Why Apple keeps iPhone specifications quiet

Posted:
in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited January 2014
In marked contrast to the PC market, where differention primarily centers around gigabytes, GHz, and Intel Inside branding, Apple is working to keep attention on the iPhone's software, with a curious avoidance of any mention of the make or specification of its internals, apparently for competitive reasons.



The specifications of the iPhone and iPod touch, as well as the internal details of other integrated products sold by the company such as Apple TV, aren't being kept secret to keep competitors from knowing what's inside, as the components are quickly discovered in a simple tear down. Instead, Apple is working to keep consumers' attention focused on what's unique to its iPhone and other devices, which is often the company's unique software, rather than the commodity hardware the company commonly uses and which competitors can much more easily duplicate.



The unique software capabilities of the iPhone, including its ability to run the 50,000 titles on the App Store, is far more important from a marketing standpoint than the hardware specifications of the iPhone that any manufacturer can match or exceed with little effort. The company faced similar issues in working to sell the original Macintosh against DOS PCs, which were marketed primarily as having a given number of megabytes and MHz rather than having the functionality or usability of the Mac's graphical user interface.



Rather than being compared on the basis of MHz and MB of RAM, the numbers Apple would prefer to have consumers and pundits contemplate are the installed base of more than 40 million users, the tens of thousands of apps available from thousands of developers, and the number of free regular updates that Apple ships to enhance and secure the iPhone's operating system. Those are numbers that phones using Android, BlackBerry OS, Symbian, WebOS, and Windows Mobile are hard pressed to match.



Platform size



While RIM, Symbian and Microsoft advertise sales of more phones than Apple, none of them have a comparably large installed base of modern phones that all run the same software. That's why Apple could compare its iPhone app library against only 5,000 apps for Android, and even fewer software titles for phones such as Nokia's, which sell in much greater quantity but have fractured software platforms where each phone only runs specific titles.



Similarly, Microsoft's highly publicized 50 million Windows Mobile phones are fractured between Pocket PC devices with a full touch screen and those the company referred to as "Windows Smartphones," which have no touch screen and only limited button control. Writing software to take advantage of both form factors requires more work with little payoff for developers.



Apple's cohesive iPhone platform is now being tested to see how well the company will be able to introduce significant new hardware features without similarly fracturing its platform, potentially resulting either in software titles that only run on specific models or, alternatively, a "lowest common denominator" barrier that prevents developers from really using any of the new features.



The iPhone upgrade cycle



Last year, Apple improved upon the original iPhone's hardware by adding key missing features, including GPS and 3G mobile data service. It also added the increased overhead of push messaging and installing and running third party applications and graphics intensive games, without addressing any of those processor intensive software functions with hardware processing improvements.



This year's iPhone 3G S focuses on hardware performance improvements with its faster general purpose ARM and PowerVR graphics processor cores and increase in its internal RAM from 128MB to 256MB. Apple has oddly enough kept the internal specifications of the iPhone hidden, which is curious given the fact that they won't be secret for long once the device goes on sale.



It's also a bit unusual in that specification numbers have long driven purchasing decisions in the PC market, often pointlessly. A decade ago, consumers were so driven by marketing efforts to demand greater clock cycles regardless of actual performance that it coined the term "Megahertz Myth." Intel was eventually forced to back down from its marketing-oriented clock cycle engineering on the Pentium 4 and start over with a new design that delivered real performance and efficiency at lower clock speeds with the Core architecture.



Apple's marketing has focused on the usability and utility of the iPhone, particularly its extensive library of mobile applications on the iTunes App Store. The company is pushing developers hard to ensure that their existing apps work without a hitch on the new model and under the new iPhone 3.0 software release, giving them early access to the golden master version of iPhone 3.0 and allowing a couple days between the new software release and the first sale of new iPhone 3G S. People familiar with the gold master say the included App Store application will identify which applications have been quality tested with iPhone Software 3.0 and which have not, as can be seen in the below image.







Keeping software compatible isn't easy



Last year, the introduction of new hardware features such as GPS did not result in two classes of software, one that required a GPS model and one that could not take advantage of the new feature. Instead, Apple paved over the differences in the platform using hardware abstraction. In the case of GPS, the iPhone's Location Services allowed devices with GPS to obtain more accurate positioning, while devices lacking GPS could still triangulate their position using cell phone towers and WiFi base stations with known positions.



Similar efforts have kept other hardware changes from causing serious software incompatibilities. By making new technologies optional but accessible in the platform, Apple's third party developers can easily incorporate the latest features in the iPhone 3G S while leveraging the large base of existing users by remaining seamlessly compatible. That solves a major Catch-22 that has commonly plagued computing platforms: how to introduce something really new without losing your existing users. Apple has been learning how to do that for over thirty years. It's not easy.



