How I learned to stop worrying and love the idea of a 7-inch iOS device…

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This article was originally intended as a frothful rant aimed at Macworld UK’s Ben Camm-Jones, who opines that Apple should launch a 7-inch iPad. ”Absurd!” I was to proclaim, and ”pointless!” I planned to spout. It was going to be a classic example of the type of rambling sub-analytical blog-turd that has led this humble writer to be hailed by ‘critics’ worldwide as “an arrogant piece of shit.”

But then something funny happened. The more I thought about a 7-inch iOS device, the more I found myself thinking, hmmm… this might just work.

That doesn’t mean the iPad Mini hype-mongers are right. I maintain that a budget, low-spec, small screen iPad makes no sense for consumers or Apple. However, I’ve grown exponentially infatuated with the idea of a big iPod Touch. I don’t know whether this interest is due to a previously undiscovered void in my digital lifestyle (that has to be one of the more pretentious sentences I’ve written), or whether it’s just your basic Kindle envy (on my daily commute, I now see more people reading Kindles than paperbacks). All I know is Apple should definitely launch a big-ass, 7-inch iPod Touch.

I think this makes infinitely more sense than an iPad Mini. For although the iPad is routinely dismissed as a mere consumption device, its lasting appeal is that it can accomplish a huge range of tasks through a massive choice of apps using creative new modes of interaction. The future of the iPad will only see more advanced apps allowing users to accomplish even more complex tasks. This requires more power to be crammed inside the iPad’s dinky frame. So even if the iPad never truly replaces desktops or laptops (as I doubt it will), it will still need to develop in capability relative to these. A second tier pad with minaturised screen will only hinder the evolution of the platform. It would be a downgrade creating two ‘speeds’ of development.

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On the other hand, a larger screen iPod Touch will only enhance the user experience in all the ways the device is intended: watching video, playing games, and browsing the web. I don’t imagine many people are currently using the Touch for reading books, but they could if it had a larger screen. There will be no step backwards in terms of technology, rather the opportunity for greater battery life and, of course, the bigger screen, which, with retina-level apps, needn’t compromise on the Touch’s current display quality. Why would Apple make an inferior iPad when they could make a superior iPod Touch?

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In fact, there are several advantages to using the iPod Touch as a basis for the 7-incher over the iPad:

  • Upscaled iPhone apps would look way better than shrunken iPad apps. All iPhone apps would work on a larger screen, while many iPad apps would be practically unusable squished onto a smaller screen.
  • Less developer work. Major changes to the iPhone or iPad line-up would mean devs will be compelled to take these variations into account. The need to tailor your app for the Touch audience is not as vital. I don’t think many devs are building apps with the Touch in mind. If that status quo remains, so be it. If devs actually want to optimise for the Touch because they find it’s worth the effort, that’s their choice.
  • It won’t hurt sales… probably. A 7-inch iPod Touch would be entirely different to the iPhone and iPad, meaning minimal cannibalisation of sales. I believe a smaller, cheaper iPad would detract from regular iPad sales as some people will always choose the cheapest option. Yes, it could also massively increase iPad sales, but if the user experience of the Mini is just as good as the Regular, there’s no incentive to buy the more expensive option. If it’s not, what’s the point?
  • No need to awkwardly split the product portfolio. The iPod Touch is pretty popular, but I reckon Apple could safely replace the current model with a 7-incher without negative repercussions. What the Touch would lose in pocketability (i.e. as a music player), it would more than make up for in terms of video, gaming and reading experience. It may even be a big benefit for the Touch to no longer be defined as a cheapo iPhone sans phone. Consider, alternatively, two different types of iPad, each offering a completely different experience and benefiting two completely different users. Why muddy the waters unnecessarily?
  • It’ll sell to current owners of iDevices. I can’t imagine most iPhone and iPad owners rushing out to buy the same devices with a different screen size. Likewise, there’s currently no real reason why these people would buy a contemporary-gen iPod Touch. The ‘Touch 7’ is different enough to be a justifiable purchase (arguably).
  • A bigger Touch will be cheaper than a smaller iPad (I’m guessing…). I don’t know for sure, but surely the tech required to power a 7-inch Touch will be less than that needed to power an IPad? Of course, even if the production costs were the same for both, the retail price for an iPad Mini would have to be somewhere below the iPad 2 and above the 4th gen iPod Touch (probably nearer to the former). In my hypothetical fantasy world, Apple could/should sell the Touch 7 for the same price as the present day Touch. This puts it in the same region price-wise as the Kindle Fire.

