Sep 13

Of iPhones, ads and OS’s

What a juicy couple of weeks we’ve had in the iPhone world. New phones, new iOS, new ads and the inevitable flood of opinions.

What the heck, I’ll throw a few more into the mix.

iPhone 5c. I was withholding judgment until I could get my hands on one. I have to say, holding it in one’s hand is a very different experience than seeing a photo or video. Thanks to the new design, it almost feels thinner than the 5s even though it’s not. Very easy to love.

The theme lines. “Forward thinking” and “For the colorful.” I want to like them, I really do. They just feel a bit too calculated for my taste. I wholeheartedly agree that much of the 5s technology is forward thinking, especially the 64-bit part. But the line is more logical and strategic than it is seductive. I get that Apple is forward-thinking by reveling in its design and functionality. A great theme line would cap it off with a little magic.

iPhone 5c ads. Whatever cleverness there is in the “For the colorful” line, it’s in the idea that iPhone 5c is the choice for colorful people. The Greetings ad captures that. Plastic Perfected, on the other hand, does not. It’s simply the manifestation of Jony Ive’s “unapologetically plastic” statement in the 5c launch video. Personally, I like the Greetings ad 100x more than Plastic.

“Designed in California.” You won’t be seeing the likes of this ad — or the iPhone photos and music ads — for some time. These ads didn’t exactly have people streaming into the stores. They’re the type of ads you run when you’re lacking in any substantial new-product news. Those days are over.

Color. Interesting how iMacs started colorful before embracing a monochromatic elegance, while iPods and iPhones started monochromatic and then burst into color. Behold the difference between personal consumer electronics and a piece of furniture.

“Designed Together” ad. (Up top.) This is really more of an iOS 7 ad, but when it gets to the “designed together” part, it’s the 5c we’re talking about and not the 5s. That says a little something about Apple’s marketing priorities. Taken on its own merits, the ad is mildly interesting in at least exposing people to the look and feel of iOS 7 — even if some of it is a bit baffling without context. I only wish it had better music. At various points, this track sounds too much like it was assembled from loops in Soundtrack Pro.

The horror. That terrible flaw in the iPhone 5c cases, in which partial lettering on the back of the phone is visible through one of the holes? Gone! At least it’s gone in the “Designed together” ad, thanks to the miracle of modern retouching. Wouldn’t want that little faux pas messing up a perfectly good ad, now would we. It’s odd though, considering that Apple’s own web page unapologetically shows off the design error — probably because Photoshopping it away here would have been too obvious a coverup. Sorry, but no matter what evidence anyone presents, I will never, ever believe that Jony Ive was anywhere near the room when this decision was made.

iPhone 5s names. How come Space Gray gets an adjective, while poor Gold and Silver must make it on their own? Where are the Consistency Police when we need them.

iOS 7. I’ve read glowing reviews and nasty ones. Some of my acquaintances are in love with it, others are appalled by it. But I won’t say it’s 50-50. I’m hearing far more happy comments than groaning. Despite some pre-download apprehension, I really like it. And I’m liking it more with every passing day. That’s because it feels fresh and “alive,” with a responsive feel my iPhone never had before. That it delivers this feel to new and old iPhones alike is a wonderful thing.

Flying icons. Remember when Steve Jobs introduced the Genie Effect in Mac OS X? He was infatuated with it. So much so that he demoed it three times in a row, wearing a Cheshire Cat grin as the crowd ate it up. Even so, when the software shipped, an awful lot of people went immediately to Settings to turn it off. It could get on your nerves. Well, iOS 7 has a Genie-like issue on a larger scale. Unlock your iPhone and app icons fly onto the screen. Switch apps and things zoom into place. You might think it’s cool, but you also might think it’s annoying. Some are even complaining that it gives them motion sickness. It would make everyone happy if, as with the Genie effect, you could do away with the flying and zooming at the click of a button. But you can’t. So … update, please.

Still stuck in the world of Scott Forstall — Find My Friends and Find My iPhone

The ugly stepchildren. Scott Forstall lives! Two Apple apps — Find My Friends and Find My iPhone — cling to their leather stitching and serif fonts. How hard would it have been to simply change the skin of these apps so they fit in with the beautiful world of iOS 7?

