Once a man has children, for the rest of his life, his attitude is, ‘To hell with the world, I can make my own people.’
— Jerry Seinfeld on fatherhood
New York Day
Fantastic example of how to make a great time lapse video by Samuel Orr.
Samuel has a kickstarter campaign to make a 20-minute film to be called “New York Year”. Just forty bucks will get you a Blu-ray, two DVDs, and some more goodies. (Presumably we’ll have to wait a year for it to arrive — can’t wait.)
Via Jason Kottke
Welcome to the World
夢和 (Yuna) Elizabeth Hains was born on Tuesday, 12th February 2013, at 8:02pm in Tokyo. Mother and baby are both healthy and happy.
I am so grateful for the many kind messages of congratulations and well-wishes we’ve received. We are over the moon.
Welcome to the world, Yuna.
Tim Cook apologises for iOS 6 Maps
Today, Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly apologised for the clusterfuck that is iOS 6 Maps.
For one reason or another, this Maps issue has become important to me, and though my ranting on multiple Twitter accounts has annoyed friends and attracted undesirable and unsolicited sympathisers, I feel compelled by my geography and my love for the near-perfection of Apple products to protest1.
While we still don’t really know the reasons behind this change — whether they are Apple’s fault, Google’s fault, or both — the bottom line is that loyal iPhone customers have lost important functionality and access to useful data. Any explanation of how this came to pass is an irrelevant excuse. As an Apple customer, who paid for a product that contained important features that have since been taken away, I have no sympathy whatsoever, and nor should I, for the cause of this failure.
To our customers,
At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.
When you’ve done wrong, the first thing to do is admit it and apologise. It took Apple more than a week to do so, but this is typical Apple MO, and there is some logic to that policy. So I’m very happy that Tim Cook, the-buck-stops-here CEO, has issued this personal apology. What other company does this? (Serious question.)
We launched Maps initially with the first version of iOS. As time progressed, we wanted to provide our customers with even better Maps including features such as turn-by-turn directions, voice integration, Flyover and vector-based maps. In order to do this, we had to create a new version of Maps from the ground up.
Translation: “Our hands were tied.”
There are already more than 100 million iOS devices using the new Apple Maps, with more and more joining us every day. In just over a week, iOS users with the new Maps have already searched for nearly half a billion locations. The more our customers use our Maps the better it will get and we greatly appreciate all of the feedback we have received from you.
Cook trots out the popular mantra that by simply having iOS 6 Maps in the wild, map data is magically pouring into Apple’s databases. I really want to know: exactly how does that happen? Yes, it’s possible for users to report faulty data via the Maps app, but there must be an infinitesimal percentage of users actually doing that. Yes, POI searches are pouring in, and while I agree that will help Apple prioritise the verification of data, that is not actual map data itself. I admit to being naïve about this technology, but I call bullshit. Please contact me if you know the real answer.
While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.
So, if the number of users getting lost by using iOS 6 maps is meant to improve the database, why recommend that customers switch to alternative apps?2 Perhaps this is simply to quell the ire of those of us that find iOS 6 Maps insultingly unusable. If that is a small enough percentage, then I guess Apple kills two birds with one stone — (partially) satisfy the worst concerns of nerds like us, and also continue to gather data (however the hell that works) to improve Maps.
Everything we do at Apple is aimed at making our products the best in the world. We know that you expect that from us, and we will keep working non-stop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard.
As expected, sigh, there appears to be not even the slightest hint that transit directions will return to iOS Maps. Anything’s possible with Apple’s built-in apps, I suppose, but having made developers scramble to fill the new hot gap in the market, closing that gap with built-in functionality in, say, iOS 7 would surely be met with more protests.
One last thing that I want to be clear about: I will applaud loudly if Apple is able to fix the many problems in Maps, including transit directions, in the near-term. As I’ve said before, the new Maps app itself is great. The problem comes down to (a) removing transit directions, and (b) having crappy data on the server side. Until then, I will do my best to look at the mapping and transit solutions that do exist in a post-iOS 6 world, and I’ll not stand idly by while this problem gets swept under the carpet.