The iPhone OS has to seamlessly manage the new phone's faster processor speed to accelerate the animated interface while preserving proper timing for things that can't run twice as fast, such as video playback and certain animations. While these are fairly elementary aspects of managing a software platform, rival software platforms from Nokia, Microsoft, Google, RIM, and Palm have demonstrated serious problems in delivering both developers and end users a simple, cohesive, and yet progressive platform.



Palm's early design decisions in its Palm OS devices resulted in the platform tanking as the company shifted back and forth on strategies for moving it ahead, ranging from migrating the old interface from the 68000 chip to a new ARM processor without being able to take much advantage of the new CPU, to introducing new operating system revisions that the market and developers simply ignored, such as Palm OS Cobalt 6.0. During all of this the Palm OS was allowed to stagnate in terms of new features.



Microsoft experienced similar problems with Windows CE/Windows Mobile. First, it attempted to support too many hardware configurations, from Handheld PCs to Pocket PC PDAs to several smartphones form-factors, non of which really became popular enough to support a viable software business. The company also chose to make major architectural changes in Windows Mobile that jettisoned support for previous devices' hardware, forcing developers to either cater to a tiny installed base of new models, or the now obsolete market of existing devices.



RIM advertised its new iPhone-like Storm as "the first touchscreen BlackBerry," but it was only a BlackBerry in marketing. It didn't work much like earlier models, didn't run the same software, and developers needed to write all new titles to take advantage of its features. Most importantly, potential developers couldn't benefit from the large installed base of other BlackBerry users, giving them little reason to write apps for it until enough people had bought one, while potential buyers were left to realize that there was no real potential for a wide variety of Storm apps approaching that of the iPhone's.



Managing the platform



Another aspect to keeping technical specifications out of the limelight is that Apple is careful to expose access to hardware components in a manageable, sustainable manner. If developers are allowed to write "to the hardware," the result is a broken platform where the vendor can't move forward without breaking the apps.



Apple experienced this problem in the clever hacks to the classic Mac OS which resulted in destabilizing the system, a problem that got progressively worse after the company sanctioned the system patches in System 7 under the name Extensions. In Mac OS X, reference releases have been plagued by Input Manager hacks that similarly caused some serious compatibility problems.



That has led Apple down the road of a tightly managed iPhone platform where the execution of third party software requires code signatures and sandboxing, and where access to hardware has been roped off until the company could perfect abstracted public access to features in a way that can accommodate new underlying changes as future models are released.



Users shouldn't need to know how much RAM is available to the operating system of a mobile device, or how fast its primary CPU core is clocked at; what they should care about is how usable the device is and what it allows them to do. That's the message Apple is working to control.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 53
    This was a really good article. I agree that it's wise to not publicly announce the tech specs of the iPhone. Hardware is only as good as its software, so if Apple has a good mobile OS, consumers shouldn't have to worry about the hardware.
  • Reply 2 of 53
    richlrichl Posts: 2,213member
    Quote:

    While RIM, Symbian and Microsoft advertise sales of more phones than Apple, none of them have a comparably large installed base of modern phones that all run the same software.



    Is that true? There's probably 120 million devices running Symbian S60 v3. RIM and MS appear to be at least keeping pace with the iPhone, though obviously that doesn't factor in iPod touch sales.



    Quote:

    and even fewer software titles for phones such as Nokia's, which sell in much greater quantity but have fractured software platforms where each phone only runs specific titles.



    Is that true? The only Symbian S60 software I've come across that doesn't run across all devices on the same version is software that requires certain hardware features (i.e accelerometer). Just like some applications written for the new iPhone OS v3.0 won't run on iPhone OS v2.0 and visa versa.



    I'm not doubting that the Apple app store is amazing or that Apple is right to focus on features, not number. Just doubting the FUD you propagate about other companies.
  • Reply 3 of 53
    ghostface147ghostface147 Posts: 1,629member
    I am waiting for the first app that requires a 3Gs. Then of course all the previous generation phone owners will scream bloody murder. If anyone is going to develop the first 3Gs app, most likely a game, it would be John Carmack, who already is very impressed with the SDK.
  • Reply 4 of 53
    abster2coreabster2core Posts: 2,501member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ghostface147 View Post


    I am waiting for the first app that requires a 3Gs. Then of course all the previous generation phone owners will scream bloody murder. If anyone is going to develop the first 3Gs app, most likely a game, it would be John Carmack, who already is very impressed with the SDK.



    There are some already as announced at the WWDC. If everything had to be backward compatible, there would be no future. Then you would hear screaming.
  • Reply 5 of 53
    caliminiuscaliminius Posts: 944member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    In marked contrast to the PC market, where differention primarily centers around gigabytes, GHz, and Intel Inside branding, Apple is working to keep attention on the iPhone's software, with a curious avoidance of any mention of the make or specification of its internals, apparently for competitive reasons.



