Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Apple’s “Loop You In” Event

John Gruber:

If you listen to my podcast, you know how ambivalent I remain about the physical size of the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and 6S. I was really hoping that the iPhone SE would effectively have iPhone 6S specs — CPU and GPU performance, and similar camera quality. That seems to be exactly what Apple delivered. I honestly think this is the phone I’m going to use for the next six months.

In hand, the iPhone SE is nearly indistinguishable from an iPhone 5S. Other than the matte finish on the chamfered edges, the only difference I could spot is the “SE” on the back of the phone. No curved sides, no curved glass.

I remain ambivalent as well. I’ve found that I like using the 4.7-inch screen. It’s not as easy to use one-handed, but the extra space (both for reading and for typing) is worth it overall. Unexpectedly, what bothers me most about the iPhone 6s’ size is that it’s so uncomfortable in my pocket. I doubt there’s much that can be done about that, short of making it bendable; making it thinner wouldn’t help much.

I don’t think it’s worth trading my 6s for an SE, but if I were buying today it would be a tough decision because the SE doesn’t really match the flagship phone. I’ve gotten used to the much faster Touch ID and editing text with 3D Touch (even though it often doesn’t work the first time). The 6s’ front-facing camera was the first one that I actually use for photos. And I like having 128 GB of storage—not because I’m currently using more than 64 GB, but because I know that I won’t have to worry about it over the next two years.

Regarding the iPhone SE’s design, I’m happy to see the sleep button on the top and that there is no camera bump. Most importantly, it does not have curved edges, after all. The sharp edges are the worst part of the iPhone 6/6s, and for me they make a case essential for the first time. After using several different cases, I’ve settled on the Magpul Field Case. It makes the curved edges comfortable and grippable (without sticking in the pocket), makes the orientation easier to feel than Apple’s cases, and makes the buttons easier to press and yet harder to press accidentally. It also counteracts the camera bump so that the phone lies flat. The downsides: dust collects in the camera cutout, the colors aren’t as good as Apple’s, and the overall design is much less attractive than Apple’s cases or a naked phone. I’m grateful to have found a case that I like, but I wish that it were not necessary. It more than negates any thinness benefit of the 6s vs. the 5s, without filling the space with something useful, such as battery.

Ben Thompson:

The problem is growth: specifically, how many high-end customers are there, and how many of those customers find their current iPhones to be good-enough? And, if Apple believed their market to be increasingly saturated, would the company be willing to cannibalize its high-margin iPhone?

The iPhone SE suggests the answer is yes, and that fact alone made yesterday’s event far more important than it seems. Specifically, Apple is offering top-of-the-line specs for an unprecedented price of $399. In other words, the SE is no 5C. In fact, it seems likely Apple learned some inadvertent lessons from the 5C: I am not at all surprised that the SE looks identical to a 5S; when an integral part of the iPhone value proposition is status what customer wants to advertise that they bought a model that was never a flagship?

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro looks impressive, although what I really wanted to see today was a lighter iPad mini. My first thought was that the iPad Pro’s camera bump would make it not lie flat, but Matthew Panzarino says that it doesn’t wobble.

Manton Reece:

Dan Moren writes for Six Colors about the structure for the 1-hour Apple event today, of which only about half the time was spent on new products[…] I’d like to see this continue at future events. Leave the record sales numbers for the finance call, and instead focus on what good Apple is doing because they are big, not just how they are big.

I would rather see a shorter, more focused event, though Apple probably has good reasons not to do that. This was at least better than repeating the pattern of sales numbers and customer sat, which everyone probably tunes out by now.

Milen Dzhumerov:

I miss Apple Computer Inc. – the company that used to be fully focused on creating the best computers running Mac OS X.

Selena Larson:

Schiller said that 600 million people are using PCs that are over five years old. “This is really sad,” he said.

Brian Stucki:

Apple: Many in-use PCs are more than five years old.

Also Apple: we currently sell a Mac that is nearly 4 years old. And a few other ~2yrs

Sebastiaan de With:

It’s really killing me to see so many great artistic professional friends switch to Windows / PCs because Apple is neglecting Pro Macs.

Joe Rossignol:

While some customers were hopeful that Apple would release new Macs at its “Let Us Loop You In” media event yesterday, the product announcements were focused on the new 4-inch iPhone SE, 9.7-inch iPad Pro, and additional Apple Watch bands.

But those waiting patiently for a Mac refresh may not have much longer to wait, as DigiTimes today reported that Apple will begin shipping new “ultra-thin” 13-inch and 15-inch MacBooks at the end of the second quarter.

When I think of what I want to see in the next MacBook Pros, “thinner” is not even on my list. I want more storage and RAM, better performance, more ports, a larger screen, and cellular. I fear that Apple is going to trade some or all of those for thinness, while also making the keyboard and trackpad worse.

I’m also sad to see that Apple updated virtually all of its operating systems except the one for the Apple TV 3, which is still for sale. It seems like it will be stuck with the discoveryd regression for good.

