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Summary:

Apple yesterday introduced two new models of its iPhone — iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s. One is a mid-market product and the other is targeting the top end of the market. And they are both packed with some incredible stuff. Here is what I like & dislike.

iPhone 5C
photo: Apple

From manufacturing processes to marrying elements of user experience with hardware components, Apple still retains that special edge of creating great hardware and integrating cutting edge technologies in the most human way. That point was reinforced yesterday at its iPhone event.

Actually you just need to see those videos starring Jony Ive to see the attention lavished by the company on the hardware. Here are some of the things that impressed me the most, not because Apple did them first, but because how flawlessly they worked. And I have some thoughts on how this these play against Google’s phone strategy; particularly with how it relates to the Moto X.

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Much to like in the new iPhones

  • The TouchID fingerprint-based security/password system works as advertised. And a lot of that has to do with the new chip that Apple has built for the new iPhone 5s. Apple isn’t the first one to use biometric integration, but they did a bang-up job and this will only help accelerate the biometrics on mobile phones.
  • The way TouchID fingerprint works is that the fingerprint information is encrypted and stored securely in the Secure Enclave inside the A7 chip on the iPhone 5s. Apple explained that fingerprint data is never stored on Apple servers or backed up to iCloud. Third party apps can’t access either. The only thing that accesses it is Touch ID, I was told by an Apple spokesperson via an email.
  • Apple’s approach is the opposite of the cloud-first approach taken by the likes of Google, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. I am not sure how to read this especially in the light of recent allegations that security agencies have backdoors into all phones including iPhones. What is the point of fingerprint-based security if there is a back door? Apple didn’t have a response to my questions regarding this issue. In an essay, Bruce Schneier, an expert in privacy and security argued we shouldn’t be deluded by biometrics-based security.
  • Apple is probably one of the most advanced chip companies in the world, except that it isn’t really a chip company; it designs but doesn’t build the silicon. The A7 processor is amazing and when I used the iPhone 5s, the oomph was visible to the eye. It breezed through tasks and everything was amazingly silky. The new chip is good for helping process photos from the new iSight camera.
  • The new iSight camera is pretty much the death knell for low end digital cameras — and perhaps that is why companies like Sony and Fuji are focusing on the mid-to-higher end of market. I played with that camera for a few minutes, and I can tell you I will be taking better photos for my Instagram feed. This blending of hardware oomph with software smarts is possible because of the A7 chip. My photography nerd friends approve of the new capabilities of Apple’s new camera (despite still being 8 megapixels). The FaceTime Camera (front camera) improvements are welcome especially since the selfie-craze has gone mainstream thanks to SnapChat.
  • The new A7-powered iPhone 5s (and whatever new device they make in the future) should be a death knell for portable gaming devices and as my colleague Lauren Hockenson suggested, a chance for the company to take a share of the console market. An A7 inside Apple TV could easily compete with consoles as well, with iPad/iPhone as controllers. Again, this is me just spitballing on possibilities.
  • The new 64-bit architecture is a pretty big deal as it gives the company an edge over rivals. Google is quite vague about their 64-bit plans. I asked Google for clarity and have yet to receive an answer. I will keep waiting. ARM had announced the Cortex A-50 series of 64-bit processors earlier this year and indicated that they will come to market at scale in mid-2014. From that perspective, this is an edge for Apple, at least in the near term.
  • The M7 sensor processor probably is one of the most unique things as it will reduce the drain on the battery and at the same time, it will allow the aggregation of sensor data to shape better and more unique app experiences. In the near term, the M7 sensor essentially opens up opportunities for new fitness applications. M7 will help create a personal computing fabric that will reside on our person — be it wearables such as Nike Fuel band, a smart watch or whatever. Sensor data is a way for apps to get “senses.”
  • The M7 sensor processor, Bluetooth LE support and iBeacon are part of the efforts Apple is making to push “low power everywhere.” At the event yesterday, Phil Schiller, Apple’s vice president of marketing pointed out that the iPhone 5s is going to have the same battery power as the current iPhone — despite the upgraded hardware features.

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The 5C? Color me not impressed

Now for the bad news: it doesn’t matter how many videos Ive stars in; no one really cares about the loveliness of the innards of the device. What matters is how it looks, how it works and how it integrates with the services.

  • Most people think that iPhone 5c is a great product and are cheering Apple for having done it. Jacqui Cheng of Ars Technica nods in approval and so does John Gruber. I am not one of them — I played with it in the demo area and found it a little lacking. Apple extolled virtues of the iPhone 5c being made to Apple’s exacting standards, and that might be so — but it is not for me.
  • Given its recent past, there are three design elements & emotions that I associate with Apple products — brushed metal, understated look and blending of monochromatic colors. Apple products signify a certain amount of luxury and lushness to them. The iPhone 5c doesn’t have any of that. The phones are garish to my eyes but then, as I said, I am a black-white-gray-maybe-blue kinda guy. They feel “budget” to me and the pastel color palette is a little meh. The iPhone 5c is slippery to hold and attracts fingerprints smudges. From my perspective it is missing the luxury feeling. The iPods with color have a more lush feel than these phones crafted from plastic, or polycarbonate as Apple defines it.
  • I thought I would gift these to my nieces but instead will send them the entry level iPhone 5s. It is worth the extra dollars and they will enjoy the iOS 7 much better with the higher oomph of iPhone 5s.
  • I personally will upgrade to iPhone 5s. my iPhone 5 is almost dead, thanks to my unparalleled ability to let it fall from my hands pretty much once a month.

