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Mobile Plateau

2nd July 2015 | Apple

When the iPhone 5s came out, I wanted to love it, to be enamored by its advancements. I really did, but despite my desire to yearn for it, the longing and admiration just wasn't there. The iPhone 5s is a fine phone, but the level of improvements over the iPhone 4S just were not enough to convince me to immediately upgrade. There were some niceties such as the addition of LTE and Touch ID, but those still weren't enough. Much of the low hanging fruit had already been plucked, and the yearly advancements in mobile technologies were tapering off.

Eager to find something fresh, my gaze extend outside of the Apple ecosphere. Many Android phones are slabs of poorly designed plastic, lacking the level of precision and quality which I was accustomed to with Apple products. One product which did catch my eye was the 2013 edition of the HTC One (M7).

I've used two versions of the M7, a silver Google Play edition and a metallic blue Verizon version. Externally, the phones are nearly identical except for the coloring and the addition of a carrier logo on the Verizon phone. The phone is a good size (quite a bit larger than the iPhone 4S), and feels very solid. However, one thing I missed about iOS was having a Home button to wake up the phone. Otherwise, the build quality is excellent.

The Google Play edition resolved one of Android's biggest hurdles by being able to upgrade to the latest version of KitKat (Android 4.4), whereas the Verizon version was restricted to version 4.2.2, with no word that Verizon has any plans on updating the software on the phone. The only work around to get future versions of Android looks like to root the device and upgrade it manually. This may not be the worst idea, since the Verizon M7 comes cluttered with a bunch of their carrier-branded crapware (which can't be manually uninstalled, either), so wiping the device and upgrading might be a worthwhile endeavor. I used these phones as testing devices (no SIM cards), which need to be put into Airplane Mode to get them to work properly with Wi-Fi. On the software front, getting the Google Play version of a device is certainly the way to go. No corporate branding, no unwanted crapware, and an easy upgrade path.

In September 2014, Apple announced the yearly update to the iPhone line: the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The iPhone 6 was Apple phone I was hoping for that would impress me again and make upgrading worthwhile. After using my trusty workhorse of an iPhone 4S for three years, trading up to the iPhone 6 came with numerous perks.

  • Larger 4.7" screen for easier typing and reading
  • 128 GB of storage
  • NFC for Apple Pay
  • Touch ID
  • LTE networking
  • General hardware improvements in the camera, speed, memory

The iPhone 6 line builds upon its predecessors, so some of these features had already been around for a year or few, but the larger screen size and expanded storage space were great additions. The 3.5" screen on the first several iterations of the iPhone looked astounding in comparison to the bevy of phones it supplanted, but it began to look diminutive in comparison to some of the newer Android phones, such as the HTC One's gorgeous 4.7" screen.

The iPhone 6 is an amazing device, one which I hope to be using well into 2017. The two year cycle of replacing phones might become more a thing of the past as the hardware and software improves to a point where these devices' lifespans can reach out to 3+ years (barring the usual accidents). Personal computers in the 1980s had a life expectancy of around three years before they became too antiquated to run the latest software. The computers built in the 21st century have reached a point where they can easily reach 5, 7, or more years of use. The youngest of the three Macs I use regularly at home is 8 and the oldest is now a dozen years in age.

Google's and Apple's developer conferences, Google I/O and WWDC respectively, are used as the platforms to announce their latest advancements and things to look forward to in the coming year. Normally these conferences bring about some interesting changes, especially in the realm of mobile technologies, but 2015 was quite the bust for both conferences. Aside from the Google Photos service, Google I/O elicited not much more than a yawn from me. I was hoping that WWDC would hold more promise.

The potential was there, but it was not met. Aside from the now yearly upgrades to OS X and iOS, there was the introduction of Apple Music, which was only marginally more interesting to me than Google Photos. For the past three years I've been hoping for an upgrade to the Apple TV that would be amazing enough that it would finally convince the rest of my family to cut the TV cable. No announcement yet, but there is always hope that something like this is in the works.

The iPhone in 2007 heralded the beginning of the current generation of smart phones, turning a device with twelve buttons into an amazing computer that fits into your pocket. The biggest shortcomings have been addressed and now Google and Apple are grasping to find interesting and important problems to tackle in the mobile space. We have reached a plateau in this space, where the annual leaps in technology are no longer being met. This is a lull in the storm for the time being, but things will eventually be churned up again, bringing about the next set of technological advancements, whether that is in mobile or another area altogether.