Sep 13

About that little Apple event…

Now that the iPhone 5s/5c event is behind us, we can get down to what’s really important — the whining and complaining about what Apple did wrong.

Okay, I’ll try to keep that to a minimum. I actually think the new iPhones are impressive. But every Apple event provides lots of new conversation fodder, and this one is no exception. So here are my thoughts on yesterday’s festivities. I’ll look forward to hearing yours.

The surprises. Oh right. There weren’t any. Though Apple did fill in a lot of the details, the broad strokes had leaked well in advance of the event: the product names, the fingerprint sensor and the colors. Many don’t realize how extremely important the element of surprise has been in building the modern Apple — and how it’s generated countless millions of dollars’ worth of free publicity around the world for every product launch. Apple has always had zero tolerance for anyone violating the secrecy rules inside the company or any of its vendors, but its size makes that difficult today. Too bad, because from a PR and buzz standpoint, the leaks cause real damage. The good news is: leaks or no leaks, the new iPhone features should appeal to a great many people.

The broken dreams. With Apple, it’s never just about the event itself. It’s about one’s own expectations and hopes — based partly on rumors and partly on Apple’s past performance. Going into this event, some were dreaming well beyond iPhone and venturing into the land of iWatches and iTVs. Alas, it was not to be. But don’t despair. Last year, the iPhone 5 event was followed just one month later by a torrent of new products: iMac, iPad and iPod. October is likely to bring surprises this year as well. An iWatch would be the world’s hottest holiday gift — so it would be tragic if Apple missed this season. (Unless it’s still a long way from finished.)

The stock price. There’s no predicting market reactions. I’ve seen AAPL drop sharply after some fantastic events, only to see it go through the roof once the numbers started coming in. That said, once this event had concluded, I had a feeling that the stock would tank. The lack of surprise definitely had something to do with it, but that’s more a fleeting reaction than any deep problem. As it has done many times before, I suspect Wall Street is underestimating the power of the iPhone brand and the wider audience to whom it will now appeal.

The 5c case. I take it back. There was one surprise, and this was it. The 5c case is one of the more clever designs Apple has ever offered. In fact, it’s so clever, many will buy more than one — so they can show off their colors in different ways. Cha-ching. Fun as this case may be, though, it was released with one horrifyingly un-Apple lapse in judgment:

Surely there was a better solution than “Let’s just ignore it”

The unforgivable. I was enjoying the iPhone 5c web page where you can experiment with the phone/case color combos. It’s very nicely done. Suddenly I was aghast — a chunk of the word “iPhone” can be seen through one of the holes in the case. While some will say “big deal,” those who love Apple’s taste and values will feel like they got punched in the stomach. Clearly someone fell asleep at the wheel. It not only looks like a mistake — it looks ugly. And ugly has no place in Apple’s world. You can either write it off as a momentary lapse, or you can take it as terrible warning sign. Or maybe this just proves that while Jony Ive is in charge of hardware design and software interface, he doesn’t get invited to the accessory meetings. (Fast Company offers a particularly good spanking of Apple here.)

The unforgivable, Part 2.Look at the image at the top of this article and note that in Phil’s presentation of iPhone 5c yesterday, this grievous mistake had been Photoshopped away. Cover-up!

The names. Mind if I beat this dead horse one more time? This isn’t about logic, it’s about marketing. It’s about firing on every possible cylinder for maximum impact. “iPhone 5s” says that this year’s model is a variation of last year’s model. “iPhone 6” would say that this is a brand-new iPhone. iPhone 5s will be marketed as if it stands apart from every previous iPhone — with revolutionary fingerprint scanner, twice the speed, better camera, etc. — it just won’t be named that way. And now there’s the new wrinkle of the iPhone 5c. Its body style, look and feel is a total departure from the iPhone 5, yet its name is also linked to last year’s model. I think the marketing would be more effective if Apple were to introduce the brand-new iPhone 6 family, which includes a range of choices for everyone. If you can think of any advantage to clinging to the “5” number, lay it on me.

The iPhone 4s. It lives! And now it will be the free option, no less. One downside: by keeping the 4s alive, Apple continues to sell a device that uses the old 30-pin connector.

The end of white. (Never mind! I was mistaken about this. Thanks to @NonnyNZ for pointing it out.)

The videos. One thing that never gets shaken up is the format of the launch videos. After 10 or 15 years of these videos, they’ve spawned a popular form of parody with tons of YouTube variations. (Even Google has gotten into the act.) At some point though, one has to wonder if the world is laughing with you or at you.

