The reason people liked the iPhone so much initially was that it, all things considered, was the only “smart” phone on the market at the time. There were some small, niche products available for those who were willing to pay a premium, but no mainstream company had ever jumped headfirst into this business, and no company will probably ever succeed at doing that as well as Apple did. As time went on, more smart phones emerged, but people still gravitated towards Apple’s brand of gadget because it was, without a doubt, the highest quality available.
At least for a while. But in the last two or three years more people– Samsung in particular, but also phones from the likes of Motorola or BlackBerry– have been capable of putting out a phone on the same level of technical quality as the iPhone, but for less money. The difference between how the iPhone “feels” to use and how its competitors “feel” to use is constantly shrinking, and quality-over-price is only a worthwhile business practice to a certain extent. Eventually Apple is going to have to think about price just as much as they do quality, and there’s no better time to do that then now, with the launch of Samsung’s latest phone, the Galaxy S4.
Just in terms of hardware, the Galaxy S4 is on– more or less– the same level as the iPhone. Sure there are little hiccups here and there, and maybe the screen breaks faster when dropped onto a hard surface (yes smartphones, this is a problem), but by and large giving someone a chance to try the Galaxy S4 and the iPhone 5 side by side without showing them the branding, you’d probably get an even split between which phone folks liked more.
Critics seem to like the S4 as well, with one of the only complaints being that the outer, plastic shell feels slightly “cheap” for a phone that costs $599.99 without a plan from AT&T (it’s $199 with a plan). Beyond that, there are only minor niggles to be had, so one has to wonder: How long can Apple’s brand identity sell them phones when their competition is only a few steps behind them? If their latest financial report is any indication, it’ll be quite some time.
Apple managed to pull in $9.5 billion in profits last quarter (yes, not revenue– profits– in just ONE quarter), which is the same as gargantuan oil company Exxon Mobile. They beat out analyst expectations across the board despite making slightly less than they did the quarter prior, but the fact that anyone could find a bad side worth discussing about a $9.5bn profit is ludicrous. And it definitely doesn’t bode well for folks like Samsung or HTC, who are trying desperately to get a piece of that market.
Still, one brand cannot last forever, right? Uh, except Bell System… which I guess was broken up by the government in 1984 for being too powerful. I doubt Apple is in a position to suffer the same fate though, unless we ride into a future where Apple-made brain implants, cars, and grocery stores are so widely liked that no one else can stand to make a single dime in profits.
Those tuned into the gaming industry know that Nintendo held a widely-acclaimed press conference regarding their ’3DS’ system yesterday, outlining an extremely bright future for the handheld and doing a fairly decent job– in their eyes– of providing proof that the smartphone market is having no effect on their overall sales. “Software sells hardware” has been– and continues to be– their motto, but what if the iPhone starts to overstep its bounds and take on the specific functions of dedicated platforms? What if Apple released a dual-screened, 3D iPhone? What if Motorola came out with a phone with the power of a Playstation Vita?
As it turns out, one company is trying to do something like that with “Rolomotion”, an Apple TV/iPhone program that turns your phone into a motion controller and your TV into a gaming console not very dissimilar from the Wii. This trailer showcases pretty much everything in a fairly concise manner, so check that out first:
The important thing about this isn’t necessarily that this “Rolomotion” in particular will be anything special; at best, it looks like a 7-years-too-late, overly-clunky version of a console that was out of date when it launched, much less against current technologies. No no, the real reason this is worth sharing is because amidst all of the iPhone 5S news and the slowly shrinking marketshare Apple is holding against other smartphone manufacturers, one has to wonder how smartphones will compete with gaming devices– or even if they have to.
We saw something like Rolomotion– an effort to make iPhones compete with Nintendo platforms– about a year after Nintendo’s 3DS launched in 2011: A firm called Pic3D came out with a $30 film overlay you can put over virtually any device (iPhone was their demonstration) and view 3D content without a hitch. At the time it seemed like this could be the start of 3D smartphones that didn’t require glasses, and that the slow sales of the 3DS combined with the uptake in 3D tech from these phone manufacturers would completely destroy the value of a dedicated gaming portable, since such dedicated devices no longer had anything unique.
