Apple Special Event – September 12, 2018

Random notes as I watched the iPhone Xr/s and Apple Watch Series 4 launch.

Phil Schiller

Watching the introductory clip, this felt like an event designed mostly for an internal audience. The events have become a parody of themselves with very well worn tropes.

Company and eco-system update

  • Apple stores: 500,000,000 visitors per year. The stores have free wi-fi and classes, so this isn’t just about purchasing or building loyalty with customers. It has become public private space.
  • 2 billion iOS devices – many users will have replaced at least three devices so the community of likely iOS users is probably closer to 600 million. iPad tend to end up being communal devices in family homes and so have a longer life.
  • Apple Watch is the number one watch – I found this clip suprising. I find that hard to believe given the ubiquity of the Casio G-Shock range, or the F-91W family of basic digital watches

Apple Watch series 4

It is clever in some of the engineering: mass producing a ceramic back. the way Apple has managed to squeeze an ECG function in there. But there is a lot not to like about the watch
The case design preportions seem off in the video, it may look better in real life. I am guessing that part of the move is about the cellular aerial, but then you have the ceramic back

  • They still haven’t sorted the crown positioning and protection – it will still fire up Siri for no apparent reason
  • The device is only minimally waterproof
  • The awful information design in the face used on Apple Watch hero images

apple-watch-series4_watch-front-training_09122018
Which got me rooting through old copies of Wired magazine. They used to have a ‘Future of’ section on the back inside cover. And lone behold
watch

iPhone Xs

I was really unimpressed by this. Don’t get me wrong it looks ‘nice’ and takes a lot of engineering. There isn’t an upgrade reason for X users. I find the AR applications are gimmicks rather than necessarily being regularly used apps. The notable exception would be the measuring tape app included in iOS 12

Screen pixel counts are now getting ridiculous – you won’t be able to see the difference in terms of pixel refinement. Contrast may improve in HDR.

The sound on the device doesn’t recognise that consumers use headphones. It was all about louder speakers.

For iPhone 6/7/8 users the battery life descriptions fo the new X devices were weasel language that I would be wary of upgrading on this cycle.

Facial recognition but no in screen biometric touch sensor means that you still have a notch. It also means that there is a dissonance in experience between the touch sensors on the latest MacBook Pro models and iPad models. How will Apple be handling websites that have integrated Apple Pay validation?

As a MacBook Pro user, this told me to hang on to my current device. Wait and see if Apple changes the authentication again on the next round.

A12 Bionic chip. 20 years ago five trillion instructions per second would have been impressive as this would have been a super computer. Now it is pretty much in line with what one would expect in Moore’s Law. Intel are squeezing double the rate fo computing power out of FPGAs. You’ve got all that power and you get animojis…

How the software handles the paralellism of the chip is key. That is something that Sony found in the Cell architecture of the Playstation 2. Don’t expect that power to be obvious in 3rd party applications. The addressable memory claim surprised me. Its a 64 bit processor, so of course it could address 512GB of memory.

  • How much of the A12 chip is required to get FaceID to work?
  • How will the software get the most out of the cores?
  • There isn’t modem integration which helps rivals with their circuit board designs.

iPhone camera ‘breakthroughs’ seem to come from intellectual property that Lytro developed?

Dual SIMs – it is definitely a minority interest. It is likely to annoy carriers in mature markets with the exception of challengers like T-Mobile US.

The SIMs are all non-standard formats which is a pain in the backside. eSIMs are only supported by EE and Vodafone in the UK. The nano-SIM is yet another smaller format of SIM which will be hard to sell to carriers. The most attractive model is the China market one with two physical SIMs.

This could be:

  • Because China Mobile, China Unicom or China Telecom wouldn’t get on board with eSIMs
  • To screw with the Chinese grey market for iPhones (which is on the decline anyway
  • An unfortunate side effect is that it makes the China models more desirable for a (minority) consumer like me. So the grey market is likely to go the other way

iPhones are coming with a USB rather than USB C cable in the box, which raises questions about the longer term commitment to Thunderbolt 3…

iPhone Xr

Why did Apple create so many colour versions. It has too many colour variations. One of Apple’s historic strengths has been keeping a tight leash on the product portfolio.

The Internet of Stupid Things

A more charitable phrase for what many consumers call the Internet of Shit. Yes lots of products can be internet enabled, but should they be? There is a mix of challenges:

  • Products that are internet enabled but shouldn’t be – the Happy Fork or the Griffin Smart Toaster being classic examples. I found the Griffin Smart Toaster particularly disappointing as the company’s products such as the PowerMate are generally really good
  • Products that would be benefit from tech, but shouldn’t rely on the the cloud. I’d argue that Nest would fit in this category where cloud outages could have serious impacts on the consumer

It is interesting to see that Li & Fung (who are famous for global supply chain management provided to western brands and retailers) are involved in this. The qualitative design research they did on skiing wearables for a client – which begs the question of what value Li & Fung’s client brings to the table.

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五) | 금요일에 다섯 가지

Things that made my day this week.

Catching up with my old boss Cathy Pittham and putting the marketing world to right over an expresso. We talked about agency dynamics, influencer marketing and the perils of marketing automation.

