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Across 2016, ostensibly legitimate journalists and research firms gravely warned that Apple was in trouble on every front--from low cost wearables to Microsoft's 2-in-1 notebooks, to Google's new Pixel Phone and a resurgent Samsung--as well as falling behind everyone else in the emerging, very promising field of Virtual Reality. They were all so incredibly wrong we can now have a good end-of-year laugh at their expense.
Apple's Infinite Loop campus
Take a gander at the goose in Apple's sauceThere are two measurements of success in the tech industry: one is applied to Apple, where expectations are stratospherically high and failure is always anticipated.
The other is applied to Apple's competitors, where expectations are so low that even a tremendous, embarrassing flop can be written off as a "valuable learning experience" (Google Glass) and every new failure rudely blindsides perpetually optimistic observers (Google Pixel: who could have guessed it wouldn't sell in significant volumes!? At least it was a valuable learning experience).
At the beginning of this year, AppleInsider published ￼"Apple's competition is going to have a tough year in 2016", examining the question of whether Apple even faces any effective competition anymore.
Throughout the year a variety of critics worked hard to invent competition for Apple. But no amount of advocacy or propaganda has shifted the reality that's readily apparent.
Entering 2016, Apple earned virtually all of the profits in smartphones, in tablets, in PCs and had introduced the only successful smartwatch--capable of not just stomping out Android Wear and Samsung Tizen as competitors but also taking a large bite out of premium Suisse watch sales--even as its rivals struggled in every product category.
Apple Watch in white ceramic
What changed this year? Apple's weak competitors lost more ground and suffered more failures, setting Apple up against an even weaker competitive threat in 2017.
Profits build offensive infrastructureAt the same time, while Apple is now amassing incredible piles of resources (now above $237 billion) and is returning $2 billion to shareholders each quarter, it's also investing tremendously in a proprietary software development (including macOS, iOS, tvOS, watchOS; the Continuity and iCloud glue that bind them together and its new Swift language and the development tools that power third party apps).
It's also investing billions in supply chain capacity, materials, operations and technology. And in parallel, it's building billions of dollars worth of new facilities, including its Campus 2 research and development offices in Cupertino and a global collection of other sites focused on software development, health technology, Maps, machine learning, silicon logic and other specialties.
While pundits keep asking simplistic questions about where Apple's next big i-device is, the reality is that we already have an ultra-mobile personal computer in iPhone, and mobile professional computer in iPad Pro, and conventional Macs. Apple doesn't need to introduce another device category as much as it needs to maintain and advance what it already sells.
Discussing mobile now is like discussing PCs in 2000. The important questions are about what we can build with this, and what we build next-- Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)
Microsoft wasn't expected to introduce a new OS every few years. Google wasn't tasked with creating a new search engine over and over again and HP and Dell churned out conventional PCs for many years without facing interrogation about the "next PC" replacement.
Apple's silicon secretsWhat drove much of the forward progress of the tech industry in the 1990s and 2000s was actually Intel's processors, continually upgrading PCs, servers and the software they ran.
Today, Apple is actually hampered by Intel's slower chip advancements in releasing new Macs. But in the iOS world, Apple has not only outpaced the industry in mobile Application Processors, but has also taken over ownership of the cream in mobile silicon.
Apple has not only outpaced the industry in mobile Application Processors, but has also taken over ownership of the cream in mobile silicon
It's done so by earning money on advanced chips and aggressively reinvesting that into further development.
When Apple first worked on the Newton Message Pad in the early 1990s, it had to invest in developing the ARM Architecture as a new mobile processor.
But it wasn't making enough money on hardware sales to rapidly and perpetually advance ARM chip development on its own. The rest of the industry, notably Nokia, began investing money into ARM chips and made them ubiquitous in phones. When Apple returned to ARM chips with iPod in 2001, they had become cheap and power efficient.
Apple spent billions investing more money into commodity ARM chip orders until the late 2000s, when it began doing custom design of its own ARM cores. Apple has not only radically advanced the state of the art, but has done so on a scale that nobody else can match.
No other phone or tablet maker sells anywhere near as many premium, powerful devices as Apple. That greatly reduces the potential for Google, a Chinese startup, or even Samsung to build a true competitor to iPhones or iPad at a similar cost structure. The chips used by Google's Pixel, for example, feature cores that are only half as fast as Apple's A10 Fusion.
And despite various attempts by Google, Microsoft and others to dumb down smartphones into less powerful devices using simpler chips at a lower cost, Apple has proven that a lucrative demand exists for very powerful smartphones capable of advanced processing features--notably including sophisticated camera imaging and secure biometrics for authentication and Apple Pay.
Across 2014, pundits and analysts were castigating Apple for not building a cheaper iPhone. Apple did eventually repackage iPhone 5 to resell it as iPhone 5c, and this was successful (despite many false reports maintaining that is wasn't). However, in the years since, Apple's own sales data has made it clear that it could perform better by focusing on more advanced and expensive models rather than cheaper repackaging.
In 2015 Apple launched iPhone 6 alongside its most expensive ever iPhone 6 Plus. Next year, Apple is rumored to be adding an even more premium option to woo high end buyers.
In direct contrast to the popular narrative of cheap commodity erasing Apple's Mac and iOS businesses, the reality is that Apple is increasingly becoming more difficult to compete against as it builds its own sophisticated custom silicon and refines its incrementally expanding software platforms.
While Apple keeps advancing its state of the art in core technologies, consider what its rivals have been doing in 2016.
Samsung's smoke screen of excessive innovationSamsung--after just beginning to recover to its 2014-level revenues after being clobbered by iPhone 6 & 6 Plus and then batted back down again by iPhone 6s an 6s Plus--rushed to market a poorly designed fablet flagship that was so dangerously prone to burst into flames that airports, metro stations and even cruise ships banned its possession on their vehicles. It was undoubtably the worst and most expensive recall to ever occur in tech.
Samsung's Galaxy karma from fomenting Bendgate
However, Samsung's fiery Note 7 conflagration was coached by the media as being a problem of the Korean conglomerate having "packed it with so much innovation" that, well, flames ensued. That ridiculous quote was actually set into type for the New York Times by Brian X. Chen and Choe Sang-Hun.
Remember when these writers excused iPhone 4 signal attenuation as a problem with Apple "packing too much innovation" into its products? No, because they didn't. They reviled Apple's innovation and branded it as an inexcusable failure because it might drop a call if you hold it wrong--versus bursting into flames no matter how it's being held.
Packed with so much innovation it naturally burns
Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Geoffrey A. Fowler and Joanna Stern insisted that while Samsung's defective design of the Note 7 carried a clear risk for fire and should be powered down and returned immediately, "there's no reason to believe other Samsung models are dangerous," shortly before citing an anecdotal story of an iPhone 7 that was also said to have caught fire in a posting on Reddit, a false equivalency of the highest order.
There's no evidence, anywhere, that iPhone 7 has an inherently flawed design that results in fire. If it did, there'd be many scores of reports, not a single photo posted to a site that provides an audience to the GamerGate and AltRight fringe--because Apple ships many times more premium iPhones compared to Samsung's Galaxy Note. There are, however, a variety of reports of other Samsung models catching fire (such as the Galaxy J5). But let's move past the selective reporting of facts by Fowler and Stern, because I don't have all day.
Pay no attention the fire behind the curtainNote instead that after Samsung released millions of dangerous Galaxy phones, then bungled its recall, handed out new batches of equally defective replacements, then pulled its 2016 Note 7 flagship entirely, reporters and research groups fell all over themselves to "report" that Samsung's explosive launch would have absolutely no impact on buyers' behavior going forward and virtually no impact on its brand.
Incredibly, CNBC and Reuters collaborated to spread the results of a single internal poll that insisted the "Galaxy Note 7 recall did not damage Samsung brand in U.S."
That poll was necessary to conduct and report because earlier, independent polls had reported that 34 percent, and later 40 percent, of current Samsung owners said that in the wake of the recall that they wouldn't buy another Samsung phone. Of those leaving the brand, 30 percent said they planned to switch to an iPhone.
With scathing results like that, why would news organizations with a clear bias against Apple feel the need to create their own data to refute the findings that exist on Apple's primary competitor, not to mention obvious reality? And why would they exclusively report only their own mind-bending findings? Also, what sort of data might they be able to create assuring the public of the safety of lead, asbestos, cigarette smoking and coal pollution?
More recently, NPD similarly issued a report suggesting that Samsung's Note 7 fiasco had no apparent impact on U.S. phone sales for the company, based on sales data.
However, it didn't quantify how much of this was attributable to Samsung offering generous cash handouts and other promotions, a very real expense necessitated by Galaxy Note 7 fires. However, it apparently remains necessary to exonerate Samsung because apart from that company, Apple has no real competition at all among smartphones that sell at a sustainable profit.
And a sustainable profit is one where real money is made, not just fake numbers like those that were reported by the Wall Street Journal in an article suggesting that China's Xiaomi was actually showing positive signs of potential profitability
Apple premium sales volumes lower than total global production of cheap devices!
Samsung is the only company apart from Apple that earns any significant profits from its smartphone sales, due almost entirely to its premium-priced Galaxy flagship models. With the primary competitor to Apple's iPhone literally on fire and pulled from the market, the only way to continue to marginalize Apple's phone business would be compare iPhone sales against volumes of low end phones shipped into developing countries. Done!
That's the same strategy IDC likes to use in marginalizing Apple Watch sales. Except that IDC can't even compare its Apple Watch estimates against other smartwatches, because that's not flattering to anyone but Apple. Instead, it has to compare $300 to $1,000 and up Apple Watch sales against Fitbit's fitness trackers with an average selling price of around $88 and Xiaomi's $13-25 fitness bands.
In 2015, Apple stopped detailing sales volumes of iPods, Apple Watch, and other hardware, including the new AirPods. That's allowed critics to claim that Apple might be hiding its failures, an idea that isn't often applied to Amazon, Google, Microsoft or even Samsung, none of which document their own sales of bands, tablets or even phones.
Selective scrutiny, broad credulityWhen Apple's chief executive Tim Cook noted that AirPods are "a runaway success" and that the company is "making them just as fast as we can" to meet demand, The Verge announced in its headline "that means nothing without numbers."
What a curious, egregious double-standard in framing events from a site that celebrates Bezos graph scales, Amazon's meaningless sales chart rankings, Microsoft's perpetual claims of "sold out" inventories, and Samsung's "quite smooth" numberless smoke signals of suggested successes.
Coincidentally, just days before skeptically suggesting Cook was lying about the popularity of AirPods, The Verge printed a Microsoft press release that claimed Mac users were rushing to buy a Surface. Rather than insisting that the claim "means nothing without numbers," Tom Warren nodded along with Microsoft's Surface advertisements, writing that they "might be paying off."
Warren wrote, "Microsoft still isn't providing sales numbers, but the company claims 'more people are switching from Macs to Surface than ever before,'" then repeated, "Again, Microsoft refuses to provide numbers but vaguely claims 'our trade-in program for MacBooks was our best ever.'"
Microsoft's Surface headline on The Verge expresses no skepticism of the the idea that significant numbers of MacBook Pro buyers are actually so disappointed in Apple that they are rushing out to those notoriously vacant Microsoft retail stores to snatch up its breathtakingly expensive Windows 10 PCs, but the site offers no similar level of credulity in the possibility that Apple's AirPods might be popular, even given the fact that Apple, an experienced high volume manufacturer, has stock-outs into January on a product it desperately wants to sell, not just advertise as a success.
Pathetic Pixel, Stagnant SurfacePerhaps writers at The Verge are just still really upset because they know that the site will have to write a new excuse for why Google's latest "Nexus," rebranded Pixel, failed to garner any real attention among buyers despite the website's valiant efforts to incessantly promote the device on behalf of Google.
Or alternatively, perhaps it's disappointed that its parallel promotion of Microsoft's Surface has been similarly ineffectual. The pricey, "Sleep of Death" premium notebooks, hybrid tablets and convertible desktops have had more praise heaped on them than a Millennial, but that still isn't resulting in total sales reaching above the $1 billion quarterly ceiling they've bumped up against for the last several years.
