Apple’s management of its iPhone range may be extremely clever – but just perhaps, increasingly it may be the opposite.
Yes, we of course accept the iPhone’s extraordinary success by all measures to date, and don’t wish to argue against that. But, the past is not necessarily a predictor of the future, and if we are to look to the past for lessons, perhaps it is the most recent past that should be considered most carefully – for example, the iPhone’s drop in market share rankings, recently announced now as falling from second to third place. Samsung has been the market leader for some time, and now Huawei – a brand still little known – has taken second spot.
Apple’s release of three new models of phone this week (please read our review and analysis of Apple’s iPhone 8 and iPhone X, here) has struggled to create more than muted praise and some mindlessly recycled meaningless statistics. Most notable of the meaningless statistics is the oft cited claim ‘the iPhone X gives up to two hours more battery life than the iPhone 7’.
But what does this mean? The ‘up to’ qualifier of course makes the claim meaningless. Is it two hours extra standby life, already hundreds of hours and so of little value? Or is it the actively in use life of 12 or so hours and therefore significant?
And why compare the iPhone X to last year’s model iPhone 7? Why not compare to either the iPhone 7+ or 8+? Those are more comparably screen-sized phones and – oh yes. Compared to them, the iPhone X doesn’t seem to offer any improvement in battery life at all.
While Apple of course (and equally of course, correctly) described the three new phones breathlessly as their best phones ever, that means increasingly less when the marketplace has overtaken the iPhone and Apple is now struggling to catch up.
Apple’s best is no longer synonymous with the market’s best.
A Confusing Mess of Uncoordinated Products and Capabilities
Apple’s three new phones comprised two models in their traditional design style, but seemingly obsoleted by the third model with a totally different appearance. That’s like a car manufacturer releasing simultaneously a slightly tweaked version of last year’s model, and at the same time, a brand new model. Plus also continuing to make and sell last year’s model, and the year-before’s model, too. Imagine a car manufacturer not only selling 2018 model cars, but continuing to produce now reduced-in-price 2017 and doubly-reduced-in-price 2016 model cars. That makes no sense for cars, and we’re not sure it is very sensible with phones, either.
Look at what Apple is now selling. It is offering eight different models of phone – the SE (essentially a model 5), 6s, 6s+, 7, 7+, 8, 8+ and X. Is that a ‘rich’ product range – or a ridiculous product range?
Plus also, look at the jumble of features that underscores the uncoordinated nature of its model range. It is one thing to offer a consistent family of phones with growing levels of feature implementation and price, but it is entirely different to just continue throwing older products at the market.
There are now four different screen sizes – diagonals of 4″, 4.7″, 5.5″ and (sort of) 5.8″. How does that sit with Steve Jobs’ earlier famous statements about identifying a single exact size, and refusing to consider other sizes?
We never agreed with Jobs on that point and understand a mix of different screen sizes. But we do feel sorry for developers and designers now having to consider four different screen resolutions for their products, although if they do this well, it saves us as users from noticing any major variation in user experience. Amusingly, this (lack of consistency in screen resolution) was formerly a criticism directed at Android by Apple’s supporters. They’ve now fallen silent.
But what about the other variations between the models? Most have control buttons, but the latest and allegedly greatest model seeks to tell us that control buttons are no longer the best approach. This might be true, but in making that claim, Apple now cedes one of its few distinctive features and instead becomes another copycat phone, similar to all the Android others. At least, if they decide to give up their control button, why not complete the process of copying Android and offer three ‘virtual’ buttons rather than requiring us to memorize an increasingly complicated and long list of different swipe movements around the screen. Apple, once famous for its intuitive interfaces, can no longer claim this with its iPhone X.
Some iPhones have regular touch screens, but some have “3D” pressure sensitive screens. Some have headphone jacks, some don’t. The latest have wireless charging, the others don’t. Some have fingerprint readers, some don’t, and one has face recognition. They have different memory capacity options.