We have moved further away from the processes that make products around us in everyday life. Prior to modern electronics the most complex things in the average home was a clock, watch or sewing machine. Up until relatively recently you would have been able to see a sewing machine mechanic or a watch maker work in most major towns.  I grew up with a Dad who did major work on our car, which gave me a little insight. With electronics now the vast majority of car servicing is out of scope for most people. Even if you have seen a computer disassembled, you are still a level of abstraction away from the manufacture of the product. This factor made this simple mechanical watch service captured on video more special.

Prior to the watch or the alarm clock, the industrial revolution relied on people who went around and manually woke up workers for their shift. This trade only died out in Northern England during the late 1960s.

This week I have mostly been listening to Shadow Child’s sets on Rinse.fm

Renzo Rosso, on why his company did the ‘real’ fake Diesel pop-up store.

Discussion on voice interfaces and services

Interesting discussion on the use of voice interfaces and services. There is a certain amount of cheerleading involved in the talk; but that is to be expected with vendors in the room. If found it interesting that one of the panelists; Sam Liang of AISense moved out of where2.0 services and into voice. because location is a great gateway to lots of rich contextual information and voice is desperately in need of context and by extension user intent.

It is interesting to get a perspective on the organisations involved in the discussion on voice interfaces:

  • SRI International
  • Amazon
  • Microsoft
  • AISense

All of them seem to be well behind where the telecoms voice services managed to get to like Orange’s Wildfire.

Key takeouts from this:

  • 50,000,000 voice devices to ship this year (2018). A total installed user base of 100,000,000 (presumably excluding voice interfaces on smartphones)
  • AISense is looking to build in voice biometrics that would prompt you about who a person is. Privacy implications are profound
  • The panel struggled to articulate an answer to privacy concerns beyond ‘services need to build trust’ and transparency
  • Information security and hacking wasn’t a point of discussion; which surprised me a lot
  • Context still seems to be a huge issue, I think that this is a bigger issue than the panelists acknowledge. Google still struggles on user intent, without adding the additional layer of understanding voice. The biggest moves seem to be ‘social engineering’ hacks, rather than improvements in technology
  • Amazon and Microsoft don’t have plans for advertising services on voice (at the moment)
  • We’re very far away from general purpose voice services
  • Work has only started on trying to understand emotion
More information
  • Orange’s Wildfire and The Register on its shutdown. Wildfire’s problem seemed to be a failure of marketing more than anything else. We haven’t seen anything else like it. Even Siri is only scraping over the ashes of the work done on Wildfire 15 years ago
  • Google’s published research on speech processing. What becomes apparent from looking at the list of research is how basic the current state-of-the-art currently is
  • Stuff that I have written that touch on context dependent services

Throwback gadget: Bose Wave Music System

It is a little disingenuous to call the Bose Wave Music System a throwback gadget, mainly because Bose still makes it. It would be reasonable to call it a design classic. There are benefits to picking up a 2006 model Bose Wave Music System, rather than paying the premium of a new device.

BOSE Wave music system専用iPod接続キット

Bose Wave System timeline

The original Bose Wave System was launched back in 1984; this was back when Sony was king due to the Walkman, digital wasn’t really on the horizon with the Discman only launching same year. The Acoustic Wave 1 (AW1) was a new take on the boom box radio that was ubiquitous in households and workplaces at that time. The AW1 featured a cassette deck and a two band radio.

Eight years later digital finally arrived when Bose switched out the cassette for a top-loading CD player instead.

In 1993, the Bose Wave System shrank from about the size of a medium sized boom box to something about as tall as an iPod Classic but featured radio only and was called the Wave Radio.

Five years later a slot loading CD player was integrated. In 2004, the CD player also accepted MP3 based discs and Boselink connectivity.

Boselink

Boselink is unique in consumer electronics in terms of the expandability it allows. It was originally designed as a communications protocol for multi-room sound systems, but is also useful for connecting modules that extend the functionality of the basic Bose Wave System. Compatible accessories include:

  • Multi-CD drive
  • Soundlink – playback of music which is streamed to the device over Bluetooth
  • DAB module – UK-only adapter allowing reception of digital radio as well as AM and FM signals

Bose also offered an iPod kit, which charges your iPod Classic and plays back the music. There is a replacement remote for the Bose Wave Music System which integrates basic iPod playback controls.

Vintage over new

The key benefit of a vintage Bose Wave System over a new device is the display. New devices have a back lit LCD display which wash out and aren’t as legible as the vintage vacuum fluorescent displays.

VFD

Secondly, you still enjoy the ‘big box’ sound created by the diminutive size of the Bose Wave Music System. They use use a folded waveguide, which is a series of passages from the speaker driver to the speaker grill. This attempts to replicate sound from larger systems. Bose claims the waveguide “produces full, clear stereo sound from a small enclosure by guiding air through two 26” folded wave guides.” The design of the wave guides has changed minimally over the years.

My casual listening at home is based on two systems. A 12 year old Apple iPod Hi-Fi A1121, which works as a centre speaker for my TV when I need it. It takes audio in via TOSLink and gives a better sound than most sound bars that I’ve listened to.

I use a Bose Wave Music System of a similar age to the iPod Hi-Fi with the DAB module connected via BoseLink and iPod adaptor as my go to radio around the house. It is the default provider of background music and up to the minute news. It provides a better sound than most of its newer BlueTooth enabled competitors. It wins out over the Apple iPod Hi-Fi, because of its ability to play digital radio and hide out of the way on book shelf.

I then use a dedicated hi-fi for serious music listening of CDs and vinyl records.