    Why exactly is the iPhone being compared to a PC? When I go to the Verizon Wireless website and look at smartphone specifications and compare that with what is on Apple Store's site, I don't see much difference. I'm not sure if there is ANY phone that mentions GHz or Intel Inside branding.



    Oh, wait, this is a Prince article and one of those wouldn't be complete without some stupid dig at Microsoft and PCs.
  • Reply 6 of 53
    jupiteronejupiterone Posts: 1,564member
    Why is this in the iPod + iTunes + AppleTV forum?
  • Reply 7 of 53
    teckstudteckstud Posts: 6,476member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by themoonisdown09 View Post


    This was a really good article. I agree that it's wise to not publicly announce the tech specs of the iPhone. Hardware is only as good as its software, so if Apple has a good mobile OS, consumers shouldn't have to worry about the hardware.



    Yes and No. Remember this is one of, if not the main reason, Apple switched from PowerPC to Intel in its computers.
  • Reply 8 of 53
    teckstudteckstud Posts: 6,476member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by JupiterOne View Post


    Why is this in the iPod + iTunes + AppleTV forum?



    To aggravate you.



    First sentence, second paragraph:

    Quote:

    The specifications of the iPhone and iPod touch, as well as the internal details of other integrated products sold by the company such as Apple TV.......



  • Reply 9 of 53
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by caliminius View Post


    Why exactly is the iPhone being compared to a PC? When I go to the Verizon Wireless website and look at smartphone specifications and compare that with what is on Apple Store's site, I don't see much difference. I'm not sure if there is ANY phone that mentions GHz or Intel Inside branding.



    Oh, wait, this is a Prince article and one of those wouldn't be complete without some stupid dig at Microsoft and PCs.



    A Mac is a PC. PC = Personal computer. Sadly this term no longer applies in this day in age. (Apple realizes this.) So in order split the Windows units up from the Mac, they haft to call 'em by what we call them "PCs." Even though a Mac counts as one to. Simple Elementary, Watson.



    The reason he compared an iPhone to a PC is cause the iPhone OS is a mobile version of Mac OS X. Since they both use the same SDK. This also explains why its so easy to port games over the system like Freeverse has been doing. Its how Apple was able to easily get away with turning the iPod Touch into gaming platform and why multiplayer is possible. Normal phones cannot do this. Surprisingly, not even Windows mobile and they've been in the market much longer.



    Point is, your overacting and he was talking in general terms.
  • Reply 10 of 53
    macshackmacshack Posts: 103member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ghostface147 View Post


    I am waiting for the first app that requires a 3Gs. Then of course all the previous generation phone owners will scream bloody murder. If anyone is going to develop the first 3Gs app, most likely a game, it would be John Carmack, who already is very impressed with the SDK.



    I don't think so. At this moment Apples app market is very healthy. Developers wont all of a sudden stop to develop for the older versions. There is still a 40000000 userbase out there. This will slowly balance out and eventually the older versions will phase out and there will be a very natural and healthy transition to newer versions. Also because the iPhone OS is very scalable older iPhone versions will be able to last longer. I just put OS 3.0 on my iPhone. And it feels like a whole new device again. Safari is screaming. One would think that my oprator increased network speeds. Everything is even smoother and faster. And the new functionality is such a releave. I was going to see if in any way I could get the newer version. But with this software update I can wait another year. Well done Apple you did. Now lets see what the competition is going to do. Will Palm survive? Will RIM come with something creative on their own? Will Nokia learn from its mistakes? And will the android really take off or will it stay a phone for geeks and tweakers?
  • Reply 11 of 53
    irelandireland Posts: 17,584member
    Cause if they keep it a secret there will be more chatter, more articles, and more buzz. It's that simple.
  • Reply 12 of 53
    italiankiditaliankid Posts: 279member
    the article mentions that Android only has 5,000 apps.



    I remember July of 2008 when I searched the App store there was very little apps. I could go through them all quite quickly. There was less than 300 apps.



    Most of the 50,000 apps in the App store (the ones that are free are garbage. If you don't believe me,... try the apps for yourself. At least with Android, most of the Apps are free, saving you hundreds if you where to download the same ones on the iPhone!





    Food for thought.
  • Reply 13 of 53
    My guess is that he is referring to S60, S40 and the N-gage platforms which have select applications. If you remember, Nokia has shutdown Mosh, which was supposed to be their "app store" due to piracy. Also, what runs on S60v3 mostly does not run on S60v2 while most of v2 apps are compatible on v3. Add that to the cumbersome method of using the IMEI to get a certificate to install an application. I used to like Nokia very much but now I have an E51 just to make the phone calls only and its good battery life. I used to install apps on it but gave up due to the hassles of getting a certificate and authenticating it. (It is unverifiably rumored that S60v4 will be so crippled that it will be impossible to install apps without modifying the firmware (getting a jailbroken S60 OS)). I am all the time on my Ipod Touch reading and browsing. I only wish the iPhone was affordable where I live but I will wait as Apple introduces the iPhone 3GS so that I can get the older model.