The built-in apps. Stroke of genius. In the battle against PCs, one of the Mac’s greatest advantages used to be that it came pre-installed with the suite of iLife apps at no extra cost. It’s a really smart move to apply the same philosophy to iPhone and iPad. Now, when you buy one of these devices, you get a complete set of productivity and creation tools as part of the deal. You don’t get that on your Samsung Galaxy S4. Yet.

Touch ID. I’d wondered how that little button was going to get my fingerprint right every time. It’s very cool that the technology is such that you can touch it at different angles, and it will still read your fingerprint accurately. This feature will remove the one thing that has bugged me most about having an iPhone. I want security, but I really hate hassling with passwords. Thanks.

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  • Dr.on

    They were going to offer iWord for iCloud for free.
    I guess the NSA revelation changed that for good.

    Also Microsoft can never bring office app and even cloud
    Version will have to be free.

  • Can’t believe Apple let that case ship with the holes in those locations. I can only assume they designed them with models of iPhones that hadn’t yet had the product name and info printed on them, and just didn’t stop to think of how it’d look once those bits were there.

    And Apple hasn’t gotten rid of white. The “silver” is the same white & silver iPhone as before, it’s just now white also comes in a white & gold variant.

    Also, in regards to naming, what happens to the 5c’s name when the iPhone 6 comes out next year? iPhone 6 and iPhone 6c? And then when the iPhone 6S comes out, then what? Curious.

  • Great post.

    On thing: Google offers a full suite of productivity tools for every Android phone, by the way.

  • Roland

    Agree on the holes and only showing part of the iPhone word mark… should have been like this…http://cl.ly/image/1P331R2n0k0x

  • Andrew

    No thoughts on the 5C ad, Ken?

    As for the naming scheme, I happen to think they’re moving to a letter-class designation like Benz. Number simply denotes the generation. 5S because of the cosmetic similarity. 5C for internal similarity. S-class for high end, C-class for mass market. Like Benz. How long can this go on though? I suppose one can just change it by the time it gets to 10…

    Lastly, the case. In MANY situations, I think its a non issue, because it’ll be obscured by your fingers, and Apple probably figured that it would be better to leave it as is than to compromise a design they really liked by filling in a couple holes, or have the dots at the top, as Fast Company suggests (awful idea). The revealed letters look like it says non. For non issue.

  • Andrew

    Two problems with that.

    1. It’s an ugly compromise to the tapestry.

    2. The other product stuff underneath iPhone would still be partially revealed.

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  • A-non

    There is an unfussy feel to the 5C that I like very much, the case looks even more unfussy, I have some reservation on the case, but the “non” is, a non-issue, I think it even adds to the fun feel of the whole thing. Because its not “non” that is printed on the phone.

  • pxlated

    That’s different though – Not as full-featured since they’re online web apps. They also aren’t “installed” on every android phone either.

  • ksegall

    You make an excellent point. Didn’t think of that.

    When the iPhone 6 ships, I assume we’ll have a 6c to go with it. But what will the “off-year” iPhones be called? 6s and 6c2? All the more reason to just go with new numbers every year!

  • SO we create.

    I totally agree Ken.

    Im a creative consultant and founder of a small creative company that works with clients all over the world and I believe that businesses have to care about the details.

    Our creative process is simple – we go back to the brief time and time again to refine our ideas. In this case (pun intended!) we would have laid out the holes in a way that would have hidden the name and make an appealing layout suggestions that would help cool the phone down as well as make an interesting layout that is intriguing to look at.

    I have a wealthy client who wanted to buy a new Aston Martin, he test drove the car he wanted and decided not to buy it. The reason was he didn’t like the design of the door mirrors.

    Says it all really, and a lesson every business should learn from.

  • Hamish

    Those cases… I really don’t like the look of them, and not just because they cut off the name on the back. The contrasting colours just don’t look good together to me and the holes appear gimmicky and cheap. This feels like one of those moments Steve would have stepped in and said “No”, so I’m a little surprised and even slightly concerned by it…

    As to the lack of surprises – I think 64 bit was a surprise to many, plus the new M7 chip, which sounds promising. I really hoped they had some surprises up their sleeves for iOS 7, which is really the only place they can leak control 100% these days, but I guess they had their work cut out just to get it ready at all this time.

    Like you, the naming confuses me also. I was fairly sure the 5S would be called iPhone 6 given the leap in technology and the new iOS, with the other one the 5C, and all other models would be dropped. Now I’m guessing there will be no ‘off year’ sub naming anymore, but instead a new number attached for every release (6 & 6C next year, then 7 & 7C etc).

    Finally, I agree that the launch video format is getting stale. I don’t know what the answer is, but they need to up their game here. I also think the quality of writing on their website for the new iPhones has taken a downward turn, with too much technical babble and explanation for ‘why’ they have done things, rather than what the end benefit is.