The buttons. iOS 7 feels more open and spacious than iOS 6. That’s largely because it’s missing elements that previously added weight to the screens. In particular, buttons. In iOS 7, many buttons have been replaced by words. One side effect of this is that some of iOS’s “obviousness” has been removed. Buttons don’t have to be heavy and dimensional, but a little button-like appearance would be helpful. I get and appreciate that in many ways, iOS 7 is designed to make a four-inch screen feel more spacious. And that leads me to my next point…

Where’s the bigger iPhone? Many Apple supporters have slammed the Samsung Galaxy S4 for its hugeness. Who’d want to carry that monstrosity in their pocket, they ask. Well, I’ve been playing with people’s Samsung phones, and I have to say: they ain’t that clunky. They don’t give you a hernia. What they do give you is a luxuriously large screen that makes a lot of users happy. I will be extremely surprised if we don’t see a larger iPhone by spring. Reason: Samsung is selling a boatload of these things — and many are buying them not because they love Samsung, but because Apple doesn’t have a bigger iPhone. Once Apple has a bigger iPhone, Samsung can kiss many of its current customers goodbye. As happened with the smaller iPad, I don’t believe Apple will sit idly by and watch a significant chunk of its market disappear.

Unfinished business. I’ve seen some comments that iOS 7 feels “hurried.” I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. Apple is always working on the next version of things before the latest version even ships. iOS 6 shipped in September 2012, and Scott Forstall wasn’t sent packing till a month later. So, although the changes in iOS 7 are far bigger than those in every previous version, it was brought to market with less development time. They’ve pulled it off very well, but with a few months to fine-tune, I think some of these issues wouldn’t exist. Clearly we’ll see some significant refinements as we move forward.

  • SV

    I’m not worried by anything Apple does, except that iOS7 isn’t putting usability and ease of use as its top priority anymore.

    It’s a common thing to hear about Apple, that they care about looks more than functionality. It’s scary that this is slowly starting to happen, with Apple producing a very average design with very average ease of use in iOS 7.

    If iOS 8 keeps going in the same direction, I’m afraid we’ll have to realize good old Apple is gone now.

  • Samanjj

    I think iOS 7 is the most functional version of iOS – reading list, Siri speed, better dictation, control center, etc. Every existing feature works better and default apps are also more functional eg calendar, voice memo, weather

  • shockme

    I think iOS 7 is the best functioning iOS so far. At the same time I dislike the flat no-reflective color palette, the loss of button borders and feedback and overuse of white space and narrow fonts.

    I actually LOVE the zoom in and zoom out because it orients you to where your apps are on the symbolic space. I can fit all my most frequent apps on the first home page, and all the rest of my apps in folders on the second home page. I also like command center and some aspects of the notification center although the today view is pretty pointless as the default notification screen.

    Apple just break down and put weather on the lock screen next to the clock and date.

  • gkotsis

    Before I start, I would like to state that I do not have any experience in product design or marketing whatsoever.

    I would like to discuss a bit about Ken’s comment on Jony Ive not being “anywhere near the room when this decision was made”, referring to the obvious ugliness with the 5c covers.

    While I completely agree with this fictional scenario, I also find it completely absurd. No – reasonably good – designer (or even a non-skilled person) would have made such a mistake! But then who’s fault is it? it is a management mess up!

    I don’t know whether Ive is managing the team that gave the final OK with the cases, but I suppose that, even if he isn’t, to a certain extent he is responsible (i.e. who is managing the manager?). Trying to imagine that some “poor, low rank” guy gave the green light with the cases won’t cut it for me.

    The reason I am saying making this comment is: let’s try to think of these guys as humans, who make mistakes (like all of us do). Most of the times, these mistakes are not so obvious when we make them, but do embarrass us later.

  • ksegall

    You are right in many ways. Never underestimate the ability of human beings to make mistakes in the most unexpected ways.

    My suspicion is that accessories are not subject to Jony’s approval. He’s the head of hardware design and human interface. I can only imagine Jony’s rage when he saw what was done with the iPhone 5c cases.

    In my fictional scenario, his first question upon being aware was “Is it too late to stop it?” And the answer came: “Sorry. We’ve already made three million of them.”

    However it happened, you can be sure it won’t happen again. Apple does learn from its mistakes.

