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apple

“And you can preorder it… today!”

With both the Apple Watch Series 5 and the AirPods Pro, Apple offered preorders on the very same day they introduced the product.

With a turnaround that short, customers face a dilemma. You can preorder the device, but you have no guarantee that the bauble will live up to Apple’s hype. There are no third-party reviews to guide your decision. Questions about the device’s capabilities inevitably linger. You’re literally buying sight unseen.

On the other hand, if you wait to order, there’s a decent chance the product will sell out and that you won’t get it on Day 1. Case in point: the AirPods Pro currently have a two-to-three week back order.

I wonder: how did Apple decide that these devices would be available for preorder immediately? Why not a few days later, as with the new iPhones? Here’s a cynical theory: maybe less expensive items (like the AirPods or the Watch) are more likely to be impulse buys. The customer doesn’t get a chance to weigh her purchase carefully. Instead, she acquiesces to the lizard-brain desire that Apple’s marketing engenders.

If that was Apple’s strategy, it worked—at least on me. ■

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apple Uncategorized

Buying an iPad Pro

Happy consumer

We visited family near Philly this weekend; in between activities, I slipped out to visit the Apple retail store at the nearby King of Prussia mall.

As an aside, if you ever have the chance to visit this edifice of consumerism… don’t do it. This is the Mall Experience™ taken all the way up to 11, from the impossible hunt for parking to the shoulder-to-shoulder congestion in the Apple Store itself.

Given the size of that crowd, I was surprised to find a bleached-white table of iPad Pros available—my own personal demo station. I experimented for a solid fifteen minutes, hefting the two sizes, flipping and fingering the Smart Keyboard folio, and sketching with the Apple Pencil.

As you may have guessed, it wasn’t just curiosity driving my visit. I had skipped a planned phone upgrade earlier this fall, and that left some cash in our gadget savings fund. I’d been considering a reentry into the iPad ecosystem, so I almost wanted to fall in love with the 11-inch. I half-expected to leave the mall clutching a wee iPad Pro, the Pencil, and the Smart Keyboard Folio.

That didn’t happen. As I played with the devices, I realized that the 11-inch iPad Pro makes compromises in all the wrong places. If you want a tablet for content consumption and occasional sketching, the 9.7-inch iPad gets you 90% of the way there—at just one-third the price. Sure, you’d be stuck with chunkier bezels, but are slightly thinner black bars worth $500?

On the other end of the spectrum, if you want “more iPad” than the 11-inch iPad Pro offers, the 12.9-inch model retains its advantages over its smaller counterpart—sketching and multitasking are better on the big screen. And thanks to the shrunken bezels, the new 12.9er is suitable for couch computing in a way its predecessor never was. It’s lighter, its footprint is smaller, and it’s surprisingly easy to handle. It’s a compromise you might be willing to make.

The other advantage to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro? Its Smart Keyboard is superior. The arrow keys on the 11-inch’s keyboard felt like tiny, cloth-wrapped chiclets—toy keys on a toy keyboard. Based on some brief experimentation, I also preferred the 12.9-inch keyboard’s viewing angles (though I would want to try both models while sitting before deciding on this).

As I compared, I realized that I didn’t want—and couldn’t justify—buying the 11-inch over its 9.7-inch entry-level sister. I knew that I could probably pick up that model for something like $250 on Black Friday, so I left the mall without making a purchase.

After getting home, however, doubt set in. No, I still didn’t want the 11-inch. But what about that svelte 12.9-inch model? It had felt surprisingly manageable. And If I wanted to buy it, now was the time; Apple’s online store is back-ordered, and we live too far from the nearest retail store to make a sojourn later.

Long story made short, we stopped by the mall again on our way out of town, and I bought the 64GB, WiFi-only, 12.9-inch iPad Pro in Space Gray, along with the second-gen Apple Pencil.