Now, a year and a half after that, we’ve seen the opposite: The 3DS has taken off, and every move by a third party to turn a smartphone into a viable gaming device has gone out with not a bang, but a– dare I use the cliché– whimper.
“We have noticed that in the US in particular, people tend to, at least when it comes to handheld gaming, they tend to shift generations a lot more slowly than they do particularly in Japan.”said Nintendo’s Bill Trinen, “GameBoy Advance was the same way; DS was the same way; 3DS now. It does take a couple of years. But then once it does, it really builds steam.”
And that’s exactly what we’ve seen: As smartphone sales rise, dedicated gaming sales do not react. For quite some time we saw Nintendo software and hardware sales decreasing as iPhone/App Store sales increased, which was concerning. In the last twelve months, however, Nintendo is selling more handhelds than it ever has– and Apple is also selling more iPhones than it ever has– which would point to the good old piece of scientific advice: “Correlation does not equal causation.”
Gaming sales are dependent on whether the platform has games, and as we move forward it’s gradually appearing that neither the gaming hardware manufacturers nor the phone manufactures have to be concerned about competing with one another– they just aren’t sharing the same market space. And they never have, despite what some analysts continue to say.
Next thing you know they’ll be building these things into the backs of the iPhone.
Spring is finally rolling around which means tech news should finally start pouring out of the industry’s depths at break-neck speeds once again, but to start us off slowly we’re taking a look at yet another round of iPhone 5S “rumors”.
At this point there’s not much point in calling iPhone rumors “rumors”, because the lead-up to the iPhone 5 was filled with plenty of speculation, most of which turned out to be true. At a certain point it feels as though Apple is giving up on trying to stop people from sharing information about their upcoming tech, and through various leaked photos– and various people not following their NDAs in China– we’ve learned that the iPhone 5S will likely look something like this:
- Multiple colors available at launch
- Multiple screen sizes available at launch
- Fingerprint sensor instead of a ‘Home’ button
- Thinner body
- Better cameras, slightly faster tech
So… okay. It’s not mindblowing, but you’ve gotta keep in mind the two most interesting bits of information here: First of all, the fingerprint sensor, which seemed somewhat less believable at first but has turned into something of a shoe-in for “features that aren’t necessary but are still sort of cool”. The second thing that’s interesting (albeit from more of a business perspective than a usability one) is that they’ll launch the phone in multiple sizes. This hasn’t ever happened before with the iPhone, and even the iPad is one standard size unless you get into crossing generations. The choice to have multiple sizes of the same generation of iPhone is new, and it’s definitely not the “blue ocean” approach we’re used to from Apple.
The “variety approach” (presumable 2 different sizes, maybe 3) is likely coming as a response to the success of “big” phones like the Samsumg Galaxy on the market, and Apple, seeing their success, basically said “Fine, if people want big phones, we’ll give them big phones.”
But this begs the question: what about those who don’t want big phones?
“We’ll give them regular sized phones!”
And what about the rumor of a third size? Could we be seeing an “iPhone Mini” coming out in the fall as well?
I don’t think that’s terribly likely. Making the iPhone smaller than it already is would decrease its usability, whereas making a larger version of a product you’ve already put out is a practiced approach taken by multiple tech companies all over the world for the last few years. If there is an iPhone Mini, Apple would be filling a niche similar to that of something like the “Gameboy Micro“– a novelty item for those who want to feel cool and original, which– while definitely a market that exists– isn’t something that would be worth investing R&D time and money into.
But what does all of this mean in English?
It’s somewhat straightforward, really: A lower barrier to entry means developers will be significantly less hesitant (especially since they won’t have to build games for the system from the ground up) to port or create games for the Wii U, and we’ll likely see plenty of iOS applications and games head over to the console in the coming years. It’s a move meant to try and compete with Apple, as well as keep a leg up on Sony and Microsoft by utilizing the tried-and-true strategy of “release every possible game as soon as possible as easily as possible”, but it begs the question: Why would anyone want to develop for a dedicated gaming console when sales seem to be much higher for them on the App Store and Android Marketplace?
