1. 2015 iPhones

    I love predictions. I love making them, and I love hearing them. Every time I get my hands on a new product, I instinctively start trying to guess what the next one will be. It’s a compulsion.

    So here I am, iPhone 6 in hand, thinking about next year’s (2015) iPhones. And I have a weird theory on this one.

    First, to set the stage, here’s the 2014 iPhone line-up:

    1. iPhone 6 Plus — 5.5”; new specs; new rounded external design; starting at $299.
    2. iPhone 6 — 4.7”; new specs; new rounded external design; starting at $199.
    3. iPhone 5S — 4”; specs and external design unchanged from 2013; starting at $99.
    4. iPhone 5C — 4”; same specs as iPhone 5 (2012); external design unchanged from 2013, which was new at the time; free.

    Four models to choose from, at three different sizes, where smaller is cheaper than larger. Note also that iPad is available in two screen sizes, where smaller is cheaper than larger. Same also for laptops.

    You don’t have to look far to find existing iPhone fans complaining that even the 4.7” iPhone 6 is too large. I’m finding it a struggle to adjust myself. Certainly, before the launch, a lot of us reacted with disgust to the rumours of larger iPhones coming.

    But here’s the thing: I don’t think Apple decided that 4” was the wrong size. They’re not saying, “Whoops! Looks like 4” was a mistake; here’s the correct size.” Apple believes that there are multiple “correct” sizes: 4”, 4.7”, and 5.5” for phones, 7.9” and 9,7” for tablets. According to Gruber, Apple made test models in 0.1” increments from 4” to 6”, and found the two new sizes to be just right for the large-phone and giant-phone form factors.

    But I don’t think Apple has given up on the 4” size. Half of the current iPhone line-up for sale today is at that size.

    Second, the iPhone 6 includes a “Zoomed View” mode, which renders the software at the old 4” dimensions, 320 × 568 points (not pixel). When you set up a new iPhone 6, it’s one of the questions it asks you during the initial set-up, right alongside things like your iCloud account. It doesn’t seem like a temporary bridging feature; it’s how they solved one of the key questions about the need for a larger phone: is it to see more content, or to display at a larger size? Zoomed View mode gives you both, but it requires apps to support the 320×568pt screen dimensions.

    Given these two points — that Apple still believes 4” is a viable size, and that apps will continue to be required to support 320×568pt — I think there’s a good chance that next year we will see an iPhone 6-style 4” model at the discounted price points. The 2015 line-up would then be:

    1. iPhone 6S Plus — 5.5”; new specs; same external design as the iPhone 6 Plus; starting at $299.
    2. iPhone 6S — 4.7”; new specs; same external design as the iPhone 6; starting at $199.
    3. iPhone 6 Mini — 4”; same specs as current iPhone 6; same external design as the iPhone 6, but with a 4” screen; starting at $99.
    4. iPhone 5CS — 4”; same specs as iPhone 5S; same external design as the iPhone 5C; free.

    Think about it: an iPhone 6 at the old 4” size? I would buy that in a heartbeat. I want that right now!

    The most obvious argument against this is that Apple have always used the lower price tier to boil off excess inventory of the previous year’s model. Except they didn’t do that last year: the iPhone 5 disappeared altogether, and was replaced by the iPhone 5C.

    The iPhone 5C was a way to repackage the previous year’s model and give it new life. The iPhone 6 Mini will serve the same goal, making the old new again. We’ve reached the point where even the 3-year old model is “good enough” for most people; the time is right for this kind of play.

  2. Might As Well Go Ahead and Call It: iOS 8 Public Release on September 10th

    iOS 8.0 will be released to the public on Wednesday, September 10th.

    Exhibit A: Both iOS 6.0 and iOS 7.0 were released exactly 100 days after beta 1, and 100 days after iOS 8.0’s beta 1 announcement is September 10th.

    Exhibit B: Since the release date moved to Autumn1, it has always been a Wednesday.

    Exhibit C: iOS 8.0 and OS X Yosemite betas have been remarkably stable, so there doesn’t seem to be any significant delays on the software side.

    The new major version is always announced alongside the new iPhone model, which itself is released 2 days after iOS2. So I might as well go ahead and predict that as well: iPhone 6 will be released on Friday, September 12th3.

