Monday Morning News
John Gruber’s thoughts and observations on last week’s iPhone and Apple Watch event says the Apple Watch Series 4 is as much of a landmark device to the Apple Watch lineup as the iPhone 4, 6, and iPhone X were to the iPhone. The first major design change of its kind sees Apple embrace the edges of the display, now curved to match the iPhone’s, and we’re not even mentioning Apple’s continued focus on health and fitness. And while the iPhone XS is about as iterative as upgrades get, the iPhone to watch is the iPhone XR — it may not have all the bells and whistles of the XS, but it gets damn close.
Which brings us to one of several elephants in the room: what’s up with Apple’s naming this year? With Gruber seemingly confirming with Apple that the model-suffixes (the S in iPhone XS, the R in iPhone XR) don’t mean anything, that opens up interesting questions for future devices. We kind of knew this was going to happen when Apple introduced the X alongside the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus last year, but whether we’ll see something like the iPhone XX in a few more years — well, your guess is as good as mine.
Jason Snell’s notes on new iPhones says new colours for the iPhone XR might be enough for people to stop complaining that iPhones are only available in one of two colours, even though iPhones are more expensive than ever before. Similarly, his notes on the new Apple Watch say that although there’s more than one single feature that can make a device a must-have, the Apple Watch Series 4 has several that will likely make it Apple’s most popular wearable yet.
Apple’s iPhone lineup now has devices at every price point starting from $749 all the way to $2,369, which Apple CEO Tim Cook says is in line with Apple’s strategy of making a wide range of devices available to everyone, accounting for how much they’re willing to pay. All of this is mostly in the context of smaller Asian markets, where the competition is all about cost.
Fast Company’s Harry McCracken tries to make sense of what he claims is the most confusing new iPhone lineup ever. He writes the traditional “good/better/best” product matrix has been thrown out of the window, with the iPhone XR throwing a spanner in the works by only having minor spec differences between it and the iPhone XS. This year’s iPhone lineup shows us that Apple is undoubtedly all-in on larger screens, and perhaps the rest can be attributed to a more mature smartphone market, where the differences between models and even generations become slim.
Despite all this confusion, Apple is good at marketing, and their stories of the new iPhones, told by SVP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller, remain the same. Here’s how the old iPhone was great, here’s how the new iPhone is even better, and here’s what it’ll let you do. The Apple Watch is a great example of this “framing” technique that Apple uses. The Apple Watch Series 4 page links off to five separate pages about the design, health, workout, activity, and connection features, all of which tell their own stories. Apple knows that at the end of the day, it’s not about the specs or how good the device is on paper, it’s about what their devices enable you to do.
Apple’s iPhone lineup has now adopted the standout iPhone X features of last year: an edge-to-edge display, no home button, and a top-notch screen with Face ID. None of these are new, even though Apple has improved on them over their previous versions, as in the case of Face ID, or applied them in a slightly different way, as in the case of the curves on the LCD iPhone XR. If you read between the lines, you might even see a hint of slower innovation: all new iPhones have very little to distinguish between them, and even share a lot in common with their predecessors.
Indeed, TechCrunch points out the lies that Apple introduced alongside the iPhone XS camera. While it’s absolutely true that Apple has made modest improvements to an already great camera system, there were definitely some inaccuracies told by Schiller on stage. Very little is new or remarkable about the new dual-camera system, especially if you look at the specs, and while faster sensors and connecting the image signal processor neural engine can and probably do contribute to better photos, adjusting depth of field in software isn’t exactly a new concept in photography.
With less to set apart its devices from the previous generation, other models introduced at the same time, or its competitors, Apple’s taking a slightly different approach. A new sub-page on every iPhone page tells us about how no other phone is like the iPhone, pointing out how Apple designs both the hardware and the software to work together, Apple’s ongoing commitment to privacy and security in every facet of the iPhone, as well as fringe benefits like how iPhones are designed to be recyclable, great built-in accessibility features, and wide compatibility with a whole lot of other Apple accessories.
The Atlantic brings us all back to ground level after the dizzying heights of an Apple event by reminding us of the bitter truth: the world is in a terrible place right now. As sobering as their message is, I think we’re allowed a little break from the macabre every now and again, if only to realise that everything is worse, except your iPhone.