It has been nearly three years since I originally wrote about the Mobile Plateau, so enough time has passed that it is worth to take another glance at the technological world and see if things have continued at a flat rate of progress or if there have been any noticeable advancements.
In 2017, the company I was working for offered its employees either an Android phone or an iPhone 7. I already had an iPhone 6, so I was more interested in what Android phones were available. After browsing through Best Buy's offerings, I became somewhat dismayed how the majority of phones were essentially bland imitators of each other. Only the Huawei Mate 9 and the Google Pixel phones really stood out. If one liked the look and feel of the iPhone, but wanted it packaged around Android, then the Pixel was a wonderful offering.
Unfortunately, I later learned that the only Android phone we were actually offered was the Samsung Galaxy 8. Knowing how many unique problems Android developers tend to face with Samsung devices, I was not too interested. Sadly, for those developers, the Samsung Galaxy is the most popular line of Android phones today, so it is not a market they can ignore.
I waited three years between the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 6, and the upgrade was well worth it. It's been another three years, but the set of improvements from the iPhone 6 to the iPhone 8 are not groundbreaking, and if not for the introduction of the iPhone X, I would have easily been tempted to have waited another year. The iPhone 6 continues to be a great and reliable phone. When compared to iPhone 8, the only areas which I feel are truly lacking are the 3D Touch and second generation Touch ID, two features which were introduced in the iPhone 6S. The addition of inductive charging is a very welcome feature, especially with the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack, so if one wants to listen to music and charge their phone at the same time, using a Qi charging pad is a useful option.
Listed below are the major features and changes for the last three generations of the iPhone.
- iPhone 6S
- 3D Touch
- 2nd Generation Touch ID
- Live Photos
- New color: Rose Gold
- iPhone 7
- Removal of standard 3.5mm headphone jack
- New photo effect: Portrait mode (iPhone 7 Plus model only)
- New colors: Jet Black and Red
- iPhone 8
- Inductive charging
- New photo effect: Portrait Lighting (iPhone 8 Plus model only)
- New color: Pinkish "Gold"
- Up to 256GB of storage
On the hardware front, Apple and its competitors continue to refine and improve, but the hardware improvements from the iPhone 6 to the 8 are not as monumental as it was from the iPhone 4S to the 6. While the hardware has stagnated somewhat, it does provide a more stable field for software to build against. Perhaps one of the most exciting new developments in software is the introduction of augmented reality frameworks such as ARKit and ARCore. Any Apple device with an A9 chip or later can run ARKit applications, which means that millions of devices are capable of running augmented reality apps. ARCore is a very new framework for Android, but the number of devices which are compatible is quite limited, something which will hopefully be rectified in the near future.
The iPhone 8 was a decent improvement over the iPhone 7, and certainly more so than the 7 was over the 6S, but besides the addition of inductive charging, the 8 does not offer too much more than the iPhone 6S already possesses. Mostly more of the same. It's not broke, it has proven to be a great success for Apple, so why bother fixing what obviously still works?
Except this is technology, which sits still for no one. If all we did was make small iterations on the original model, we would still be working with punch cards and vacuum tubes. Which brings us to the elephant which has barely been mentioned in this article...
The iPhone has undergone several cosmetic changes since the original version. The materials have changed, the dimensions have been altered, but the basic appearance of the iPhone has essentially remained the same.
Enter the iPhone X — the iPhone for the next decade. The iPhone X boasts the following features:
- Face ID
- Inductive charging
- New design: Taller, but not wider than iPhone 6
- Dual camera system like on the iPhone 8 Plus
- Up to 256GB of storage
On the inside, the iPhone X contains many of the same improvements as the iPhone 8 Plus. However, it's the outside where the real changes are apparent. Gone are the forehead and chin bezels, supplanted with a screen which covers nearly the entire front of the device. Also gone is the (no longer) ever-present Home button. Face ID replaces Touch ID, and swipe gestures replace other functionality which had been piled on top of the Home button.
My initial impression of these changes were not exactly warmly met. I like Touch ID. That glaring notch at the top of the iPhone X looks stupid. What was Apple thinking?! I was not alone in my knee-jerk reactions. I heavily considered getting an iPhone 8, which would be released before the iPhone X, plus it would have all the comfort and familiarity of my old phone.
If I did not develop iOS apps for a living, then I probably would have waited another year or gone with the iPhone 8. But the iPhone X introduced many changes, especially with its form factor and how developers would need to work with it, so this became one of the biggest selling points to get an iPhone X. This isn't about having the latest tech, but to be able to perform my job.
After working with the iPhone X for several weeks, these are my initial impressions:
- Face ID : Face ID is one of the biggest selling points of the iPhone X. It feels so effortless, that it almost feels like there isn't even any security. Hold up the phone and it unlocks (but the lock screen remains in place until you swipe).
- Face ID in Apps : If Touch ID is already implemented in your app, then no additional work is necessary to implement Face ID. They are both forms of biometric authentication. I was initially concerned that developers would need to update their apps to enable the Face ID functionality, but that turned out to be a moot point.
- Lock Screen Notifications : A small, but welcome, improvement in security, the notifications on the lock screen will not display their contents until Face ID has "unlocked" them.