I think you’ll agree that those are six pretty awesome reasons for the Touch 7. But if you’re still wedded to the idea of a bigger iPhone or smaller iPad, allow me to summarise:

  • Big iPhone: reduced display quality, two-tier development on flagship device, won’t fit in pocket.
  • Small iPad: less powerful, inferior experience for creative tasks, too expensive.
  • iPod Touch 7: an upgrade that redefines the device, the cheapest option, no extra work for app developers required, 7-inch usage suits the brand.

It just makes sense.

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Is there really nothing more to Nokia’s Lumia 900 than Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt?

I guess Nokia got even more than it could’ve hoped for after making its $1bn deal with Microsoft last year. On top of an epic decline in smartphone market share, and an even epic-er implosion of its share value, Nokia looks to have gained some awesome viral marketing tips from its Microsoft buddies (who could forget this campaign?).

In a particularly bold ignorant and aggressive misguided series of YouTube videos, Nokia takes the fight to smartphone rivals, labelling the competition as “borderline defective, glorified prototype[s]” (though, judging by the videos, they’re mainly criticising handsets built circa 2007 & 2010 – yes, that’s Nokia squaring their flagship saviour-of-a-mobile against 2/5 year old handset-shaped strawmen).

It’s all very odd. The three videos, the first shot in a massively expensive marketing drive to push the Nokia Lumia 900, are titled ‘death grip’, ‘outside’ and ‘fragile’. The ‘Beta Phone’ flaws they’re mocking are, respectively, dropped signal when the phone is held a certain way (i.e. anntenagate), low-quality screens that make viewing in direct sunlight difficult, and glass screens that break when dropped.

If you haven’t seen the videos yet, here’s a taste (keep a bottle of mouthwash handy):

The whole concept is absurd. For one thing, consumers aren’t really faced with a choice between a Lumia 900 and hypothetical phones with dull screens, dodgy antennas and cases made of snowflakes, launched back when Charlie Sheen still retained a slither of dignity. I’m sure there are some clumsy, gorilla-handed, half-blind wannabe-smartphone owners out there whose sausage-sized fingers are positively twitching from Nokia’s promise of an unbreakable, interference-free phone with a screen that throbs with the power of ten suns, but there’s got to be more to the 900 than FUD. Right?

These videos are awful. How cheap do you have to go to find a smartphone with a display that can’t be viewed on a sunny day? Is that what Nokia is pitching itself against? And is the ‘death grip’ something that only affects iPhones?

Actually, that last question isn’t even rhetorical. I checked the online user guides for Lumias 710 and 800:

You’re holding it wrong!

I guess these smartphones were prototypes too.

To be fair, maybe the iPhone 4’s antenna problems were so much worse than any other handsets – but considering it had a return rate of only 1.7% it couldn’t have been that bad (in comparison, Nokia’s N97 Mini was reported to have a return rate of 20%).

And what makes the Lumia 900 so much less breakable than the villainous, inferior ‘prototypes’ that came before it? It’s all to do with something called Gorilla Glass. You may have heard of it; as this article from PC World says:

Five years ago, the Apple iPhone launched the Gorilla Glass renaissance. There is some debate as to whether or not current iPhone models still use it or not. The Corning site lists devices that use Gorilla Glass, but states up front that there are non-disclosure agreements in place with some vendors that prohibit it from naming them. That sounds like something Apple would do. All I know is that I’ve dropped my iPhone 4S four times in the past week, and it doesn’t have a scratch.

Corning claims the super-strong glass is used in nearly 600 different products, and it expects 2011 revenue from Gorilla Glass to top $700 million.

Corning (the creators of Gorilla Glass) list 12 smartphone manufacturers as users of their product. What was Nokia’s point again?