I have changed the bio of my iOS 6 Maps accounts to read “protest account”, rather than “parody account”. I dropped out of character some time ago, and am now mostly using the accounts to gather and disseminate information about iOS 6 Maps, rather than simply making jokes. I’m sorry if this has spoiled the fun. (If I think of / find a good joke, though, I suppose I’ll post/retweet it in-character.) ↩
Bonus thinky bit: Why sign “Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO”? Wouldn’t it be less awkward to sign as “Tim Cook, CEO, Apple Inc.”? Weird. UPDATE: Andrew Lowe was kind enough to dig up an example of Steve Jobs being billed as “Apple’s CEO”. ↩
While waiting in the tiny SoftBank shop in Ochanomizu for my number to be called, I noticed across the room they had a single demo unit of iPhone 5 on display. From that distance, I could see much less of it than I’d seen already. I hesitated, wondering if I would enjoy this experience more if the first iPhone 5 I touched and saw up-close was mine.
I was holding ticket number 34. “28-ban no okyakusama!” Fuck it. I’m going to go over and touch this thing right now. Looking at it over there is killing me.
The metal casing is hard and sharp. The black model’s looks like hard plastic, but when you touch it, there is no mistaking it. If anything, it feels more metallic and precise than the iPhone 4S’s steel band. The display model was attached to an enormous sprung cable, so it was impossible to get a sense for its weight, or even to hold it.
Then I turned on the screen. Holy shit.
I… I’m having trouble explaining this. If you haven’t seen an iPhone 5 screen, get thee to an Apple store. If you know someone who has it, ask them to show you.
Its hard to appreciate the depth of the pixels without a 3D image that you can move around, but the iPhone 4 pixels are appreciably deeper in the display and thus further away from the surface than they are in the iPhone 5.
The iPhone 4’s pixels, as Gruber repeatedly and correctly pointed out, always looked to me like they were painted on the glass, rather than sitting under it. It didn’t seem possible for the pixels to get closer to the surface. But they have, and it’s noticeable. The psychological effect this has is to increase the sensation that you’re actually touching the UI elements presented by the software. And with the über-responsive UI that has now only gotten better with iPhone 5’s internals, that illusion is even more emphatic. This is right in line with Apple’s never-ending quest to have the hardware get out of the way, and let the software do its thing.
This impressive feat was achieved by integrating the touch sensors into the display panel itself, making the whole thing thinner. But that’s not the only improvement. Apart from the obvious increase in height (1,136 vs 960 on iPhone 4/4S), Phil Schiller mentioned briefly in his section of the announcement event that the colour saturation had improved, bringing the full sRGB colour profile to the iPhone for the first time.
Dr. Raymond M. Soneira, at DisplayMate1:
The display on the iPhone 5 is a significant improvement over the display on the iPhone 4. Apple has uncharacteristically understated how much better the display is on the iPhone 5 – something that could be an important factor for those considering whether to upgrade. […]
The iPhone 4 has a 64 percent Color Gamut, but the new iPad pulled way ahead and has a virtually perfect 99 percent of the Standard Color Gamut. The iPhone 5 has an almost identical Color Gamut to the new iPad and the Viewing Tests confirm its excellent color accuracy. […]
Screen Reflectance on the iPhone 5 has decreased substantially – the iPhone 4 has 52 percent brighter reflections than the iPhone 5.
It really is the most stunning display I’ve seen on any device, anywhere. Honestly, it looks better than print, to my eyes.
For the technically inclined, the DisplayMate article is well worth the read. (Although, What is The Deal with the random Capitalisation?) Soneira fairly compares the iPhone 5 display to the Samsung Galaxy S III, and even throws in a prediction for the rumoured Apple TV set. ↩
We’re on a road to nowhere
Yours truly, being a dickhead on Twitter as @fake_iOS6maps1:
Look, we left out transit directions because only losers take public transport. All iPhone owners drive BMWs, everyone knows that.
