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Apple's Risky Balancing Act With the Next iPhone (macworld.com) 136

Long time columnist Jason Snell: As there always are at this time of year, there are lots of rumors out there about what the next iPhone will be. This year we're hearing that Apple is going to release a high-priced, next-generation phone in addition to the expected iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus models. [...] By most accounts, Apple's next-generation iPhone will offer a similar design. But also, by many accounts, Apple is struggling to create that product -- and when it arrives, it may be expensive, late to ship, and supply constrained. This is one of those areas where Apple may be the victim of its own success. The iPhone is so popular a product that Apple can't include any technology or source any part if it can't be made more than 200 million times a year. If the supplier of a cutting-edge part Apple wants can only provide the company with 50 million per year, it simply can't be used in the iPhone. Apple sells too many, too fast. Contrast that to Apple's competition. On the smaller end, former Android chief Andy Rubin announced the Essential phone, but even Rubin admitted that he'd only be able to sell in thousands, not millions. Same for the RED Hydrogen One -- groundbreaking phone, hardly likely to sell in any volume. The Google Pixel looks like it's in the one million range. Apple's biggest competitor, Samsung, has to deal with a scale more similar to Apple's -- but it's still only expected to sell 50 or 60 million units of the flagship Galaxy S8.
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Apple's Risky Balancing Act With the Next iPhone

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  • by enjar ( 249223 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2017 @01:41PM (#54833897) Homepage
    If they want to make something exclusive, they have done it before and priced it accordingly. See the Apple Watches that had list prices of $10-17K. Who knows how well they actually sold, but Apple doesn't have a hard time putting a large price tag on something exclusive. I'm also intentionally omitting the diamond studded phone cases and so on sold by high end designers. Evidently there's a market for this stuff, and you have to imagine the margins on a 10K iPhone are going to be huge when it (likely) repurposes most of the guts the run of the mill models.
    • I have an iWatch. It didn't cost 10K. I don't care if Apple releases a 10K phone. I won't buy it. I will buy an iPhone 7 at a price that doesn't choke a hippopotamus. Or, an iPhone 6 at a price that doesn't choke a horse. Or, if I have to, switch ecosystems and get an Android.

      • by enjar ( 249223 )
        I'm not suggesting that every Apple Watch is 10K, but that Apple has added "exclusives" in the past, and priced them at eye-popping price points.
        • Yeah, and I'd consider a 10K phone in the same category as a 10K watch. As long as they sell stuff that a mere mortal like me can buy, I don't care if they have stuff for those with more money than brains.

        • by lucm ( 889690 )

          I'm not suggesting that every Apple Watch is 10K, but that Apple has added "exclusives" in the past, and priced them at eye-popping price points.

          yes, and Carl's Jr has an exclusive $6,000 burger combo only available at the Palms, and Oprah Winfrey has a gold-plated toilet seat. Apple is not innovating when they glue diamonds on stuff.

  • by unixisc ( 2429386 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2017 @01:42PM (#54833901)

    As is well known, Intel's toughest competition ain't AMD: it's Intel's own, previous CPUs, which w/ multiple cores, is still more than adequate for anything thrown at it. Very different from the 90s where every MHz bump resulted in a major performance improvement. Same for Microsoft: Windows 7 was good enough, and people have had to be dragged kicking & screaming to 8 & 10.

    Previously, I had an iPhone 5s and an iPad mini, both w/ 16GB storage. I just upgraded both over the last few months to iPhone 7 and iPad mini 4, both w/ 128GB of storage primarily b'cos I had hit the limit on those. But I don't anticipate getting even close to 128GB on these 2 new toys. While iPhone 7 gave me Apple Pay, which 5s didn't have, there is nothing missing in the iPhone 7 that I'll want in iPhone 8. If anything, the loss of the home button will be a bummer: I like the fingerprint detection way of logging in, buying things and authentication. Essentially, what stops me from buying future Apple toys is that these new ones of mine are good enough for the foreseeable future. I do see myself buying a Macbook sometime just to avoid getting into an annual Windows subscription.

    • by swb ( 14022 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2017 @01:56PM (#54834013)

      If anything, the loss of the home button will be a bummer:

      They've reached the point where they're just making "courageous" changes which benefit their own assembly & engineering but lack significant user value and don't solve obvious consumer problems with the device. Case in point, the headphone jack.

