After my link today to Greg Koenig’s excellent explanation for why the new ceramic Apple Watch Edition does not presage the use of a similar material in next year’s iPhone (in short: Apple needs to produce up to one million iPhones per day, and the ceramic process Apple is using for the watch would take way too long to meet that demand), several readers asked if Apple might go the Apple Watch Edition route: make a special ceramic iPhone Edition that sells at a much higher price.
Apple certainly could do this. But I don’t think they would. I’ve often said that the iPhone reminds me of Andy Warhol’s great quote about Coca-Cola and America:
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.
A significantly more expensive limited edition ceramic iPhone would break from this, and in my opinion it would take away from the iPhone’s brand. iPhones aren’t cheap, but they are affordable for many, and everyone who gets one knows they’re getting the best phone in the world. An expensive limited edition iPhone would mean most iPhone buyers would know they’re only getting second best.
Apple has done this with the watch — in spades last year, with the $10–20,000 gold models — but watches are different animals. Watches, in general, have never been like Coke. There have always been low-cost watches and luxury watches.
Let me add here a note about something that’s been bothering me for months: the notion that Apple is going to do something “special” next year to commemorate the iPhone’s 10th anniversary. I would wager heavily that they won’t. Apple under Tim Cook is a little bit more prone to retrospection than it was under Steve Jobs, who was almost obsessively forward-thinking, but only slightly. They made a 40-years-in-40-seconds video to commemorate the company’s 40th anniversary this year, for example, but it was only 40 seconds long. Blink and you missed it.
Apple is not going to make a special edition of any product — let alone the iPhone, their most important product — just to mark an anniversary. Don’t tell me about the 20th Anniversary Macintosh — that was a product from the old Apple that was heading toward bankruptcy, and a perfect example of why they shouldn’t do something special to mark something as arbitrary as an anniversary.
A lot of this 10th anniversary of the iPhone speculation is regarding the rumors that next year’s new iPhones might sport a new industrial design, with edge-to-edge displays that eliminate both the top and bottom bezels from the front face. If such a design does appear next year, the timing will be purely coincidental.
What’s the logic otherwise? That Apple could have debuted that design this year, but didn’t, simply because they wanted to hold off until the iPhone’s oh-so-precious 10th anniversary? That is not how a technology company operates. To maintain its position as the leading phone-maker in the world, Apple must push forward as fast as they can. They only know one way to play the game: as hard as they can.
Nothing gets held back from any Apple product just to make the next one more special. If there is going to be a new edge-to-edge iPhone design, it will appear as soon as it is ready — no sooner, and no later. It would make no sense to hold back a more visually impressive and practically superior1 design just to be able to call it the “10th anniversary iPhone” a year from now. That would mean selling fewer iPhones this year while sticking with the familiar 6/6S form factor, and not selling any additional iPhones next year. No one — no one — is going to buy any new iPhone just because it’s the 10th anniversary edition.
Every year, Apple releases the best iPhone it is able to make. That’s it. It makes no more sense for a tech company to hold back a new design for an entire year just to mark an anniversary than it would for a, say, 99-year-old sports team to bench its star player for a year to make their 100-year-anniversary team even more special. I do believe that Apple leads the industry, but they don’t lead by such a margin that they can afford to pull their punches just for an “anniversary” marketing gimmick.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple never even mentions next year that 2017 is the 10th anniversary of the original iPhone. And if they do mention it, I think it will be a brief passing reference on stage, not a part of any advertising or marketing campaign.2 New iPhones — new Apple products, period — are marketed as new. Anniversaries are about getting old. ★
If Apple goes with an edge-to-edge display, they can either keep the display sizes the same (4.7- and 5.5-inch) and greatly reduce the overall size of the devices, or they can keep the device sizes the same as they are now and greatly increase the size of the displays. Either way is a win. (My guess though is that Apple will shrink the devices — Apple likes smaller devices.) ↩︎
I’ll enjoy a nice serving of homemade claim chowder if Apple goes and names next year’s iPhone the “iPhone 10” and makes the anniversary central to its branding. ↩︎︎
So why does Siri seem so dumb? Why are its talents so limited? Why does it stumble so often? When was the last time Siri delighted you with a satisfying and surprising answer or action?