I started the parody account(s) out of frustration with what I saw as a huge step backwards for iOS. Initially, I thought Apple would give the US — and especially the San Francisco area — competitively good coverage, and leave the rest of the world out in the cold with crappy maps. And I wanted to rage against that. I wanted to be the snarky voice of non-US iOS users2, and I thought I may as well have a bit of fun with it.
Most of the things I wanted to say have been said — I just have a few more thoughts on iOS 6 Maps, which wouldn’t make sense in the @fake_iOS6maps feed.
Apple is playing a long game
Apple has never been afraid of sacrificing the present for the sake of something better in the future. (Remember Flash?) We applaud them for this, even when at first it seems like a stupid move. I have no doubt that Apple sees the new Maps as a difficult first step to something much better in the future.
But this time, that first step seems shockingly premature and arrogant, even for Apple. I find it hard to accept that they didn’t know how bad their map data is; developers around the world have had access to it for months, and have been filing bug reports. We don’t know why they rushed this out, but clearly they haven’t committed Google-level resources and time to this technology.
Apple was much quicker than usual to release a statement about the Maps debacle:
We launched this new map service knowing that it is a major initiative and we are just getting started with it. We are continuously improving it, and as Maps is a cloud-based solution, the more people use it, the better it will get.
We’re also working with developers to integrate some of the amazing transit apps in the App Store into iOS Maps. We appreciate all of the customer feedback and are working hard to make the customer experience even better.
Parsing this statement, Apple is saying two things:
- They’re going to gradually fix it on the server side.
- Transit directions are permanently removed from Maps.
The first one, I can understand. We’ve had a grand old time poking fun at the inaccuracies, but at least it’s possible to improve continuously. No need to release a new OS version.
With a constant stream of examples flowing in, I’ve noticed a recurring pattern of slightly-transposed-in-one-direction errors. That might indicate that Apple is having problems with the integration of multiple data sets from multiple suppliers.
I have serious concerns about Apple’s suppliers, however. There are several subway stations in Tokyo whose English names seem to have been entered manually by a non-Japanese unfamiliar with the area. For example, 三田 (Mita) shows as “Sanda”3, and 赤羽橋 (Akabanebashi) shows as “Akabahashi”. This could not have been done by an automated algorithm. Someone, who knows enough Japanese to know the alternate readings for those kanji characters, was paid money to string them together randomly without checking if they are correct. In other words, they just made up names. Apple is so new to this, they don’t know when their partners are swindling them with made-up data.
While writing this post, Federico Viticci linked to a post by Mike Dobson of TeleMapics4, who rates Apple’s geospatial data partners thus:
My overall view of the companies that it (Apple) has assembled to create its application is that they are, as a whole, rated “C-grade” suppliers. […]
Worse, Dobson thinks Apple has some big, hard lessons to learn about running a mapping service, and they’ve gone about it the wrong way to begin with.
Unfortunately for Apple, they need to take a step back and re-engineer their approach to data fusion and mapping in general.
I’m sure the Apple Maps team would have loved another year or two to do the immense amount of leg work required to get Google-quality data. Something seems to have forced their hand. Either way, as long as data keeps pouring into their servers, the business listings and coordinate data will improve over time5. (But just hurry the fuck up, okay?)
The second one, the removal of transit directions, is the bee in my bonnet.
Maps without transit are no maps at all
I don’t know about where you live, but here in Tokyo, public transport is by far the primary means of getting around. Tokyo is way too big to walk or ride, and parking is so unbelievably expensive that even after 12 years here I have never owned a car. There are at least 30 railway operators, and countless bus operators. The whole city is built around public transport, and wouldn’t function without it.