- Typing : I've found typing to be a little easier than on the iPhone 6. Occasionally, I found myself accidentally tapping the space bar when I intended to type the letter B. I have not had this problem on the iPhone X.
- Size + Weight : Due to its increased height and glass back, this phone is a little heavier than the iPhone 6, but not by much.
- Leather Case : The buttons on Apple's leather case are easier to press than the old leather case for the iPhone 6.
- Apple Pay : The software gives good visual cues on what to do to use Apple Pay.
- Home Screen : Despite the taller screen, the Home screen does not contain any more rows of icons than the iPhone 6 does — still limited to 6 rows.
- New Interface : Due to the removal of the Home button, some new tricks need to be learned on how to best make use of the buttonless interface. Example tips and tricks: swipe along the home button indicator to quickly switch between recently used apps. Swipe up and right (or at a diagonal) to quickly pull up the app switcher. To enable Reachability, perform a short swipe down near the home indicator.
- Taking Screenshots : To take a screenshot, hold down the right side button and the volume up button. Too bad it isn't the side button and volume down button to better match what many Android phones do to take a screenshot.
- Inductive Charging : This is the one feature which I was really happy to see added to 2017's batch of new iPhones. This is a great feature to have, especially after the removal of the dedicated headphone jack. This is another feature which brings the phone one step closer to being completely wire-free.
- The Notch : The notch isn't quite as annoying as I originally thought it would be, especially since I use most apps in portrait mode. I do miss having the percentage of battery visible, though.
- Camera Zoom : The one-fingered zoom feature on the camera is great, which is also available on the iPhone 8 Plus, but not the smaller iPhone 8.
Apple has made it clear that the iPhone X is the new direction they are taking with the iPhone for the foreseeable future. Had the iPhone X not been released alongside the iPhone 8, the technorati would have not bothered to suppress their collective yawn after another year of less than stellar changes. However, the iPhone X gave the press much to ponder and discuss. Already, other phone manufacturers are producing their own clone devices, mimicking Apple, which includes the obtrusive notch at the top of the phone. The notch sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb, but perhaps there will be a day that there will be a phone with a full display — no bevels, no notch — all screen.
Apple TV + Streaming Services
In my original piece, I lamented the lack of an update to the Apple TV, but this wish was soon granted several months later with the introduction of the 4th generation Apple TV and the new software platform of tvOS. My wish was for a platform that would replace traditional cable TV where the consumer can be more selective about what channels they want without having to pay increasing fees for the other 990 channels they don't want or need.
Apple TV takes a step in the right direction, but it is not alone in this space. In addition to other dedicated hardware options such as the Roku or Chromecast, there are other software offerings on pretty much any other device which can support Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Twitch, PS Vue, or any of many other streaming content services.
Choice is good, but having too many choices can also be detrimental and overwhelming. There are so many streaming options, but none of them may have everything one might want. Netflix has older movies and TV shows, and Hulu has more recent episodes. If you want to watch a sports game, then you might need to subscribe to another service. If you add them all up, you might still end up with the same problem as having a cable provider — paying too much money for too much content.
I feel that this is a marginal improvement over cable, but it is not without its problems, especially regarding the fragmentation of content. It shall be interesting to see how things shake out in the next several years.
Three years ago, the Apple Watch had just been released, so it was certainly too early to get a proper gauge on how well the Apple Watch and competing wearables were going to perform. Three years later, the Apple Watch and its associated software of watchOS continue their yearly iterations while still trying to answer the question of What can we do with this thing?. The Apple Watch has leaned more in the direction of a fitness role, which is where its strongest competitors reside, such as the FitBit. The Apple Watch has not quite become the smash hit that the iPod or iPhone became, but it is not an unmitigated failure by any means, either. As the hardware and software continue to improve, the Apple Watch may eventually turn from an interesting gadget to a truly useful appliance that can stand on its own without needing to be tethered to a phone.
But what about the Android Wear Smartwatches? After the Apple Watch was announced, competitors quickly rushed to the scene, but none of them have gained a proper foothold in the wearables market, and many have stumbled and fallen away. Even the early smartwatch company Pebble became another technology casuality as it shut down in December 2016 and its intellectual properties were purchased by FitBit.
Time continues to march ever onwards, and so will the progress of technology, albeit not always at a rapid pace. The introduction of new hardware and software platforms provide for new sandboxes which to play in. The iPhone/iOS SDK has now been available for the past decade, and it has provided a fertile ground for new software development, the likes we also saw with the rise of microcomputers (PCs) and the Internet. The pace for new mobile software has not been abated, and a new disruptive platform has yet to truly rise up. watchOS and tvOS are new entrants into the Apple ecosystem, but neither one has a comparable user base that the iPhone has. Being that these are relatively new operating systems, there is much potential for them to grow during the next several years, but I see these as supplementary technologies when compared to the iPhone or even the Mac.
There are always new ideas cropping up, whether it is IoT or the latest "smart" gadget (smart speakers such as Amazon Echo, Google Home, or Apple's HomePod are the current fad in 2018). It's the products which prove to be truly useful and remain after the initial trend has come and gone which determine what becomes notable and what is relegated to a footnote. Let's check back in another three years to see how it all plays out.