Nintendo’s response to that was to show off the game Gunman Clive. Gunman Clivereleased on iOS way back in March of 2012, and was met with very positive reviews. It costed but $2, and at the end of the day sold relatively well. In December of that year, the game’s developer ported everything over to the Nintendo 3DS and released it at the same $2 price point. Within three months the game had matched its iOS sales and quickly surpassed it, despite the fact that the iOS version had been out for 8 months longer.
It’s not a water-tight argument, however: Gunman Clive was met with high praise from the gaming press, and while it’s true that acclaimed games generally sell very well on dedicated platforms, the owners of those platforms generally do not take kindly to shovelware, and as such many apps available for iDevices or Android would not perform favorably. Dedicated game consoles are for gamers, and if you want to sell a game to a gamer, you probably need to make it good. The same is not true for selling something on the App Store, as many folks meandering about Apple’s digital marketplace do not know– nor do they particularly care– about having the highest quality; they just need something to kill time without being painful. And that’s the difference.
So Nintendo’s move to rope in more casual and indie developers from their competition is a good one, but if too many mediocre games end up getting ported over to the Wii U, it’ll oversaturate the marketplace and “ruin” it for those trying to create and sell quality titles. A fine line to ride on Nintendo’s part, but with any luck people who make prosaic products will steer clear of Nintendo’s eShop and instead the higher quality titles can flourish.
It’s the future! Or at least, it is if the latest rumors about the iPhone 5S turn out to be true.
The iPhone 5S is coming, and it’s coming this year. Hell, it’s probably coming before fall, and it’s probably going to sell a crapload of units really really quickly. This is the world we live in: Predictable, safe, and absolutely chocked full of Apple products. The question on everyone’s mind is “What’s next?”
Reports from Foxconn by Japanese blog Macotakara are saying we shouldn’t expect anything revolutionary from Apple with the 5S, but we can look forward to seeing faster internal specifications, a higher quality camera flash for the backwards-facing camera, and a fingerprint-sensor instead of a traditional, push-button “Home” button. The latter of those three things certainly seems to jump off the page for most people, but if you consider exactly how much a fingerprint scanner will truly do for ease of use, its mileage might not go any farther than ‘novelty’. After all, shaving seconds off of the time it takes to input a password (assuming the scanner works with accuracy) isn’t really that important in the long run, especially when password input on your device takes 3-4 seconds at most as it is. On top of that, a number of folks choose not to implement a password on their iDevices, meaning the update will be completely ineffectual.
Those who listen carefully to the rumblings of the gaming industry probably heard that February 20th was a big day, and not just because Ubisoft finally confirmedWatch Dogs for the Wii U. As was speculated for many weeks, Sony unveiled their highly anticipated Playstation 4 at “Playstation Meeting 2013″ in New York, detailing the philosophy behind the console, how the new controller would look, and of course, all of the games people can expect to play if they pick it up this holiday season.
But while games like Killzone, Infamous, and Watch Dogs have Sony fans lit up with anticipation, there was something perhaps a bit more interesting that came out in droves for the press conference: Buzzwords. The whole meeting was built around words like “integration”, “socializing”, “connection”, and “consumer-centric”, which are completely foreign to an industry which in 2006 had its last major leap from one generation to the next. It’s clear we’ve entered the “smart” age of electronics, but whether or not that’s an entirely safe approach for a gaming console has yet to be seen.
Late last year Nintendo launched the first console to brand itself “generation 8″ (for those unaccustomed: the gaming industry giants generally share generational leaps as opposed to upgrading at their own pace), and though it featured plenty of social interaction, none of it used existing networks like Facebook, Twitter, or uStream. All of Nintendo’s bets are on their freshly created gathering space “Miiverse”, which allows gamers to connect with one another, talk about games, help each other with games, and play games together. It’s heavily moderated in an effort to keep things civil and child-friendly, and has worked out well for them so far given the niche they’re trying to fill.