There are reasons for having a broad product range, but dangers too. The unanswered – and apparently unasked – question surely has to be ‘Is the $449 priced iPhone 6s helping to take market share from competing Android phones, or is it taking market share from the $699 priced iPhone 8?’ The related question – other than a bigger model number, what exactly does the iPhone 8 offer to justify its $250 extra price – is also relevant and difficult to answer positively.
So, Apple has a mess of different phones and different features now being offered for sale. But all the phones also have some common features – or perhaps it is more accurate to say, they all suffer from a common lack of features that are increasingly the norm on other high-end phones.
The Most Consistent Thing? The Missing Features!
The biggest omission is the inability to plug in Micro-SD cards. Almost every other phone, high, middle, or low-end, allows users to plug Micro-SD cards into the phone. Only Apple (and Google) stick out for their refusal to allow their users to get better and more unrestricted use of their phones. They refer to try and lock us into and force us into their more expensive inbuilt memory models and their ‘cloud’ storage options (which become impractical and costly when we travel away from fast/free data service areas).
There is also, of course, Apple’s controversial decision to eliminate industry standard headphone jacks from its phones. The arrogance in that decision is matched only by its unnecessary nature. While ostensibly either to allow Apple to make their phones more water/dust proof and/or thinner in size, other phone manufacturers can match Apple’s dimensions and beat Apple’s degree of water/dust resistance, while still allowing us to conveniently use whatever headphones we wish, via a universally accepted 3.5mm headphone socket.
Talking about universally accepted connectors, every other phone out there uses a USB type connector – either Micro-USB or the new USB-C connector. Only Apple demands we conform to their unusual connector.
There’s another increasingly common feature being offered by better phones – a dual SIM feature. This allows one phone to work simultaneously with two different phone numbers. You could have a work and home phone number, both on one phone. Or, if traveling out of the country, a local phone number (to save you money on local calls and data) and also your back-home number for convenience, too.
A further unfortunate omission from the three new phones announced this week is they don’t support the latest frequencies being deployed for phone service in the US. T-Mobile has spent $8 billion buying up frequency allocations from the FCC and has exciting plans to deploy, within six months, a nationwide new 5G ultra-fast network. The already announced LG V30 phone has support for this key new frequency band. The new iPhones do not.
While there’s nothing new with Apple being slow to embrace new technologies (quite the opposite of how the company is generally perceived as being on the leading edge), it is still dismaying to consider buying a new $1000 phone that is already suffering from partial technical obsolescence. Clearly that benefits Apple (more inducement for you to more quickly upgrade to a successor model next year!), but for those of us wishing to hold onto our phones for longer periods of time, it is less appealing.
Should You Buy a New iPhone?
We like the new iPhone X, and are happy for Apple that, several years after innovators such as Samsung, they are now reducing the bezel on their phones. But whereas Samsung offers you a full screen with no bezel, Amazon still has a thin bezel and a funny notch thing at the top. The iPhone X is a great phone by Apple’s standards, but not by the broader standards of the market as a whole.
Does it make sense to buy the last of the old traditional design of iPhones? Not if you’re keen to display the latest and greatest.
But does it make sense to buy the first of the new design of iPhones? Our sense is the iPhone X has been rushed to market prematurely so as to conform to Apple’s annual product release calendar, and our hope/expectation is that next year’s model (XI? Xs?) might complete the process and capabilities that are currently lacking in the X, possibly re-introducing a fingerprint reader, maybe resolving the notch cut out of their display, adding support for the latest frequencies and data speeds, and perhaps even giving us a true boost in battery life rather than a semi-mythical ‘up to two hours’ extra compared to an obsolete and dissimilar phone.
Hopefully also, next year will see Apple finally kill off some of its obsolete phones and instead offer lower priced new-style phones as well as the ridiculous $1000 priced phone.
High end Android phones offer similar (some would say better) capabilities at lower prices. Low end Android phones offer almost the same functionality, at prices down as low as $50.
These days even the second-level phones and their second-level features are more than good enough for most of us. Is there really $950 of extra value to you in an iPhone X compared to a BLU R1 HD? Before committing to Apple’s high prices, we suggest you should check out our brief listing of a selection of Android phones at all price points and feature levels.