    Apple really nailed it with their user experience and the platform. They made it so elegant and easy to install that it is child's play. And now they are implementing the same parental controls that Nokia did for Symbian in an easier way such as not to impede the user experience and the ability to install applications.



    I agree that the reason why Apple keeps it a secret is to not to focus on the hardware at all. It is to focus on the software and the experience of using it. Just like the Macbooks and iMacs. No longer worry about the hardware that Apple uses. But focuses on software like iPhone OS and Snow Leopard. But I have an alternate reason in that Apple knows that the hardware will change yearly or more. In order to avoid inventory lags, they would like to be as lean as possible. This is why I think Apple has told AT&T not to allow immediate upgrades for customers to the new iPhone 3GS and is focusing on developing the platform with medical and educational apps. It has realized that it needs to get a foothold in these markets with the mobile devices (after being successful with their laptops) and is catering towards that. This is also evident in that it expected a backlash as it did when it lowered the price of the 1st gen. iPhone purposefully in a well co-ordinated move.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by RichL View Post


    Is that true? The only Symbian S60 software I've come across that doesn't run across all devices on the same version is software that requires certain hardware features (i.e accelerometer). Just like some applications written for the new iPhone OS v3.0 won't run on iPhone OS v2.0 and visa versa.



    I'm not doubting that the Apple app store is amazing or that Apple is right to focus on features, not number. Just doubting the FUD you propagate about other companies.



  • Reply 14 of 53
    Well put.
  • Reply 15 of 53
    stompystompy Posts: 334member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by RichL View Post


    Is that true? ...



    Is that true?...



    I'm not doubting that the Apple app store is amazing or that Apple is right to focus on features, not number. Just doubting the FUD you propagate about other companies.



    Better--and earlier--piece on the same subject.
  • Reply 16 of 53
    jcw5002jcw5002 Posts: 37member
    Excellent post!! The first section was very insightful. Thanks!
  • Reply 17 of 53
    phizzphizz Posts: 142member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by caliminius View Post


    Quote:

    In marked contrast to the PC market, where differention primarily centers around gigabytes, GHz, and Intel Inside branding, Apple is working to keep attention on the iPhone's software, with a curious avoidance of any mention of the make or specification of its internals, apparently for competitive reasons.



    Why exactly is the iPhone being compared to a PC? When I go to the Verizon Wireless website and look at smartphone specifications and compare that with what is on Apple Store's site, I don't see much difference. I'm not sure if there is ANY phone that mentions GHz or Intel Inside branding.



    Oh, wait, this is a Prince article and one of those wouldn't be complete without some stupid dig at Microsoft and PCs.



    He's not comparing it to a PC - he started the sentence "In marked contrast to the PC...". In fact, the point you went on and made is sort of the point that the article made.



    Where was the "stupid dig" at Microsoft and PCs?
  • Reply 18 of 53
    jupiteronejupiterone Posts: 1,564member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by stompy View Post


    Better--and earlier--piece on the same subject.



    Nice article. Two things I took away from this:



    1) Apple excels at creating products that the general public likes because the company is driven by design, not by engineering.



    2) Snappier was used three times.



  • Reply 19 of 53
    An absolutely interesting article because of the advancements in the iphone and what has changed. The biggest update is really just the software for the iphone. yes this is a big deal software was big.



    In reality this new iPhone 3GS is really a minor refresh on the hardware side. Which is unfortunate because alot on the phone could have been updated. this is even more interesting because last year only a little got upgraded to update the phone to the 3G model also.



    To the layman they would say this is a great design it doesn't need much change, but to those who understand the business would say Apple is increasing its margins by not offering much advancements.



    Did they update the speaker phone in the new iphone? probably not

    Did they add a swapable battery? nope

    did they add an LED flash for camera? nope



    The upgraded camera is really mostly software, the hardware side is just 3 megapixel. not really that big of a deal, yes it is slightly better. but not dramatically.



    yes they updated the CPU, Ram, Wireless chip and more, but in the scope of things these arent dramatic upgrades, or upgrades that really cost apple too much, it feels like they just used chips for this years model that are faster.



    So after this article, what are we learning? that apple prefers to point the attention to the software because on the hardware side... they aren't making huge advancements. nor is the hardware actually that expensive. i'd love to see the component cost on building the iphone, i'd have to say the margins for apple are fantastic, let alone the money they make on the cellular service.
  • Reply 20 of 53
    ghostface147ghostface147 Posts: 1,629member
    What was one of Tim the Toolman's favorite sayings? More power!!!! Gotta love it....anything to make safari more snappy.
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