    UPDATE: It looks like I was off by a week after all. With the announcement scheduled for September 9th, the (now obvious) dates are: September 10th for iOS 8 GM / final beta; September 17th for iOS 8 public release; September 19th for iPhone 6 on sale.

    1. iOS 5.0 was the first major version release in Autumn. Before that, *.0 versions were released at the WWDC keynote, which is always a Monday. 

    2. iPhone 4 was released 3 days after iOS 4.0, but that was the last WWDC release. iPhones 4S, 5, and 5S were all released 2 days after their respective major iOS version, in Autumn. 

    3. This is a week earlier than the rumour sites are saying (I just Googled to check them before posting this), so we’ll see who’s right. My guess is based on nothing more than iOS release date history

  3. Quick Thoughts on Swift

    Last week Apple announced a new programming language, Swift. John Siracusa’s wish to avoid a language crisis has finally been granted, and he was happy, as few have ever seen him.

    I am still working my way through the Swift language reference, but for what it’s worth, here are some quick thoughts on the new language:

    1. It’s beautiful. The attention to detail paid to getting the syntax right is extraordinary. It has just the right balance of terseness, to minimise typing and meaningless boilerplate, and expressiveness, to maximise readability.

    2. Avoiding the need for basic framework imports and a “main” class/method/function makes it work like a scripting language for simple tasks. I can see myself reaching for Swift rather than bash scripting, Python, Perl, or even AppleScript for quick automation jobs. That makes me excited.

    3. There is a huge amount of focus on safety — so many little language features designed to avoid common programming mistakes that even the most experienced programmers make. Some old programmers will moan that little syntactic juggling tricks they’ve dragged along since the C days no longer work, but I hope Apple ignores them and continues to make safety a core goal of Swift.

    4. It’s clear that Apple has borrowed many ideas from other languages. Swift is a Best Hits album of post-2000 programming languages. I see influences of Java, Python, C, Objective-C (obviously), C#, Ruby, Go, Javascript, Scala, and Perl — there are probably more that I haven’t recognised yet. Apple has taken the best bits of all the great modern languages and sewn them together seamlessly.

    5. Swift is young. There are some basic things missing, and some simple questions unanswered. One friend of mine noticed that there is apparently no easy way to get, say, the third character of a String. (After consulting with an Apple engineer in the WWDC labs, he found a way to do it, but it’s neither pretty nor intuitive.1) Swift’s wrinkly, newborn skin will smooth out as it grows and fattens.

    6. So far, it seems that Swift is intended for client-side / GUI applications. I would love to use it on the server-side too. I’m sure someone will find a way. Cue fifteen or so web frameworks on Github in 3… 2… 1…

    7. Emoji FTW!! Okay, emoji variable/function names might be silly, but the ability to use any Unicode character is very useful for non-English speaking developers. Here, for example, Japanese developers can use real Japanese names for their variables and functions, which means less ambiguity, and ultimately better software.

    I’m more excited than I have ever been to develop on Apple platforms. Swift is a language I could see myself working in full-time. More importantly for me and many developers like me, Swift levels the playing field in the Apple development. Nobody (outside Apple) has more Swift experience than me, because everybody has zero. For the first time since I got my Apple developer account, I don’t feel like an impostor, a foreigner, an outsider. I have just as much chance to succeed at this as anyone else. And I intend to.

    1. The answer is str[advance(str.startIndex, 3)] — WAT. 

  4. Be a Toy Maker

    Designing and making toys must be one of the most enjoyable, satisfying jobs in the world.1 It is the pure essence of working to make people happy. The goal is nothing more than to entertain, and where possible, educate through play.

    Toys are not limited to children. Many products aimed at adults are dismissed as toys, as if that somehow means they have no value. But I think the opposite is true. Joy and delight and play are essential to making a thing worthwhile, if not vastly more usable and effective at being the thing it’s meant to be.

    If your job is to make things — anything — then try to introduce an element of toys into it. Make it playful, joyful, attractive. Make it fun.

    1. Or at least, it probably was, once upon a time. 

  5. End App Store Ratings

    The Internet is up in arms again about the App Store’s customer feedback channel. This time, the ratings system.

    Back in 2009, YouTube mused upon, and then implemented, a simple thumbs-up/thumbs-down system to replace the demonstrably useless1 5-star rating system. The App Store could follow suit. The next logical extension would be Facebook’s 1-bit2 “Like”.3

    I say take it even further. I say take it to its logical conclusion: 0-bit. I say abolish the rating system altogether.