I have an answer for this: when I discovered during the NBA playoffs that Siri can tell you the Vegas betting odds for sporting events.
In recent weeks, on multiple Apple devices, Siri has been unable to tell me the names of the major-party candidates for president and vice president of the United States. Or when they were debating. Or when the Emmy awards show was due to be on. Or the date of the World Series. […]
Google Now, on the same Apple devices, using the same voice input, answered every one of these questions clearly and correctly. And that isn’t even Google’s latest digital helper, the new Google Assistant.
If you try most of these broken examples right now, they’ll work properly, because Apple fixed them after I tweeted screenshots of most of them in exasperation, and asked the company about them.
Indeed, Siri now knows the date and time of the next U.S. presidential debate, but where Siri fundamentally falls apart is its inability to maintain context and chain together multiple commands. Here was my interaction trying this just now, transcribed exactly as Siri heard me:
Me: When is the next presidential debate?1
Siri: The third 2016 presidential debate will take place from 9:00pm to 10:30pm ET on Wednesday, October 19 at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Me: OK add it to my calendar.
Siri: OK, tell me the date and time of your event.
Me: Add the next presidential debate to my calendar.
Siri: I didn’t find any appointments about ‘presidential debate’ in the next three months.
Me: When is the next presidential debate?
Siri: The third 2016 presidential debate will take place from 9:00pm to 10:30pm ET on Wednesday, October 19 at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Me: Remind me about it one hour before it starts.
Siri: OK, I’ll remind you to ‘It starts’. When would you like to be reminded?
Five years in, this seems like a reasonable (and useful) thing to expect Siri to be able to do.2
For instance, when I asked Siri on my Mac how long it would take me to get to work, it said it didn’t have my work address — even though the “me” contact card contains a work address and the same synced contact card on my iPhone allowed Siri to give me an answer.
Similarly, on my iPad, when I asked what my next appointment was, it said “Sorry, Walt, something’s wrong” — repeatedly, with slightly different wording, in multiple places on multiple days. But, using the same Apple calendar and data, Siri answered correctly on the iPhone.
These sort of glaring inconsistencies are almost as bad as universal failures. The big problem Apple faces with Siri is that when people encounter these problems, they stop trying. It feels like you’re wasting your time, and makes you feel silly or even foolish for having tried. I worry that even if Apple improves Siri significantly, people will never know it because they won’t bother trying because they were burned so many times before. In addition to the engineering hurdles to actually make Siri much better, Apple also has to overcome a “boy who cried wolf” credibility problem.
I think “assistant” is the exact right term for this class of software. But I can’t imagine how stupid an actual human assistant would have to be not to understand a request like “Find out when the next debate is and put it on my calendar.” ★
Even worse: If I ask “When is the next US presidential debate?” (note the “US”), Siri parses it correctly but instead of answering, falls back to an offer to display search results from the web. It seems wrong that a more specific query would fail. ↩︎
To be fair, I tried the same two-step sequence (when’s the next debate?; add it to my calendar) with Google Assistant running in the Allo app on Android, and it failed in the same way. I remain unconvinced that Siri is behind the competition, and even if it is, I don’t think it’s by much. ↩︎︎
Jim Dalrymple, on the Dash/App Store affair:
Apple’s anti-fraud team has apparently been working with the developer for some time to stop fraudulent positive reviews, and negative reviews on competitors’ accounts. According to Apple, all attempts to work with the developer have failed, resulting in the account being terminated.
“Almost 1,000 fraudulent reviews were detected across two accounts and 25 apps for this developer so we removed their apps and accounts from the App Store,” Apple spokesperson, Tom Neumayr, said in a statement provided to The Loop on Monday. “Warning was given in advance of the termination and attempts were made to resolve the issue with the developer but they were unsuccessful. We will terminate developer accounts for ratings and review fraud, including actions designed to hurt other developers. This is a responsibility that we take very seriously, on behalf of all of our customers and developers.”
It’s really important to note that this has been going on for quite some time — it’s not a quick decision that Apple made on the spur of the moment last week. In fact, a warning was first sent to the developer two years ago, but the behavior did not change.