Before Microsoft got into hardware, all the tech media could talk about was how Apple's overall business model was doomed because of cheap commodity PCs. But now, Microsoft is supposedly going to be saved by innovative hardware designs and proprietary gadgets. Why? There's much less differentiation between a Microsoft branded PC and any other Windows PC running the same software.
Google was similarly credited with having erected a commodity platform in Android that Apple supposedly wouldn't be able to compete against, or even keep up with in terms of innovation. Those stories proved to be entirely false, but now Google's own hardware is being described as able to stand out and compete against the that same bulk of cheap Android commodity. Why?
Apple sells many times more notebooks, phones and tablets every quarter that either of its premium-commodity rivals, but the company is also tasked with not just remaining in the lead, but also bettering its own sales volumes each year by a margin greater than most of its competitors' total sales: another double standard.
Imagine a runner expected to not only beat everyone else in the race, but also beat their own best time, every time, while being derided as having a boring running style and failing to invent new ways to run each time they race. Meanwhile, everyone else gets a trophy just for showing up.
Virtual reality journalismJournalists are supposed to report what's happening, not invent a narrative they want to happen. The problem is that few modern tech writers are actually journalists. Many are casual bloggers from vendor advocacy sites with a grudge against Apple.
Journalists are supposed to report what's happening, not invent a narrative they want to happen
The New York Times hired Brian X. Chen despite his history in inventing quotations and attributing them to others for Wired, in an apparent attempt to instantiate his own desired reality (most famously, that Japan "hated" the iPhone).
The Wall Street Journal hired blogger Joanna Stern from a background at The Verge and Engadget, both of which desperately advocated Android ideology despite the software's technical failings, Google's poor management and maintenance of it, and its ultimate failure to be anything other than a "toxic hellstew" of a platform for also-ran hardware companies lacking the resources to maintain their own platform.
Bloomberg hired a rumor leaks blogger Mark Gurman to report hard news on Apple, after he scored such "exclusive reports" as the 2015 claim that the next Apple Watch would feature a camera and handle FaceTime calls (but not GPS!) and could be made from titanium, tungsten, palladium and platinum (but not ceramic!).
The FaceTime idea made no sense to anyone familiar with watchOS or even Apple's developer guidelines that outlined its "glanceable" UI as targeting a few seconds of interaction, rather than sustained video calls.
Tiny video calls of far poorer quality than the display on the phone you'd actually be using to handle the call anyway really made zero sense on any level. Essentially every other part of his report was also wrong. Yet this report was hailed for a year as being the definitive road map for Apple Watch, until everyone just forgot that everything they'd been told was completely wrong, made up guesswork.
And yet today, the majority of the most viral headlines about Apple are crafted by these same bloggers, now at major news outlets and claiming to know lots of details about what Apple is actually doing in automotive and other areas where far less is actually known compared to Apple Watch. These same figures collectively predicted that iPhone 7 would be boring, when all signs clearly pointed to major advances.
Apple's Tim Cook gets blogsplained in how to run a global enterprise by a person who reviews tech products
Tech media writers can invent attributions, stage false equivalencies and present made-up product rumors and channel checks as credible facts and get away with it, because nobody calls to mind their reports once they've collect all the clicks they can.
These fast-and-loose reporters are undermining their own credibility and the legitimacy of the media in general. They seem to feel entitled to continue without concern, because Apple is unlikely to correct them out of regard for its own secrecy. But how many times can you report that Apple is failing when it clearly isn't true?
It's hard to think of a better example of 2016's virtual reality in tech journalism than VR itself, which was hyped into a frenzy and used as a data point showing how Apple was falling behind and failing to meaningfully contribute to the important and imminently commercially-relevant business--right up to the point where VR was ultimately deemed toward the end of the year as being "the biggest loser" of the holiday season.
Post holiday sales data confirming our holiday buying study that bluetooth headphones (general category) were the big winner this holiday.-- Ben Bajarin (@BenBajarin)
The biggest actual winner so far this holiday season? Bluetooth headphones. That comes after Apple was derided for buying Beats, which now leads in Bluetooth headphones. That acquisition also set Apple up to leverage its silicon prowess to develop its custom W1 chip and release its own AirPods, which appear to be a hit.
While VR remained the "biggest loser" Bluetooth headphones were a holiday hit
After so many years of preaching PC Commodity, Android Ascendancy, Tablet Media Consumption Theory, Global Device Volume Market Share, and a basket of other propaganda tactics designed to aggrandize everything outside of the most successful and competent hardware maker, perhaps 2017 is the year for tech journalists to stop trying to effect ideological change and more honestly begin to report reality.
Apple's new A11 Bionic chip used in iPhone 8 and the upcoming iPhone X packs in an array of processing cores and sophisticated controllers, each optimized for specific tasks. We only know a bit about these, let alone what else is packed into this SoC. Here's a look at the new Apple GPU, Neural Engine, its 6 core CPU, NVMe SSD controller and new custom video encoder inside the package.
A new 3 Core GPU for graphics, GPGPU & MLApple's first internally-designed GPU, built into the A11 Bionic Application Processor, claims to be 30 percent faster than the Imagination-based GPU used in iPhone 7 models--which was already the leading graphics architecture in smartphones.
Just as impressively, Apple's new GPU isn't just faster but more efficient, allowing it to match the work of the A10 Fusion GPU using only half the energy.
GPUs were originally created to accelerate graphics, but for years they have been tasked with doing other kinds of math with a similar repetitive nature, often referred to "General Purpose GPU." Apple initially created OpenCL as an API to perform GPGPU, and more recently folded GPGPU Compute into its Metal API that's optimized specifically for the GPUs Apple uses in its iOS devices and Macs. The latest version, Metal 2, was detailed at WWDC17 this summer.
Progression of Metal benchmarks reported by Geekbench Browser
Now that Apple is designing both the graphics silicon and the software to manage it, expect even faster progress in GPU and GPGPU advancement. Additionally, Apple is also branching out into Machine Learning, one of the tasks that GPUs are particularly good at crunching. ML involves building a model based on a variety of known things--such as photos of different flowers--and using that model of "knowledge" to find and identify matches--things that could be flowers in other new photos, or in the camera viewfinder.
Apple hasn't yet provided many technical details about its new GPU design, other than that it has "three cores." Different GPU designs are optimized for specific tasks and strategies and define "core" in radically different ways, so it's impossible to make direct, meaningful comparisons against GPUs from Intel, Nvidia, AMD, Qualcomm, ARM Mali and others.
TB;DRIt is noteworthy that Apple describes its new mobile A11 Bionic GPU Family 4 graphics architecture as using Tile Based Deferred Rendering. TBDR is a rendering technology created for mobile devices with limited resources. It effectively only finishes rendering objects that will be visible to the user in the 3D scene. On desktop PC GPUs (as well as Qualcomm Adreno and ARM Mali mobile GPUs) "Immediate Mode" rendering is performed on every triangle in the scene, running through rasterization and fragment function stages and out to device memory even if it may end up being covered up by other objects in the final scene.
TBDR skips doing any work that won't be seen, breaking down a scene into tiles before analyzing what needs to be rendered for each. The output is saved temporarily to high speed, low latency Tile Memory. This workflow enables it to better use the entire GPU because it can perform vertex and fragment asynchronously. Apple notes: "the vertex stage usually makes heavy use of fixed function hardware, whereas the fragment stage uses math and bandwidth. Completely overlapping them allows the device to use all the hardware blocks on the GPU simultaneously."
As a technique, TBDR is closely associated with Imagination's PowerVR, which developed in parallel to desktop GPUs on a road less traveled, then emerged around the launch of the first iPhone as the perfect mobile-optimized GPU architecture, with efficiency advantages scaled down PC GPUs couldn't rival.
But while Imagination initially complained that Apple hadn't 'proven that it wasn't infringing' its IP this spring, it does not now appear to be continuing any claim that Apple's new GPU uses any unlicensed PowerVR technology, and instead sold itself off at a huge discount after losing Apple's business.
Additionally, TBDR isn't an approach that is completely unique to Imagination, although there have only ever been a few successful GPU architectures (among the many experimental approaches that have failed). This is similar to the CPU world--currently dominated by ARM in mobile devices and Intel's x86 in PCs and servers--despite many failed attempts to disrupt the status quo by competitors (and even Intel itself).
Apple's Metal 2 now exposes the details of TBDR to developers for its A11 Bionic GPU so they can further optimize memory use and to "provide finer-grained synchronization to keep more work on the GPU." The company also states that its new GPU "delivers several features that significantly enhance TBDR," allowing third-party apps and games to "realize new levels of performance and capability."
Dual core ISP Neural EngineCreating an entirely new GPU architecture "wasn't innovative enough," so A11 Bionic also features an entirely new Neural Engine within its Image Signal Processor, tuned to solve very specific problems such as matching, analyzing and calculating thousands of reference points within a flood of image data rushing from the camera sensor.
Those tasks could be sent to the GPU, but having logic optimized specifically for matrix multiplications and floating-point processing allows the Neural Engine to excel at those tasks.
The Neural Engine itself has two parallel cores designed to handle real-time processing, capable of performing 600 billion operations per second. That means in addition to applying sophisticated effects to a photo, as Apple has been doing in previous generations of its ISP, it can now perform effects on live video. Beyond effects, this also appears to be what enables the camera system to identify objects and their composition in a scene, allowing it to track and focus on the subject you are filming.
This Neural Engine is credited with giving the A11 Bionic its name. "Bionic" generally refers to a human having electromechanical enhancements, and suggests the idea of superhuman abilities due to those enhancements. One could think of A11 Bionic being the opposite of this, as it is actually a machine enhanced with human-like capabilities. Alternatively, you could think of the chip as a bionic enhancement of the human using it, allowing the user to leap over tasks ordinary Androids can't.
Apple's 6 new CPU cores, 2G performance controllerThe third chunk of the A11 Bionic is Apple's original custom implementation of ARM Architecture CPU cores. Apple delivered its original customized A4 SoC back in 2010, and has rapidly iterated on its design. In 2013 it created A7, first 64-bit ARM chip, sending chip rivals into a tailspin.
Last year's A10 Fusion got its name from a new architecture that managed tasks between a pair of performance cores and a pair of efficiency cores, enabling flexibility between running at full power and at an efficient idle.
This year, Apple is touting its "second-generation performance controller," designed to scale tasks across more low-power cores, or to surge the workflow to its even faster high-power cores--or even light up the entire 6 core CPU in bursts. Using asymmetric multiprocessing, the A11 Bionic can ramp up to activate any number of cores individually, in proportion to the task at hand.
Using asymmetric multiprocessing, the A11 Bionic can ramp up to activate any number of cores individually, in proportion to the task at hand
Scaling a queue of incoming tasks across multiple cores requires more than just multiple cores on the SoC; apps and OS features have to be designed to take advantage of those multiple cores. That's something Apple has been working on at the OS level--and with its third developers--for years before the iPhone even existed.
Apple has detailed its software OS strategies oriented around turning off unnecessary processor units and efficiently ordering processes to so they can be scheduled to run as quickly and efficiently as possible. It's now implementing those same kinds of practices in silicon hardware. Other mobile device makers, including Samsung and LG, have never needed to develop their own PC OS platforms.
Google, which adapted Android from its origins as portable (JavaME) mobile platform, isn't selling it to users who pay for performance. It has no real tablet or desktop computing business, and its phone platform is aimed at hitting an average selling price of less than $300--Android One phones have an aggressive price target of $100. Android buyers are an audience for advertisers, not customers demanding UI polish, app performance or sophisticated features like multiprocessing support. Android apps are optimized to deliver ads.
Apple states that the two performance-optimized general-purpose CPU cores of the A11 Bionic are up to 25 percent faster than those in last year's A10 Fusion; even larger gains come from its efficiency cores, which have doubled in number to four, and are now up to 70 percent faster.
In Geekbench tests comparing the similarly specced iPhone 7 to iPhone 8 (they share the same RAM and same display resolution), the A11 Bionic scored 25 percent faster in single core and 80 percent faster in multicore scores.
This is particularly noteworthy because Apple's latest chip also delivers its new Neural Engine, GPU, camera ISP and other capabilities that are above and beyond what a generic processor benchmark effectively measures.