But the thrust of these videos isn’t to highlight the 900’s superiority in terms of these aspects (I wouldn’t go so far as to call them ‘features’). The impression viewers are supposed to get when viewing these videos is that all the other smartphone manufacturers are out to dick over their customers in silly, petty ways. Now, I don’t think that Nokia’s ever been a nasty company; they used to have something of a reputation for quality. But they’re now partners with Microsoft: a company whose entire business strategy is based around fucking over their customers. Spare a thought for the poor souls who found themselves stricken, abandoned after buying into one of their many feeble attempts to penetrate the consumer market (e.g. Zune and all previous iterations of Windows mobile), or those who bought a barely operational Vista PC before quickly having to invest in another upgrade just to make it work.

The version of Windows 7 pre-installed on my parent’s laptop doesn’t even allow you to change the desktop background unless you pay for a £70 upgrade!

I expect that from Microsoft, but I’m disappointed in Nokia. However, having thought about it and with Redmond alumni Stephen Elop steering the Finnish company, I can see why they went for this type of negative campaign. The 900’s a huge deal for both Nokia and Microsoft – make or break, possibly. When needing to resuscitate Nokia’s smartphone sales and rescue Microsoft’s mobile OS from obscurity, they only had two options. One, they could genuinely produce a game-changing device with a user experience that makes other smartphones look dumb in comparison. Or two, they could spend a lot of money trying to convince people they’re doing option one. Which did they choose..? (Hint: Microsoft has no idea how to do option one).

In terms of specs, in direct comparison with the iPhone 4S, the Lumia 900 unambiguously arrives at a fairly decent second place (it may be out-muscled into third or fourth if some available Android handsets were thrown into the comparison). And in terms of user experience, the Windows Phone 7 operating system is nothing new. It was launched over a year ago and hardly anybody gives a shit.

This isn’t some revolutionary new device that is going to change the smartphone industry as we know it. This is a slightly improved version of the already available Lumia 800 running the same version of an operating system that very few people seem to want.

To be clear, I don’t think it’s a bad phone. For the price they’re flogging it, it’s probably a good bargain and, who knows, it may be entirely perfect for you in every conceivable way. I’m just saying it’s not objectively better than all other available smartphones and it is objectively inferior to the leading smartphones in several key ways. The Nokia campaign is predicated on the entirely false notion that the best-selling (and best-loved) smartphones of the past five years are (this quote again) “borderline defective, glorified prototype[s]”. Insanity.

More importantly, we don’t know if other smartphone manufacturers have been sitting in meetings, making bad decisions to wilfully and enthusiastically screw their customers. But we do know that some agency got the green light from Nokia (and possibly Microsoft) to make a series of videos that aim to deceive, frighten and confuse consumers into buying a product that can not live up to the hype.

How one man fed the world his rotten Apple

I’ve been reading a fair bit about the latest twist in this Apple / Foxconn controversy, but this account of how an unrepentant Mike Daisey duped everyone into believing his fabrications is by far the most insightful:

“This is how Daisey perpetrated his con since “The Agony and the Ecstasy” premiered in early 2011: He took a vacation to China, hacked together a story out of some sensational lies then paraded them around like the world owed him a favor. While we were too busy wallowing in self-recrimination to check if what he said was true, he used his fake facts to leverage himself into the position of the world’s most prominent Apple critic, appearing on MSNBC and “Real Time with Bill Maher,” and writing an op-ed in the New York Times. In the process he debased anyone who actually cared about the true injustice of Apple’s manufacturing process. Daisey’s lies hurt labor organizations like SACOM by giving their critics ammunition to ignore their real complaints. He cynically warped the stories of Chinese workers to promote his campaign, and trivialized the work of journalists who actually do real reporting on the issue.”

via How I Was Duped By Mike Daisey’s Lies.

Classic Apple Commercials

I found a bunch of classic Apple commercials posted on YouTube by VectronicsAppleWorld a while ago and just had to post the old version of ‘Mac vs. PC’ below. Apologies to anyone who may have written about this before, but I can’t remember where I got this link from…

A-ha! Jazz music and quick cuts between shots of whatever the equivalent of powerpoint was in those days – that’ll sell! Presumably this was conceived at a time when all decent marketing execs were too busy saying ‘ciao’ and hiding the bodies of overdosed hookers to make a truly awe-inspiring advert.

I also feel moved to post Ridley Scott’s bizarre ‘1984’ Apple commerical along with the Futurama spoof. Obviously, the original ad will always be hailed as revolutionary-at-the-time and a work of genius but, seriously, what I get from this is that in 1984, all Soviet-esque vandals will no longer wear bras.