      My guess is they are on the cusp of a "Windows 8 Start Menu" kind of change where the fuck up the design enough to seriously damage their user base.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by enjar ( 249223 )

        They've reached the point where they're just making "courageous" changes which benefit their own assembly & engineering

        I believe you meant to say "shareholders" there ... elimination of the headphone jack meant add on sales of dongles, AirPods, Beats, etc with each new phone that didn't have a headphone jack. Why have the newest thing when for "just" another $159 you can have these very obvious "I GOT THE NEW THING" headphones? So in effect, Apple sells the $650-750 (or more) iPhone 7, plus then adds on $159 to that sale with the AirPods. Sure some people will just use the dongle and old headphones, but there will be a non-

      • by TheFakeTimCook ( 4641057 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2017 @02:18PM (#54834159)

        If anything, the loss of the home button will be a bummer:

        They've reached the point where they're just making "courageous" changes which benefit their own assembly & engineering but lack significant user value and don't solve obvious consumer problems with the device. Case in point, the headphone jack.

        My guess is they are on the cusp of a "Windows 8 Start Menu" kind of change where the fuck up the design enough to seriously damage their user base.

        Very doubtful. Unlike MS and Linux/Android, Apple moves VERY slowly and carefully with UI paradigm shifts.

        For example, In the computer world, a user familiar with a 1984 Mac would have less difficulty acclimating to macOS 10.12 than a Windows 7 User would have with Windows 8. And in the mobile world, a person familiar with iPhone OS 1.0 for the most part would feel right at home with iOS 10.3. I can't speak for Android, but I think they have far too many "customizations" to say anything close to the same thing.

        • Very doubtful. Unlike MS and Linux/Android, Apple moves VERY slowly and carefully with UI paradigm shifts.

          Surely you jest. What was it, iOS 9 where Apple changed the way that you navigate through all your open apps so that you swipe towards the left to see older apps instead of the right? And iOS10 where they decided peoples Home buttons weren't wearing out fast enough so they made you double tap the home button to unlock your device if you didn't have a fingerprint sensor? And what was the purpose behind those changes? Well in one case, Apple wanted to try and push people to seeing widgets on their lock sc

          • Very doubtful. Unlike MS and Linux/Android, Apple moves VERY slowly and carefully with UI paradigm shifts.

            Surely you jest. What was it, iOS 9 where Apple changed the way that you navigate through all your open apps so that you swipe towards the left to see older apps instead of the right? And iOS10 where they decided peoples Home buttons weren't wearing out fast enough so they made you double tap the home button to unlock your device if you didn't have a fingerprint sensor? And what was the purpose behind those changes? Well in one case, Apple wanted to try and push people to seeing widgets on their lock screen (defaulting to Apple software), and in the other case it seemed to be a very arbitrary and useless change that was confusing to me when I had two different apple devices that behaved in the opposite way on the same screen.

            Yes, yes, I know. Everything Apple does is one big Conspiracy.

            You're kidding, right? The swipe left vs. right went completely unnoticed by me. I don't use that feature often enough to remember which way to swpie anyway!

            As for the Double-Tap thing with the Home button: I believe that was because Apple had decided to pile some extra functionality onto their single "physical" button, and needed to differentiate between actions.

            But if that's the best you can come up with, that's pretty minor stuff in the overal

            • by jittles ( 1613415 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2017 @06:19PM (#54835477)

              Yes, yes, I know. Everything Apple does is one big Conspiracy.

              The double tap on the home button to turn on the device and then go to the PIN entry adds exactly what functionality? None! At least let me swipe to get to the lock screen instead of wearing out a mechanical button on the device. And since the home button is the #1 thing to fail on an iPhone (besides cracked glass), how can you not claim it to be malicious on Apple's part? One of the first mods ever added by the jailbreak community was a soft home button so that you could use a device without replacing the button. That's how common of a problem it is and Apple did something that makes the problem worse.

              You're kidding, right? The swipe left vs. right went completely unnoticed by me. I don't use that feature often enough to remember which way to swpie anyway!

              I sometimes write software for Apple devices and have hardware that cannot be upgraded to the latest iOS. So some of my devices scroll through apps one way, and some of them scroll through the other. It's incredibly irritating when you switch devices. Sure, if you've only got one device you get used to it pretty quickly but again it was an arbitrary change for no real reason.

              But if that's the best you can come up with, that's pretty minor stuff in the overall scheme of things for an OS.