What about cloud services?

Now for what has been on my mind before this event and will probably will be on my mind for a while: Apple’s inability to understand and embrace the internet, the cloud and services.

Arguments can be made that Apple is building big data centers and it video steamed iTunes festival to 100+ countries, but the fact of the matter is that Apple is severely lacking in internet-based capabilities. Just ask any developer who has bet on iCloud and they will tell you so (privately, of course). I am waiting for iTunes Radio to be available at scale.

But all this is marginal stuff compared to the importance of cloud-based intelligence and data-crafted experiences in the future. This past week I signed up for MotoX and customized it. I wasn’t expecting much — another Android phone, right?s

Wrong! It is an Android phone with Google Now done right — it is the first real example of machine-based intelligence being put to use for a better experience on a phone. It fits so seamlessly into daily life that you wonder what you will do without it. And it has its own pair of low-powered processors, similar to what Apple has in the A7, that handle natural voice processing and sensor readings. With those, you can quickly open the camera app with a wrist flip or speak to Google Now without touching the phone.

Google Now, by the way makes Apple’s Siri look like a toy. Of course, I know that just like Facebook, Google is part of the web establishment that erodes our privacy. And yes, I am conflicted by the possibilities of putting machines to work for me and being worked over by the machines.

Either way, it is pretty clear that if Apple needs to stay in the game, it needs to figure out how to factor internet and cloud services into its future. If it can combine their hardware and software capabilities to cloud, it would have access to our hearts and wallets for a long time.

If not, then maybe they should make phablets and five more colors.

TimCook20131

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  1. I love Apple products but the 5S isn’t something that makes me want to run out and grab it like the iPhone 5 did. I am excited about the new processor but the Touch ID isn’t something that I can honestly say would be worth the upgrade.

  2. Hi Om, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m an iPhone / iOS user, and one thing that I have continually wondered about when hearing how great Google Now is, is what specifically it does that is so indispensable.

    When it was first released, I heard about it proactively notifying the user about traffic conditions on the route to work or appointments, sending sports scores of interest, and perhaps changes to a flight reservation if it’s in your gmail account. Also, it notifies about the upcoming weather.

    I don’t deny that those are cool things, but for my particular lifestyle (programmer working from a home office and don’t care about sports scores), it seems like none of those particular features are all that important.

    So I’m wondering if you could fill in some details about how Google Now “fits so seamlessly into daily life that you wonder what you will do without it.” Like, what specifically it does for you every day.

    Also, any details on this: “Google Now, by the way makes Apple’s Siri look like a toy.”?

    From what I understand, other than the preemptive notifications listed above, and possibly better inline web search results, Google Now doesn’t do other things Siri doesn’t and is missing a lot of the deep and seamless integration with text messages, emails, music, reminders, calendar, etc. that Siri offers.

    I’m curious because I hear a lot of (surely deserved) accolades for Google Now, but almost no specific examples.

    Thanks!

    1. decompiled, I hope you get a reply from Om and others. I am in the same situation you describe. I love the concept of a phone that is always listening and ready to do things for me, so I’m concidering the Moto X, but the features available today in Google Now don’t do much for me. On the other hand, the iPhone 5S has a lot of interesting hardware and software I would like to try out.

  3. instead iphone 5 power in a plastic case for a cheaper iphone apple would have been better off putting a slower processor and less flash in the 5/5s housing for the discounted price.

  4. still tiny screen- I can’t deal with 4 inch screen with my chubby fingers

    1. I get it. I have the opposite problem. I can’t carry the larger-screened Android phones in my normal-sized pockets.

      1. Galaxy S4 in an Otterbox Defender case fits in my Dickies khaki pants’ pockets, which is relatively smaller compared to a Dockers pants’ pockets.

  5. Reblogged this on xiaoluoshi and commented:
    Everyone has their own views

  6. In other words, the 5c feels like it was made by Samsung?

    1. Apple is one of Samsung’s biggest customers for processors and memory chips

  7. So on the 5C, is it really a C as in “Cheap”, and “Cost Consious”

  8. Gigaom – please add flag functionality to comments section so we can get these scumbag ad posters off the site.

    1. Thank you for your suggestion. I shared it with our developers.

  9. 5c is aiming at low end market. With your description, i find nothing wrong with it. It’s not mean for the luxury product and not for that level of consumer. So, i still feel impress in my point of view if you treat is as a different class other than 5s.

  10. Well Done… nicely balanced none biased report!
    thank you thank you thanks you!

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