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Apple

Apple’s cigarettes: AirPods as happy ritual

I’ve owned Apple’s AirPods for nine months. They’re great.

Sure, I might have a few complaints, but in general, AirPods are sheer delight; I love the feeling of freedom they provide. I love that I no longer snag cords on every doorknob. I love that I can put in a single AirPod when stereo sound doesn’t matter. I love that I don’t waste time rewrapping cables over again and again. I love that I can leave the AirPods in when I’m not listening, then forget they’re even there.

But the pleasure of AirPods isn’t just about their convenience. More than that, they’re fun—fun in a way that wired headphones never were. There’s something visceral and addictive about handling them—a ritual that makes me want to use them.

They remind me of cigarettes in that way. Now, I’ve never smoked, but from what I can tell, half of smoking’s pleasure is this series of mini-experiences that make up the habit. You feel the reassuring shape of the pack in your pocket. Slip it out and flip it over in your hand. Tap it on your palm a few times. Slide out the individual smoke, feeling that slight friction as it escapes the pack. Roll it back and forth between your fingers. Raise it to your mouth and hold it lightly between your lips. Cup your hands to shield away the wind. Strike the lighter and feeling the flame’s radiated heat. Hear the tobacco crackle as the cigarette ignites.

And the ritual goes on: the first few puffs, flicking the ashes, holding the smoke in your mouth, stubbing out the butt. It’s this sequence of “nanogestures” that (I’m guessing) become automatic and reassuring. It’s addictive not just because of the nicotine, but because it’s tactile and repeatable.

AirPods boast their own set of habitual nanogestures. For me, the case lives in a dedicated pocket in my favorite pants. I feel for their shape beneath the fabric. Retrieve the case and turn it over in my palm like a glossy worry stone. Thumb the lid and feel the magnet give way. Nudge the AirPod to jar it free from its alcove. Pinch and lift, feeling that slight friction as the stem slides free. Spin the AirPod between my fingertips and align it to my ear. Settle it into its place by feel alone. Hear that happy little hum when the Bluetooth connects. Get that satisfying SNAP as the case is thumbed closed. Then repeat the whole process in reverse when I’m done listening.

Tactile, repeatable, pleasurable. The AirPods ritual became familiar almost as soon as I started using them. But—unlike wired headphones, which were always a chore—the AirPods routine has never grown tiresome, even after nine months of use and thousands of repetitions. ■


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Apple

Predicting the 2018 iPhone line-up

At its product marketing event last week, Apple announced its new iPhone line-up, which breaks with precedent in two ways:

  • The iPhone X name (read “iPhone Ten”) takes a cue from the Windows world, in that Apple has skipped over the number “9.”
  • The iPhone price points have never been so diverse; the 2017 phones start at $349 (for the SE, Apple’s cheapest-ever new iPhone) and scale all the way up to $1149 (the 256GB X model, easily the priciest iPhone in history).

These changes make it tricky to predict what products (and prices) Apple might announce for next year’s iPhones. How will Apple handle the numbering gap next year? Would they ship a brand-new, downmarket “iPhone 9” a full year after the X? What about the pricing model? Will $999 be the new entry-level price for flagship iPhones, or was the X an aberration—the one-time result of expensive internal components (e.g. the face scanning tech or the OLED screen)?

Why bother guessing Apple’s plans?

On the one hand, it feels pointless to predict next year’s iPhone line-up. Apple’s plans are subject to change, and this year’s phones haven’t even launched. A lot could change; the iPhone X might suppress demand for the 8 models. Or the mass market may refuse to pay $999 for a new phone, no matter how shiny the tech. Or the X’s hardware changes may prove a bad bet—say, if Face ID doesn’t work as advertised, or if users prefer the Home button to the new software-based gestures. Any of these outcomes could change Apple’s plans.

Still, I want to take a stab at guessing 2018’s line-up, partly as a thought exercise and partly because I’m interested in the resale market. If I buy an iPhone X, just how much will my purchase depreciate by next fall?

