iPhone Silly Season

Yours truly, in a tweet on July 7:

I’ve heard that inductive charging will (a) be sold separately, and (b) might be late, waiting for iOS 11.1 (a la Portrait mode last year). https://twitter.com/ATP_Tipster1/status/883457889729425408

On July 11, Mark Sullivan reported a piece for Fast Company under the headline “Source: A ‘Sense of Panic’ at Apple as the Next Flagship iPhone’s Software Problems Persist”:

June was a tense month for the engineers and designers on Apple’s iPhone team with “a sense of panic in the air,” a source with knowledge of the situation tells me.

The company has been working feverishly to fix software problems in its hotly anticipated 10th-anniversary iPhone that could ultimately cause production and delivery delays, the source says. If the software problems aren’t resolved quickly, the new flagship iPhone could even launch with major features disabled. […]

One of those is wireless charging. The iPhone 8 — let’s call it that for now — will reportedly use a type of inductive charging, where the phone sits directly on a separate charging device. (Our source believes Apple is using the Qi wireless charging standard, or a variant of it.) The wireless charging components, which are provided by chipmaker Broadcom Ltd., are not the key issue, the source said; it’s the software that’s not ready for prime time.

That sort of matches up with what I heard — that inductive charging might miss the September debut because the software isn’t ready. I have not heard anything about any sort of “panic”. Summers are crunch time for iOS engineers, and the deadline for iOS 11.0 is probably no more than a month away at this point. But if inductive charging has to wait until 11.1 in October or November, it’ll be a disappointment, but not much more so than having to wait for the iPhone 7 Plus’s Portrait Mode to come out of beta last fall.

Jonny Evans, writing for Computerworld yesterday:

It’s the same thing every year these days. It’s incredibly predictable.

It goes like this: Having reported every claimed product feature people then switch to criticizing all those features, and — when the shelf life on “anti-reports” of this kind time out, the self-same sources swiftly shift to shuffling speculation saying such-and-such features will apparently be “delayed”. Seriously!

All of this drama and Apple hasn’t even announced anything yet.

How can something that hasn’t been announced ever be delayed?

“Apple engineers are panicking” is an exciting story. “Apple engineers are in crunch mode to finish iOS 11.0 just like they are every summer” is not.

It could be that things are in worse shape than usual, and there truly is a panic to get iOS 11’s support for new iPhone hardware finished on schedule. But everything I’ve heard suggests it’s the same as usual at this point in the summer: busy down to the wire, yes; frantic panic, no.

Today Sullivan has another report, claiming Apple is trying to integrate laser sensors into the rear of the high-end new iPhone:

A source with knowledge of the situation tells Fast Company Apple is working hard to add a rear-facing 3D laser system to the back of one of the new iPhones to be announced this fall. […]

The source said the VSCEL laser system is probably intended for the 10th anniversary iPhone (which may be called the iPhone 8 or the iPhone Pro or, hopefully, the iPhone X). Whether the sensor will be included in that phone, or a 2018 iPhone, depends on the progress the Apple engineers make in integrating the laser system into the phone, our source says.

This sounds cool — and also sounds like the sort of feature that could justify a significantly higher price for an iPhone Pro.

But I think it’s bonkers to think that Apple is still working on hardware decisions like this in the middle of July. Apple is super-secretive about this stuff, but from what I’ve gathered over the years, by this state in the game the hardware design has long been decided. They’re in the late stages of validation testing, not designing.

Greg Koenig on Twitter two days ago:

For a volume Sep. launch, production tooling is being ground right now. It’s been pencils down for a while.

If not? Huge shit show.

With software Apple can (and does) play a bit fast and loose. iOS 11.0 won’t be baked until late August. But software can (and always is) patched. Hardware doesn’t work like that. Many of the decisions related to the hardware on this year’s new iPhones were made two years ago. (And there are decisions being made now for 2019’s new iPhones.)

Is there a 3D laser sensor on the back of the new iPhone? Is there a Touch ID sensor?1 I don’t know. But Apple knows, and has known for a while. Months, even.

If the hardware were still up in the air today, it’d be an impossible target for the software, never mind for Apple’s incredibly high-scale production ramp. I believe Apple is months ahead of these rumors — what we hear now with reports like this are just echoes of decisions that have already been made.

  1. Might as well address this rumor here. A ton of readers have expressed deep skepticism regarding reports that the OLED iPhone doesn’t have a Touch ID sensor. “That’s impossible, Apple Pay relies on Touch ID” is the basic sentiment. I think it’s possible that there’s no Touch ID sensor on the OLED iPhone, but if that’s the case, then the new 3D face scanner has to be as good or better than Touch ID in every regard. It has to be just as fast, just as accurate, and just as trustworthy. It also would have to work from a wide range of angles. As Rene Ritchie has sagely written, the end game is “persistent, ambient authentication” — fingerprints are not particularly magic.

    But, if the new iPhone ships without a Touch ID sensor and there is no replacement authentication technology that is as good or better than Touch ID — that would be a dead canary in the coal mine. ↩︎