In stark contrast, Samsung has for years been marketing "octa-core" processors that are actually slower in per-core performance and run an OS that isn't optimized to take effective advantage of multiple cores in apps outside of benchmarks. Google itself once even bragged up its poorly built Nexus 7 at launch as having "basically 16 cores," (the sum of its CPU and GPU cores) a purely false, meaningless marketing claim that didn't make it any faster. It was actually not speedy to begin with and rapidly lost performance over time.
Rather than excessively bragging about its quantities of abstract technical specifications, Apple's marketing focuses on real-world applications, noting, for example, that the A11 Bionic is "optimized for amazing 3D games and AR experiences," claims that can be experienced every day by App Store visitors.
Separate from the CPU, Apple also designed the Secure Enclave in A7 to handle storage of sensitive data (fingerprint biometrics) in silicon walled off the rest of the system. Apple said it made improvements in the A11 Bionic, but didn't discuss what these involved.
Secret sauce SSD silicon speeds, secures storage
There are also other specialized features of the A11 Bionic, including its super speedy SSD storage controller with custom ECC (error-correcting code) algorithms, as Johny Srouji, Apple's senior vice president of Hardware Technologies, detailed in an interview with Mashable. This isn't just for speed. "When the user buys the device," Srouji noted, "the endurance and performance of our storage is going to be consistent across the product."
In other words, data stored on the device (documents, apps, photos) is better protected from corruption and storage failure (as SSD cells wear out, literally), lowering the prospect of losing your memories and documents, and the frustration of having a device that mysteriously gets slower as time wears on. That's a common problem with many Android devices.
Apple first introduced its own custom NVMe SSD storage controller for 2015 MacBooks, enabling it to optimize the hardware side of reading and writing from Solid State Storage (ie chips, rather than spinning hard drives).
The company then brought that technology to its iOS devices within the A9, starting with iPhone 6s. NVMe was originally created with the enterprise market in mind, rather than consumer electronics. There are no off the shelf solutions for adding an NVMe controller to a phone, and there are cheaper existing (albeit archaic) protocols to access SSD storage. Apple built and wrote its own.
A11 Fusion delivers what is apparently Apple's third-generation iOS storage controller. What's more interesting is that Apple didn't even talk about this on stage, because it had too much else to talk about that was even sexier.
A new Apple-designed video encoderTwo years ago, Apple's A9 introduced a hardware-based HEVC decoder, enabling devices to efficiently play back H.265 / "High Efficiency" video content. Last year's A10 Fusion introduced a hardware encoder, enabling iPhone 7 to create and save content in the format.
The advantage with these High Efficiency formats is that they greatly reduce the space taken up by high-resolution photos and video
The new feature was made available in iOS 11, and is exposed as a preference in Camera Settings for "High Efficiency camera capture." When turned on, photos are compressed using HEIF (High Efficiency Image Format) and video is recorded using HEVC (High Efficiency Video Codec).
The advantage with these High Efficiency formats is that they greatly reduce the space taken up by high-resolution photos and video.
Apple states that a minute-long 4K 30fps video recorded in the new HEVC format will be about 170MB, while the same thing using the previous H.264 would be 350MB--more than twice as large.
To play this HEVC content back a device needs to be able to decode it. iOS devices earlier than A9 can decode in software, but this takes longer and has a larger hit on the battery than having efficient, dedicated hardware decoding.
HEIF video can be transcoded to H.264 (which takes conversion time), or users can also default to "Most Compatible," which continues to save photos as JPG and videos in H.264. However this disables the new video recording options for capturing 4K video at 60fps (as well as the 24fps cinematic setting new to A11 Bionic iPhones).
It is interesting that Apple developed its own video encoder for the A11 Bionic, and also that it made this fact public. In the past, Apple has used off-the-shelf components in its iPods and other devices that incorporated support for a variety of proprietary audio and video codecs, including Microsoft's WMA, WMV and VC-1. Apple didn't activate this capability, preferring instead to use industry standards developed by MPEG LA partners.
It's not clear if Microsoft got licensing royalties from the Windows Media IP on the chips Apple bought, but the larger issue was that Apple had to pay for components with stuff it didn't want to use. By building its own video encoder, it can optimize for only the formats it supports, rather than the generic package of codecs its chip providers select.
Google's YouTube initially partnered with Apple to provide H.264 video content to iOS users. But the company has since tried to advance its own VP8 and VP9 codecs acquired from On2. While it continues to send H.264 video to iOS users, it is not publishing its higher resolution 4K YouTube content in H.264 or the new H.265/HEVC, which makes YouTube 4K unavailable to Safari users on the web.
This has also created the narrative that Apple TV 4K "can't play YouTube 4K content," when in reality it is Google that is refusing to provide the content Apple TV 4K is designed to decode. It remains to be seen how that will work out, and whether Google will also refuse to support 4K on iOS devices going forward.
Having an efficient, optimized HEVC encoder on iPhone 7, 8 and X (along with iPad, Apple TV and recent generations of Intel Core processors used in Macs) means that users will be able to store far more photos and videos--generally the largest storage hog--in less space. It would also conceivably reduce wear on SSD storage, because there's half as much to write out, move around and subsequently erase.
However, another thing that HEVC makes possible is recording higher frame rate content. iPhone 8 and X can now enable capture of 4K video at 60fps, for smoother camera pans. Existing 4K video on iPhone 7 is sharply detailed, but if your camera or the subject moves too quickly, it can have a jittery effect. With smooth 60fps capture, videos look a lot better.
However, that's twice as many frames, meaning that without more advanced compression, a minute of video would consume about 800MB. Using HEVC, the end video is comparable in size to 4K 30fps capture. Note that 60fps video in HEVC requires significant processing power or a dedicated hardware decoder to play. Older Macs already have trouble playing existing 4K clips from iPhone 7.
One of the remaining interesting facets of the A11 Bionic is that if you stack together the parts of the chip that Apple detailed, there's a whole lot of surface area on it that remains completely mysterious.
Have you ever shopped for something on Amazon, and then noticed that other websites and even apps like Facebook are flooded with ads concerning that product? AppleInsider explains how this happens, and how Apple's implementation of Intelligent Tracking Protection in Safari works.
For example, I once searched Amazon and Googles shopping results for a new pair of Adidas shoes, and it led to over a week of Adidas shoe ads in Facebook, Instagram, and practically any website I visited.
Apple has been hard at work to prevent this, and their new solution is already hitting ad firms hard, with online advertising businesses reportedly losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars!
The solution is Safari's new Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature, which came to mobile devices with iOS 11, and also to the Mac with the macOS 10.13 update. Many users are still reluctant to update to iOS 11. But, besides security, I think this feature alone makes updating to iOS 11, totally worth it.
To understand how this new cross-tracking prevention feature works, let me first explain how cookies work. In short, cookies are bits of data from websites you visit, that are saved onto your device. The biggest example of this is a website saving your login information so you dont have to type it in with every visit.
These cookies, called first-party cookies, make total sense and are completely safe and in the clear, since websites can only write or create them when a consumer is visiting their website.
Now comes third-party cookies, where you are being served information or ads from a certain website, while you are on a completely different website. These third-party cookies have always been blocked by Safari, with one exception: if they were originally written as a first-party cookie from a visit to a website.
This exception for first-party cookies was exploited by some ad tech vendors who developed solutions that wrote cookies using the advertisers domain. An example of this is when you visit a site like Amazon and search for a pair of shoes. A first-party cookie will be created to save your search history.
Once you leave that site, advertisers could access that first-party cookie in a third-party context, in other words, while youre not on the original website where the cookie was created. They could then read that cookie and serve you ads based on what you searched for, and you end up seeing ads for shoes all over the web.
Safaris new Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature puts restrictions on whether or not any business can continue to read or update first-party cookies when the user is not directly on the businesss site.
Apples solution was to only provide third parties looking to use that cookie data with a 24-hour window from when a cookie was last accessed from the originating site. Every time you hit the originating site, the access timer is reset. After 24 hours from the last visit to the site, the time is up, and access is denied.
This is why you may have still noticed third-party ads on other websites, even after updating to iOS 11.
For example, last night I was searching for honeymoon packages on Safari, and this morning Ive been seeing Honeymoon ads all over Instagram. Thankfully, with Safaris new cross-site tracking prevention feature, those honeymoon ads should disappear about 9 hours from now, assuming I dont keep searching.
Otherwise, Id be stuck staring at honeymoon ads for a couple of weeks until the advertising sites and algorithms realized Im not interested in that anymore. This is exactly why this new feature is hitting advertisers hard, and so why so many of them have been protesting Apples Safari tracking changes.
Getting back to how the new feature works, like we said, access to first-party cookies from a third-party context will only be regained when you visit the primary website again, and in that case, the 24-hour timer will restart.
If the user doesnt return to the primary website within the next 29 days, the first-party cookie will be entirely deleted.
The only downside to this is that if you dont log into a website for a whole month, certain information like your login credentials stored in a cookie and not stored in your Keychain can be lost, and youll have to reenter them like it was your first time ever using that website.
This new feature is not only useful for avoiding those annoying ads, but it also protects your privacy and security.
The HomePod stands to be an audiophile's ideal speaker when it ships on Feb. 9, in no small part due to the considerable effort Apple has put into audio processing for the device. Audio expert Matt Hines of iZotope explains some of the technical hurdles Apple and other smart speaker producers have to overcome to provide a high-quality audio experience in a wide variety of environments.
The first problem Apple and similar firms face when creating an intelligent speaker, like the HomePod, is to ensure there is an optimal audio experience for the user, regardless of where they are in the room. Hines, product manager of Spire by iZotope and guest on this week's AppleInsider Podcast, says the exact position of the user can dramatically affect the sound from a normal speaker, with the problem compounded by local acoustics.
Moving a speaker around a room alters the sound reflections in a dramatic way, Hines suggests, such as a loss of bass frequencies when moving towards the corner of a room. While bouncing around the room, the reflections can multiply the sound in different ways, potentially causing some resonant frequencies to become inconsistently louder, an effect that is particularly noticeable for longer wavelengths.
"Depending on where the ear is, you'll hear sudden, violent variations in frequency levels, which is why bass might disappear in the corner of a room," advises Hines. "It also helps explain why you'll argue with your family about whether the TV is too quiet or loud enough -- and you could all be right -- just sat in juxtaposed locations within a room."
Items located within the local environment can also change sound quality, with soft furnishings absorbing some noise while harder surfaces have a tendency to reflect it. This is why places relating to audio production or audio consumption, like a recording studio or a high-end home cinema room, carefully select the materials they place on their walls, floors, and ceilings to shape the sound to the user's needs.
In the case of Apple, it's using array of six microphones and a digital signal processor (DSP) to understand the environment based on its acoustics, and adapt the device's output to better suit its physical location and the room's audio profile. Considering the multiple speakers and the microphone array, it is possible for such a system to customize the output of each speaker to allow for a similar sound to be heard through as much of the environment's space as possible.
If HomePod is running a realtime DSP that can alter the sound emitted from each of the device's seven tweeter speakers, it can constantly change the profile even if the environment itself changes, such as the mass of the listener moving to a different location in the same area. The experience is consistent regardless of position, with Hines adding the consistency will make listening to music "more seamless and more immersive."
The DSP and this adaptive acoustic processing system will also help when the HomePod gains its stereo audio feature in a future update, one that will offer stereo audio split across two HomePods.
In a typical stereo audio setup, "adjusting the listening position even an inch will have a very material impact on the arrival time of the audio to your ear," Hines stresses. "The crosstalk between speakers is now different and the room reflections are too."
This raises an issue for the HomePod if it plays straight stereo without any adaptations, as the audio will almost certainly be affected by the position of the user. "A true stereo setup for HomePod would be a bad user experience, which Apple aren't in the business of offering."
By using this audio adaptation, which Apple has attempted to patent, it means that the HomePods are able to take each other into account, so the stereo experience will still be present and enjoyable for those near enough to them to hear it, while still keeping the audio listenable in other areas of the room.
The microphone array, DSP, and speaker collection also helps the HomePod in other ways, aside from playing audio. As the HomePod has voice-enabled features, such as those used by Siri, the system also helps with its reception of speech from users.