    The core problem is that the incentives are all wrong. As Daniel Jalkut points out and the YouTube data supports, customers are only motivated to leave reviews when they have strong feelings about an app. Or, as the current furore pinpoints, the app bullies customers into leaving reviews. Since ratings drive sales, app developers are incentivised to beg, bully, and trick customers into giving them.

    Actually, it’s worse than that. Because the App Store has no system for upgrade pricing, a customer that already downloaded the app is, in a sense, no longer a customer. They are no longer a potential source of income.4 The most valuable thing they can do for an app developer is rate or help promote the app. So it’s not surprising that app developers are encouraged to milk them for reviews, even if it means pissing them off.

    Shame campaigns are unlikely to have any impact, so long as the incentives are geared this way. The only real solution is to fix the incentives. I have an idea.

    Rank by total usage hours across all users.

    Apple could, in theory, collect anonymous usage time5 statistics whenever the device checks the App Store for updates. Aggregate these to get the total number of hours that all the users of an app have spent, collectively, using the app. Then rank apps in the Store by their total usage time. No star ratings needed — but more importantly, no action needed by the customer at all.

    Since this would be the collective usage data of all users, not just the vocal minority, it is inherently honest. If an app is truly useful, it will have relatively higher usage hours than other apps in its category. Some people who give an app a 1-star rating, but they still use it every day. That usage time would help lift the app’s ranking in the store.

    If rankings worked this way, app developers’ incentives would be geared towards keeping customers using the app. Which implicitly means making the app useful and/or fun. The equation shifts from "mo’ reviews, mo’ money" to “better app, mo’ money”.

    UPDATE: Marco Arment points out an obvious flaw with usage time as the ranking metric: apps that are designed to minimise usage time — where being able to get in and out of the app quickly is a feature. Absolutely, that’s true. A possible alternative to “usage hours” is “number of times launched”.

    Also, I’m only talking about ending ratings here, not reviews. (An earlier version of this post advocating getting rid of review comments as well, but I thought better of it and removed that section a few minutes after posting.) Review comments have many problems, too, but as Marco points out, sometimes they are helpful when choosing an app from search results. My assertion is that if apps were simply ranked (in both search results and “Top 50” lists) by usage hours / times launched, it would remove the incentive for “rate this app” pop-ups, and increase the incentive to make a good app.

    1. OMFG a line chart is the worst possible choice for visualising this data. 

    2. A 5-star ranking system has 6 possible values (3-bit): 1-5, and no rating. The thumbs-up/down system has 3 possible values (2-bit): up, down, and no rating. Facebook’s “Like” system has 2 possible values (1-bit): Like, and no rating. 

    3. The App Store has actually integrated Facebook’s “Like” system alongside the existing 5-star rating. It’s conceivable that the 5-star rating could simply disappear, leaving Facebook Likes (and comments?) as the only remaining customer feedback mechanism. But of course, not everyone has a Facebook account (no really, it’s true!), and Apple will never delegate important functionality like that to another company. 

    4. It’s also no wonder, then, that in-app purchases has taken over as the main revenue driver for apps. 

    5. Only time. Nobody wants to see the creepily ambiguous “anonymous usage statistics” show up in App Store T&C. 

  6. iPad + Keyboard Ergonomics

    Place the iPad on the desk between the keyboard and you

    Propping your iPad up with a SmartCover or a stand seems fine at first, but then you quickly realise that when the app you’re using needs a lot of direct touch to access its features, reaching out to touch the screen is awkward, tiring, and clumsy.

    Try this instead: Lay the iPad down flat on the table, between you and the keyboard. It seems weird at first, but this way your hands are really close to the screen and supported by the desk, so it’s easier to reach the on-screen controls. Plus, when the iPad is flat on the desk it’s much easier to anchor your hands for more accurate taps, swipes, and other gestures.

    PAQ (Probably Asked Questions)

    1. Don’t your hands obscure the screen?

      Not as much as you’d think.

    2. Does your neck get tired looking down at the desk?

      Yup. It’s a trade-off. One ergonomic problem for another.

  7. Minato Bus

    A few months back, my then-pregnant wife complained to me about the shitty website for our local community bus service, which she needed to get around as she became less and less mobile and more and more convex. So I slapped together a rough iPhone app for her, to make it easy to check the bus timetable.