I’m still questioning the decision. $1,200 is a lot of money to spend on a device that could get squeezed out by my phone and my laptop. Fortunately for me, Apple’s generous return policy means I get a 14-day “trial” period to decide whether this iPad will earn a place in my computing workflow. ◾

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meta

You already have everything you need to create stuff on the internet

As Apple’s fall announcement event approaches, I’ve been eyeing the rumored iPad Pro. I find myself daydreaming about a “magic” tablet that, paired with a Smart Keyboard and an Apple Pencil, will inspire me to consistently create content and publish it online. That will somehow catapult me to internet nerd success.

Based on my history, that’s not going to happen. I’ve bought three iPads in the past; none of them made me more disciplined, more creative, or more talented. Each time, I struggled to find a use case for the thing, and the iPad would sit, unused and unloved, for weeks. Eventually, I abandoned the iPad upgrade train and sold off my iPad Pro. To be honest, I haven’t really missed it since.

Lesson learned? A new device won’t magically transform me into a prolific creator.

Fortunately, the inverse is also true: if you want to create stuff, you don’t need a new device. You probably already have everything you need to make stuff on the internet. Consider:

  • You could put off podcasting until you have spent $600 on a microphone, an audio hub, and a year’s worth of hosting. Or you could create an Anchor account for free, record using the built-in mic on your iPhone—and start today.
  • You could tie your blogging aspirations to writing software that costs $40 a year—or you could just use the text editor that comes free with your computer.
  • You could believe that a $150 mechanical keyboard will make you a better writer—or you could get by with a $15 Logitech bargain from Walmart.
  • You could “learn to draw” using a $700 iPad Pro and a $100 Apple Pencil—or you could pick up a $10 drawing pad and $20 worth of pencils and pens.

If we’re honest with ourselves, it’s not the tools that hold us back. The real obstacles to creative productivity? Low motivation and overcommitment.  ■

Categories
Culture

My favorite Black Friday tradition? Complaining about Black Friday.

It’s Black Friday—the highest of high American holidays.

For years, I puzzled about the traditions that have built up around the start of the holiday shopping season. “Who in their right mind,” I wondered, “would willingly wake before dawn to stand outside in sub-freezing temperatures, on the off chance that they might score a slight discount on a terrible TV set?”

And so I scoffed at the plebian masses, standing in line for the right to be the first to sprint into their local Wal-Mart. I shook my head sagely when the local news aired videos of shoppers trampling and berating each other to get their hands on the latest disposable toy. I rued the erosion of a family-oriented holiday and derided retailers who opened their doors on Thanksgiving evening.

Looking back, I relished my own Black Friday tradition: complaining about Black Friday.


Alas, I gave up my right to sneer at early holiday shoppers a few years ago—when I became one of them.

Back in 2013, at the height of the iPad’s popularity, Target announced a killer Black Friday deal: $20 off, plus a $100 gift card. I had been hankering to join the “post-PC revolution” this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

But to snag the discount, I would need to show up, in person, at the local Target outlet at 6 PM on Thanksgiving itself. With some embarrassment, I explained to my wife that I would be slipping out to shop. (Fortunately for me, she was more amused than annoyed.)

The shopping sojourn went as planned. I bought the tablet without incident; no sprinting or elbows required. I even sort of enjoyed the cultural experience—chatting up other people in the line as we waited for the doors to fling open. Power-walking through the store to the electronics department. Clutching my hard-won prize on the victory walk back to the car. Most of all, I felt a strange kinship for my fellow shoppers, who like me saw fit to celebrate the Day of Gratitude by buying more stuff.

As the Black Friday fever subsided, though, I found that I had lost more than I gained. I never really found a good use for the iPad itself. (For me, tablets have always fallen “into the cracks” between devices: worse for portable usage than a phone and worse for “real work” than a laptop.) In the ensuing months, I couldn’t really justify going to such lengths to secure a device I barely ever used.