Despite the complexity of so many competing transit companies, iOS 5 Maps worked perfectly. Even when a route required walking to a train station, catching a train, getting off the train, walking to a different train station, and catching another train. The walking directions were included in the route plan, right down to the expected walking time between the two stations mid-route.
Of course it’s possible for a 3rd-party app to accomplish this, but you’d basically have to be Google.
Maybe you think Tokyo is an edge case, but with the largest urban population in the world — and a relatively affluent one at that — an appreciable fraction of the world’s iOS users live here. If anything, Tokyo should be a best-case scenario — a potential market of 37 million people for your 3rd-party transit app — and yet it’s been 3 months since the APIs were announced and we have nothing but a giant bag of suck. I shudder to think how this will work out for people living in small cities, so I did a little survey:
- Chicago, USA: 7 free, 14 paid
- San Diego, USA: 5 free, 5 paid
- St Louis, USA: 3 free, 8 paid
- Los Angeles, USA: 2 free, 9 paid
- Vorarlberg, Austria: 2 free, 5 paid
- Sydney, Australia: 2 free, 4 paid
- Beijing, China: 1 free, 1 paid
- Orlando, USA: 1 free, 1 paid
- Berlin, Germany: 1 free, 0 paid
- Auckland, NZ: 0 free, 4 paid
- Brisbane, Australia: 0 free, 2 paid
- Christchurch, NZ: 0 free, 1 paid
- Canberra, Australia: 0 free, 1 paid
- Taipei, Taiwan: 0 free, 0 paid
- Kelowna, Canada: 0 free, 0 paid
- Melbourne, Australia: 0 free, 0 paid
- Hokkaido, Japan: 0 free, 0 paid
- Boulder, USA: 0 free, 0 paid
- Mumbai, India: 0 free, 0 paid
- Philippines: 0 free, 0 paid
- Belo Horizonte, Brazil: 0 free, 0 paid
- Constanta, Romania: 0 free, 0 paid
- Porto Alegre, Brazil: 0 free, 0 paid
- Buenos Aires, Argentina: 0 free, 0 paid
- Frankfurt, Germany: 0 free, 0 paid
- Hamburg, Germany: 0 free, 0 paid
Many people reported that the “free” transit apps were actually freemium or trial apps, requiring the user to make an in-app purchase or subscription to access useful functionality. Also, it’s not clear how many of these apps actually provide directions for public transport, as the Maps app lists apps for driving and cycling routes as well. Where it was clear, I’ve counted only public transport apps. (Should’ve specified that in the survey. Whoops.)
Grim. But let’s imagine the best-case scenario: every city and town with public transport somehow gets apps for their local transit operators, including walking directions.
To get from A to B with iOS 5 maps:
- Search for the location (and actually find it).
- Tap Directions. Tap the transit button. Tap Route.
- Tap the clock icon. Choose the route/line you prefer to take.
- Follow the combination of walking and public transport directions.
- Arrive at the destination.
To get from A to B with iOS 6 maps:
- Search for the location. Nope, try again. Nope, try this. OK that’s it.
- Tap the directions arrow button. Tap the transit button. Tap Route.
- Find an app in the transit apps list that doesn’t look too spammy. Tap it.
- Look at the screenshots, read the reviews. Repeat from step 3 until you find one you like.
- Tap Buy. Potentially pay money for something that was built-in and free before.
- Type your App Store password.
- Tap Open. Get kicked out of Maps to the app you just bought.
- Look at the directions. Decide you don’t want to go by that company’s line.
- Repeat from step 3 until you find a line you want to use.
- Now you need walking directions to the station…
The requirement to leave the Maps app for transit directions kills the user experience. The user’s context is lost: their viewing position, zoom level, search string, rotation, tilt, view mode (satellite/standard/hybrid), POI search result pins, dropped pins, etc.
And lest we forget the non-nerd iOS user — the “WTF I just wanted train directions and the Maps app crashed!” factor. You know who suffers worst from this Maps clusterfuck? Us, the tech-savvy family member / friend who told them they should get Apple stuff. It’s embarrassing.
