Thread: iPhone 2012 ;)
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Formerly Roboman, still
Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: on twitter! @werejack
Old 2011-10-07, 21:22

It's early yet, but I wanted a place to discuss what the iPhone 4S means for future iPhones, and also a place to respond to some of Gruber's "Thoughts and Observations," without taking the iPhone 4S thread off-topic.

There's different ways to view Apple's "re-use" of the iPhone 4 design. One is that Apple is settling into a cycle of using each iPhone design for two generations. This is Gruber's conclusion:

Originally Posted by Gruber
Apple is a company of patterns and cycles. These product cycles keep the machine functioning at a steady pace. They broke one pattern with the iPhone 4S: all previous iPhones were released in June. But they’ve added a new one: a two-year cycle that starts with a new form factor (3G/4) followed a year later by a new phone with the same form factor but significantly improved internals (3GS/4S). If next year’s phone is named “iPhone 5”, then I’ll expect a lookalike iPhone 5S in 2013.
This is certainly possible — the second and third generation iPod touches followed this pattern too, though it's possible that was by accident. But I think it's a little too soon to say for sure if the iPhone will follow this cycle, and of course by the time it is Apple will probably change things up. (Remember Apple's sure-fire September iPod events?)

There's another Apple product pattern. It's been around longer, and it's longer-term. That pattern is this: Apple (and by "Apple" I mean "after-Jobs-came-back Apple") enters a new market, or makes an-after-Jobs-came-back model of an existing product for the first time, and we start counting there. The first few product generations tend to be more experimental, and very different from each other, but eventually Apple finds what works and they stick with it, and the design changes become much more subtle refinements.

The iBook and PowerBook G3 hit this point comparatively early — they both had curvy initial models, but with the PowerBook G4 and iBook they found what worked, and they spend the next decade refining their squared-off metal and plastic notebooks. Nowhere was the "early experimentation" phase more evident than with the iMac. The iMac G3 and G4 and G5 were wildly different from each other, but by the time we got to the G5 that phase has ended and the "where did the computer go" iMac stuck around for the next seven years and counting, getting nips and tucks more than ground-up rethinkings.

The iPod (classic) took four generations. Apple went from a mechanical scroll wheel to a touch-sensitive scroll wheel to a model with the buttons all in a row under the screen, but by the time they got to the click wheel they had it. They added a color screen and video playback and a metal front, but the iPod classic is still largely the same concept seven years later (again, and counting). It's, well, classic.

I think, with the fifth model, the iPhone has (coincidentally, or not?) ended its G3-G4-G5 phase. The potential shapes of the iPhone are more limited than that of the iMac, so the experimentation phase wasn't as crazy as the iMac's, but I'd still consider the weirdly plastic 3G/3GS the oddball iMac G4 of the range. I think the iPhone 4's antennae design was a watershed moment, analogous to the PowerBook G4 Titanium, and I think Apple will stick with it, and refining it. They'll make it a tad thinner, or narrower. But I think the multi-piece, squared-off, antennas-on-the-outside design is here to stay for the foreseeable future. They're not going to suddenly switch to a two-piece, curved-at-the-edges, iPod/iPad-style design — except maybe as a new low-end, prepaid-targeting model that would take over for the (two-piece, curved-at-the-edges) iPhone 3GS.

But that raises the question: if Apple's not planning on giving the iPhone design anything more than minor tweaks, why "demote" the minor-tweaked iPhone 4S by calling it the 4S? "For Steve" is cute, but that doesn't seem likely. The answer is I don't know. It's not terribly important, but if Apple is getting to the point where they're not going to majorly rethink the iPhone's form factor, they shouldn't train people to expect that from each "true" iPhone n+1.

Maybe the iPhone 5 will keep the iPhone 4's squared-off design, but drastically change the face of the product in other ways. (Segue!)

The rest of this post is responding to Gruber's points about screen size, so if that bores you, move along.