The lost money and squandered family time are bad enough. But I have a more poignant regret about my participation in Black Friday mania: I lost any credibility as a couch critic of America’s bizarre shopping celebration. How can I sneer at the “mindless hordes” gathering outside the nearest Best Buy when I’m one of them? ■

Categories
apple Culture

Conspicuous consumption and the iPhone X

Tech pundits occasionally suggest that some gadget purchases are driven by conspicuous consumption. In this view, a device like the iPhone X serves as a status symbol—a way to assert that you have (and can afford) the best.

This mindset is completely alien to me. Does anyone actually want to broadcast their buying decisions in this way? Both my wife and I hail from lower-middle-class families, for whom frugality is a (perhaps the) prime virtue. We pinch our pennies, drive our cars until the wheels fall off, and fix things ourselves—even when we’d be better off hiring an pro.

This thrifty mindset extends to gadget purchases. Our tribe takes pride in not carrying the latest and greatest devices. From that perspective, the so-called “stagnant” design of the iPhone 6, 6s, 7, and 8 was actually quite appealing. Toss that device in a case, and no one else could tell if you were rocking a three-year-old handset (nice!) or a brand-new device (for shame).

Not so with the iPhone X. Between its bezelless screen, dual camera, and unmistakable notch, Apple’s flagship is easily identifiable. Even someone who’s only casually familiar with Apple’s handset lineup can pick the X out of a crowd of devices.

This “recognizability” was a reason I considered avoiding the iPhone X. A device this expensive serves as a negative status symbol among our friends and family. Most people know by now that the X is the “thousand-dollar phone.” Owning it sends adverse signals about your character; others may think you’re either flaunting your discretionary cash, or that you’re spending your hard-earned money foolishly.

So, given the choice, I’d prefer inconspicuous consumption over status shopping. Give me gadgets that feel luxurious but don’t look luxurious. I’d rather buy my iPhone in a cavernous, filthy, fluorescent-lit, bargain warehouse than the glass-walled, immaculate boutique of an Apple store. ■

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apple

iPhone X, ordered.

Note: I’m flying across the country today, but I wanted to jot down a few quick thoughts:

For weeks now, Apple enthusiasts have fretted about the limited availability of the iPhone X on blogs, podcasts, and Twitter. Based on their warnings–and based on leaks to mainstream publications about poor parts yield rates, I had expected it would be difficult, if not impossible, to order phones online tonight.

Happily, both of our orders–64GB models in white and space gray for my wife and me–went through smoothly. The Apple Store portal (accessed via the app on my current iPhone) sprung to life around 12:02 PT, and I was done with both orders three minutes later. I even, somehow, ended up with an extra “hold my place in line” reservation number, even though my two orders went through cleanly. I plan to release that reservation as soon as Apple chat support comes back online; somebody out there will be happy when that reserved phone gets reallocated.

Anecdotally, buying the X felt no different than previous iPhone preorder nights. In fact, it might have been the easiest preorder purchase I’ve ever made.

That’s not to say I enjoyed the process, though. Buying the iPhone X ruined a full night of sleep; between the mad dash, the time pressure, and the uncertainty, the preorder flooded my body with adrenaline. There was zero possibility of getting any rest after that point. It’s going to be a long day.

There’s another downside to preordering: the post-purchase, puritanical guilt. While I’ve posted again and again and again and again about justifying frequent iPhone upgrades, spending that much money still makes my palms sweat. In fact, I even returned my first iPhone purchase—the iPhone 4—soon after buying, because I felt so torn about dropping that much cash on a phone. The iPhone X’s sky-high sticker price only amplifies that feeling. Hopefully, the device retains its resale value, so that we can recoup at least some of its price premium when we upgrade next time.

Speaking of resale, there’s one last anxiety-provoking stage to the preorder process: reselling our current phones. It takes time to do it right: both iPhones need a thorough, detailed cleaning (a toothbrush is a helpful tool), there are glamour photos to snap, and I’ll likely list both devices on multiple online resale portals. If we’re lucky, we’ll clear $400+ for both phones–a significant saving step towards next year’s inevitable (?) upgrade. ■

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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.  ↩