              I can think of dozens of changes that Apple makes to the UI every single time they roll out a new version of iOS. But you made the claim that everything they did was deliberate and well studied and I just don't think that's the case. Jon Ive does whatever the hell he wants now that Jobs is gone, and most of it is just because he decides it looks better this week than it did last week.

          • That, and also, going from having a separate button on the iPad Mini 1 to getting rid of it on the iPad Mini 4, and making one swipe up to discover where that is. Very intuitive! NOT!!!
      • The new phone came with a 2-inch adapter, and I plugged it into the end of my headphone cord, and since then the loss of a headphone jack hasn't affected me at all.

        Except for that one time when I wanted to use headphones and charge at the same time, and that's when I discovered that I can get a little bluetooth widget that supports AptX, with a microphone built in, and now I plug the same ol' pair of headphone into that, and I don't even need to be carrying the phone any more when I'm home. I just plant it

    • Yep, revolutionary engineering is only able to make incremental improvements at this point. At what point will buyers stop seeing the point? Will facial recognition be enough better than a fingerprint for people to actually be wowed?

      The real frustration I have is that iOS itself, regardless of hardware changes, is become unwieldy and going backwards in usability with too many features have been saddled on an OS aimed at simplicity. It is faltering under that weight. I used to be able to easily switch to

      • I quite agree. Like I got a new iPad Mini 4, and one thing I noticed - the Rotate lock/unlock button (which is also usable for something else, I forget what) is gone: it was there in the iPad Mini 1. Instead, I had to experimentally discover that one has to swap up to get the lock button (next to the disturb crescent) and select it accordingly

        Also, my iPod Nano has a touch screen, and some very basic functionality. However, couldn't they have included iTunes there, instead of forcing us to sync w/ iTu

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Funny,

      i am stuck on a 5s exactly because none of the newer models is offered without the NFC hardware and the pay capability. These should not exist on a phone in my book. Until Apple offers a device where NFC and apple pay can be disabled, I am not buying a new one.

      • If you don't associate your credit card(s) w/ Apple Pay or NFC, it is automatically disabled. Like my new iPad Mini 4 has Apple Pay as well, but I haven't associated that w/ my cards, as I did my phone, since I don't use the former that way.

    • by mjwx ( 966435 )

      As is well known, Intel's toughest competition ain't AMD: it's Intel's own, previous CPUs,

      This is emphatically not the case with Apple. Apple's compeittion is Android and competition is strong. Allow me to explain.

      There are two types of Iphone buyers.

      1. The type that upgrades every year (or two if they're in a restrictive contract).

      2. The kind that doesn't care what kind of phone they have.

      The first type, they will buy the next Iphone no matter what is or isn't changed. They're too emotionally invested to change, they've spent years building their persona around the Iphone, it doesn't matter if

  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2017 @01:44PM (#54833917)

    If Apple is releasing both a 7S model in incremental fashion and a higher-end model, how does scarcity of parts become a problem for Apple?

    They can probably already jack up the price of the 7S and get away with it, and presumably the 8 (or whatever it will be called) can be priced wherever their economists/MBAs/wonks think it needs to be priced to limit demand to what their suppliers can provide.

    IMHO, their larger challenge is create an "8" that has enough appeal to attract enough buyers at this price point without creating "Apple iPhone 8 FAIL" headlines through weak demand. Haven't upgrade purchases already slowed, as even 2-3 revision behind models are still good performers? It's hard to see too many people thinking they need a $1500 phone when the $900 one is already a marginal upgrade.

    • The point isn't that they can't make a better phone, but that a better phone that is better enough to matter cannot be easily made in the volume they'd want. Even if they could sell whatever they could make at a higher price it is still not desirable to be unable to meet demand. You can't maintain market presence with an 'artisinal' product.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by DigiShaman ( 671371 )

      Artificial scarcity that you can control, is the new hotness. Apple has become a fashion company. In many ways, it already was one. It really became prominent with the Apple Watch and all the band accessories. That's what Apple needs to do with the iPhone. Mass-produce the specs, but limit the case edition to different material. Software (iOS) doesn't give a shit about esthetics and materials. However, it does care about a unified hardware platform. If Apple isn't careful, they could really fuck themselves

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Use the latest internal parts.*
    Revert to including headphone jack.
    Go crazy on edge-to-edge screen.
    Make an "SE" version.
    For the love of storage include a MicroSD slot.
    Please revise / update iTunes, it's horrible.