Originally Posted by Gruber
What sign has Apple ever given that it will ever change from the one-size-fits-all 3.5-inch screen? Every single iPhone and iPod Touch ever released has had the exact same size screen.
He's certainly right, Apple's never given any sign that it will change from their one-size-fits-all approach. But Apple never gives any advance sign for most of the things they do. They didn't give people a "sign" they were about to introduce the iPod or the iPod mini or the iPod shuffle or the iPod nano or the iPod touch or the iPhone or the iPad or the Mac mini or the iMac or the MacBook Air or...

The argument that they will or should can basically be summed up as "one size doesn't fit all."

Originally Posted by Gruber
There is no doubt that some people would prefer a bigger screen. But nor is there any doubt that many other people would not. I wouldn’t.
This is why Apple would make different models for different people, just as they do with the Mac and iPod. It's true!

Originally Posted by Gruber
If they thought 4-inches was better, overall, as the one true size for the iPhone display, then the original iPhone would have had a 4-inch display.
Again, the argument isn't that the one true size for the iPhone display should be four inches, it's that there doesn't have to be a one true size for the iPhone display. Gruber can disagree with that assertion, and there's certainly an argument to be made against it, but instead he misrepresents it. "Why are people saying all iPhones should get bigger? I want a smaller iPhone!"

Originally Posted by Gruber
It’s not like 4-inch screens are harder to make, or use some sort of new technology. If anything they’re surely easier to make, as the pixels are less dense.
Here Gruber repeats the "any larger iPhone display would just be blown up" assertion. Again, that's not the route I think Apple would take, if they were to introduce a larger-screened iPhone.

Originally Posted by Gruber
One big advantage of a 3.5-inch display: with average-size hands, your thumb can reach any pixel on screen more comfortably while holding the phone one-handed.
This is a good point if true, but I'm tempted to ask if Gruber has done a study observing smartphone users with average-sized hands, or if he is just assuming Apple did and is parroting the conclusion he assumes they came to because it's convenient for his point. In any case, the obvious counterpoint is that not everyone has average-sized hands.

And Apple's other input devices have never seemed to have had ergonomics as their highest priority.

Originally Posted by Gruber
Bigger is better, period, they say, and anyone who says otherwise is in denial that Apple is falling behind its competition. But by that logic, 5-inch screens would be better than 4-inch ones, and 6-inch screens better still. That’s silly. Bigger is not necessarily better for handheld/pocket devices.
Slippery slope much? Again with misrepresenting the argument; nobody's suggesting that the iPhone screen should increase an inch each year from now until the end of time. By his logic, I could represent his opinion as saying that nothing about the iPhone should ever change ever, because it would be hard for developers/it would fragment the line-up/if Apple didn't think EDGE was the one true iPhone connection speed, they would have used 3G from the start, &c.

Gruber is better than this.

Originally Posted by Gruber
People who claim to be disappointed that Apple’s 2011 new iPhone doesn’t have a bigger display or LTE are effectively arguing that the iPhone should be more like Android.
Here he wields "those people like Android!" as an odd sort of pejorative. No true Apple fan would prefer a larger screen, I guess.

I guess moving from having one screen size to having two would, technically, make the iPhone slightly more like Android. (Not nearly as much as iOS 5's notification center does, but I digress.) It's a question of finding a happy balance. Would having two screen sizes lead to Android-style rampant fragmentation? I don't think so. Maybe that's what Gruber thinks, but he's not actually arguing that. He's just saying "it'd be more like Android!" and leaving it at that.

Like I said, there's good arguments to be made against having two screen sizes — I'm not saying I'm 100% sold on the idea — but Gruber isn't actually making them. He's not doing the work.

Originally Posted by Gruber
Whereas in truth, the iOS and Android platforms are growing more different over time, not less.
Really? Last week there was two iPhones to choose from. This week, there are three. That doesn't seem like a step away from Android-style diversity to me. (Furthermore: Will the iPhone 3GS get iOS 6? If not, that's another step closer to Android, selling models that won't receive future major software updates. All previous iPhones received at least one after they ceased being sold.)

after all this is gone / who'd you rather be / the beatles or the rolling stones?
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