Stuart Tracte
Tech / Innovation
Retaking the lead

Why is it such a huge deal when Apple has a new phone or hardware announcement? On an almost weekly basis, we see new devices announced, new technologies promised, brighter and more efficient futures guaranteed. Yet, the world does a proverbial backflip any time Mr. Jobs, or more recently, Mr. Cook takes the stage in Cupertino.

Here’s the reason: Apple is the epitome of elegance and simplicity in technology. Say what you will about Windows Phone. Say what you will about how awesome, powerful, and technologically advanced many of the Android-powered devices are. In many cases you’d be 100% right. Yet, what you cannot say about Android is that it is simple, elegant, easy to use, and impactful on culture as a whole.

This is not the place to explore why Apple has become this cultural behemoth, but I hope to explain why they are always the leader, even when the Android and other platform boosters extoll (rightly so) the virtues of their respective devices and operating systems.

Because Apple is classy. Apple is patient. Apple is clean. Their philosophy appears to say “we don’t always need to be the first to market, but we surely need to do it better, shinier, and more elegantly.” Apple consistently hits this target. This is not to say that the other side of the coin is not these things, just that Apple is, at the very least, perceived to be the leader in these categories.

Android users and fans often like to point out that their devices have better specs or features and had them first. This has been true for some time. It continues to be true in the most recent iPhone announcement. But, what differentiates these tech specs, once again, is that Apple tends to do them better, simpler, classier, more elegantly.

This piece is not an Apple fanboy essay. Although, I am a very happy iOS user who sees no signs of switching, I believe my point of view is in line with most of the world, culturally. The world at large aspires to be an Apple world. Of course, there are those that don’t think this way. I speak from experience here, having used both platforms. I loved many things about the HTC One that I had the pleasure of using for a month or so, but it was clunky. It was a bit confusing. I felt that I might do something that would screw the phone up when I was trying to customize it to my likes and needs. I also spent a lot more time using the phone than I did my iOS device, as, due to all the amazing customization capabilities, you’re never really done tweaking it. Yet, I missed the simplicity and clean styling of my iOS device. I missed knowing that if I downloaded an app, it would work.

So, what’s new?

Apple has revealed the launch of four new products: iOS 8, two new iPhones, and the fabled Apple Watch. (I wish they just called it the iWatch. Here’s an interesting perspective on Apple’s decision to drop the “i” from the watch and their new payment system

Almost every single feature of the new iOS and the two new phones are in response to the ways Android outperforms iOS devices. Yet, as stated above, now Apple has incorporated these features and improvements in better and more elegant ways.

Let’s start with iOS 8.  I’m only going to call out a few features, for the sake of brevity.

iOS 8

  • iCloud Photo Library — Apple upgraded its photo storage features to allow users to access all of their photos on all of their iOS devices. This is a feature that Android users already have, with unlimited storage for photos and videos.

  • QuickType and other keyboards — One thing Android users always have raved about, and held in the faces of iOS users, was the ability to customize keyboards with apps like Swype. Apple has introduced a new Swype-like keyboard option and opened up the keyboard for third-party developers.

  • Interactive Notifications — iOS users will now be able to interact with notifications instead of having to open an app to do so. For example, you can now respond to a Facebook post or text message directly from the notifications pulldown. This is a feature Android users have had for a while now.

  • iMessage voice and video — With iOS 8, iMessage users will now be able to add voice, video and location with other iMessage users. It will also now include a Snapchat-like self-destruct feature for messages.

  • Healthkit and Health — Apple has made a huge commitment to making the iPhone the #1 fitness monitoring and tracking accessory on the market. In combination with the Apple Watch (discussed below) they are poised to meet their goals. The Health app will allow users to create logs for their sleep, nutrition and fitness habits, and more.