From what I’ve been told by sources at Apple, it’s not about Dash, which is a very popular app (and deservedly so). It’s about the other 20-some apps from the same developer, which he apparently published through one or more different developer accounts. I think one reason why the developer community has rallied behind this developer is that the account for Dash had no other apps associated with it. Now that this story is breaking, the developer community is uncovering some of these apps. Most of them are generic consumer utility apps.
I quibble with Dalrymple’s headline: “Apple Responds to Dash Controversy With Proof”. Apple claims they have proof, but they’re not showing it — it’s Apple’s word against the developer’s. Part of this, I think, is that Apple doesn’t want to reveal how their anti-fraud systems work. Part of it too, though, is that they want to protect the privacy of their communications with the developer over the years that they’ve been accusing him of fraud. Quite frankly, Apple doesn’t want to slime him. For example, note that their public statement does not address him by name.
Apple typically lets accusations like this slide. It’s a no-win situation for Apple, publicity-wise: let an accusation stand unanswered and Apple looks like the App Store is run like a banana republic, but if they dispute it, they face the optics of a hundred-billion-dollar Goliath punching down against a small indie developer. This case with Dash gained enough attention that I think they felt they had to respond. Too many developers believed that Apple acted capriciously, when in fact, according to Apple, this was the culmination of a years-long dispute.
One side or the other is lying here. And Apple is adamant that it’s not them.
I’m glad our community assumed the best of another developer and pressured Apple to justify this severe action. We should now accept that they have.
The public often doesn’t get the full story behind decisions and changes they see, but it’s usually not for sinister reasons — it’s often just someone taking the high road and letting another party save face.
Apple states that nearly 1,000 fraudulent reviews were detected — and that they’d given the developer notice and had tried to resolve the issue with him.
If this is true, then it would be hard to say that Apple has done anything wrong. In fact, we want Apple to notice fraudulent reviews (since they harm consumers and other developers), get them removed, and work things out with the developer.
What I’ve done: 3-4 years ago I helped a relative get started by paying for her Apple’s Developer Program Membership using my credit card. I also handed her test hardware that I no longer needed. From then on those accounts were linked in the eyes of Apple. Once that account was involved with review manipulation, my account was closed.
I was not aware my account was linked to another until Apple contacted me Friday, 2 days after closing my account. I was never notified of any kind of wrongdoing before my account was terminated.
What Apple has done: on Friday they told me they’d reactivate my account if I’d make a blog post admitting some wrongdoing. I told them I can’t do that, because I did nothing wrong. On Saturday they told me that they are fine with me writing the truth about what happened, and that if I did that, my account would be restored. Saturday night I sent a blog post draft to Apple and have since waited for their approval.
The story, as best as I can figure out: there are two developer accounts tied to the same credit card, bank account, test devices, and “com.kapeli.*” bundle ID. According to Popescu, the non-Dash account was run by a relative of his, and Popescu was unaware of the review fraud they were committing and unaware that Apple considered that account linked to his own, the one used for Dash.1 Apple’s anti-fraud warnings were all given to the account controlled by Popescu’s relative, and according to Popescu, he was never notified, neither by Apple nor his relative. Neither side is disputing that one of the accounts here was involved with App Store review fraud.
Popescu concludes his response by publishing a recording of a phone call with an Apple representative. Popescu did himself no favors by doing so. For one thing, it’s a breach of trust. But for another, I think Apple comes off well in this recording. They’re bending over backwards to give Popescu another chance and have his account reinstated.
We don’t know what happened between that call and Apple’s statements tonight. I’m guessing Popescu and Apple couldn’t reach an agreement over the wording of the public story, but I think what Apple asked for in that phone call was extremely reasonable.
It seems like Popescu somehow snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. A strange story has gotten a lot stranger. What I don’t get is why Apple went public today, even though Popescu claims to have sent them a draft statement over the weekend and never heard back.
Apple developers: the only thing you know right now is that you don’t know everything. That is the only lesson from this Dash mess. ★
If, as Popescu claims the two accounts were run by two different developers, it would explain the extreme discrepancy in quality. The account that committed review fraud was publishing dozens of, well, rather junky looking apps of dubious utility. The other account only published two apps: Dash for Mac and Dash iOS, both of which are of outstanding quality and utility. It’s circumstantial and obviously subjective, but one account looks like a huckster and the other looks like that of a developer with high integrity. ↩︎