My predictions

Here’s what I’m thinking:

2018 iPhone pricing
Product name Starting price Notes
iPhone 11 $999 Flagship model, successor to iPhone X
iPhone X $849 2017 hold-over
iPhone 8 Plus $699 2017 hold-over
iPhone 8 $599 2017 hold-over
iPhone 7 Plus $549 2016 hold-over
iPhone 7 $449 2016 hold-over

Some notes:

  • My basic premise is that Apple was telling the truth. The company’s execs crowed that the X is the “future of the iPhone.” That holds for both price and form factor. From here on out, new iPhones will look more like the X than like the 8.
  • The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus therefore are intended to serve as a “stop gap;” they help Apple avoid erecting a a price umbrella under which competitors could camp and sell $600–800 premium phones. But this is a short-term strategy; if I’m right, there will be no new downmarket phones next year—no “iPhone 9” or “iPhone 9 Plus.” Instead, as the years go by, the iPhone X will slide down the price ladder, just like the other current models. Eventually, the old “chin and forehead” phones (the iPhones 7 and 8) will fall off the ladder, and the X-style models will stand alone.
  • This approach makes naming the next flagship phone fairly straightforward. What is the sequel to “iPhone X” (“Ten”)? iPhone 11. Other have speculated that Apple might ditch the numbering scheme altogether, citing the examples of the iPad or the Mac. But Apple hasn’t established the same annual rhythm for those products. With the iPhone, legacy models stick around a long time, dropping $100 in price year after year. The phones’ unique identifiers help customers differentiate similar-looking versions from one another. Faced with a choice between the “iPhone X (2017)” and “iPhone X (2018),” customers might either a) be confused or b) opt for the cheaper model, saying to themselves, “Who cares, as long as I get the X.” Better to assign each new device a new name and thus reinforce its unique value over legacy options.
  • What about a potential “iPhone X Plus”: an edge-to-edge OLED screen in a larger chassis? Apple is probably testing such a device, but I’m not sure we’ll see it next year. The iPhone X may represent the “sweet spot” between the non-Plus and Plus sizes—a “one size fits all” phone that doesn’t need a big brother. The fate of an iPhone X Plus likely depends upon sales metrics: will “Plus lovers” migrate to the X this year? Or will they remain loyal to the bigger form factor of the 8 Plus?
  • I expect the SE will be retired. That’s a shame, because many users (including me) love the SE’s pocketable form factor. However, there’s a chance Apple will keep the SE (and its current specs) around as an ultra-low iPhone entry point. A $249 iPhone would be intriguing, but they’ve never ventured that low before. ■

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Apple

Imagining a “bezel-less” Apple Watch

Yesterday, I imagined a thinner Apple Watch, engineering constraints be damned.

Today, another exercise in ignoring technical limitations! The market is trending towards “all-screen” smartphones; what would happen if Apple slimmed down the Watch’s bezels, too?

Some notes on the image above:

  • In shifting pixels closer to the Watch’s edge, the design above suffers for lack of white space (or, rather, “black space”). watchOS was engineered with wide black bezels in mind; because the UI’s default background is also black, the bezels read as “on-screen” margins and give the content some breathing room. Even if the hardware were bezel-less, the OS might still recreate these margins in software. But that wouldn’t have been a very rewarding Photoshop hack job.
  • In a few spots, I’ve taken advantage of the larger screen by adding content. For example, the modular face sports a few more complication slots, and the workout app adds an onscreen altitude metric. For the home screen, I’ve blown up the UI instead of adding more apps; I’ve always thought those icons could stand to be a bit bigger.
  • In order to maintain a rectangular screen shape, I’ve shrunk down the curve radius on each of the four corners. Admittedly, the end result feels a little too “blocky.” ■

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Apple

Ideal Apple Watch thickness

Yesterday, I posted a graphic comparing the thickness of the newly-announced Apple Watch Series 3 to its predecessors. With each generation (from the first gen Watch to Series 2 and from Series 2 to 3), the Watch has grown thicker. It’s not hard to see why; the power demands of GPS (for the Series 2) and a cellular radio (for the Series 3) required larger battery sizes.[1]

But what if physics didn’t apply? If internal component size weren’t a constraint, how thin would you want the Apple Watch to be? In prepping the comparison above, I made a few assumptions:

  • Again, this is fantasy land. I ignored the problematic stagnance of lithium-ion battery tech. My ‘ideal’ Watch wouldn’t last you through the day. It might not even make it to lunchtime.
  • The various external Watch components (band grooves, side button, and Digital Crown) retain their current dimensions. I’ve adjusted the band groove angles to reflect a shallower attachment angle, which might break legacy band compatibility.
  • You could shave off another millimeter or so without shrinking the Digital Crown. But I worried about potential friction between the Crown and the user’s skin, hence the extra depth on bottom.