    Apple's success will depend on how much of this fantasy they can bring to reality. I've used both iOS and Android for some time now; they each have their foibles. The above phone would get me to buy an iPhone in spite of Apple's OS path diverging from my personal preference (i.e. Trust everything in

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SuperKendall ( 25149 )

      Revert to including headphone jack.

      People do not care and the AirPods are the most beloved bluetooth headset ever sold. Even Android owning friends I have love them (I don't have them myself as I still preferred wired headphones, and just use the adaptor that comes with the phone).

      For the love of storage include a MicroSD slot.

      99.9999999999% of phone users do not use those, so they are basically just a giant security hole waiting to bite you in the ass.

      Please revise / update iTunes, it's horrible.

      Well yes,

      • Well, the "Music" app is horrible now, which is what i think the OP might have been meaning. Ever since Apple Music debuted and the Music app was rototilled to work with streaming it has been a disaster for non-streamed music. Try to play and album and switch from non-shuffle to shuffle. I'll wait while you try that.

        Sucked, didn't? Yep, bet you had to go google how, since you have to go find the Album/Playlist again, and begin with "Shuffle All". Now you are on a different song, crap.

        The Music app mana

        • Well, the "Music" app is horrible now, which is what i think the OP might have been meaning

          It was bad at first, it's been fine for a while now... I'm pretty sure he was complaining about the desktop app.

          Try to play and album and switch from non-shuffle to shuffle. I'll wait while you try that.

          I either hit Shuffle All at the top of the track list, or hit a song and it plays sequentially from there... yes it was tricky before but like I said they fixed most of the usability issues in the past year or so.

      • Wtf? 99.99999% of what is made up bullshit from an iBot on a blog??

      • by gspear ( 1166721 )

        [...]

        Please revise / update iTunes, it's horrible.

        Well yes, it's horrible, but why does that matter in relation to the iPhone? I've not connected to iTunes in years, all backup is handled via iCloud and all app purchases are made on the device.

        I had to stop using iTunes for my iPhone because my MacBook was too old to be upgraded to the required version of MacOS and iTunes. It was fine and I didn't miss using iTunes for a long time. I even restored the contents from iCloud after my phone was replaced due to a swollen battery.

        That was until I found out that it didn't restore my music purchases correctly -- in a number of cases, it restored the wrong song from the same album. I ended up transferring my iTunes library from the old MacBook to a n

      • Some people I know do not care and I and some people I know think the AirPods are the most beloved bluetooth headset ever sold.

        FTFY. I guarantee there are lots of people who disagree with you.

        • I guarantee you sales figures show the absolute truth of the matter. I was dubious they would do well too or that people would like them but even people that hate Apple products like them. And since launch there has a pretty much constant six week delay [apple.com] when ordering....

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Hey, in the olden days behind the wall if you wanted to buy a car you deposited 20% of the price and then waited.....up to 10 years!...and you got a Lada at the end. Does that mean the Lada was a superb car?

            • It means Lada was the only game in town. That's not the case with Airpods. There's plenty of other BT headphones or earbuds to choose from, not to mention regular headphones for those who still have a 3.5mm jack on their phones. Most are cheaper too. Yet some (apparently: plenty) people still choose to pay the premium and wait 6 weeks for their AirPods.
      • by guises ( 2423402 )

        99.9999999999% of phone users do not use those

        This is 1/125th of a person.

    • Use the latest internal parts.*
      Revert to including headphone jack.
      Go crazy on edge-to-edge screen.
      Make an "SE" version.
      For the love of storage include a MicroSD slot.
      Please revise / update iTunes, it's horrible.

      Apple's success will depend on how much of this fantasy they can bring to reality. I've used both iOS and Android for some time now; they each have their foibles. The above phone would get me to buy an iPhone in spite of Apple's OS path diverging from my personal preference (i.e. Trust everything in our cloud! No 3rd party cloud allowed!)
      *I don't personally care about touch ID sensor.

      No 3rd party cloud allowed?

      You mean like this?

      https://www.cnet.com/how-to/ho... [cnet.com] ...or this?

      https://venturebeat.com/2015/0... [venturebeat.com]

      In fact, it looks like most, if not all, of the major "Cloud Storage" providers work with iOS:

      https://www.cnet.com/how-to/on... [cnet.com]

      And when iOS 11 drops in a few weeks, the built-in "Files" App will make 3rd party Cloud storage quite simple:

      http://www.idownloadblog.com/2... [idownloadblog.com]

      So, you MIGHT want to revise your meme to comport with REALITY...