    As to the iWatch – I don’t see that appearing this year due to technical issues still to be resolved. And I highly doubt it will be anything like the monstrous Samsung Galaxy Gear just released. I think the new M7 chip provides a much greater clue as to what direction the iWatch will take. Hopefully I’m wrong about the release date, but I’m guessing Spring 2014. This Autumn will be all about new iPads, iPhones, the new Mac Pro, new displays and Mavericks, plus some other product updates.

  • Doug Trace

    While I was disappointed overall with everything you mentioned in this article (The naming scheme, the ugly case, the lack of surprises, the “unapologetic” Ive-Talk, etc…) the biggest thing I was let down with was the fact that I just didn’t feel any ‘need’ to upgrade. Usually it takes a few minutes for me to convince myself that the cost of upgrading my current Apple tech is worth it, but this time I just couldn’t justify it. My iPhone 5 is really nice and having iOS 7 on there (dev preview) is fantastic (hideous color scheme notwithstanding) and fluid. Great functionality.

    Regardless of what the highly talented and capable Apple crew does, they have lost something that is all but impossible to recoup. Not having Steve front and center anymore really hurts Apple. He was a master salesman who could ‘help you’ understand exactly why you needed their latest tech and make you feel good about your purchase. Tim, with his emphasis on every third word and Phil with his meek countenance just doesn’t cut it during a weak event. You could tell that Steve loved their products and that made us love them too. Maybe Craig could fit the bill, I dunno.

    Anyway, this is the first hardware centric event that left me……happy with what I have. Good for me, bad for Apple.

  • Andrew

    Don’t be silly, they’re in the browser.

  • pxlated

    Oh silly me – You’re right. Didn’t know that.

  • Anon

    Why is that bad for Apple that you feel happy with your year old phone? This is a dumb conversation, see this logic and see if you don’t agree. Here goes, since you’re happy with your iphone, its safe to assume you probably, sure, not 100%, but probably will buy an iPhone again when you feel the need to upgrade. How is that bad? A high likelihood of repeat business. Its bad if you hated your iPhone and never ever want another one ever again. What’s this negative frenzy, its getting stupid.

  • Agree about Tim and Phil on stage. I also agree that Craig might just be the man to excite people — because he is (finally) comfortable on stage – laughs, jokes, and has a good time. His exuberance is contagious.

  • Anthony

    For the phone’s name:

    All the iPhone 3, 4 & 5 (without “S”) were launched with a whole new design. I think that’s the reason the just released iPhone is call iPhone 5s since its design is still the same as the pervious model.

    For the iPhone 5c, it’s developed based on the iPhone 5s hardware (that mean’s iPhone 5) with the colorful (that means “C”) outlook. Adding them up, it calls iPhone 5c.

    What do you think?

  • mwstudio

    I love Apple. I love Apple products from my Apple llGS to my new 27 inch “iPad-on-steroids like iMac. “Can’t innovate? My ass!” You tell ’em Phil. Someone “tell ’em” Because if you don’t “tell’em” they won’t know. There’s too much noise from the other guys and the Apple bashers. Tell ’em why an A7 chip. Tell ’em
    why the M7, the Touch ID. Where are the TV ads. Where are the madmen, the”Think Different” guys , the silhouetted iPod dancers. Where is the soul, the fun, the gotta have it? It’s there but ya gotta tell ’em.

  • ksegall

    There is definitely a logic to the current naming. But my point is about marketing, not logic — and Apple positioning itself in the best possible way as it faces intense competition. As we all know, perception is as important as reality. And the fact is, there is a perception that Apple has fallen behind as an innovator.

    Apple’s current naming scheme reinforces the belief that Apple’s big innovations happen every other year. The big changes happen with the whole number models, and the incremental changes happen with the S models.

    Of course, this isn’t true. It’s the perception — reinforced by Apple’s own naming scheme. In fact, the S models have introduced some huge innovations — like Siri, and now Touch ID. And Apple’s own advertising campaigns talk about each model, including the S models, as being truly revolutionary. With the 4S, Apple focused its advertising on the revolution of Siri for most of the year. Yet the 4S name indicated that it was built on the previous year’s foundation.

    This situation is something Apple inflicted upon itself. There are no rules requiring it to name products in this way. Its competitors certainly don’t do it, and they’re the ones who take advantage of the perception that Apple has slowed its pace of invention.

    If Apple simply gave each year’s phone a new number, there would of course be debate about whether the changes in any one year were big or small — but that’s the way it is already. So that part of the equation wouldn’t change. But Apple would not be sending the message of “incremental change” while they are advertising revolutionary change.