Update (2016-03-22): Manton Reece:

I keep thinking about the iPhone SE price: $399 for essentially the power of a 6S, which is $649. That’s just a great value. I’ve said on Core Intuition recently that while the 6S and upcoming 7 will always remain the most popular phone, I think the SE could hold its own with the 6S Plus in units sold. Now I wonder if it could even surpass it.

Nick Heer:

I’ve always been a fan of the 5S’ form factor, too — to my eyes and hands, it’s the prettiest and most comfortable iPhone ever.1 But the drawbacks of an SE are not insignificant, compared to a 6S: its display panel isn’t as good, the cover glass isn’t as durable, the Touch ID sensor is the much slower first-generation version, it doesn’t have 3D Touch, and it isn’t available in a 128 GB storage configuration. These are all deal-breakers for me, though they may not be for you.

I’m curious to see how the SE finds its place in Apple’s lineup over the coming few generations. Will it be like the iPad Mini, lagging one generation behind? Will it eventually get redesigned to look a bit more like a 6(S) generation iPhone, or will it perpetually look like a 5(S)? Does it have a permanent place in the lineup, or is it a stopgap?

Update (2016-03-24): Nick Heer:

But his — I assume — improvised “really sad” punchline didn’t land because having a five year old functional computer is not sad, it is impressive. I didn’t replace my MacBook Pro until it was over five years old. My MacBook Air will turn four this year and, while I ache for a better display, I have no immediate intention of replacing it any time soon. The display in my Air, by the way, is effectively the same panel that has been included with MacBook Airs since at least 2010, making it well over five years old.

Riccardo Mori:

I’ll just close with a quip — There are sadder things than five-year-old PCs: the current state of the Mac App Store, to name one.

Update (2016-03-30): Joe Cieplinski:

For one thing, I just got myself into a contract last September via the iPhone Upgrade Program for the 6s Plus. (I recognize that this is was my choice, by the way, so I’m not blaming anyone but myself.) To buy out the remainder of my contract on the 6s Plus and get myself an SE, I’d be out around $900. That’s a lot of money to get myself a smaller phone.

Things don’t get better in September, either, as I reach my 1-year milestone with the 6s Plus. The iPhone Upgrade Program does allow me to upgrade after only one year, but the program doesn’t include the SE. So while I can trade up to the iPhone 7 (or whatever Apple calls the new phones at that time) I can’t trade down to the SE. I’ll be in the same boat. Wait another year, or buy out the remaining contract.

My worry about the iPhone SE is that it’s not top-of-the-line at release, which is already 6 months behind the iPhone 6s, and it will only fall farther behind. I doubt Apple will update it with the other iPhones this fall, and it may end up on a two-year (or longer) cycle. So I’m glad that 4-inch iPhones aren’t gone completely, but this is not really what I wanted.

6 Comments RSS · Twitter

I hope the fall lineup of iPhones is a 5" iPhone 7 and a 6" iPhone 7 Holy Shit. I had an iPhone 6 Plus and it was just too big, but I understand that the people for whom it's not would appreciate just a bit more. I switched "down" to the iPhone 6S and would like just a bit more screen size, something that's between 4.7" and 5.5". There's still room for a bit more screen without pushing it out of the fits-in-one-hand bracket, at least for me, and the extra battery would be appreciated (the bit that would not be eaten up by the larger screen).

I don't mind Apple making thin-ass MacBooks as long as they keep making the more capable Macs too, and let the design principles for them go beyond "Jony wants to close his caliper a bit more". My second MacBook Pro Retina (mid-2014 but bought just ahead of the 2015 refresh out of necessity) is holding up better than the first, original from 2012, primarily because they got a better GPU in there. I'm a Force Trackpad believer after some brief use and I think their hardware story is much better off than the software half. I think the ultra-thin MacBooks are just that - MacBooks, expanding upwards, mostly usurping the MacBook Air.

I do hope that in three years or so, having a couple of USB 3.1 Type C/Thunderbolt 3 ports are going to solve a lot of the problems that do exist with connectivity for any of the laptops - in particular, I think that the hybrid Mac is already being explored inside Apple with this as some sort of enabling technology. It won't take you all the way to Mac Pro, but it may well be the "xMac" iMac alternative some people have been jonesing for for ages.

Am I the only one who hates curved sides and wishes we had the sharper edges that were easier to grip? Everytime I hold my 4 or 5s I miss those edges. However I got a 6s+ and then my eyes went (hate middle age) and I suspect my next phone much to my surprise will be 5.5". I say that after griping about the lack of 4" ever since they switched.

@Clark Exactly. The sharp 5s edges were actually very comfortable. The curved 6s edge feels sharp because it’s so thin, and it’s harder to grip.

I'm using 6S with a case (to avoid scratches, not for grip), but I'm on team 3G/3GS in this fight. Bulbous, no risk of ice cold or blistering hot. I'm hoping the 7 will look much more like the 3GS.

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