The beamforming technology allows the HomePod to determine the position of the user relative to the device, and in turn adjust its microphone settings to better acquire audio from that direction. In effect, the audio feeds from all of the microphones in the array are analyzed for speech, with any extra noises picked up by the array used to remove extraneous sounds from the sound of the voice, making it clearer.
"A beam-form mic array means that while there are multiple mics pointed in every direction, they can weight the signal received by each mic differently depending on a sort of correlation matrix," Hines explains, continuing that the processing "helps reject environmental surrounding ambience, and highlight only the more transient, desired speech material."
Hines illustrates the difference in audio quality via an example of typical speakerphone systems, which use a single microphone that degrades in audio quality if the user moves further away or turns to speak in a different direction. While using an array of microphones pointed in all directions would provide more than enough coverage of a room to pick up the user's voice wherever they are, it would also pick up unwanted sounds from around the room that would need processing to remove.
"This weighting is a constant computational process, so as you walk around a HomePod, those microphones are smart enough to know about it, and to ensure that you sound just as clear."
This system also enables acoustic echo cancellation, significantly reducing the potential for feedback, an issue commonly endured when a speaker is placed too close to a connected microphone, with the resulting audio loop usually causing a high-pitched whine. Hines notes HomePod is intelligent enough to recognize occasions where the sound its making is being fed back to itself, such as a reflection from a wall or other nearby flat surface, allowing it to cancel that sound from the audio signal.
The echo cancellation and beamforming technology will help with more than the ability to hand off calls from an iPhone to the HomePod. Providing as clean an audio feed as possible will help improve Siri's voice recognition accuracy, making it less likely to misinterpret a command or a query.
"Simply put, there is a ton of stuff happening automatically in order to offer you a smart speaker that sounds good and works well regardless of where you are in your home," Hines declares. "Elegant simplicity is the hardest thing to build by far."
Hines notes all of this audio processing, as well as other features like AirPlay 2, Siri, and HomeKit, is performed using the A8 processor, as used in the iPhone 6. Apple's need to use such a powerful chip to perform all of these functions and more, which Hines suggests could be seen by users as seemingly doing "less" than the usual workload of an iPhone is a "testament to how much is actually going on inside" the HomePod.
Apple's strict control of the App Store and content available on it continues to be both a blessing and a curse, as AppleInsider itself discovered this week, when the iPhone X update for our app was rejected simply because we published a news story about jailbreaking.
I was notified by our developers at Crafted Monday evening that the new app update, which has been in the works for some time, was officially rejected by Apple. The reason? Last Friday, we published a news report on Alibaba researchers who apparently cracked into iOS 11.2.1, allowing it to run unauthorized code.
This process, known as "jailbreaking," is frowned upon by Apple. And, presumably, any apps that help people to jailbreak their iPhone are banned from the App Store.
AppleInsider's news story, meanwhile, simply covered the fact that iOS 11.2.1 had been hacked, and provided no details on how to actually jailbreak.
Those facts did not matter in Apple's App Store review process, however.
As managing editor of AppleInsider's editorial content, I don't have direct control over our development team. But I have received the countless emails and tweets from readers who are upset that the AppleInsider app has not yet been updated for iPhone X.
Often, these notes are incredulous. After all, we're an Apple-focused website, they say. We should be among the first to add support for new Apple devices, they assert.
The economics of app development aside (in which I have no part from a business perspective), such complaints and perceptions are ultimately a bad thing for the AppleInsider brand. In other words, it's in our best interest to launch our iPhone X app update as quickly as possible.
As an independent website, AppleInsider prides itself in providing fair, sane and measured coverage of both Apple products and Apple as a company. Obviously, we won't be shying away from stories about jailbreaking because of issues in the iOS App Store review process.
But our own experiences do highlight the strange and downright confusing submit-and-pray App Store review situation. In our case, revising and resubmitting the app costs more time and money, in a situation where Apple could be perceived as trying to leverage editorial control of the news we publish.
Further, our rejection comes as a completely bogus, scam version of the game "Cuphead" launched on the App Store on Monday. It would be one thing if Apple's review process caught all of the truly bad actors, but our own app was wrongly rejected for editorial content while a $4.99 ripoff, designed to trick and take money from customers, was freely available to purchase on the store for hours.
Heaven forbid you're able to read about jailbreaking, though.
In theory, the App Store review process should prevent situations like the fake "Cuphead" release. And if, in practice, it caught those kinds of apps while sometimes mistakenly snagging others, some might argue that's an acceptable tradeoff.
Unfortunately, in reality, App Store screenings are not consistent or reliable enough to build and submit an app with complete confidence that it will be approved. As evidenced by AppleInsider's situation, a submitted app update can become ensnared by a completely unexpected issue that has nothing to do with the functionality of the app itself.
For now, you can still download the AppleInsider app for iOS, and even read about the latest jailbreaking news, if you so desire. Just know that the app doesn't support the iPhone X -- yet. And unfortunately, that's out of our control.
Oh no! It seems Apple is "years behind" competitors in Virtual Reality, TV content subscriptions, self driving cars and home voice assistants. That's a clear sign the company may be studying the market like a cat about to pounce on its target, just as it did with iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and AirPods. There is a solid decade of evidence that, for Apple, being behind is a competitive advantage.
Apple is dangerously behind, so watch out
It seems hard to argue that Apple isn't behind. It has no Virtual Reality products like Samsung's Gear VR, Google's Cardboard Daydream and Facebook's Oculus. No library of subscription TV content like Netflix or Amazon Prime. No electric car strategy circulating like Google, Tesla or Faraday Future. And Apple's Siri appears to be behind Alexa and Google in the race to dribble out a few million cloud-based, voice surveillance appliances aimed at home installation.
Lots of brands have fallen behind in the markets they once mattered in and ended up unable to ever catch up again. Prime examples are Sony, Palm, Nokia, Windows Phone and Windows Tablet PC, Blackberry, Google Maps and FitBit.
The common thread among these isn't evidence that Apple "could be next." The common thread was that Apple entered their markets and crushed them.
Is Apple the next Apple?Recall last year's punditry cycle of "is Apple the next Blackberry?" In that pinnacle of fallacious logic, the fact that Blackberry (nee RIM) could dramatically fall from its massively successful perch was evidence that Apple could too, sort of like how Nancy Kerrigan was evidence that Tonya Harding could be attacked, because she too was a figure skater.
Or for a less obscure reference, does FitBit's massive decline in smartwatch shipments present evidence that Apple Watch might be next? Who knows, really!? Cause and effect are so difficult to connect together in a relationship. /s.
It's actually quite easy to see the relationship between death and killer when you have a series of bodies each marked with a telltale mark of the same assassin. That would be evidence that vulnerable targets should be on the lookout for flying bullets, not evidence that a sniper is probably about to fall from his perch because it's apparently dangerous to be outside.
A decade of Apple being crazy behind--like a fox!I've been writing about Apple for more than a decade. So looking back, the broken record of observations that Apple is being "passed up by True Innovators who are years ahead" leaps out as evidence of a clear misunderstanding of what is actually happening in the tech sector, and why.
Examine a decade of history recounting the various companies leisurely crossing the tracks just ahead of the Apple Train, while the media cheered them on as being avant-garde rather than fated for death. Consider why their celebrated efforts to crush Apple with various "iPhone-killers" failed. Note: because this game involves capitalist enterprise, points are awarded in dollars rather than pats-on-the-back or participation trophies.
MP3 Phone2007: A year prior to Peak iPod, Microsoft announced its own Zune to much fanfare as the "iPod-killer," just as pundits began imagining in parallel that phones playing MP3s would kill Apple's iPod empire. Everything seemed so dire for Apple. Zune could do wireless WiFi sync and MP3-playing feature phones appeared to cost much less than an iPod!
However, that year Apple introduced iPhone. Steve Jobs described it as "a widescreen iPod" in addition to a phone and "breakthrough internet device". Zune staggered along like a zombie until it was terminated while basic phones playing MP3s were blown away by Apple's "iPod phone" with a real web browser.
Incredibly, we also had proof collected by PR firm ABI that given a contrived survey, many participants exposed to slanted marketing would agree that they might actually buy a Zune. But headlines aren't facts, and Zune lost miserably. The feature phone industry did too, despite its "overwhelming global market share of units shipped." Apple also overcame being clearly behind in smartphones--which had been around for half a decade by the time Apple showed up. And it was just getting started.
App Store2008: Before iPhone even went on sale, the same ABI group that had previously insisted Zunes were 'potentially capable of selling' next announced that Apple's new iPhone "wasn't a smartphone" because it didn't run third party apps like "real platforms" such as Windows Mobile, Palm, BlackBerry, Symbian, Flash Lite and Java ME.
ABI analyst Philip Solis explained, "We must conclude at this point that, based on our current definition, the iPhone is not a smartphone, but rather a high-end feature phone."
In the spring of 2008, Apple launched the App Store, and developers jumped to join. By mid-2009, iPhone had outsold Windows Mobile globally. Nothing since has caught up to the profitable success of the iOS App Store. Mobile software markets for those other "real platforms" died off really quickly.
While pundits desperately tried to vilify Apple's App Store as a terrible Walled Garden where developers were forced to sign their apps and pay $99 (!) a year and contribute 30 percent of their revenues to support the store's infrastructure, the reality was that mobile developers had been paying tens of thousands of dollars for rights to make basic mobile apps for platforms like Symbian, while most other platforms offered zero effective security at all, enabling malware authors to colonize a festering "toxic hellstew" of mobile sewage. This is so obvious that in hindsight it's crazy why so many people lied about what was going on.
IM2009: Blackberry was supposed to keep Apple out of government and corporate enterprise due to the "Crackberry" allure of its centralized Blackberry Enterprise Server messaging platform. Meanwhile, Apple didn't even support MMS photo messaging with other smartphones!
In iOS 3, Apple replaced iPhone's basic Text app with Messages, enabling MMS picture messaging as well as basic SMS. iOS 5 bridged Mac and iPad instant messaging with SMS and encrypted all communications, effectively making IM free and erasing much of the value of services like BES. Coincidentally, BES also suffered a series of service embarrassing blackouts. A leader dropped the ball just as Apple was poised to run with it.
Today, iMessage has become one of the largest messaging platforms. It distinguishes Apple users with blue bubbles, highlighting that conversations are encrypted (and SMS chats with Android users are not).
Last year, Apple introduced an apps platform for iOS 10 that integrates iMessage with utilities, games, message effects and Stickers, borrowing from other popular standalone chat platforms. This year, it may integrate Siri into iMessage for assisted chat. Blackberry barely even exists. So much for being behind.
Notifications2010: Apple was woefully behind webOS (remember that?) in the emerging arena of Notifications. Android was also floating support for local app and remote push notifications organized in a single log of events. iOS didn't have any of that.
Apple introduced Mobile Me with the unreliable sloppiness of a Google beta launch, earning much finger wagging. It then hired away key webOS developer Rich Dellinger to create Notification Center and built a robust, secure Push Notifications System integrated with Mobile Me (renamed iCloud) to build a powerful messaging and rich app notification system.
In iOS 10, notifications can even serve as payloads for video clips, such as when a HomeKit camera alerts you that you have a delivery person at the door.
Apple's not behind in Notifications anymore
Google also comes up with new ideas for Android, but these frequently wither on the vine because it takes a year for even a tenth of the installed base to get moved to a major new release, and multiple years for an Android version to represent the majority of devices. This problem began in 2010 but has only gotten worse every year since, despite ineffectual attempts at addressing this huge delay in deployment.
NFC vs BT2011: Google floated another feature Apple lacked for several years: Near Field Communications, or NFC, used in Google Wallet contactless payments. Google was supposed to rule in this arena, but Wallet failed to ever gain much traction, despite efforts to build out NFC payment infrastructure. Apple didn't have NFC because it was so behind.
What Apple did instead was rapidly introduce Bluetooth 4 (starting with iPhone 4s) and build out a platform of near-proximity wireless integration between iOS devices, Macs and Apple Watch that was later branded as Continuity. Prior to launching Apple Pay, the company also lined up the dots for Touch ID, building security right into the design of its products.
