Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Thoughts on the iPhone 6 / Apple Watch...

Here are my thoughts on the new Apple devices. I own an iPhone 5S, and I have to say the 6 doesn't really look like a particularly compelling device. I'm especially annoyed that Apple spent so many years ragging on big screen phones and NFC, and both of these are now making it into the new generation.

I actually feel like the move towards larger phones / phablets is driven by some irrational desire for huge screens. From a usability perspective I just don't understand the trend. I know people like their big screens and I think 4.5-4.7" is okay for bigger hands (I know the Moto G works very comfortably in mine). The 4.7" display on the iPhone 6 looks okay, but I'll have to see how it feels in the hand because it does look quite large in press shots. The 5.5" is just silly.

Apple has tacitly conceded that larger screen phones are less usable because it had to invent a completely new interface flourish to make them practical (double tap on home button to bring the top of the screen closer to the thumb). 'Reachability' is not an elegant solution. It's a clumsy concession to customers who just want bigger and bigger phones, practicality be damned. These are the same category of users who want 4K televsions (useless) and 500+ PPI phones (absurd) and megapixels and 384khz sampling rates and e-penis englargements.

The thing is, since when did Apple make concessions to its users? As Jobs himself famously sneered, "Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone?” Apple has always been a company that has been driven by its particular idea of usability and elegance, and for better or worse that has meant it has differentiated itself in the market place by telling customers what they actually need instead of listening to what they want.

Under Tim Cook, it's obvious that Apple has started to open up a little and take feedback on board. This is generally a good thing. But taken to its extreme, it will just mean that Apple will end up following and not leading, like any other manufacturer that churns out products without really understanding how people use the product. Witness Samsung and its strategy of just throwing every feature it thinks people might want into its phones, writing some half baked apps and then calling it 'innovation'. Of course, Samsung has done a killer job of actually selling its gear, so maybe I'm just being a snob. But I've always thought of Apple as the company that makes very cogent usability arguments, and I just don't see that in these new phones.

Remember this?

I'm startled to see that the iPhone 6 isn't actually feature equivalent with the 6 Plus, missing out on the optical image stabilization in the camera. To me, it's a big deal that the 6 lacks feature parity with the 6+ because then it no longer seems like the lead / priority product. Again, after ragging on big screen phones for so long, for Apple to make the smaller screen phone worse (even if it's just a little worse) really bugs me.

I'm very glad to see NFC, but it riles me to see Apple stand up and trash other manufacturers for lack of innovation in the NFC space when they are the single biggest reason why NFC hasn't taken off (or at least, not in Australia). It's as if Apple started saying in the keynote that "there has been a lack of innovation with Adobe Flash in the mobile space, and we think we can do it better".

The iPhone 6 looks to be a nice enough product but I'm not really enamoured in the same way that I was with the 5 or the 5S. As I've said before, I would have jumped ship by now and bought something like a Sony Z1 Compact if it weren't for the fact that I like the way my music library works in iTunes and I still haven't found a combination in iTunes that works with the same flow.

Please don't use this as opportunity to flood the comments about how iTunes sucks or give me suggestions about apps on Android, because I have tried them on the ZX1 and the Nexus 7 and I still find it very clumsy, especially on a Mac. Btw, RIP iPod classic.

As for the iWatch Apple Watch, I'll just say this. It looks like a neat little device (actually seriously quite cool) but I am already feeling like I am dangerously addicted to my smartphone and having an even tinier screen to poke and prod and stare at all day can't possibly improve things.

My other remark is that the thing looks a bit bloated, at least as far as the bulbous watchpiece itself. Motorola actually figured out that watch pieces are round because they feel nicer with the structure of bones in the wrist that way, and I don't think Apple's device has the same kind of attractive subtlety.

Actually, I have to say that in recent times I've been increasingly fond of the good work that Motorola has been doing, pumped up by former owner Google's specialty in focusing on exhausting human interface research. The Moto phones fit comfortably and safely in the hand, the have sensible specs and reasonable prices.

Considering that my favourite headphone is the Sony MDR-MA900 and you can see that despite my love of bleeding edge (literally) Apple and Sony hardware, maybe I'm just settling down and going a bit normcore.

Anyway I didn't mean for this write up to get so long, but that's what I think. I don't think I'll line up outside the Apple store this time around.