Suddenly (and unfairly), the Series 3 looks a bit chunky, doesn’t it? ■


  1. The 42mm Series 2 Watch has a 34% larger battery than the 1st generation (2015) version.  ↩


Categories
Apple

More thoughts on the affordability of upgrading your iPhone every year

A few days ago, I explained how upgrading your iPhone annually can be surprisingly affordable, once you figure in the device’s depreciation and resale values.

Here are some follow-up questions:

What about upgrade cycles longer than two years? How do they compare to upgrading annually?

In the earlier post, I concluded that upgrading annually (versus upgrading every two years) costs about $80 total ($40 per year of use). We can do this same math for a three-year upgrade cycle by starting a year earlier (with the iPhone 6):

One-year upgrade cycle Model Date
1st iPhone retail purchase iPhone 6 9/2014 ($649)
1st iPhone sale via Swappa iPhone 6 9/2015 $411
2nd iPhone retail purchase iPhone 6s 9/2015 ($649)
2nd iPhone sale via Swappa iPhone 6s 9/2016 $411
3rd iPhone retail purchase iPhone 7 9/2016 ($649)
3rd iPhone sale via Swappa iPhone 7 9/2017 $411
TOTAL ($714)
Three-year upgrade cycle Model Date
1st iPhone retail purchase iPhone 6 9/2014 ($649)
1st iPhone sale via Swappa iPhone 6 9/2017 $186
TOTAL ($463)

Compared to an annual upgrade, the three-year upgrade cycle saves you $251 over the three years. That’s more savings per year ($84) compared to a two-year cycle ($40); a new phone loses more value in the first year of ownership than in the second.

A few thoughts:

  • Three years is a long time in the gadget world. Your mileage may vary, but I would rather not use a three-year-old handset. Don’t judge me.
  • One thing I didn’t address in the previous post? Warranties. I don’t buy Apple’s “AppleCare+” protection plan, which means I only receive the default, year-long warranty. That works out great if you upgrade annually; your phone is never more than a year old,[1] so it’s always covered. Obviously, your risk increases if you hold onto your phone past that warranty window. You’re more likely to experience hardware failure in years two and three; if something breaks, you’ll be stuck paying for out-of-warranty repairs.
  • What about a four-year phone upgrade cycle? I have a friend who’s planning to upgrade his 5s this fall. Swappa says that a baseline AT&T 5s is worth about $92. By my math, he saved about $99 per year ($395 total) versus upgrading annually. Then again, retaining a phone for four years has some serious drawbacks. After 1,400+ charge cycles, a lithium-ion battery will be in rough shape.[2]

What about the new iPhones, with their higher prices? How will the upgrade math work out?

Both the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus saw price bumps over the equivalent 2016 models, and the iPhone X’s $999 starting price is a complete wild card. How will the resale values for these devices track after a year on the market?

The short answer is “We don’t know.” However, we can look at legacy Plus models to see if our math applies to the higher-priced phones. Based on a quick glance at Swappa, both the iPhone 7 and the 7 Plus retained about 73% of their retail value after eleven months on the market, and the 6 and 6 Plus retained somewhere around 45% of their retail price after twenty-three months. It seems reasonable to assume that the 8 and 8 Plus resale values will trend similarly.

Keep in mind, though, even if the higher-priced models lose a similar proportion of their value, you’ll lose more in actual dollars over time, compared to the cheaper devices. A new iPhone 7 purchased in September 2016 depreciated $177 (i.e., 27%) in its first eleven months of ownership, while a 7 Plus lost $207 in value (again, 27%) during that same time span.

What about the iPhone X? Will it be worth just $730 (73% of its retail price) a year after its release? It’s hard to say. We don’t know how well the devices will sell, and, critically, we don’t know Apple’s plans for iPhone pricing in 2018. If consumers balk at paying $1000+ for a new phone, might Apple release an “iPhone XI” at, say, $899? If so, the original X’s resale value would immediately take a hit. ■


  1. Unless Apple breaks its pattern of releasing the new phone at the same time every year, which it did this year with the iPhone X. That flagship phone won’t ship until November.  ↩
  2. It is possible to replace an iPhone battery, which would help make an older phone more usable.  ↩
Categories
Apple

The Goldilocks Problem: choosing between the new iPhones

Yesterday, Apple introduced three new phones. As I’ve written, I’ve been planning to upgrade ever since I bought my iPhone 7.