A far cry from Facebook and Twitter no doubt, and the route Sony is attempting to take with PS4 is significantly more “modern”: You can connect with Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks, players use their real names, have a profile picture, and connect to people they already know in real life. The approach is taking the once-anonymous act of playing games online and turning it into a social activity. You can watch friends as they play games, stream your gameplay yourself, and even offer to take over a game your friend is playing– all from the comfort of your own home.
The technology (acquired when Sony purchased streaming company “Gaikai” last year) is interesting to be sure, but whether they can trick those turned off by dedicated gaming consoles into believing there’s more to PS4 than what was to PS3 and systems prior– and whether they can retain the gamer-base that has for years considered all of the social, “integrated” experiences to be somewhat superfluous– is a very big unknown.
In the wake of Temple Run 2 being downloaded 50 million times in two weeks– the fastest downloaded app ever– and putting Angry Birds Space (which sold 50 million in just under six weeks) into the number two spot, the co-founder of popular gaming publisher and developer Valve has said Apple could take over the home gaming market relatively easily.
“[Apple] has a relatively obvious pathway towards entering the living room with their platform,” he said, noting their already-absurd success with the App Store, “I think that there’s a scenario where we see sort of a dumbed down living room platform emerging — I think Apple rolls the console guys really easily.”
The scenario is one that’s pretty easy to imagine, and a company called OUYA Inc. is trying to steal the market before Apple or Valve can jump in: Their gaming platform called the “Ouya” is set to release this coming March. It’s a tiny, $99 box that lets users play games with a traditional controller on their TV, with game prices neck-and-neck with Apple’s own App Store. Titles like Final Fantasy III have already been confirmed for launch, but the vast majority of software is much more like those you’d see on an iOS platform: Cheap, short, and relatively “dumb”.
If Apple wants to take that market into the living room, chances are they would follow Ouya’s model, only with the backing of the Apple name. A small, relatively cheap device that can be effortlessly plugged into the TV and allow users to play popular App Store games on a big screen with a traditional controller would mean that their entire library of big-name small games (Angry Birds, Temple Run, etc) could be easily ported over from the App Store and turned into another source of profit, while managing to take away a lot of what Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft have controlled for the last ten years.
“The biggest challenge, I don’t think is from the consoles,” Newell continued, “I think the biggest challenge is that Apple moves on the living room before the PC industry sort of gets its act together.”
The only thing that remains to be seen other than who’s going to take on that market first, is whether it’s a similar enough market to compete with mainstream gaming as it stands right now rather than being a separate market entirely. That’s something that we likely won’t know until it actually happens.
It’s sort of unfair to start rumors about Apple working on a new iPhone for release in the fall, because for the last several years Apple has always been working on a new iPhone for release in the fall. Anyone can start a rumor like that and it’d probably end up being true, which is why my next story is so interesting: An analyst for Jeffries (investment banking something or other) named Peter Misek is saying that Apple could start production on the “iPhone 5S” in March for a release in June or July, which is a few months ahead of the tried-and-true release window of September-November.
“Our checks,” he says, referring to the various sources and information brokers they talk to for their information, “indicate that preliminary builds for the iPhone 5S will start in March for a launch in June/July. As word of the earlier production schedule starts to spread, we believe we could see a slight slowing of demand CQ1 in anticipation of the new product launch and Apple will likely start curtailing channel inventory.”
Now, whether we believe Mr. Misek is another linebacker to tackle altogether. Analysts– in my experience with them anyway– have a way of constantly spreading made up information (only about half of which ends up being true– a meaningless amount) and never losing their jobs. It’s become increasingly apparent that when an analyst says they’re checking their “sources”, they’re really just sitting down and thinking real hard about it for a while, and then printing what they came up with online. I’ve no professional experience with Peter Misek though, so it’s hard for me to pass judgement on him specifically.
Another thing Misek chimed in on was the continued rumor that Apple is working on a cheaper iPhone for release in emerging markets such as China, who might appreciate a smaller, non-Retina display device that is affordable over an expensive, top-of-the-line piece of tech.