  • Hamish

    I hate to be one of those “Steve would never have done that” people, but in this case I think it’s valid. Ken, can you imagine Steve EVER allowing something like these cases to be shipped, no matter how late in the game they were seen by him? I just hope Jonny had a fit and has demanded to be shown everything – EVERYTHING – before it gets approved from now on. Steve was the ultimate brand gatekeeper and taste police of all things Apple – the 5C cases suggest to me there is no one really fulfilling that overarching role anymore… Or perhaps they’re all just focused on The Next Big Thing and it slipped through.

    iOS 7 – it’s growing on me and I think it’s an amazing achievement in such a short space of time, but there’s clearly a bunch of issues still to be ironed out. The animations are ok, but they’re just a show off demonstration of the new layers and transparency concepts right now – the real magic will happen when Apple and other developers start really using these tools to explore next gen interactive interface design.

    On the form factor – many people do like bigger screens, but nine million sales in the first weekend suggest many are equally happy with the current iPhone size! But I also think we’ll see a 4.8″ iPhone, perhaps this time next year. I think next Spring is very optimistic, unless you’re referring to the rumour mill cranking up then!

    Finally, I don’t love the theme lines either. What do you think they should have been Ken?

  • ksegall

    I do imagine what Steve might have done when he saw those cases. The idealist in me says he would have had them thrown out, no matter how much of a hit Apple would have taken. In my time with Apple, I once saw Steve toss aside a million dollars when he simply changed his mind about the appropriateness of a commercial before it was shot. He believed in “doing the right thing,” even when it cost Apple money. On the other hand, he was a pragmatist as well. It’s entirely possible he would have decided to just let that mistake go if it would have massively screwed up some deadlines.

    i’d love to know the real story about how the cases were approved, but I suspect it will remain guarded.

    I wouldn’t use Apple’s current sales as any indicator of the value of a larger-screen iPhone. Just because the 5s and 5c are successful doesn’t mean that there isn’t yet another untapped group of customers — those who are currently buying Samsung or others only because Apple doesn’t make a larger screen. Again, I don’t think Apple will walk away from this large group of customers by drawing some arbitrary line in the sand. Apple does listen to its customers and is very willing to change when opportunity presents itself — as it did with the iPad mini.

    I mentioned spring as a possible time for a bigger iPhone only because Apple has to have been working on this for some time already. Tim Cook even alluded to this during his recent AllThingsD interview. However, this is just guesswork — I know nothing :)

    Last, it’s easy to criticize Apple ads, but a lot harder to actually create them. However, as customers and supporters of the company, I think we do have the right to say “I like it” or “I don’t.” (Just like clients do!)

  • Andrew F.

    I think the 5c case is a wonderful idea, and it’s executed beautifully. All of these ideas about realigning or filling in some of the holes are awful alternatives. A case in and of itself is a compromise to the beautiful product design, and aesthetic compromises are simply a byproduct of you choosing to use one. Except unlike 99% of other cases out there the 5c one is actually really nice. I’d much rather the cases exist than having the infamous “hon” not exist.

    People are throwing around Steve Jobs’ name over this… The guy that allowed the first iPhone to ship with a headphone jack that was basically only compatible with Apple earbuds. Not only was that a far worse compromise than this instance, it was also, if you recall, a much bigger deal. And there are many more instances of this during the Steve Jobs era. There has always been some “thing” people harp about for every Apple product release.

    As for the Plastic Perfected ad, I thought it was wonderful. The rhythm of the music gives it a real swagger, and the phones look absolutely gorgeous in the ad. I loved it, I think it really works, and I think they’re much better than those hideously patronizing brotherhood-of-man commercials Apple has been showing lately that run on the verge of corporate solipsism. Greetings is just a slightly les gooey version of it.

    Wow, I really disagreed with you a lot here, Ken. Sorry. :D

  • Chris

    Not sure which is worse: Jony Ive not being near the room when the case design was approved. Or him being there. This is inexcusable. Period. And it’s indicative of a rudderless ship. If Samsung or any other maker came out with this, Apple Fan Boys (me included) would be all over this. As for the look of iOS7, not good. Looks unfinished. Inconsistent. Too “light.” Too “thin.” Thankfully, it functions very well. I bought the 5c (I can live without the fingerprint nonsense for now). And while I’m happy with the phone, in general the plastic is very slippery. Yes, I could get a case, but that should not be the answer. One more thing: “Forward thinking.” Good God, that’s terrible. Someone needs to tell the Apple marketing team that their strategy is showing—and it’s not very sexy.

  • Gary Deezy

    “That terrible flaw in the iPhone 5c cases, in which partial lettering on the back of the phone is visible through one of the holes?” — glad you agree, I thought I might be the only one. Who let this get through the design process? I am guessing the cases were done by a different team, because IMHO, they are hideous anyway. Connect-four, anyone?