Solution: Better APIs
I am not blind to the opportunity Apple is giving us to make and sell transit apps to a now-very-hungry audience. Even if Google releases their own mapping app on the App Store, restoring the functionality of the original, the vast majority of iOS users won’t know it exists. And with no good default option on the iPhone, a 3rd-party developer is on a level playing field with Google, at least in terms of making a better app.
Now that Apple has opened this door, they can’t close it. I don’t see them announcing built-in transit directions functionality in iOS 7. So the only way I can see to restore the original user experience is to allow apps to write transit route data back into the Maps app. (Imagine, in step #7 above, instead of being kicked out of Maps, the map screen comes back, but with the transit app’s route overlaid.)
It’s a shame, because there is a lot to like in the new app, which is spoiled by bad data. The vector-based graphics are insanely fast, sharp, and low-bandwidth. The ability to rotate while keeping labels the right way up is helpful. The content:chrome ratio is higher (especially on iPhone 5). Combined with compass mode, the tilting really helps with walking directions.
If we had this app, with Google’s data, we’d really have something.
I started this out as @iOS6maps, but it was suspended by Twitter. At first I thought it was for not following the guidelines for parody accounts, but after @fake_iOS6maps was also suspended, I contacted them, and they told me it was for posting too many @mentions. They un-suspended both accounts. Let it be known that Twitter support people are friendly and smell pleasant. ↩
As it turned out, many users in the US are having huge problems, too. If anything, this bodes well, since Apple is more likely to respond to its angry US customers. Don’t shit where you eat. ↩
UPDATE: While writing this post, Mita has been fixed. Hooray for The Cloud! Everything’s better with a Cloud. Cloud! ↩
Seriously, read the whole post. Among other expert insights, Dobson makes a fascinating comparison between the early days of Google and what Apple’s going through now. ↩
Keep in mind, though, that it took Google seven fucking years to get Google-quality data. This shit is hard. Apple is the richest company in the world, but there’s got to be diminishing returns on investments in data collection. Money is not always a substitute for time. ↩
iPhone 5 and iOS 6 in Japan
Spurred on by Gabe Glick, I thought it would be useful to gather together all the info I could find regarding iPhone 5 and iOS 6 for people in Japan. Please let me know if you see any errors, or if you find some information you think should be included here. I will update new information in-place as new information comes to hand.
iPhone 5 availability
Carriers: SoftBank, KDDI
Pre-order date: Friday, September 14th (if you haven’t pre-ordered yet, chances are you won’t get one on release day)
Release date: Friday, September 21st
KDDI will get the “Model A1429”, with CDMA plus LTE bands 1, 3, 5, 13, and 25. These are the same bands used by Sprint and Verizon in the US, and nowhere else.
SoftBank will also get the “Model A1429”, but with GSM plus LTE bands 1, 3, and 5. These are the same bands used in the UK, Germany, Australia, Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
See Apple’s LTE page for details about the differences between the models.
My usual advice is to stick with the carrier you’ve got, unless you have another reason to switch. With the iPhone 5’s LTE support, you might want to consider the countries in which you’re most likely to travel. Still no word on whether either SoftBank or KDDI will offer LTE roaming, however.
LTE coverage, like everywhere else, is just starting to be rolled out in Japan.
SoftBank has already started service, and should have decent coverage of major cities by Spring 2013. And they recently won exclusive rights to the highly prized “platinum band”, which should give them the upper hand, even over DoCoMo, if they are able to roll out towers fast enough.
Interesting news from KDDI’s iPhone 5 press release: KDDI is reserving their entire 2GHz spectrum for iPhone LTE only, while other LTE phones on their network continue to use the existing 1.5GHz band. It will be interesting to see which carrier can build the better LTE network by March.
Note that neither SoftBank nor KDDI sell unlocked iPhones, and neither does Apple Japan. If you want an unlocked device, the closest place I know of is Hong Kong.