Apple didn't introduce Apple Pay until 2014, at least three years behind Wallet. However, the effort Apple put into building foundational support, and its prescience in supporting the much faster Bluetooth 4 rather than NFC for nearby connectivity, launched Apple far ahead of Google in both support for modern Bluetooth and in NFC payments, despite (or perhaps, because of) not being first to rush a loose payment concept to market.
That same year Apple also launched Siri, while the heads of Google and Microsoft both publicly scoffed at the idea of voice assistants on a mobile device. That changed as Siri clearly helped to sell new iPhones. Since then, a narrative that Apple isn't advancing Siri fast enough has emerged, implying Apple is again behind and, of course, won't be able to catch up.
For everyone thinking Apple isn't getting usage data to make Siri smarter, Siri is by far the most used voice assistant than any out there.-- Ben Bajarin (@BenBajarin)
Today, even though the media is infatuated with Amazon's Alexa--and its innovative new "landline telephone paired with a stationary television"--Apple continues to dominate the global market for voice assistance in terms of millions of users, device penetration, international language support, and in use on mobile devices people actually carry around and use.
Plus-sized Phones2012 Samsung had just debuted its "phablet" Galaxy Note, sporting a big screen larger than 5 inches and a tablet-like stylus. Apple's iPhone had been a much smaller 3.5 inches since birth, and by the end of 2012 the biggest phone Apple could offer was 4 inches--albeit just as narrow with a taller profile to make it easier to hold with one hand. Samsung was already selling a "regular sized" Galaxy SIII flagship that was 4.3 inches, significantly larger and wider than iPhone 5/5s/5c. Apple was so behind!
Samsung's Note convergence play combined Apple's two massively profitable markets into one moderately-successful one, and this was hailed as genius
For the next two full years, Apple had nothing like Samsung's increasingly popular "phablet," which was like a tablet and a phone in one box. Apple was forced to sell its customers two boxes: a small iPhone and an iPad. Apple also took efforts to clearly distinguish its small iOS phone platform from its larger tablet size, resulting in two markets for apps: one for iPhone and the other optimized for iPad. Samsung's Note convergence play combined Apple's two massively profitable markets into one moderately-successful one, and this was hailed as genius.
Samsung's phones just kept getting bigger, both in the Note-phablet category (growing by a quarter inch each year!) and its standard Galaxy S line (which even more rapidly grew into phablet proportions itself). Apple was stuck selling scores of millions of small iPhones (far greater than Samsung's Note and S lines combined) and tens of millions of iPads (while Samsung was struggling to give away its tablets with the purchase of almost anything).
All this time, Apple "fell behind" Samsung, perpetually losing out in metrics such as market share, units shipped and numbers of enthusiastic think-pieces about how Samsung was dominating a market in virtually every respect apart from profitability, where it was distantly behind. This is like watching a team lose a ballgame, but be congratulated on their hard work: their ball-time possession statistics, their score attempts and the fact that they decorated the stadium and made the uniforms for both teams. Wait, which team lost again? It's hard to say really. Points scored isn't the only way of measuring success in pro sports, is it?
Apple did eventually deliver larger iPhones with the 6 and 6 Plus in 2014, about three years after Samsung debuted the Note. As soon as it did, sales of Galaxy phablets flatlined, never again growing past the Galaxy S4 peak even though Samsung's screen sizes kept climbing. Profits fell from "less than Apple" to "devastated."
Meanwhile, Apple's larger iPhones hit a new sales platform twice as high as its previous 4 inch iPhone 5 models, and it has maintained this for the last three years while incrementally increasing Average Selling Prices and selling increasingly more apps, Music and other Services to its vast installed base of luxury phone buyers.
Somehow, despite Samsung's reported, ostensible "recovery" and its resumption of "size innovations" (including a new phone with a screen that's larger, but just as narrow with a taller profile to make it easier to hold with one hand--what a great idea!), Apple continues to perform better financially while Samsung Mobile profits have declined each year.
Modern UI2013 Prior to launching iPhone 6, Apple's iOS 6 was being framed as looking old and boring, particularly in comparison to Android, but there was also a handful of pundits holding up Windows Phone and describing how innovative it was to replace developer branded app icons with animated boxes of brightly colored squares in Live Tiles. Innovation literally means "new," so a scoring system counting the number of arbitrary changes introduced should win this smartphone game, right?
In addition to looking old, iOS 6 had also kicked out Google Maps, replacing it with native Apple Maps data that was distantly behind Google in search as well as correctly labeled points of interest. On top, Apple was also struggling to get developers to adopt its iCloud service for backup and sync, but early implementation flaws were frustrating app developers to the point of making it unusable. Apple's concept of a cloud didn't even expose a file system! Apple was so behind in looks, maps and in cloud that it seemed it could never catch up to Google. Android was winning.
However, that year in iOS 7 Apple introduced a clean new "deference" interface that radically updated the look and feel of not just the new iPhone 5s, but iPhones dating back to the three year old iPhone 4. What Apple at the time called "the fastest software upgrade in history" gave the modern-looking iOS 7 a massive installed base, causing developers to rush to update their own apps to look fresh and modern, too.
Meanwhile, any new ideas in Android Land or at Microsoft could only hope to dribble out on sales of new phones, because why would anyone waste their time fixing software on phones that had already been sold? After dumping legacy Windows Mobile phones, Microsoft actually did begin copying Apple's aggressive software updates, but by then its installed base of WP7 phones was so small that it didn't really matter.
Alongside its fresh new iOS 7 platform look, Apple also pushed out an internally developed 64-bit A7 chip with a Secure Enclave supporting Touch ID fingerprint recognition for easy unlocking, to guarantee the use of a passcode, enabling full device encryption and securing the device for Activation Lock to foil thieves. With iPhone 5s, Apple outlined the future of security and authentication, changing our ideas of what privacy could be while frustrating the FBI, Russian spies and phone thieves. Since then, every other phone maker has worked to copy Apple's security model.
With iPhone 5s, Apple outlined the future of security and authentication, changing our ideas of what privacy could be while frustrating the FBI, Russian spies and phone thieves
Google had been mostly working on fresh looks in Android, so it was suddenly caught blindsided by iOS in areas including support for 64-bit processors, hardware security, fingerprint support, encryption, and other things that don't matter to techie writers who preferred what Android looked like compared to iOS 6.
When Samsung and HTC attempted to catch up to Apple in fingerprint sensors on their new phones in 2014, Google hadn't added fingerprint support in Android so hardware makers slopped together their own, using laughably insecure implementations that copied users' fingerprint data unencrypted into the phones' readily accessible file system.
Even two years later, no Android phones were fast enough to perform full disk encryption in software (as Google didn't support hardware encryption), so users rarely turned encryption on. Good thing, because FDE security on Android was also broken.
Qualcomm first denigrated Apple's 64-bit A7 as a "marketing gimmick," then belatedly scrambled to catch up with its own slower chips that didn't work well and overheated, handing Android makers a defective high-end CPU just as Apple shifted into high gear in performance and efficiency metrics. The other thing Apple was ahead in was profits. It was earning more than the rest of the smartphone industry combined. Not bad, for being so far behind.
Despite initial flaws, Apple Maps rapidly began displacing Google Maps on iOS. It also enabled Apple to launch CarPlay (centered around Maps navigation) a year ahead of Google's own automotive support for Android. Suddenly Google's solid 7 year lead in mapping didn't seem to be helping the company at all. Apple's being behind again looks like an advantage more than a detriment. It is as if Apple gives everyone else an opportunity to fail to set a baseline for it to exceed.
Wearables2014 Just before being blindsided by iPhone 6, Samsung rushed to introduce proof that it was the True Innovator, ahead of Apple in a key new segment: wearables. It had launched its first modern smartwatch at the end of 2013, with such great ideas as a less than half-VGA resolution video camera.
Google rushed out Android Wear in 2014, citing support from over a dozen industry players including its own newly jettisoned hardware subsidiary Motorola. Pebble had introduced a crowdfunded smartwatch starting in 2012, and FitBit, Asus, Sony, Qualcomm and LG were also building smartwatches, with more planned from luxury watch makers. It was like the smartphone market in 2006: how could Apple possibly expect to "just walk in" after falling so far behind?
At the end of 2014 it walked Apple Watch in alongside its most anticipated new iPhone ever--with premium, expensive versions that climbed up toward $15,000 for a solid gold Edition. Rather than sporting a pixelated camera, Apple focused on notifications (remember when Apple was behind in notifications?), messaging (remember when?) and fitness. Apple Watch sales eviscerated Samsung and gutted not only the smartwatch industry at large but also froze growth in high-end watch sales as well.
Again a pattern emerges that "being years behind" appears to be a competitive advantage for Apple. Meanwhile, all this time Apple was consistently increasing cash flow, building global production infrastructure and investing in the next areas it was "behind in."
Detachables2015 While Android's various first-mover advantages evaporated, Microsoft began to gain attention for Surface Pro, which supposedly invented pairing a hardware keyboard with a tablet. Microsoft was slipping behind Apple so rapidly in mobile devices that it needed to demonstrate that it was the True Innovator in releasing a new Surface Book and another Surface Pro, both of which were neither tablets nor notebooks but rather a new made-up category of Detachables, evading direct comparisons with Apple's far-behind MacBooks and iPads, neither of which Detached.
How could Apple ever catch up in Detachables? Apple was stuck earning about $12 billion per quarter from iPads and Macs, while Microsoft was leading Detachables with about $815 million per quarter of Detachables. If you don't like the rules of the game, introduce your own playing field and play with yourself. You get all the points!
Having built Detachables since introducing Surface RT back in 2012, it seemed there was no way Apple could just walk in and take Detachables the way it had taken MP3 players, phones, apps, messaging, maps, encryption, mobile Application Processors and watches.
That fall Apple introduced iPad Pro, which immediately outsold all Surface sales, meaning it now also dominated Detachables because iPad Pro is indeed sold with a keyboard that can be removed.
It's like when you're winning playing a game by yourself and somebody walks in and plays you and beats you soundly. But Microsoft can't really even get mad about it because that's just how karma works.
iPad Pro is also sold without a keyboard, because it's an iPad and "Detachables" isn't actually a real word nor a significant or credible market segment. It's an invention to flatter Microsoft. It didn't appreciably help.
Since 2015, Surface sales haven't grown. Apple's iPad unit sales haven't either, but they have shifted from low-end sales to higher ASPs, thanks to Pro sales. Microsoft is still earning around $815 million per quarter from Surface while Apple just earned $9.7 billion in Q2 from its non-iPhone computers. Apple's computer sales are also bucking the failing trend among PC makers.
But rather than being coddled into its own Surface Success Fantasy by industry research outfits inventing a new "category of computing" playing field where players can be successful just by participating, Apple's computer sales (and in particular its iPad sales) are frequently compared against the most successful tech business ever: Apple's iPhone. Compared to iPhone, everything else Apple does is behind!
That's how Apple Watch decisively won in watches, but ended up denigrated as a failure because as we all know, Apple isn't competing against other smartwatches, it's trying to beat the iPhone.
The tech media laughs at Apple for tying its shoes because it can't outrun the bear. But it's not trying to outrun the bear. It owns the bear. It's trying to outrun everyone else still putting their shoes on as iPhone bear runs around eating everyone.
It's popular to say that Apple is "behind" in smartwatches because it isn't offering 4G mobile connectivity that could replace your phone with a watch--as some other smartwatches attempt to do. The same people who are advising that Apple cannibalize its iPhone sales to less expensive Watches also seem to think that its a bad thing that Apple isn't still selling more iPads instead of higher-ASP, big screen iPhones. It's almost as if the only way Apple can be successful is if it makes less money.
Wearables, part 22016 Samsung rang in the year with a Galaxy Gear-like spectacular, albeit one that played down smartwatches to instead focus on how ahead-of-Apple it was in smartphone Virtual Reality. The new Gear VR headset was a collaboration with Facebook's Oculus, and served as a key strategy for upselling Samsung phone buyers to its premium Galaxy S6 and S7 models. Apple offered nothing like this! Another important way Samsung was ahead last spring: water resistance.