  • It amazes me how Apple can educate us in their ads. Look at this ad again from that perspective. Subtle, but definitely there visually giving us clues of what’s new ( and changed).

  • nuthinking

    Recently I wrote about how Apple is betting long term on iOS7 and iPhone 5c, together! http://nuthinking.com/blog/2013/09/20/you-gotta-plan-for-the-long-run/

  • nuthinking

    As usual, expectation from Apple are really high. I just wonder which kind of solution, besides redesign these covers entirely, they could have adopt. If the solution would have been something like moving a circle they might have done it. But a complete redesign takes some time and I can’t picture many other patterns they could have used to highlight the contrast of colors with friendly shapes.

  • DavidH

    Hi Ken

    I love this blog (and book) – Thank you.

    And I’ve just read a great little article which has inspired me to offer up this headline/question:

    “Rewrite the Keynotes to amaze and inspire – to reinforce the innovative – and rewrite the media headlines and narrative.”

    Will Apple begin to innovate again in the press’ eyes if it simply adjusts its keynotes?

    Here’s the article – how the press reports have changed since we lost Steve and how they might have been last month – and I rather loved the rewrite ! http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/sep/29/apple-iphone-5s-ios7-secret-weapon?INTCMP=dis_231014

    Which makes me think: Wasn’t Steve great at really selling the amazing stuff – and letting the less amazing just get on with itself? Yes, for John Naughton, the author of this article, the “amazing” this time is actually “technical” and, as you’ve written elsewhere, Steve often steered clear of the technical – but for a dramatic change, which John Naughton claims is what doubling the bits in the processor actually is: isn’t this the just the sort of innovative drama that Steve Jobs loved and was able to amaze us withal? Usually by putting it in simple terms (“1000 songs on your pocket” etc). I wonder what the “bits” equivalent of that would be – and, for those in the know, is Apple the only producer to have 64bits currently?

    (New colours – anyone can do that. Fingerprint technology – yes we knew it was coming, but it didn’t to me have the “wow” that it could have done – compare “100 songs in your pocket” / “that’s what this pocket is for” (iPod nano). “We want to make it quick and simple for you” is what I heard. Yes, of course, I want that too – but can you introduce it to me in a way that’s fab and fun?

    Did Steve have much input from you and your colleagues for his “human and fun” soundbites? And even if he didn’t, could the current Apple presenters? The sheer joy and amazement is what we took away – and that’s, I think, what people wrote about – but you don’t need to be Steve to do that (though he did it very well) – in fact he was the “everyman” for us – I think you just need to take an entertainer’s approach. I’d love to hear your thoughts. (Even a blog entry on this subject perhaps?)

    The “magic” of Steve Jobs was certainly in who he was and how he framed things – but it wasn’t just in that – although his reputation helped and delivery was scrupulously planned, rehearsed, and superb. It was also in what he chose to say. Tim’s unfortunate “southern drawl” – if that’s what it is (Englishman’s perception here – sorry), by which I mean word-lengthening, doesn’t help him, although I think he’s becoming better – but amazing bullet points around truly astounding stuff will help. And can these be written? Crafted away from the clichés and towards something truly personal (original?) and extraordinary?

    Can the keynotes once again dictate what the press choose to write?

    I’d love to hear your views!

  • Chaka10

    The 5c is poorly served by the print and on-line ads with the full color backgrounds. The colors speak for themselves. The overemphasis in the ads is not only unnecessary, but worse, much worse, it makes the 5c look positively fat, chunky, [ ]. So much so that it’s a veritable surprise when you see the 5c live and realize it has maintained its svelte lines from the 5.

  • h2

    I hope Apple would bring a smartphone that’s smaller in screen size than iPhone 5S and 5C. I wonder if there’s as much people like me compared to people wanting bigger screen.

    Reasoning: I use my smartphone all too much to check and browse all kinds of internet services and apps. Screen size is no problem. I use iPhone 4S. Smaller screen size makes phone better fit in pockets and smaller screen is still enough for web browsing as sites have adopted to scalable designs and apps are still available when needed even with smaller than 3.5″ screens.

    I’ve deleted Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, RSS news feeds and other feed-based services from my phone. Why? I still have them on my iPad mini and then I can better manage my time with those services. I know it sounds like lack of self-control and that’s absolutely right. Smaller screen size smartphone makes it less attractive to use the phone all the time and all too much. Without my iPad mini. I might not think this way.

    I want smaller screen size iPhone to help me use smartphone only when needed.