For a more comprehensive list of new features in iOS 8, read this article:

The new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus

The trend in smartphones outside the Apple ecosystem has been towards larger-screened devices. Large screen phones like the HTC One and “phablet” sized phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note family have been top selling devices over the last several years. Apple has kept their phones comparatively small…until now. Apple has introduced two sizes of phones, both significantly larger. The iPhone 6 will feature a 4.7 inch display, in contrast to the iPhone 5’s 4 inch screen. This now makes the iPhone 6 approximately the same size as the original HTC One. The larger iPhone 6 Plus will boast a 5.5 inch screen, putting it in the same category as the Samsung Note and other phablets.

New features of these new phones include:

  • NFC — After many years of not hopping on the NFC (Near Field Communication) bandwagon, Apple decided to include this technology in their phones. This is the tech that powers things like MasterCard PayPass, key fobs that get you into locked doors, Mobile’s SpeedPass and more. Android phones have included this technology for quite a few years, but the world has yet to truly take advantage of NFC’s benefits.

  • Apple Pay — Powered by NFC, Apple Pay will allow users to tap their phones against sensors to make payments. According to Time, credit card companies such as Visa MasterCard and American Express as well as merchants such as Disney, Chipotle, and Seamless have already signed on.

  • Improved cameras — This time around, the iPhones will boast an 8-megapixel camera and an f/2.2 aperture lens. Apple also increased the aperture on the front facing camera, which will allow in significantly more light, enabling the world to take much better selfies. Another new feature, which Apple has dubbed Focus Pixels, is a much faster focusing system, which allows for much more motion in photos without blur. (One difference between the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is the addition of Optical Image Stabilization. This will further enhance the capabilities of Focus Pixels, but will be most apparent when taking video. You’ll see much less camera shake with the 6 Plus.)

  • Speed — Both new models will have the new A8 processor. According to apple, the A8 will be 25% faster in CPU tasks and 50% faster in GPU tasks. They also claim that it is 50% more power efficient than the previous A7 chip. Apple also improved the Wi-Fi and LTE standards in the new devices, claiming up to three times faster Wi-Fi speeds and significant increases in speed and range for LTE.

  • Storage — This time around, Apple has left out the 32gb model, and replaced it with a 128gb storage option. This makes the available choices 16gb, 64gb, and 128gb.

For a comprehensive feature list, visit here:

One more thing…

This year, Apple finally announced the long-anticipated Apple Watch. This wearable device is not only a perfect companion for the iPhone but is also the most feature- rich health monitoring system on the planet (at the consumer level). Although the watch will not be released until sometime in early 2015, we got a chance to see it.

Here are some features of Apple’s new watch:

  • Touch screen — The watch will be touch screen and will also feature Apple’s new tech, dubbed Digital Touch. This will allow users to tap patterns to the phone and send them to other friends with the Apple Watch. As the watch will also have a vibration function, these taps will be felt by the user on the receiving end.

  • Communications — The watch will accept text messages and phone calls.  It can also be used as a Dick Tracy-style walkie talkie.

  • Fitness — The Apple Watch has multiple sensors that can measure heart rate, steps, calories, and more, and will seamlessly integrate with Apple’s new health apps for iOS 8.

  • Ecosystem — The watch will have its own app ecosystem and developer tools. For now, we’ll have to use our imagination to think of all the things this may potentially lead to.

  • Integration — The watch will be able to control iTunes on phones, Macs and other apple devices, including Apple TV. It will also contain an NFC chip so that it can be used with Apple’s new Apple Pay system. Siri and Maps will work on the watch, giving users yet another reason to leave their phones in their pockets.

As AppleWatch will not be released until 2015, there is still much time for more features to either change or emerge. Either way, this is a very exciting announcement, as Apple throwing its hat into the wearable ring was not only anticipated but may help move this new and important area forward.

Overall, this was one of the most memorable announcements by Apple in the last few years. Apple is finally catching up to the Android competition in many technical areas, but as the leader in design and simplicity, this may push the rest of industry to innovate more aggressively to distance themselves once again.


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