Samsung was clearly ahead of Apple in delivering those features, just as it was previously ahead in selling smartphones, in phone cameras, in NFC, in phablets and in smartwatches. It isn't ahead in those areas anymore, however. And by the end of 2016, Samsung phones had failed two major water resistance tests and Apple had introduced its own water resistant iPhone 7.
Originally intended to make a big VR splash--and distract some holiday season attention away from iPhone 7--Samsung's VR-phablet Note 7 instead imploded as bad QA resulted in battery failures causing fires and an embarrassing recall. Samsung had to cancel the entire production for an incredible $5 billion loss and Oculus remotely disabled their Gear VR headsets so that nobody could even try to use them.
Rather than cementing Samsung's "aheadedness," VR turned out to be the biggest loser of 2016. Instead, the most popular and critically acclaimed new wearable turned out to be Apple's AirPods, an effort to deliver perfected wireless sound with a voice based, audio Augmented Reality. In a sort of double sting, AirPods also work with Apple Watch, giving Apple two major wins in wearables compared to two painful bellyflops from Samsung.
Where is Apple behind in 2017?Microsoft just finished Build, and Google is set to outline what it's been working on at its IO conference in the second half of next week. After that we get two weeks to contemplate what Apple will be showing off at WWDC in the first week of June. We'll be looking for areas where Apple may be behind its rivals.
It's getting harder to find them.
Google's latest effort to show off its vision for "Pure Android" hardware costs more than Apple's iPhone 8 Plus but is half as fast, lacks a telephoto lens, offers no support for Qi wireless charging, isn't capable of recording smooth 60fps 4K video and--like Windows 10 Mobile--offers no potential of an installed base for building new, compelling AR apps.
Pixel 2 and 2 XL are premium priced but poorly equipped
Perhaps even more remarkably, the latest "Phone by Google" lacks support for SD Cards and removable batteries and lacks the extra RAM and processing power needed to run Android, as well lacking the legacy headphone jack that Google itself promoted as valuable and necessary just last year. It also features proprietary dongles that cost significantly more than Apple's, and doesn't even bundle in a pair of headphones.
Priced more than the much faster iPhone 8 PlusIn a departure from its earlier Nexus phones that aimed to deliver Android on a budget-- as well as Google's mantra about seeking to deliver $100 phones for people in developing countries-- the company's LG-built Pixel 2 XL demands a premium price, starting at $849 for the 64-gigabyte version. iPhone 8 Plus with the same storage is $799.
Pixel 2 XL demands a premium price, starting at $849 for the 64-gigabyte version. iPhone 8 Plus with the same storage is $799
Pixel 2 XL offers a 128GB option for $100 more, but for that price you can buy an iPhone 8 Plus with 256GB (twice the storage), an option that's not even available on Pixel phones.
That puts you at $949. Buy a pair of headphones and you're awfully close to that $1000 price of Apple's future forward iPhone X that got everyone so upset just thinking about it.
That's the prices Google has set for its pedestrian Pixel 2 XL, a phone that lacks the sophisticated hardware, the serious software, the enterprise credibility and the attractive design of an iPhone 8 Plus. Pixel 2 XL, along with its mismatched Pixel 2 built by HTC, look like a couple of plastic, abandoned refrigerators, not sleek smartphones.
If nobody cares that its broke, don't fix it!Google's Pixel 2 XL has 4GB of system RAM, vs 3GB in Apple's iPhone 8 Plus. That's an issue because Android does a far worse job at managing memory. In fact, third-party testing has shown that Android software, particularly games, routinely use up four times the RAM as the same software running on iOS.
Over the last several years, Apple's A-series Application Processors running at slower clock speeds have trounced leading Android flagship phones in performance benchmarks despite those phones having higher clock speeds and being packed with much more RAM.
Google's Android OS is so bad at memory management that even simple tasks such as opening apps and multitasking between apps open in the background takes two to four times as long compared to Apple's iOS
Additional RAM generally makes a computing system more efficient, up to point. How much it helps is constrained by the ability of the operating system to effectively manage how the system uses available memory.
Google's Android OS is so bad at memory management that even simple tasks such as opening apps and multitasking between apps open in the background takes two to four times as long compared to Apple's iOS, even when those Androids are packed with more RAM.
The fastest multitasker among a group of Android flagships tested this spring was a phone made by China's BBK, the OnePlus 3T. It packs an incredible 6GB of RAM, but was still just half as fast in working between apps as an iPhone 7 Plus with 3GB. The worst performer? Google's Pixel, with the same 4GB as this year's Pixel 2.
Yet this year, Google thought it was more important to raise the price of its phone than to add more RAM, or overhaul the incredibly sloppy architecture of its Android OS. Despite its last-place performance, there's been no shortage of pundit praise for Google's Pixel brand, which was neither cost-effective nor impressively equipped in hardware.
David Pierce of Wired, Napier Lopez of TheNextWeb, Ron Amadeo of Ars Technica, Andrew Griffin of The Independent UK, Alex Dobie of Android Central, the staff of The Wirecutter, Steve Kovach of Business Insider, and--of course--Dan Seifert of the Verge and Dieter Bohn the Verge and Walt Mossberg of the Verge all declared the Google Pixel to be the very best Android available.
In this bizarro world of starry-eyed Google-fandom, it appears that nobody cares about snappy performance, premium phone prices, inadequate hardware specs or having a phone that looks like a cheaper copy of last year's iPhone.
Vlad Savov even wrote of the original Pixel that "the Google phone is almost as good as the iPhone," again for the Verge--calling the whole point of Google's years of failed Android attempts with Nexus, Motorola and Pixel into question.
However, despite all the glowing accolades from the Android press (and tons of web advertising from the world's top web ad network), Google's Pixel has seen very limited actual sales. Even in its peak launch quarter, Pixel only sold about as many units as Apple Watch (estimates for both are around 4-5 million), but Apple Watch is a premium iPhone accessory, not a must-have smartphone that everyone carries.
Stuck on the slow Qualcomm pathMinimal RAM and Android memory management aside, there's another reason why Google's premium-priced Pixel 2 XL is slower than iPhone 8 Plus: it's stuck using the only premium processor family still available to higher-end Android flagships: Qualcomm Snapdragon.
Other performance-oriented mobile processor architectures (including Nvidia's Tegra and TI's OMAP) have abandoned the smartphone business, largely because neither Android nor Microsoft's Windows 10 Mobile could maintain sustaining sales of high-end phones.
After years of racing to the bargain-bottom with products like the $299 Nexus 4 and working to facilitate the $100 Android One for developing nations, there are simply few options left for fast, premium chips at any price.
Google's Pixel 2 XL (along with the standard Pixel 2) are forced to use a significantly weaker Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor. Apple's A11 Bionic chip used in iPhone 8 Plus (as well as iPhone 8 and iPhone X) is a remarkable 118 percent faster at typical single core tasks, and ramps up to reach multiple core scores more than 64 percent faster than Qualcomm's 835.
Note that those scores are based on testing of Xiaomi's Mi 6, which pairs the same processor as Pixel 2 XL but with 6GB of RAM, 50 percent more than Google installs.
Further, Geekbench is just measuring basic CPU functions crunching math algorithms. Apple notes that the A11 Bionic includes not just additional cores, but a new performance controller that's 70 percent faster at managing multithreaded workloads than last year's A10 Fusion.
A11 Bionic is also faster in GPU performance and has high-performance silicon dedicated to machine learning, media compression and an advanced SSD storage controller (Pixel 2 models use the basic UFS 2.0 interface, compared to iPhone 8 with NVMe). All this adds up to a phone that's faster at real-world operations from opening files to editing videos.
Not only is the Pixel 2 XL's brain slower, but it's tasked with managing 3.6 million pixels, an invisible-to-the-eye "advantage" in resolution that inherently contributes to slower performance in graphics given that iPhone 8 Plus only has to manage 2 million.
In the scores above, the Xiaomi Mi 6 with more RAM also drives a 1920x1080 display, the same as the smaller Pixel 2 and iPhone 8 Plus. Google's Pixel 2 XL is tasked with a 2560x1440 display, so it has multiple reasons to reach scores even lower than the Mi 6 (despite being priced much higher).
Google's Pixel 2 lineup is not just slower than Apple's iPhone 8 Plus, it's slow and poorly equipped for an Android. It's also absurdly priced for being an Android, given that Mi 6 costs about $420 for the 6GB version with 128GB of storage. Of course, that model is only sold in China. It doesn't run Google Play services, and likely doesn't work on LTE networks outside of China, despite using the same integrated Qualcomm modem as Pixel 2.
That comparison does however highlight the absurdity of the contempt for Apple shown by Android fans, who point to prices and market share numbers of "Android" in China to denigrate Apple's "expensive and boring" iPhone, then turn around and suggest a willingness to pay more than iPhone prices for a Google phone that's less exciting than last year's iPhone, while having a slower processor and anemic memory.
Tasked with collecting dataWhile literally less powerful at its core, Google's Pixel 2 lineup has strategically decided to activate an always-listening microphone, ostensibly so users can identify ambient tunes faster than one could think to ask Siri what's playing.
Amazon Echo in your pocket, always listening
The reality is that this serves as a full time listening bug so Google can analyze everything it hears all the time, just like Google Home. It listens to what shows you have playing, what music you hear, what advertising you're exposed to, and what you say in personal conversations. You pay for Google's data collection with taxed performance and lower battery life. You also pay a premium price for the hardware, which is even slow by Android standards.
Along with its spy mic in Pixel 2 models, Google also introduced a $250 Clips camera that serves as a home security system without any security: it just records candid moments all the time, generating tons of images that it hopes you'll sync up to your free Google cloud storage for analysis. Google wants to be Amazon, and wants you to pay for this.
At Google IO this summer, the company also showed off a brainstorm of Android camera sharing features to automatically send images to people who it thinks are your friends appearing in the images you capture.
All of these ideas seem as poorly considered-- perhaps analytically amoral-- as Google's hosting and selling of Russian propaganda and placements of ads next to extremist hate speech on YouTube.
Pixel 2 is Google's woefully inferior, uglier yet more expensive version of last year's iPhone, with less security and more shamelessly overt spyware to track your behavior and then profile you for to anyone that might pay for targeted messages, regardless of how awful they might be.
Pixel 2 has more expensive dongles, lacks modern new features and dumps several ideas that Google paraded as important last year. It fully reflects its maker as a greed machine without a shred of shame or humanity; a company that sees no value in honesty or integrity. Unsurprisingly, it gets top marks from phony reviewers.
Pay all attention to the DxOMark behind the curtainGoogle touted the new Pixel 2 and 2 XL phones as being awarded the highest mobile camera scores by DxOMark, numbers it conveniently obtained before even publicly releasing the phone. Last year it did the same thing.
DxOMark never got around to scoring Apple's iPhone 7 Plus, determining that it didn't have the setup to rank its new hardware features. Even worse, DxOMark's scores last year did not accompany evidence of superior results from the Pixel. In fact, its report portrayed Pixel photos as performing worse in low light than its peers.
What is DxOMark scoring? Certainly not just the ability of a camera to take photos. The firm is a for-profit consultancy that licenses its internal DxO Analyzer tool for rating image quality, offering "installation, training and consulting services."
That means its rankings share some of the problems of benchmark tools that can be used to "optimize for benchmark scores" rather than for performance. But there are other issues with DxO's numbers voiced by everyone from professional photographers to mobile device bloggers of all persuasions.
Notably, Android Police stated last year that "DxO has an open conflict of interest (they certainly don't hide it) in judging such things given their financial interest in the whole ordeal, and should probably not be blindly trusted as a source of objective performance data on smartphone cameras."
Google appears to be using DxO as a distraction away from the actual details of Pixel 2 photos and its camera features
That observation was made after DxO awarded high scores to a Samsung Android phone.
Conversely, after DxO awarded high scores to iPhone 8, it was an Apple-aligned writer (John Gruber of Daring Fireball) who wrote that "DXO ratings are horseshit," in a piece that noted DxO ratings "assign precise numbers like 96 for photos,' 89 for video,' and 55 for bokeh' -- but these numbers just give a false illusion of scientific rigor."
"Particularly with their overall' score," he stated, "DXO is pretending to assign an objective scientific-looking measurement to something that is inherently subjective."
