Apple’s new iPhone, a strategic mistake?

This article is based on rumours, but I felt it was worth writing about it.

If we believe the latest rumours, then we can expect Apple to launch in September two updated iPhones – iPhone 7S and 7S Plus – as well as a completely re-designed iPhone – iPhone 8/X/whatever (I’ll call it iPhone 8/X below). iPhone 7 and 7S Plus are expected to be evolutions of the current models, whereas the new iPhone is expected to be substantially different. If you wish to know about all the latest rumours, I suggest you check out iMore .com’s article .

rumoured-iphone-8

On the one hand, it is exciting to see that Apple is finally pushing design innovation after 3 generations of upgrades, but at the same time I can’t help but think it shapes up to be an unfortunate move. Allow me to explain.

The current iPhones are already expensive phones. People pay for them, because they prefer to use them, but their biggest complaint is always price. When compared to the rest of the smartphone world, you can see below that the current iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are already quite a bit above what an Android user pays. And the new iPhone may well start above 1.000 dollars.

smartphone-price-ranges

I would argue that iPhones do command a premium – given their good user experience, quality hardware and top-notch after sales service – however, on the design front I am afraid that they are not state of the art anymore. If the current iPhones need anything at all, it would be a reduction in their footprint, i.e. improve the screen-to-body ratio.

samsung-galaxy-s7-edge-vs-apple-iphone-6s-plus

I was fortunate enough to try out a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, and wrote about the experience here . Although I think iPhones have great build quality, nice materials and so on, they can’t compare to what Samsung brings to the table. I found my iPhone 6S Plus dimensions/design to be very outdated.

I realise that with the regular iPhone 7 this is less of a problem, but the iPhone 7 Plus is quite an unweildy device. It would greatly benefit from shaving 4 mm of the width and 6–8 mm from the length. This would certainly result in a better user experience (all else being equal, of course).

Fortunately, it seems Apple agrees that they can do better, but it also seems that the “regular” iPhones will not benefit from this effort. The new design would be reserved for the new iPhone 8/X. And this is the reason I am calling this possible development quite unfortunate.

“Regular” iPhone users already pay a premium in the market. Is it not reasonable to expect Apple to update the design of these immensely profitable phones after 3 generations of limited changes? And not just expect a re-designed iPhone for an even higher price. I think that development would be disappointing.

I realise that Apple can get away with it, but I just wish it were different. I am very keen to see how this all plays out.

Smartphones and their ecosystems

samsung-galaxy-s7-edge-vs-apple-iphone-6s-plusMy current mobile phone is the iPhone 6S Plus, but I have been trialling a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. I realise that both are not exactly new phones, but still I am finding it to be an interesting comparison of the iPhone and Android ecosystem at large. More and more I am finding that the decision making process of a smartphone go beyond just the smartphone and how it performs. In fact, I will most likely choose to stay with the “inferior” smartphone.

To put this comparison in context, I should point out that I am an Android user at heart. Although I have used only an iPhone for the past 6 months, these last few days with the Galaxy S7 Edge have shown me that I feel more at home in the Android user experience. It is only fair to highlight that, as it impacts my personal view points.

Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

So, what is it that I like about the S7 Edge? These are the standout features in my opinion:

  • The design and form factor. The S7 Edge is a very compact design for a large screened phone. It is really nice to handle in one hand. When side-by-side with the iPhone 6S Plus, the plain truth is that the S7 Edge looks and feels from a different planet. The iPhone 6S Plus is rock solid but feels like a truck, and the S7 Edge feels like a nimble machine. Samsung really has done an incredible job designing this phone and Apple needs to step up its game in terms of ergonomics.
  • The screen, including the edges. I have owned many Samsung phones, and I always find that they have the best screens in the market. It is no different for the S7 Edge: the blacks, the colours, the brightness and the resolution are spot on. I have even started liking the curved edges. I thought it was perhaps only a gimmick, but there is something about it. The screen  feels more immersive with image and video content.
  • The camera. Everybody knows that the top Samsung cameras are up there with the very best. I am very pleased with it. I find that it shoots better pics in indoor situations than my current iPhone. It manages to capture a bit more light and detail. Besides that, the camera experience is great as well.
  • Android user experience. I just feel more at home with the home screen, application drawer, notification pane, ability to set default apps, third party keyboard support, file system access, no iTunes …
  • Extras. Although not critical, the water proofing, wireless charging, and Samsung Pay all help build an attractive package.

The phone is not perfect of course, and here are some things I did not particularly like:

  • Delicate and slippery. I could not comfortably use this phone without a case. With this much glass on both sides and such a slippery feeling, I had to buy a case. Now with a sleek TPU case it is a joy to use. Still, Samsung should worry about this sort of thing more.
  • The fingerprint scanner. It is not bad, but too many error readings and a bit too slow. Samsung needs to figure this one out.
  • Firmware updates (or lack there of). You never really know when and what you will receive, even with an unlocked phone. We are still waiting for Nougat and it should arrive soon, but who knows.

Lastly, I can’t deny that I am worried about the two biggest flaws in Android: performance takes a hit after months of use and occasionally you experience an unexpected battery drain. Performance was very good in my usage, but only a long-term test can inform about how it maintains that level.

The scale of positives and negatives is in favour of the positives, but still I am not sure that I should keep the S7 Edge. The key to that apparent incongruence is that increasingly smartphone purchase decisions will be based on other factors than the smartphone alone.

Apple

So what is it that Apple does so well for me that I may choose a slightly inferior (completely my opinion and based on my experience and preferences) smartphone:

  • Apple Watch. Although smartwatches don’t appear to be exactly a success, I quite like them and Apple Watch is the best of them (after having tried a couple of Android Wear watches and a Pebble). I could live without the Apple Watch of course, but the biggest problem is that on the Android side I don’t see a clear vision from Google. They have posponed Android Wear 2 and manufacturers like Motorola have indicated they won’t be a launch partner. Uncertainty, to be sure.
  • Homekit. I am starting to play with home automation and really like what Homekit has to offer. I feel that Apple has implemented the right security and usability requirements to make it the best solution. Knowing that I can buy secure components and control them from a central place is great. Again, Google has tried to make this work for Android as well, but it is a real mess. They announced Google Home a long time ago, but that didn’t go anywhere. After that they announced some protocols – weave and brillo – but that also failed to take off in a significant manner. Now they have packaged this all up as Android Things, but I have serious doubts they will get there act together.
  • Apple TV. This is less of a factor, as the Apple TV is a great stand-alone product in its own right. However, the iPhone and Apple TV do complement each other very nicely.
  • CarPlay. Although Android Auto is available, Apple has again an advantage: car manufacturers just need to worry about compatibility with iPhones, all made by the same manufacturer, and often on the latest OS version. Also, Apple is slow at rolling out new features, which is great  for car manufacturers.

So yes, beyond the apps that you may have bought on a certain platform, it is the investment and tie-in with other accessories/equipment that really makes for a compelling reason to stick with what you have and what works.

Conclusion

When relating this back to Samsung, they are in a difficult situation. They are trying to make their own ecosystem with Tizen running on watches and TVs and having their own SmartThings solution for home automation.

The problem they face is that they don’t manage to get scale with any of these (except for the TVs, perhaps). Should they totally back Android Wear, Android TV, and Android Things, perhaps these would take off and create an ecosystem that can compete with Apple’s. However, that ecosystem is not on a Samsung level, but rather the platform level.

Allthough it may not be ideal, I do feel that Samsung should build more on the Android ecosystem as any ecosystem is better than none, I have come to experience now.