The prices below 1 are for the default plans of each carrier, as of time of writing. There are discounts for things like switching (MNP), and other possible charges if you want to level up your plan. Talk to your carrier about the details.
Both carriers have basically the same plans, and almost exactly the same fees. SoftBank seems to sell the device for slightly cheaper.
Assuming you pay for the device over 24 months interest-free (why wouldn’t you?!), your monthly bill will come to:
Carrier 16GB 32GB 64GB SoftBank ¥6,755 ¥7,185 ¥7,615 KDDI au ¥5,665 ¥6,095 ¥6,525
On both carriers, these prices include up to 7GB 2 of 3G + LTE data, unlimited SMS/MMS to same-carrier phones, and unlimited calls to same-carrier phones between 1am and 9pm. International SMS/MMS and other phone calls are billed as you go.
The big surprise and even bigger deal is that KDDI’s plans include free tethering. If you often carry a laptop or Wi-Fi iPad with you, this might make up for the difference in price.
UPDATE: Today (September 19th), SoftBank suddenly announced that they will also offer free tethering for iPhone 5 and other LTE devices, with basically the same terms as the KDDI version. SoftBank’s tethering option will begin on January 15th, 2013. SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son also mentioned that his LTE network would have “3 times the capacity” of their existing 3G network. It looks like the competition is heating up…
SoftBank price plan: http://mb.softbank.jp/mb/iphone/price_plan/white_plan/
KDDI price plan: http://www.au.kddi.com/iphone/ryokin/index.html (not including device)
KDDI device cost: http://www.au.kddi.com/iphone/ryokin/price.html
If you have a still-on-contract iPhone 4S but you want the new hotness now, you can upgrade your device and reset your 2-year contract back to the beginning. You continue to pay off the old device as well as the new device, so there’s about a year of overlap.
Interestingly, SoftBank are offering a buy-back program for old devices — ¥12,000 for an iPhone 4S, ¥8,000 for an iPhone 4, and they’re even considering adding Android devices — which acts as a monthly discount on your bill, spread over 12 months.
UPDATE: Today (September 19th), SoftBank announced an increase in the prices for the buy-back programme, for larger-capacity devices. They now range from an old iPhone 3G at ¥4,000 to a 64GB iPhone 4S at ¥20,000. Two-man’en is not even close to what you can get on eBay or Yahoo Auctions for a jailbroken/unlocked device, but it sure is easier to sell it to SoftBank.
Apple announced support for “wideband audio”, a technology that improves the sound quality of phone calls, and said that 20 carriers would be on-board from day one. Unfortunately which carriers doesn’t seem to have been announced anywhere, so I don’t know if we will get it in Japan. Probably not.
iOS 6 features
Apple has an extensive page listing the support status of various features in different countries. Here’s the summary for Japan:
Supported in Japan:
- Local search (from October)
- Directions (from October)
- Restaurant info (from October)
- Movie information
- iTunes Store & App Store
- Apps & Games
Not supported in Japan:
- 3D buildings
- Business reviews & photos
- Restaurant reviews
- Restaurant reservations
- Movie reviews
- Movie showtimes
- iTunes Store & App Store
- TV shows
I’m posting this here for information purposes only and make no guarantees yada yada yada. What you do with your money is your own responsibility. ↩
If you go over your LTE data limit, the speed drops to 128kbps, and you can buy 2GB extensions for ¥2,625. SoftBank will remove the data cap for customers who sign up for iPhone 5 before the end of 2012. ↩
While Apple’s new vector-based maps include maps for Japan, from what I’ve seen so far, the quality is very poor. Train stations are in the wrong place, and places of interest are misnamed (e.g. Akabanebashi is “Akabahashi”, Mita is “Sanda”… I mean, holy shit). ↩
As you may have heard, Apple’s new Maps app doesn’t have transit directions built-in. When you ask for them, you will be presented with a list of apps in the App Store that handle transit directions in that area, and kicked out of the Maps app when you select one. For big cities like Tokyo, where almost nobody drives and everything is too far away to walk, this is a fucking disaster. ↩
Call to action: iPhone needs an intervention
Dear friends and family of the iPhone,
I’m writing to you now because I know that, like me, as people who love and care for iPhone, you must be very worried for its health. I think it’s high time that we come together, confront iPhone about its problems, and give it the support it needs to get on the path to recovery.