Google appears to be using DxO as a distraction away from the actual details of Pixel 2 photos and its camera features, focusing attention instead on a precise number offering a "false illusion of scientific rigor."
Missing features: cameraThere's a lot for Google to distract attention away from. Pixel 2 XL lacks the dual cameras introduced on last year's iPhone 7 Plus, including its support for 2x optical telephoto, and it uses a two element flash as opposed to the brighter, more accurate illumination of the four LED flash on Apple's iPhone 7 models.
iPhone 7 Plus telephoto lens
This year's iPhone 8 Plus further enhances its camera features, using dual lens differential depth processing to apply not just shallow depth of field Portrait capture, but also foreground Portrait Lighting processing of the subject, allowing you to select AR lighting effects that fully exploit the advantage of having two lenses.
Google's Pixel 2 XL creates a blurred background effect through edge detection, making it possible to fake Portrait mode for a still shot, but failing to replicate what dual lenses can do in video using iOS 11's new Depth API.
Apple's new Slow Sync flash on iPhone 8 turns the LED flash from a device that ruins most photos into a very useful tool, allowing you to capture foreground subjects with natural, flattering light that isn't overpowering while also picking up details in the background. Google's Pixel 2 XL still has a basic flash.
Barely mentioned anywhere is the fact that Pixel 2 models can still only record 4K video at 30fps, which results in jittery video pans. Apple's newest phones can capture 4K in 60fps, as well 1080p Slomo at 240fps. Pixel 2 phones can only capture half that frame rate, putting them a solid year behind iPhone 8 models.
iPhone 8 also saves its videos in High Efficiency HEVC format, the newest compression technology. Google has bet on its own compression technology, which is inferior in both size and capability, again leaving Pixel 2 a year behind Apple in codec technology (which incidentally, enables the ability to perform high frame rate video). Neither can be addressed in a software update.
Despite all of this, Pixel 2 XL demands a higher price. Google (and most everyone covering its event) brushed all the facts aside to instead repeat an arbitrary DxO score delivered as proof the Pixel 2 camera is automatically better than everything else--even phones that don't have a score--despite lacking the hardware to capture great photos and take creative shots.
It's noteworthy that last year, Google waved around DxO scores to distract from its Pixel lineup lacking OIS, dual cameras and zoom. Take a dimly lit skyline panorama with a Pixel phone and it appears to be capturing amazing amounts of light. However, the finished capture is blown out with no detail, and rather useless as a photo. Never mind, here's a high score!
Hype and HypocrisyAt the same time, Google also bragged last year that its Pixel phones didn't have a "camera bump," as if less capable optics were an aesthetic feature.
The problem of the "camera bump" was suddenly invented at the release of iPhone 6s, the first iPhone with a ring around its camera lens. It was commonly vilified as ugly and soul destroying because the device wouldn't lay flat on a table unless it was in a case. Never mind that most other Android phones already had "camera bumps" of some sort, often larger.
After Google promoted Pixel XL's single piece of glass covering the top of its back and the camera lens as a superior design, actual users began reporting that any damage to the rear glass was not only difficult to fix on the niche phone, but also spread cracks across the camera lens, making it really bad at taking pictures at all.
Pixel after a drop: no more camera. Source: TechRadar
This year, Pixel 2 XL introduces a camera bump, and suddenly camera bumps are fine. Meanwhile, both Phone 7 Plus and 8 Plus have celebrated the camera bump, leveraging the additional bump to allow the phones to take better, more versatile photos as well as using their 2x zoom lens in video, slo-mo, time-lapse and panoramas.
A similar double standard applied in Apple's elimination of headphone jacks, a subject vilified on last year's iPhone 7 despite making it possible to deliver the water resistance that last year's Pixel phones lacked. Now that Google has given up its own marketing and fallen in line behind Apple, the outrage and castigation of headphone jack removal has shriveled up into barely a mention by sites including the Verge, which inflamed the issue last year as "user hostile" and "stupid."
Now that Google has given up its own marketing and fallen in line behind Apple, the outrage and castigation of headphone jack removal has shriveled up into barely a mention
Unlike the Lighting port on iPhone 7 and later models that lack a headphone jack, Pixel 2 phones supply a USB-C connector, which remains new and more difficult to obtain. Apple moved to its proprietary Lightning connector in 2012, and now all modern iOS devices use it--an installed base nearing a billion devices. That makes it relatively easy to find digital Lightning headphones and Lightning power adapters.
USB-C is so new only a few new Android phones use it. Even Samsung's Galaxy S7 flagship used micro-USB, the common "Android phone" standard. The result is that it's far less common to find a USB-C cable charger among friends or when trying to recharge at a pub or other establishment. Google's adapter also costs twice as much as Apple's.
The Pixel 2 XL does pack a larger battery, and features the same USB-PD fast charging mode as iPhone 8. But unlike many Android flagships, the Pixel's battery is not removable, another feature Android buyers commonly complain about. One advantage Google has over iPhone models is that Pixel bundles an 18watt charger, while Apple includes only a slow 5watt adapter, meaning that to take advantage of fast charging, you'll need to buy a separate cable and adapter (or use the one that ships with modern MacBooks).
Another power-related feature that relates to the removal audio jack is that last year, iPhone 7 models were criticized for not being easy to power while listening to headphones. Today's Pixel 2 has the same issue, and Google's solution is to buy an expensive $40 adapter that splits out a headphone jack from USB-C.
Apple offers a couple of less expensive wired solutions, but also now supports Qi wireless charging, so you can listen while charging without any secondary adapters, whether at home or at a Starbucks or airport lounge. Pixel 2 models offer no support for wireless charging.
Apple also introduced wireless AirPods as an alternative to the wired EarPods in bundles with new iPhones. Google doesn't bundle headphones, and offers "wireless" headphones that are connected by a wire, Pixel Buds. These were promoted as performing rapid translation, but the headphones don't actually do translation. The phone does the translation, just as Siri would on an iPhone.
Priced like AirPods, "wireless" Pixel Buds
Pixel Buds don't have the same auto-detection of when they're in your ear, as AirPods do, and don't actually fit into your ear canal. Instead, they wedge their neck-cord loop in your ear and hang on the edge of your ear canal.
There's no ability to use their touch sensors to control song playback, and they don't automatically shut off when removed. But they cost the same price as AirPods, despite looking like cheap branded things Google would give away at a conference.
More missing features: Haptic feedback, 3D Touch, TrueToneDespite rumors that Android would catch up to 2015's iPhone 6s and its support for depth sensitive 3D Touch, Google's Pixel 2 XL doesn't offer anything similar.
It also lacks the precise Taptic Engine of iPhone 7 and 8 that's designed to provide haptic feedback in conjunction with 3D Touch, its solid state Home button, system-wide haptic feedback and custom haptic ringtones. Like older phones, Pixel only supports basic vibration.
Additionally, Pixel 2 phones don't support anything like iPhone 8's TrueTone, which uses ambient light temperature sensors to adjust the display to appear natural in different lighting scenarios.
Because 3D Touch, haptic feedback and TrueTone are all hardware features, there's no way that future Android releases can add that functionality to Google's current generation of Pixel phones.
Every Google Phone is forgotten after it flopsThe more expensive, feature-challenged Pixel 2 XL undercuts Google's promotion of Android as being affordable and designed for the billions of people of Earth. It doesn't match the latest features of iOS, and continues to promote sending data to Google rather than protecting users' privacy as a desirable security. Who would buy it in volumes that might matter? That remains a mystery.
Google has now been building and designing phones for a decade without ever creating a significant installed base or making any money from its vanity hardware busywork. That's a long time to be looking for your first hit in the hardware world.
Google has now been building and designing phones for a decade without ever creating a significant installed base or making any money from its vanity hardware busywork. That's a long time to be looking for your first hit in the hardware world
A major reason why Google keeps hauling out inferior products that fail in the marketplace is that reviewers in the media fawn over them as the emperor's new clothes, only to clap delightedly again the next year, Soviet-style, ignoring the cycle of failure that has kept Google from ever making any actual progress. Real feedback might prod Google to be competitive, or to give up on businesses it clearly isn't any good at to focus on what it actually can do.
Google's first Android partnership to "take on" Apple's iPhone arrived in 2008, built by HTC: the Tmobile G1 (aka Magic). It was the first phone Google shipped with Android, and was specifically customized by Google to deliver a trackball and physical keyboard rather than relying on multitouch input.
The G1 also lacked a headphone jack, instead supplying a proprietary ExtUSB port with an external adapter for plugging in headphones. All of those design decisions were terrible.
Despite insisting at the time that the G1 keyboard was important and the headphone jack was not, Google and HTC later replaced the G1 with myTouch (Dream), a similar phone lacking a physical keyboard but adding a headphone jack on some versions.
One year later, Google released a successor with HTC named Nexus One (Passion), which was launched in conjunction with Android 2.0 in 2009. It also retained the trackball unique to Google's original pure vision for Android phones, but lacked a physical keyboard and standardized on including a headphone jack.
Writing for Engadget, Joshua Topolsky declared "the genuine-article Google Phone is finally here," and wrote that "while it's unmistakably HTC, there are plenty of design cues that feel authentically Google as well," a continuation of the earlier G1 that "Google worked tightly with HTC to create."
Later in 2010, however, Google launched Android 2.3 alongside a new partner: Samsung. The Nexus S was mostly just a rebadged version of Samsung's Galaxy S, which so closely copied the iPhone that it launched the initial lawsuit between Apple and Samsung.
"The genuine-article Google Phone is finally here" - Engadget 2010
Samsung wrestled for control over the Nexus partnership, resulting in the successor being named Galaxy Nexus rather than Google's rumored choice of "Nexus Prime."
In 2011, Google initiated efforts to take over Motorola Mobility in a bid to become a hardware maker itself. After purging most of Motorola's existing product designs it began work on new phone hardware more in line with its own vision for what Android hardware should be.
In 2012, Google introduced a stopgap rebadging of an LG phone, sold as the Nexus 4--as tensions mounted between the search giant and Samsung, Android's largest licensee. The phone was given an entry price of $299 to attract buyers. Google continued working with LG to deliver the Nexus 5 and 5X in 2014 and 2015.
The late-2013 Moto X was created entirely within Google's new Motorola subsidiary. Like previous Nexus partnerships it was hailed as being custom-created by Google, but it was also built under Google's direction.
Moto X failed to sell as expected, resulting in a price slashing from $550 to $399 within its first few months. Motorola lost over $700 million for Google over just six months of Moto X sales, leaving Google ready to get rid of Motorola in 2014.
Despite gestating under Google's ownership, Dieter Bohn of the Verge called Moto X "the first phone that truly reflects the new company's post-Google philosophies, it's thoroughly a Motorola phone, not a Google phone."
Somewhat confusingly, some in tech media decided that phones designed and built directly by Google were not "Google phones," but phones built by other companies with input from Google were--at least before they failed in the market. Then suddenly the next Google-branded phone became the First Ever Real Google Phone.
Every Nexus phone had failed commercially, to the point where in retrospect, Google's fans are forced to say that the company was simply doing a creative exercise and never intended to actually sell the products it so closely worked with its partners to develop, so fully hyped as innovative, and priced so attractively that it ended up losing hundreds of millions of dollars trying to sell them.
That bizarre reality distortion was evident in a high production ad brochure posing as a Wired news article entitled "The Inside Story of the Moto X."
In it, Steven Levy wrote of Google's Motorola acquisition, "What was Google thinking? Finally, we have the answer. The Moto X, announced today, marks the arrival, finally, of the Google Phone. The Moto X is the first in a series of hardware products that Google hopes will supercharge the mother company's software and services."
After ridding itself of Motorola and a full series of Moto-branded phones ranging from flagships to economy phones, Google delivered a final Nexus 6 with Lenovo--which had acquired Motorola from it--toward the end of 2014.
"Moto X, announced today, marks the arrival, finally, of the Google Phone" - Wired, 2013
A year later, in parallel with 2015's LG-built Nexus 5X, Google also partnered with China's Huawei to produce the Nexus 6P. But Google's relationship with both companies were going in the same sour direction as Samsung. Google was demanding more control over the platform, and its partners were increasingly resisting.