But this new iPhone lineup makes the buying decision difficult. It’s a “Goldilocks Problem,” in that none of the three models feels “just right:”

  1. iPhone X. The flagship model has an edge-to-edge, higher-res, higher-contrast screen. It also boasts a dual camera (with its optical zoom and portrait photography feature) in a pocketable form factor. But it’s prohibitively expensive: 64GB at $999 is a tough pill to swallow.
  2. iPhone 8 Plus. The new plus-sized model boasts the dual camera, but it’s packed into a case that I’ve always found too large for practical use.
  3. iPhone 8. If the 8 included the dual camera, it would have been a tempting upgrade over the 7. It didn’t, so it’s not. As packaged, the iPhone 8 feels like a fairly minor upgrade over its predecessor.

So I’m caught between models. I want the dual camera—that rules out the 8. But I’m not sure I can justify the X’s exorbitant price, and the Plus is just too big.

Maybe this is my own weird hang-up. Or maybe other prospective Apple customers also feel like Goldilocks, unsatisfied with their options. Could that ambivalence freeze the upgrade cycle? Will buyers waffling between models decide to wait another year—or buy an Android device instead?

It will be interesting to watch Apple’s next few quarterly results; we should get a sense of whether customers are upgrading to the 8/X en masse. ■

Categories
Apple

Upgrading your iPhone every year is surprisingly affordable — if you’re willing to do some work

As I wrote yesterday, I’ve been saving to buy a new iPhone since last September. My iPhone 7 was the first phone that I didn’t buy under the legacy two-year contract model. Instead, I opted to pay full retail price so that I could easily resell the phone this year and buy a new one.

Here’s why: if you resell your old phones, an annual upgrade isn’t much more expensive than going “new every two.” Consider:

One-year upgrade cycle costs Model
1st iPhone retail purchase iPhone 6s ($649)
1st iPhone sale via Swappa iPhone 6s $411
2nd iPhone retail purchase iPhone 7 ($649)
2nd iPhone sale via Swappa iPhone 7 $411
2-YEAR TOTAL ($476)
Two-year upgrade cycle costs Model
1st iPhone retail purchase iPhone 6s ($649)
1st iPhone sale via Swappa iPhone 6s $253
2-YEAR TOTAL ($396)

In other words, upgrading annually costs approximately $40 more per year than upgrading every two years. Considering how much I use my phone, $3–4 more per month doesn’t seem like an unreasonable premium.

Of course, there are some caveats (aren’t there always?):

  • The equivalent carrier models of the iPhone cost the same, but they don’t all retain their value at the same rate. Your mileage may vary.
  • Adopting this approach requires being willing to resell your phone yourself, which can be a hassle. Services like Gazelle make things easier, but they also offer far less than you’ll get selling to buyers directly through Swappa, eBay, or Craigslist.
  • Reselling demands that you keep your phone in great shape; no one wants to buy a scratched or waterlogged phone. A rugged phone case and a screen protector are reasonable investments. Holding onto the retail packaging helps, too. Then again, these are smart moves whether you’re planning to resell at one year or at two.
  • To calculate the resale values, I used the Swappa sale prices for equivalent baseline AT&T models. For example, for the first iPhone sale under the one-year upgrade cycle, I looked at the Swappa sales trends for the 32GB AT&T iPhone 7; the average selling price in August 2017 was $472. Subtract $15 (Swappa’s seller fee), plus another 10% for depreciation from August to September, and you get my $411 figure. I did similar math for the two-year upgrade cycle, using the iPhone 6s instead.[1]
  • Both the carriers and Apple itself now offer upgrade plans. But there’s a catch: the companies require you to trade in your old phone to get the new one. That makes them significantly pricier than the approach outlined above (pay full price and sell it yourself). Plus, paying retail also means you can preorder on day one, without jumping through any hoops. Still, for those who can’t front the phone’s (hefty!) retail price or who don’t want to bother with reselling old devices, the official upgrade plans might be worth exploring.
  • This plan doesn’t account for Apple making radical changes to its iPhone price structure—which, by all accounts, they’re going to do today. In my next post, I’m hoping to chew on this a little bit. ■

EDIT: I’ve labeled the chart with model numbers instead of dates.


  1. Swappa’s fee is only $10 for devices sold for less than $300.  ↩
Categories
Apple Tech

On Apple event spoilers

On Friday night, the “Gold Master” release of iOS 11 leaked online. As nerds have waded through the code, secrets about Apple’s soon-to-be-announced devices have come to light. This is the second time this summer that prerelease software has escaped into the wild and tipped Apple’s hand.

