Article: iPhone 5 Event Odds & Ends

by on September 13, 2012

After just about every Apple event, it’s easy to get wrapped up in complaining about the latest crop of gadgets. In the case of yesterday’s iPhone and iPod event, I thought it was a quite satisfying refresh along the line, almost along the lines of the 2010 iPod/iTunes/Apple TV event, but there were a few things the stuck out as a bit odd to me.



I’m all for simplifying the Dock Connector, especially since there are plenty of vestigial pins from the days of FireWire and composite video. Add in the ability to never plug the connector in the wrong way and you have a hit with novices and lazy experienced users alike. Apple will sell two adapters (one a $29 block, and the other a $39 cable) that let you use prior accessories with a new device, so you can keep your car audio integration, speaker dock, or oddball wired accessory. I really hope Apple didn’t patent this connector, so we’ll see some cheaper third-party options.

My only concern is how this transition will go, especially with Apple’s mixed lineup for at least the next year (maybe two while the 4S is phased out). It seems that many accessory makers will take the lazy way out of continuing using the Dock Connector and if you’re one of the privileged few to have a new device, you’ll have to grab an adapter. It seems they’re differently electrically, which surprises me, since Apple could’ve probably dropped some pins and shrunk the Dock Connector, much like how USB was supplemented by mini USB and micro USB. Still, Dan Frommer also feels the mixed lineup is a bit odd:

That’s not a huge surprise, given that it has gradually introduced many technologies over the years to parts of its product lineup at a time, ranging from USB to Intel processors to the new MagSafe 2. But the dock connector feels different, especially because of all the accessories that Apple sells. Will it still sell iPhone 4S speaker docks in the store, for example? I assume so… But that’s a little bit weird. (The alternative, I suppose, would have been to launch three new iPhones today, with different price/quality levels. But that move hasn’t been in Apple’s iPhone playbook to date, and it’s still not.)

Old Items

The other thought is that accessory makers may just move to a simple USB port and you’re on your own to provide an appropriate cable. I know this has become the standard in the automotive industry (most newer cars offer a USB port on the dashboard for a device-agnostic connection), and it might make more sense for future-proofing accessories (although I suspect Apple will keep Lightning around for awhile). George Kennedy of Autoblog points out the advantage of USB and the possible challenges:

The new connector still works with USB ports, so any automaker that employs such an outlet in its vehicles will have no issue. Several automakers, however, have connection ports specifically built for the 30-pin connector. Apple will offer an adaptor for that setup, but that may not be enough.

The new 8-pin connector is fully digital, and is not able to transmit analog signals. Kia. Hyundai and older BMW models feature a connector that sends both USB and eighth-inch analog signals through the 30-pin connector. It appears Apple’s adaptor will not work with the connectors provided by these vehicles.

As reported in The New York Times, the Lightning connector could be a huge boon for accessory makers, since people will dump accessories that may be up to nine years old:

“Apple is testing the patience of its fans,” said Tero Kuittinen, an independent analyst and a vice president of Alekstra, a company that helps customers manage cellphone costs.

“A lot of Apple fans have a lot of different accessories and use the old systems, so this is going to be a fairly expensive shift for a lot of them,” Mr. Kuittinen said. Makers of iPhone accessories are likely to be ecstatic, he added.

Either way, I’m all for progress and know Apple’s history of dumping outdated technology quickly. They at least transitioned the Dock Connector away from being FireWire-based after a few generations of iPods, and FireWire charging after an even longer stretch (that held out through the first-generation iPod touch).

iPod touch

iPod touch

I absolutely love the new iPod touch—I have no need for one, but it seems like what an iPhone would look like if given the “unibody” treatment. The hardware is actually on-par with the iPhone family (kind of between the 4S and 5), and there’s some little bits of clever innovation (like the loop). If Apple offered a cellular version, I would almost be comfortable picking one up to replace a cell phone with a voice plan.

What is curious is that Apple is selling the fourth-generation iPod touch (aka the 2010 model) as the point-of-entry. I think a lot of people who are buying an iPod touch for kids or for themselves (if they’re not that technical) are going to still buy this $199 one, instead of spending the extra $100 to get a much better product (faster processor, Lightning connector, more RAM, better Wi-Fi, better screen, better camera). That’s not good for ensuring that everyone is adopting the latest and greatest technology. If price is a concern, Apple ought to knock the basic iPod touch to 8GB and sell it for around $200. It’s a bit different than Apple keeping the prior iPhone or iPad around for a lower price, since the iPod touch is a two-year-old device.

This new pricing scheme also makes it difficult to place a smaller iPad in the lineup. If Apple were to create an iPad with a seven inch display, many expect it would be sold in the $200-$250 price range. I think by selling a small device with an A4 chip and 2010 technology at $200, Apple would not be selling an iPad at that price. This leaves the $250-$300 range—would Apple sell a device with probably similar specifications as the new iPod touch, but with a larger screen for less? I also don’t think that’s going to happen. If anything, yesterday may swing the pendulum in the direction of Apple not making a smaller iPad yet again.

iPod nano

iPod nano

I guess the iPod nano watchband market is going to dry up quickly, but I think the new iPod nano is a solid product from all the complaints of the prior nano (physical buttons, larger screen, video playback, Bluetooth streaming), but I think Apple really should’ve included Wi-Fi (they are promoting iTunes Match and AirPlay, right?) and think the interface is a bit weird—the icons are circular and very glossy, almost like something from 2002 Apple, not 2012 Apple. I assumed they’d keep the same design language of the iPhone and prior nano with the interface of the new one.

New iTunes

My knee-jerk reaction for the new iTunes was, “Yuck!” but after looking at it and the new features, I’m really looking forward to the update. Although I never browse my music library by album art (lots of playlists and rows and rows of tiny text), I think the other features and the ability to change the view will make me happy. I know some people were a bit upset when Apple changed the iPad’s Music app with iOS 5, and this could be a similar situation, but I think iTunes was needing a refresh.

Apple TV

I’m not talking about an Apple-branded television set, but rather any sort of development of its current TV platform. Although the event took almost exactly two hours, it would’ve been nice to see some more development on adding content—maybe even a mention of the iTunes Festival, or the much-rumored AirPlay Direct. Still, if Apple has an event for a smaller iPad, we could see an Apple TV announcement then (if you recall, the third-generation iPad was introduced alongside an updated Apple TV).

Apple is Not Doomed

Despite Dan Lyons some tech pundits saying that Apple’s newest products are bland and behind products running Android, I think the announcements are very good evolutionary updates. Apple is a company all about user experience, and by making a device faster, more comfortable, and with a better camera, they are keeping users happy. Sure, these updates may not make the technical types happy, but they will make those who want an all-around good smartphone or media player happy. Rene Ritchie from iMore offers some thoughts on Apple’s design evolution:

The leap from iPhone 4S to iPhone 5 is no less significant or impressive than the leap from the original MacBook Pro to the Unibody. In both cases, the end result bore familiarity of form, but was lightyears ahead in terms of process and results.

David Chartier offers a follow-up in the context of design as a whole:

​People who don’t get design just don’t get it, and perhaps never will. Innovation doesn’t mean constantly blowing people’s minds with every single thing you do, but that’s the definition shallow pundits have helped weave, especially for the nerds. It’s a shame, but then, so are many things.

Apple may be playing it safe, but if the worst things I can complain about are icons or a new connector, I think Apple is still in pretty good shape.

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