Apple, Again

So Apple had its usual multimedia extravaganza to promote their forward-thinking, innovative iOS and iPhone releases. Apple’s taken a lot of hits lately for their lack of innovation, but I think today sets the record straight. Just look at what all they announced:

  • The way forward is through new sales. All of the apps in their iWork suite will be free. To anyone buying a new iOS device, anyway. Current customers don’t matter, Apple is looking forward to the new customers and rewarding them with Keynote, Pages, Numbers, iPhoto, and iMovie.
  • iOS 7 will be available to all on September 18th. Hey, they’re looking a whole week into the future! It’s got all kinds of unique features like a convenient Control Center and Notification Center. Nothing like those on any Android phone! Well, OK, maybe there is, but iOS’ versions have that futuristic “flat” look! Yeah, I’m exaggerating here, but frankly iOS has been commentated to death already. There isn’t much here that we haven’t known about since the first beta.
  • That ancient iPhone 5 is dead, dead, dead. It’s being replaced by the exciting new iPhone 5C, the even more exciting iPhone 5S, and the absolutely thrilling iPhone 4S. Wait, what?
    • The iPhone 5C is (as Ars Technica put it) essentially identical to the iPhone 5 but plastic instead of aluminum. The big excitement is that it will be available in thrilling new colors: blue, green, red, yellow, and white. Oh, and its front-facing camera will have better low-light performance than that old iPhone 5. Prices starting at $99. Pre-order starting Friday, available a week later. Again, looking forward.
    • (Turning the snark mode off for a moment. Mostly.) The 5S is where the innovation really shines. Brand new 64-bit CPU (“The only phone with a 64-bit CPU”), up to twice as fast as the previous generation. iOS 7 has, of course, been fully updated to support 64-bit code while retaining full backward compatibility with existing 32-bit apps. In the long term, this will be a big win in terms of speed and capability. In the short term, we’re going to see a flood of customer complaints about apps not being updated to 64-bit versions, even in cases where there’s no value in it. A new “motion co-processor” will handle the accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass without the CPU needing to get involved. Opens up possibilities for context-sensitive and activity-aware apps. Major enhancements to the camera (bigger pixels, wider aperture, larger image sensor) combined with OS updates that pretty much boil down to “you don’t need to know a thing about photography to take pretty pictures”. A lot of the changes amount to taking multiple pictures at once and then the OS choosing the best of them, because it knows what effect you were going for better than you do. And then there’s that famous fingerprint reader in the home button. No more passcode and no more typing your password to buy something from the iTunes store. Just put your finger on the button. Very slick. Of course, if you share your phone, you’re screwed. It’s going to be a lot harder to share a finger than it was to share a passcode. Lior, I’m sure you’ll be happy to sacrifice a finger to the cause, right? Snip it off, preserve it in plastic, and pass it around to the team… At least you can use the same finger for multiple phones. Oh, and let’s not forget that you fingerprint data is encrypted and stored locally on the phone, never uploaded to Apple’s servers. That means the NSA can’t get your fingerprint. Uh… unless they arrest you and take your phone away. But they wouldn’t do that, because the fingerprint is only decryptable via the TouchID software on your phone. They can’t possibly crack that encryption, right? And if they can’t, nobody else can either! This phone is so cutting edge and futuristic that you can’t even pre-order it. It’ll be available on September 20th and you can order it then!
    • And that spiffy new iPhone 4S is free-with-contract. Because in the future, there’s still going to be a demand for a slower CPU and a lower-resolution screen. Apple’s got you covered, future retro enthusiasts!
  • The future of music is its past! The show ended with an appearance of Elvis Costello, whose long career is a clear indication that he’ll continue to produce cutting edge music for years to come. Look, Apple, I love Elvis Costello as much as the next guy, but if you’re trying to establish relevance and forward-thinking, he’s probably not the right choice. How about showcasing a new group, somebody on the edge of success, or at most just enough of a track record to show they’re not a one-hit wonder?

As you may have gathered, I wasn’t hugely wowed by Apple’s announcements. Yes, the 5S is a significant step forward, but it’s going to take some time for developers to catch up to its capabilities.

In Apple’s defense, though, I was pleased to see that they’re not following the current Android trend of ever-larger phones with ever-larger camera pixel counts. They may not be blazing new trails, but at least they’re not tramping down the same trail as everyone else.