There are still some details about the new devices that we don’t know.[1] But enough cats have slipped out of Apple’s bag that the event has lost some luster. We’ve peeked into the presents before Christmas morning. Or, to put it another way, the leaks have “spoiled” the new iPhone announcement.

Using “spoiler” language may seem odd. That’s a term from the entertainment world, not the tech sphere. Does an iPhone announcement event really compare to, say, the upcoming Star Wars sequel or an episode of Game of Thrones?

Sure, maybe it’s silly (or even a bit sad). But these product announcements are high holidays for tech enthusiasts. I’ve had September 12th circled on my calendar for over a month. I’ve followed the online speculation since the first “tenth anniversary iPhone” rumors surfaced over a year ago. And I’ve been saving to buy a new phone since the day I bought my last one.

So… yeah, I do look forward to iPhone events as if they were blockbuster movies. That anticipation is a testament to Apple’s crack PR team and how carefully they design these announcements. A well-crafted product event is a roller coaster worth riding, and it’s more fun when I don’t know that hairpin left turn is coming. As both a gadget fan and as a communications professional, I’d rather be surprised.[2]


  1. For example, while most pundits agree that the base model “iPhone X” (which is apparently the official name) will start around $999, any price from $899 to $1199 remains in play. The top-end phone’s release date also remain unclear. We haven’t yet seen legit final versions of the phone hardware (although we have seen an image of the LTE Apple Watch). Finally, while we may know the names of many new features, we don’t know exactly how they work.  ↩

  2. I only have myself to blame. After all, I’ve managed to avoid major Episode VIII spoilers so far by steering clear of sites like Making Star Wars. In the same way, if I had simply ignored the Apple rumor mill, Tuesday’s event would still be a mystery to me. Unfortunately, I don’t have that sort of willpower. And the pre-event speculation is part of the fun. ↩

Categories
Apple Tech

Justifying an LTE Apple Watch

Tech rumormongers claim that Apple will announce an LTE-equipped Apple Watch at its September event. I’m intrigued to see how Apple makes the case for adding the cell radio. What is a cell-equipped Watch for? Or, put another way, when would I be willing to leave behind my phone?

For me, the only answer is, “When I’m working out.” I hate bringing my iPhone on runs. There’s no good way to carry it; arm straps are awkward, and hip belts make the phone’s heft hard to ignore.

Theoretically, an LTE-enabled Watch could make it easier to leave my iPhone on the dresser when I go running. I could still send and receive urgent messages. If I were an Apple Music subscriber, I could stream any song on the go—not just the playlists I presync to the Watch.

But there are other reasons I bring my phone along on runs—things that even a cell-connected Apple Watch couldn’t do. For example, I occasionally stumble across something interesting while I’m out: a glorious sunrise, a gnarly snapping turtle, a dew-starred spider web. I whip out my phone and snap a photo—a nice reward for my exercise efforts. What happens when the “camera that’s with you” is no longer with you?

Another problem? Podcasts. There’s currently no good way to play podcasts from the Apple Watch itself. Apple inexplicably continues to ignore podcast playback as a potential Watch feature. Meanwhile, third-party apps, hindered by the platform’s limited APIs, haven’t filled the gap. If I want to catch up on my favorite shows while I run, the iPhone needs to come along for the ride.


For me, then, an LTE-equipped Apple Watch seems to create as many problems as it solves. That makes it tough to justify the added cost, particularly if the carriers charge a per-month fee (which is likely).

To be fair, Apple hasn’t made their pitch yet. There may be a use case here that I can’t think of—a benefit that would outweigh the drawbacks of running phoneless. Or maybe they’ll find ways to replace more of the phone’s functionality than currently seems possible. In any case, I’m looking forward to hearing their argument on September 12.

Categories
Apple Tech

Handling the notch

Apple-watchers agree that iPhone Pro’s screen will feature a hardware “notch”—a cutout in its otherwise bezelless design for the camera, earpiece, and other sensors. But there’s less agreement on how the notch will be handled in software. The current status bar doesn’t seem to fit. Where will the omnipresent, centered clock go—if it remains onscreen at all?

One potential approach, which I’ve hacked together and included above, is to adopt a “two-row” status bar. This would take advantage of the vertical screen space to the notch’s left and right. Here, I’ve center-aligned the various indicators, since the rounded top-left and top-right corners made left- and right-alignment look odd. The clock gets pride of place at top left.


Thanks to Evan Blass for the iPhone Pro render and to Olivier Charavel for the notch mock-up. ■