    To address your point about the 5C, again I think it’s a marketing issue, not a logic issue. The 5C may well be based on iPhone 5’s innards, but Apple is trying to tell the world that this is a whole new iPhone — brighter, more colorful, more affordable. It has a new body that looks and feels different. That’s what all of its advertising will scream — yet its name says that it is only partly new.

    I don’t believe that this is a disaster. iPhones will continue to sell well. But a marketing campaign is made up of many components (the name being one of them) and the goal is to get all cylinders firing at once. Everything about the new iPhone 5s is “forward-thinking” — except the name of the device itself.

  • Anon

    But it’ll still looks the same though Ken, wouldn’t Apple get criticized for naming the 5s, 6? As it is, I think the world by and large have been “trained” by Apple, as a convention, to expect the “s” model a year after the number bump for iPhones, not iPads, not iPods. Those too, none kept the number, iPad lost its number after 2. Did it change iPad ads for iPad gen 3 and 4?

  • ksegall

    There will always be those who criticize, but that stuff blows over fast. When Apple stopped numbering the iPads altogether, that changed the way people had been trained to perceive iPad — with no harm done.

    iPhone is now the aberration in the Apple product lineup. No other product has a model number.

    I think that’s because Apple has always appreciated the simplicity of not putting confusing numbers in the names, and it understands a basic truth about human behavior. What people are really looking for isn’t a number — it’s simply “the latest and greatest.”

    We’ve been trained how to do this over the course of our lives, and not just by Apple. We know that a 2014 model is better than a 2013 model. We know that a 6 is better than a 5. The “s” merely adds a complication. What does it mean? Is this year’s model not as big a leap as last year’s model?

    I guess my point is: why even raise the question?

  • Anthony

    Ken, after listening your points of view, you are right! It is a marketing issue rather than a logic issue and feel impressive for your words “perception is as important as reality”.

    I have some thought regarding “why apple still numbering the iPhones?” and I would like to share to all of you and hope to see yours too:

    The situation here is, Apple still puts three iPhone models into the phone market (Now: 4s, 5s & 5c / Before: 4, 4s & 5), so if they stop numbering them anymore, the customers are hard to tell the apple staffs what model they are looking for.

    Instead, for the iPad, the older model will be discontinued immediately if they got a new product launch. Therefore, there is no reason for them to numbering the iPad line up anymore. Just call them iPad 2 for the older model and the iPad with retina display for the newest model. It’s still clear enough!

    Therefore, if Apple discontinued the iPhone 4s this time and just allowing the customers with two options: iPhone 5s & iPhone 5c, then I think the number is no longer required. Simply call them as iPhone (for 5s) and iPhone color (for 5c) is enough!

  • Mohit

    Yeah, I agree with you on the name thing, though with a slight tweak…

    I think they’ll go further and finally just drop the numbers. Before they had to have the numbers to denote which was the newer and better phone, but now with the ‘C-class’ and the ‘S-class’ they can finally drop the numbers from next year (or maybe one after) onwards because people would get that the ‘S-class’ is the high end and the ‘C-class’ is the low end…

    This would also work with the pricing as they can, in the future, market in a similar vain as the iPod Touch, where the last year models can be sold at the lowest price point. (Also, an idea would be to sell a White and Black version of the ‘C’ with Last year specs at the lowest price point and then the colors would be the higher priced current year models.)

    But yeah, this is just what I think (and hope) they do.

  • Gary Deezy

    Most of the whiners I see are saying the new phones are too expensive. I see one chain advertising (on contract) the 4S for free, 5C for $79 and 5S for $199. How cheap did people expect these things to be? Is it just me?

  • Anon

    I’m sorry, I’m commenting out of context, I’m only able to see things as a consumer, didn’t realize your actual meaning (mind blown). And I realized that Apple could very well do the same exact thing except the current numbering, and thats how it would be, except cleaner numbering.

    Absolutely not my problem, but when the 6 comes around, what will Apple name the 5C model, 5sc? Looking further down the road, iPhone 12, iPhone 24, iPhone 187? I’d be dead by then so whatever. Sorry Ken, I’m pig headed, I’m a great admirer of your work, but this numbering thing, I don’t know. If Apple drops the numbering altogether, sure that’s what the world has to deal with, whether 5s or 6, by iPhone 10 they should make a change, don’t call it iPhone X either, what’s next after that XI? Which, yeah, OSX is different because of the cat names and now the location names made it new. This conversation has seriously gone way beyond my comfort zone, out of my league.

    Please keep up the fantastic work, I should refrain from commenting because I can definitely be grating.

  • Gary Deezy


  • Andrew

    Those are subsidized prices. In most places in the world, phones are prepaid. Pundits and analysts expected Apple to stop the market share bleeding with a <$400 phone. iPhone 4 and 4S will remain low end options for those markets. 5C and 5S will be low end soon enough. Huge value.