A report by Android Police noted that Huawei was supposed to deliver a successor to the Nexus 6P, but Google demanded that the new model would be fully branded by Google with scant acknowledgment of Huawei as anything other than its manufacturer.
Huawei had failed to make any significant inroads into the U.S. market on its own, and its Nexus 6P effort with Google had flopped just the same as every other Nexus launch. Huawei backed out of any participation with the Pixel rebranding, leaving HTC as the remaining company willing to build phones for Google to put its name on.
Stuck with HTC, which has only been floundering in its own smartphone efforts recently, Google ended up with little more than a copy of an iPhone 6, lacking many of the premium features it once offered in its money-losing experiments with Motorola.
Yet despite introducing one of the least innovative or competitive "Google phones" ever, the price of last year's Pixel lineup was the same as the faster, smarter, more powerful, better integrated and weather resistant iPhone 7 with a better display and better sound.
Despite crowing that Pixel was created entirely by Google and merely assembled by HTC, the search giant recently found it necessary to spend $1.1 billion to acquihire 2,000 HTC employees who had worked on Pixel. The credulity needed to swallow this obvious contradiction was on full display from the same people who applaud Pixel as the best Android thing ever.
Writing for the Verge Chris Welch wrote that "HTC basically served as a silent contractor" for the original Pixel phones, in the same article where he also introduced those 2,000 HTC workers as "the people responsible for creating it." Well, which is it?
It's not sexy for Google to admit that its Pixel phones are built by LG and HTC, two of Android's largest commercial failures, companies that can't manage to sustainably, profitably sell phones on their own. Neither Samsung nor the leading Chinese Android makers are interested in building Pixel phones for Google at any price.
Isolated from any criticism and surrounded by fan-journalists who will repeat any message they're fed as gospel, Google has zero connection to reality. The result is that this year, Google is raising the price of its HTC-built Pixel 2 as well as the LG-built Pixel 2 XL, again excusing its camera deficiencies while hiding behind a dubious DxO score, and offering very little that's new-- setting up Pixel 2 for the same sort of failure that will win it applause from reviewers who don't even care if it sells or not, because commercial success has no impact on whether Google will give them free hardware to play with next year.
People with an existing Apple Music subscription can now switch to a cheaper annual plan without having to buy a gift card -- though the option is relatively hidden.
Image Credit: TechCrunch
To find it, subscribers must go into the iOS 10 App Store, scroll to the bottom of the Featured tab, and select their Apple ID, TechCrunch noted on Monday. This will prompt for a password, after which people can tap on "View Apple ID," then finally on the Subscriptions button to check their Apple Music membership.
A one-year individual plan is $99 in the U.S., a significant discount off the nearly $120 it costs to go month-by-month. Unfortunately, there are no annual tiers for student or family accounts, and the option is invisible to people who aren't already using Apple Music.
In fact, Apple has so far downplayed the annual option in marketing. The gift card first appeared in September, but is only highlighted in the company's online store.
Offering a discounted plan may nevertheless help Apple compete with the market leader in on-demand streaming, Spotify. The latter is still selling 12-month gift cards for the same price it costs to go month-to-month.
Apple is also aiming to compete with Spotify by offering more original video content. Recently it premiered "Planet of the Apps," and hired two former Sony executives to spearhead future efforts.
With HomePod, accessing Apple's Siri technology is more convenient than ever. But users might want trigger the virtual assistant on an iPhone rather than a speaker that blasts answers to anyone within earshot. Here's how to do it.
As we discovered in our first real-world hands-on, HomePod is an extremely compact, yet undeniably loud home speaker. At home in both small apartments and large houses, HomePod's place-anywhere design and built-in beamforming technology generates great sound no matter where it's set up.
Siri comes baked in, taking over main controls like content playback, volume management, HomeKit accessory commands and more. As expected, the virtual assistant retains its usual assortment of internet-connected capabilities, including ties to Apple services like Messages and various iCloud features.
However, having Siri read your text messages out loud might not be ideal for some users, especially those with cohabitants.
Apple lets you deny access to such features, called "personal requests," during initial setup, but doing so disables a number of utilities. Alternatively, users can tell HomePod, "Hey Siri, turn off Hey Siri" or turn off "Listen for 'Hey Siri'" in HomePod settings in the iOS Home app. Both methods, however, make HomePod a much less useful device.
Luckily, there is a way to enjoy the best of both worlds, but it might take some practice. The method takes advantage of Apple's solution for triggering "Hey Siri" when multiple Siri-capable devices are in the same room. More specifically, users can manually trigger "Hey Siri" on an iPhone or iPad rather than HomePod, allowing for more discreet question and response sessions.
According to Apple, when a users says, "Hey Siri," near multiple devices that support the feature, the devices communicate with each other over Bluetooth to determine which should respond to the request.
"HomePod responds to most Siri requests, even if there are other devices that support 'Hey Siri' nearby," Apple says.
There are exceptions to Apple's algorithm, however. For example, the device that heard a user's request "best" or was recently raised will respond to a given query. Use this knowledge to your advantage to create exceptions to the HomePod "Hey Siri" rule.
When you desire a bit of privacy, simply raise to wake a device and say "Hey Siri." A more direct method involves pressing the side or wake/sleep button on an iPhone or iPad to trigger the virtual assistant, which will interact with a user from that device, not HomePod.
On the other hand, if you want to ensure HomePod gets the message rather than an iOS device, place your smartphone or tablet face down. Doing so disables the "Hey Siri" feature, meaning all "Hey Siri" calls are routed to HomePod.
If you're having trouble with "Hey Siri" or if more than one device is responding to the voice trigger, ensure that all devices are running the most up-to-date version of their respective operating system.
Testing stalwart Consumer Reports declared this week that Apple's HomePod falls behind Google's Home Max -- and even the Sonos One -- in terms of audio quality. To anyone who knows the publication's controversial history with Apple products, that conclusion is utterly unsurprising.
In Friday's screed, the same day as the product was released, Consumer Reports, after less than a day of use and comparison, declared the Sonos One, and the Google Home Max the champions for sound quality. That's noteworthy, because virtually every other major test conducted since the launch of HomePod, including AppleInsider's own comparisons, found that Apple's product offers superior sound.
Don't just take our word for it (twice), though. Engadget on Tuesday agreed with the prevailing wisdom on it, as did USA Today, The Verge, What Hi-Fi, a very particular Redditor, and a pile of other venues.
Consumer Reports is, of course, entitled to its opinion -- sound quality assessments are highly subjective.
But two factors suggest that the report isn't relevant, nor of any particular value. Primarily, Consumer Reports has a long history of berating Apple products for issues that don't seem to actually manifest in any real-world environment. Second, their HomePod comparison has come to a conclusion that only they seem to hold.
AntennagateBack in 2010, Consumer Reports used its public-facing webpage to flog issues it had with the iPhone 4 antenna. But it required a subscription to the site to view the entire comparative analysis, where it ranked the iPhone 4 above all other smartphones of the day, saying that the antenna issue was completely solved by applying piece of transparent tape over the antenna line in the casing, using a protective case, or not squeezing it with a "death grip" while making a phone call.
That fired up the internet as a whole, who saw only the public-facing post decrying the antenna -- yet the same complainants were not widely exposed to the full report stashed behind a paywall that said that the problems were incredibly minor and the iPhone 4 was at the top of the heap.
As a result of the growing controversy, Apple uncharacteristically made a public statement, and provided free cases for early adopters, in an attempt to put the issue to bed.
The laws of physics are inescapable, and every smartphone even now can be shielded by human flesh when pressed up against an antenna gapGripping any mobile phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance, with certain places being worse than others depending on the placement of the antennas. This is a fact of life for every wireless phone. If you ever experience this on your iPhone 4, avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band, or simply use one of many available cases.
And yet, somehow, this only applied to the iPhone 4, and not the other devices on the list according to the venue -- even though at the same time literally every other phone on their evaluation was seeing the same thing.
Consumer Reports didn't bother to say anything about it afterward.
The 2016 MacBook ProApple released the MacBook Pro redesign in the fall of 2016, and there was much to be said about it. As it always does, Consumer Reports got their hands on one shortly after the machines shipped in late October and early November.
After about a month and a half of testing, in a post on their website, the publication said that while the new machines earned high marks in display quality and performance, they were found lacking in terms of battery life. Specifically, the battery performance of models tested "varied dramatically" during trials, and was as low as four hours, with the computers that were not under serious load.
However, it was discovered that, during their testing, Consumer Reports toggled a hidden developer setting, which triggered an obscure bug. While the bug's presence was Apple's responsibility, tooling around in the developer's settings for Safari isn't a "real world" test, contrary to what publication claims.
"This is not a setting used by customers and does not reflect real-world usage. Their use of this developer setting also triggered an obscure and intermittent bug reloading icons which created inconsistent results in their lab," Apple said. "After we asked Consumer Reports to run the same test using normal user settings, they told us their MacBook Pro systems consistently delivered the expected battery life."
Following the bug fix, and Consumer Reports not messing around with developer settings, the product testers reinstated their recommendation for the machine -- an improvement over how they handled the iPhone 4 debacle.
Unlike its declaration about the HomePod Monday just three days after release, Consumer Reports waited until its month-long testing was fully complete on the MacBook Pro before it published the results.
The iPhone XThe publication also disclosed its testing on the iPhone X and a bevy of other smartphones on Dec. 5 of last year, a month after the iPhone X became available. That report found the publication recommending the Galaxy S8 above the iPhone 8 Plus, with the iPhone X in a very close third spot.
The testing was dramatic, with the phones taking major screen damage in a steel tumbling device after 50 rotations. We're not sure how "real world" this is, as the vast majority of iPhone drops are from approximately three feet to concrete, and only a few times in a product's life.
The iPhone X tumbler
However, again, Consumer Reports didn't talk about early results until they had been beating on the phones in question for a month -- more than 10 times the length of time it had before it judged the HomePod.
Review challengesConsumer Reports has every legal right to share its opinions, the same as AppleInsider or any other venue. Examining a product in a review is, by definition, a subjective process, with audio product reviews producing the widest gap of opinion.
If you're looking for an "objective review," or similar phrasing, you aren't looking for a review at all. Instead, find a news item dispassionately discussing the technical specifications of a product. By definition, a review isn't that, and is chock-full of opinions about a product.
Perhaps Consumer Reports felt like they had collected all the information they needed after just a few days. That's possible, and with a product evaluated in a vacuum, and not compared to much else, a review can be done in less than that timeframe. However, this is contrary to every other consumer electronics comparison that the organization has ever done.
Damning with faint praiseIt would have been better had Consumer Reports waited until their comparative testing was done to scream loudly that one smart speaker sounds better than the next. But, instead, this nearly century-old publication decided to say very little about how they reached their conclusions. Instead, they sensationally disclosed their findings, some of which flew contrary to everyone else's. And they did so just days after a product release, and yet they still give themselves an out if their exhaustive testing proved otherwise.
Why they took this atypical path to publication, we don't know, and can only guess, since they have yet to respond to questions about the release.
Right now, we don't know anything about the testing methodology. We don't know why Consumer Reports decided what it did, despite their press release vividly declaring that Google's offering is better.
I am not here to defend the HomePod, and Apple neither requires nor desires my assistance -- and that's how it should be. I don't have a HomePod, nor do I have a Google Home Max, so I can't speak to the accuracy of the Consumer Reports declaration.
But Monday's report, how it was disclosed, and a lack of a supporting narrative for the opinion, is not a good look for Consumer Reports, given their history with Apple products. The release is contrary to their own stated mission of "rigorously testing products" before advising the public.
Worse yet, the early announcement stands in violation of what I think is their most profound mission -- they have failed to be a publication capable of "fearlessly investigating where markets have failed," and look to have become part of the problem instead.
Update: Consumer Reports published a rebuttal on Tuesday evening. They noted in the rebuttal that they published their first look at the HomePod on Friday, and not Monday, and differed with some of our interpretations of the examination -- but we stand by our stance on the matter.
AppleInsider has asked some follow-up questions, specifically about how Consumer Reports came to their conclusion about the HomePod and their interpretation of the MacBook Pro testing regimen versus what Apple had to say about the dialog, and will update accordingly.