do everything using taps, force presses,2 or turning and pressing the digital crown. There is no need for that extra button (which, in the unveiling video, Jony Ive described only as “the button below the digital crown”). Add to that the fact that Apple is notorious for minimizing the number of hardware buttons on its devices, and the fact that the existence of that button keeps the crown from being centered, and my attention is piqued. The only explanation is that Apple believes that the communication features triggered by that button are vitally important to how we’ll use the device.
The more I see it, the more I like the as-yet-unnamed new typeface Apple is using both for Apple Watch’s on-screen UI and its marketing materials. (The same font is used for the engravings on the back of the watch.) At first glance during the event, I thought it might be DIN (which is what Apple uses in the iOS 7 Camera app), but it’s not. It’s similar to Colfax, but it’s not Colfax. I’ve heard whispers that its name (or codename?) is Cobalt. We may not know for sure until WatchKit ships.
The digital crown feels amazing. It didn’t actually control anything on-screen on the demo watches I handled last week, but it has the most amazing feel of any analog controller I’ve ever used. Lubricious (in the second sense, if not the first as well) is the word that springs to mind.
An idea that sprung to mind regarding the tension between multi-thousand dollar prices for gold watches and the short lifespan of computing technology: Apple could in theory offer significant trade-in pricing for years-old Apple Watches, based solely on the value of the gold alone. Or, perhaps the internals of the watch will be upgradeable. Apple is calling the S1 chip a “computer on a chip”, not a “system on a chip”. Take it in for servicing, and for a few hundred dollars, perhaps you’ll be able to replace your S1 for an S2 in a year, and an S3 the year after that.
Regarding the name “Apple Watch” instead of “iWatch” — I think there are several factors here. The first is that the dropping of the i- prefix clearly delineates the post-Steve product era. Could be that it was Jobs who insisted on the various iNames, or, it could be that today’s Apple wants to move away from them. But the other factor is that the iNames come across as being cute. iMac was for consumers, Mac Pros were serious. “Apple Watch” sounds serious in a way that “iWatch” does not. “iWatch” sounds like a $200 gadget. “Apple Watch” sounds like a multi-thousand dollar luxury item.
Apple’s decision to hire Angela Ahrendts, and her decision to take the job with Apple, now make more sense than ever before. Apple’s retail stores are going to need a serious redesign to accommodate the sale of multi-thousand dollar luxury watches. All sorts of implications, ranging from security to branding, to just plain peace and quiet. One does not buy expensive watches in a noisy room, and Apple Stores are noisy rooms. Cringely thinks Apple will sell Apple Watch in existing high-end watch stores; they might, but I can’t see them not selling them in their own stores.
It’s no coincidence that Apple announced their hiring of Marc Newson on the Friday before last week’s event. But I don’t think his hiring is about the Apple Watch in particular. Nor do I think Apple Watch in particular is what Apple thinks was “historic” about last week’s event. Rather, I think Apple Watch is the first product from an Apple that has outgrown the computer industry. Rather than settle for making computing devices, they are now using computing technology to make anything and everything where computing technology — particularly miniature technology — can revolutionize existing industries. Newson isn’t a watch designer, or a fashion designer. He’s a designer of anything and everything. He’s designed everything from watches to cars to chairs. Apple Watch isn’t merely Apple’s foray into the watch industry — it’s their foray outside the computer/consumer electronics industry. I think they’re just getting started. At the close of his Apple Watch unveiling video during the keynote, Jony Ive said, “We’re now at a compelling beginning actually designing technology to be worn, to be truly personal.” The watch just happens to be first.
Which brings me back to that Warhol quote about Coke, and whether Apple Watch signifies Apple abandoning egalitarianism. I think not.
The iPhone and iPad are egalitarian devices. All you can buy with more money is additional storage. But the Mac has long offered widely varying pricing tiers with widely varying performance. If you can afford it, a maxed-out MacBook Pro is a far more impressive laptop than an $899 MacBook Air. Or consider a maxed out Mac Pro — 12 cores, maximum RAM and storage, the best graphics card — which costs just under $10,000. That’s better-tasting Coke than you get with an iMac or Mac Mini.
I think the steel and gold Apple Watches are not better-tasting Cokes. They’re the same Coke that everyone can get with the $349 Apple Watch Sport, but served in expensive goblets. It’s uncharted territory, to be sure, but I don’t think it is worrisome that the steel and gold Apple Watches exist. What would be worrisome would be if the $349 Apple Watch Sport did not. ★
I’m hopeful that a decade from now, we’ll look back at devices that needed daily charging the way we now do to laptops that only got two or three hours of battery life. ↩
I’ve seen some skepticism about Apple Watch’s use of “force presses”. To wit, that this capability is unneeded — anything you can do with a force press could be done on a regular (non-pressure-sensitive) touchscreen using a long press. I disagree. Force pressing means you won’t have to wait. Talking to Apple people behind the scenes last week, they are very keen on the force press thing. Not quite as keen as they are about the digital crown, but close. ↩