  • by monkeyxpress ( 4016725 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2017 @02:06PM (#54834077)

    The fundamental problem Apple has is that Samsung has the key display technology that Apple needs to do much more innovation with its hardware. LCD panels are a dead end for mobile devices, if thinness and efficiency is the goal. Apple needs to get away from LCD, but to do so right now requires becoming dependent on Samsung again.

    This is why we had the whole Tim Cook spin about OLED having terrible colors a few years back. Apple needed to down play the tech that it didn't have. In the end though, it looks like Apple is going to throw the kitchen sink at getting micro LED going, which looks like a technology that could easily surpass OLED in a lot of areas. If they can pull that off before their entire product line becomes dependent on Samsung AMOLED, then they'll be good to go for another 5 years.

    In the end though we must keep in mind that all OLED or AMOLED is going to ultimately allow is thinner devices. You could imagine that the next big step will be semi-flexible displays so that we can avoid another bend-gate situations as devices get even thinner. It's cool to see how far the tech is going, but since almost everyone I see puts their thin new iPhone into a big bumper case, it does all feel pretty pointless.

    • by lucm ( 889690 )

      It's cool to see how far the tech is going, but since almost everyone I see puts their thin new iPhone into a big bumper case, it does all feel pretty pointless.

      Yeah I saw someone put their new Samsung S8 in a big case today. Instead of a slim phone they now have something similar to what Gordon Gekko was using to make insider trades.

      • by Evtim ( 1022085 )

        9/10 people I see have protection screen and a case regardless of the phone size or manufacturer. So why do we need thinner phones [we don't!]? I dropped my Samsung A3 4 times in the first week before getting the case. The damn thing is slippery as hell.....and yet the manufacturers are ditching useful tech [phone jack] for slimness...

    • OLED's going to allow for more room for the battery. But I know, we'll get thinner devices with the same rubbish standby time instead...
  • Haven't seen any in the last five to ten years though.

    Very few exciting things happen in tech at the moment. The only somewhat groundbreaking change is the move to all electric, which has less to do with technology than with social norms and expectations.

    My next gaming monitor might be 4k and have freesync so that might be a little exciting. It's also probably another year off before I get one.

    My next tv will probably be a 4k HDR OLED. Which might actually be exciting, if not for the fact that the tv is mos

  • by MrLogic17 ( 233498 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2017 @02:54PM (#54834361) Journal

    I fear we've reached peak-iPhone. Just like Windows 10's biggest competition was Windows 7 and XP, iPhone 8's biggest competition is the phone people have now.

    If I know that the new phone will have a bigger price tag, a more cluttered interface (dare I say very un-apple-like), and in some cases missing basic features I know and love (headphone jack, anyone?) - that makes for a hard sell.

    The features that are getting touted leave me going... meh.
      - Denser pixels? Dude, I'm scaling up the text size so I can read even with my glasses.
      - Faster processor? Can't say I'm doing anything that needs more.
      - Better camera? That's nice- but I have no complaints about the current one. My dedicated camera hasn't seen daylight in years as it is.
      - Thinner? Couldn't care less. I never complained about the original iPhone's thickness. I'd rather have a double-thick battery, but ain't holding my breath.

    In short, I'm having trouble seeing that's so awesome about the next phone. Or what even could be awesome. Something's going to have to come out of left field, and I just don't see a post-Jobs Apple pulling that off.

  • It's fine if Apple cannot sell 200 million eyePhones. In fact, not only is it fine, it's great. It looks like monopoly is hitting physical limits. More brands should make more diverse phones built across the world. Not everybody has to have the same shiny toy ffs.

  • They're faced with the contradictory desires of consumers both to make things bigger - Boomers, Gamers, and Twinks - and to make them low power and smaller - Zero Gens, Music Lovers, and Fashionistas.

    Thing is, the tech exists to do both. We can power cell phones from incidental power from local wireless now, and have foldable bendable waterproof bioelectric screens we grow.

    The question is, which side will win.

    I figure they'll do both. You can get a Star Trek communicator "wallet" phone that unfolds, or a co

  • In this situation we observe a know effect that appears to be a paradox, but really isn't:
    That strong brands - such as Apple - actually have an equalising effect on society. You can get a supsidised and/or used iPhone even as a poor guy, but even the richest guy can't get a better one than the current model. It's the same reasone Vertu went broke these days and Apple discontinued their hyper-expensive golden Apple watches a while back.

    I presume making a super-expensive iPhone would have the same effect and

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