Two years ago, when iPhone suddenly got thinner — 12.3mm down to 9.3mm — we stayed silent. Perhaps it was because it had actually gained a little weight. I know I remember thinking, “It’s muscle mass! iPhone is getting athletic!” I am ashamed to admit I found iPhone’s new slim figure physically attractive.
But just the other day I saw iPhone on TV, looking dangerously thin at only 7.6mm. Not only that, iPhone’s weight has plummeted, now only 112g! I feel sure there is an emotional aspect as well, as iPhone is now dressed in all-black. This is not healthy. If you haven’t seen it, I implore you to take a look now — but be warned, the images are quite shocking.
Friends, it’s time for those who love iPhone to take action. I propose an intervention. We must confront iPhone, tell it that we love it and will always be there with caring support, and smiling faces. And we must help iPhone face up to its ghastly thinness and weight loss.
I’ve invited iPhone over to my apartment on September 21st. Please come at 9am, so that you’re all here by the time iPhone arrives.
To S or not to S
Normal people (that is, not me and probably not you) don’t upgrade their phone every year. Their upgrade cycle probably varies from person to person, but given that the standard mobile carrier contract in iPhone-selling countries is 2 years, I’m guessing that’s the minimum time between upgrades for them.
If true, that means there is a huge group of people who are on the “S” upgrade cycle (iPhone → iPhone 3GS → iPhone 4S) on the one hand, and another huge group on the “non-S” upgrade cycle (iPhone 3G → iPhone 4 → iPhone 5).
Which group is better off? If you’re willing to skip a generation and keep your phone for 3 years, or swallow your carrier’s penalty and upgrade early, is it worthwhile to switch groups?
It’s very difficult to find clear patterns in these things, and there have been only 3 cycles so far, so I have to take quite a bit of license here. But here goes — the table below shows which group gets the new hotness first.
non-S models S models Models 3G, 4, 5 3GS, 4S Industrial Design ✓ Display ✓ Storage ✓ CPU/GPU/SoC 1 ✓ ✓ RAM ✓ Wireless ✓ Camera 2 ✓ Audio ✓ Software 3 ✓ Battery ✓
I must say I’m surprised by the clear advantage of the non-S models. Before I started making this table, I expected it to be a much more even split, and was going to write a recommendation that you look at the features that are most important to you to decide which cycle to get on. Based on the above, it looks like you’re better off on the non-S upgrade cycle.
Another way to look at it: The shortcomings of the non-S models tend to get fixed in the S models. For example, the iPhone 4 antenna which sparked such controversy was fixed in the iPhone 4S. The S models are better versions of the non-S models that precede them. So if you don’t like the wobbliness of new technology, and especially if the camera is important to you, maybe stick to the S models.
Me? I just ordered an iPhone 5.
- There have been improvements in every generation. The S models tend to get CPU & GPU architecture upgrades, while the non-S models tend to get clock speed upgrades.
- The main camera seems to get upgraded on the S models, while the front camera gets upgraded on the non-S models. I figure the main camera is more important, so I’m going with S on this one.
- Everyone with a reasonably recent phone gets access to the new versions of the software, but there are always features accessible only to the latest model. Arguably, the odd-numbered iOS versions were more impactful than the even-numbered, so iPhone 3GS (iPhone OS 3.0) and iPhone 4S (iOS 5.0) were the best hardware upgrades from a software perspective. Make sense? Hmm… told you this is tricky.