“Similar to the iPad mini, we expect a concentrated low-cost iPhone rather than a “cheap” one. Likely specs: polycarbonite case with 4″ non-Retina display and no LTE. We believe a new low-cost iPhone would increase Apple’s share, decrease [gross margins], but have little impact on [earnings per share].”
This falls in line with The Wall Street Journal’s claim that a cheap iPhone may make its way to market later this year, and Digitimes’ sources also saying that a cheaper model is on the way. The difference in the Digitimes report? They say it’ll actually have a larger screen than current iPhone 5 models. Perhaps more akin to the Samsung Galaxy SIII? Or something?
CM4 is going to have one hell of a year coming up with cases if all this stuff turns out to be true.
Perhaps someday we will live in a world where companies will need not engage in such tom foolery to try and stay on top of the market, but until then we get to watch Apple and Samsung mercilessly fight each other with lawsuits, ad campaigns, and now price increases on products that the other uses. First, a brief backstory:
Apple uses a chip in their iDevices called the “A(X)” processor, where “X” is just a number signifying which particular chip it is. The iPhone 5, for instance, uses the “A6″, and the new iPad uses something similar called the “A6X”. The punchline? Samsung produces these chips, and Samsung has been the victim of numerous lawsuits and attempts by Apple to stop them from selling competing products. Doesn’t sound like a great business strategy on the part of Tim Cook, but what do I know?
After winning a lawsuit against Apple earlier this year, Samsung has been on the turn-around, and now they’re striking back at Apple in the best way they can: By raising the prices of their products that Apple has to buy by 20%, from about $17.50 to $21.00. This may not sound like a lot, but when you need to buy millions of anything a small price increase can mean a hefty chunk of change– millions, in this case.
Now, this is pretty funny in and of itself, but what’s more is that Apple is rumored to be starting production on the iPhone 5S asap, which would mean (if they stick with Samsung– which they so far have had to) they would have to pay this extra money on all of their launch quantities! So what are they going to do?
Apparently they’ll just find another chip manufacturer! As the days roll by Apple is reportedly buying fewer and fewer processors (and batteries!) from Samsung, leaving the competing smartphone maker to look for alternate means of bringing in revenue from the sales of their parts.
So what does the future hold for both companies? It’s hard to say. Any layman might speculate that Samsung will slowly fade into the background while Apple continues to grow, enveloping all of mainstream culture and completely decimating the competition, but experts say that, well… okay, they say that Apple will probably continue to grow and decimate the competition. But we won’t know for sure until that happens!
A yearly release schedule isn’t out of the ordinary for any tech company, but with the turn-around from iPad 3 to iPad 4 being just seven months, do consumers have enough time– or motivation– to keep upgrading? It’s hard to say, but Apple sure seems to think so!
Rumors are abound this week that Apple is lining up to release another round of iPads this coming March, less than six months after the release of the fourth generation iPad and the iPad Mini. Details are scarce at this point, but initial reports say that it’ll be similar to the ‘Mini’ in shape and size, but thinner and more lightweight.
So what’s the point?
Well, recall how Apple released the iPad 3 (the “New” iPad) in March of 2012, and then the fourth generation iPad in November of the same year. When the latter came out, most people remarked it wasn’t terribly different from previous models, save for a few tiny physical changes and a better camera. Apple shied away from branding it as something totally new and unique as well– because they knew it wasn’t– and perhaps downplayed its significance more than they needed to.
So what was the point?
Think of Apple’s iPad releases not as individual releases, but as the hardware equivalent to a software update. When they notice a problem with an older version of the product, they make some minor changes and release the iPad 3 version 1.01 (also known as the “fourth generation” iPad). It doesn’t make version 1.0 obsolete, and it’s not a mandatory purchase, but it’s definitely an improvement. I’d be willing to bet that this is what we’re seeing with a rumored March release to a new iPad Mini model: Apple noticed that they could make the devices smaller and lighter, so they are. They aren’t nullifying the old one– just upgrading the new one.
This rumor also falls in line with a report that Apple is in discussion with Sharp about using their IGZO displays for making their products lighter and smaller. If all the technological/metaphorical planets align, a March release date may not be so far-fetched after all. I’d put my money on waiting a few more months though.