    She loved it, and encouraged me to upload it to the App Store so other people in our local area could use it. Of course, to do that, I had to get the complete timetable data of all routes into the app1 as well as personally ride all the buses to get the exact geolocation coordinates of every bus stop.

    Anyway I did it, and the app went live this week.

    I had a lot of fun making the website, and I’m almost prouder of that than the app itself… It uses a “responsive design” CSS layout that adjusts to the size of the browser (i.e. for mobile versus desktop), it automatically detects the user’s language setting and changes content from English to Japanese accordingly, and even more importantly, it’s all GIFs! Win!

    Note: This app is utterly useless to anyone outside the very specific area of Minato-ku, Tokyo.

    1. Not easy, since the only electronic resource was a huge, unparsable PDF file 

  8. DoCoMo, iPhone, and the Illusion of Control

    English-speaking Japan’s top authority on mobile, Paul Papadimitriou, breaks down the numbers behind DoCoMo’s decision to finally carry the iPhone:

    Apple has a clear interest in working with the king. 60 million subscribers cannot be dismissed. Even 30% of those, the number of iPhone users that DoCoMo executives would seem to be comfortable carrying, are valuable. Apple wanted to expand. 2013 is a defining moment. Apple has to turn the narrative around. In Japan, it had to be DoCoMo.

    Excellent piece, chock-full of charts & data.

  9. Update: To S or not to S

    Now we have a new data point, let’s check back on how “S” models compare to non-“S” models.

    non-S modelsS models
    3G, 4, 5
    3GS, 4S, 5s
    Industrial Design
    CPU/GPU/SoC 1
    New Sensors
    Camera 2
    Software 3

    The big miss was storage. Both the 3GS and 4S got storage bumps, but not the 5s.1 RAM is, as always, unknown at this point. So other than storage, my original table seems to be holding true.

    But! Now we have the “5c”, adding a new modifier into the mix. The announcement was only moments ago, but from what I understand, the 5c’s specs are basically identical to the 5. So I expect the “c” models will follow the non-S model path in terms of how they upgrade. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see an “iPhone 5cs” next year? Or “iPhone 5d”?

    UPDATE: I added a row for new sensors. If I had this row in my original table, the tick would have been in the non-S column: the 3G got GPS, the 4 got a gyroscope, and the 5 had no new sensors. But now the 5s got a fingerprint scanner, so it gets a tick.

    1. OMFG that lowercase “s”. 

  10. Users: What to Expect from iOS 7

    By now you’ve heard a lot about iOS 7’s new look, new features, and perhaps you’ve heard some things about what’s under the hood. But what will it be like to use a device with iOS 7? After all, most of the time you spend on iOS is in apps downloaded from the App Store, not the built-in ones.

    Marco Arment wrote a spot-on post on Tuesday about what iOS 7 means for developers. And he’s right: those who are nimble enough to embrace iOS 7 with their apps early will stand out in the App Store. But not just because an updated, iOS 7-like styling will feel more natural to use — Apple has opened iOS way up, providing developers with enormous opportunities to make their apps better for users.

    Without explaining how (I can’t — NDA), here are some of the things you can expect as an iOS user, in the months after iOS 7 is released, from apps by devs that take Apple’s advice and use the new APIs.


    Apps updated for iOS 7 will seem to be always up-to-date and fresh. When you get a push notification on your lock screen and swipe it, the new content will be ready — no waiting for it to download. Social networking apps will always have the newest messages ready to read. Podcast apps will download new episodes so they’re always ready to play. News apps will always show the latest articles when you open them.

    The result: your iPhone will feel fast. Responsive. Productive.


    Expect iOS 7-optimised apps to be much more animated. There will be some apps that overdo it, but the ones that get it right will feel more responsive to your touch, more real, more intuitive. You’ll feel more comfortable and confident to navigate through each app, because on a subconscious level, the app feels more physical.

    You will get a sense of space — the feeling that your iPhone screen is a window on a larger canvas of content. Each app is an art museum, and you walk from room to room as you navigate through each screen.

    Your iPhone will feel alive.


    Content will be bigger, clearer, and easier to find. When you want to know something, iOS 7-style apps will just tell you, clearly and simply. And while you won’t necessarily notice this consciously, everything will be much, much easier to read.


    This will be a more gradual change, but expect apps to be better-tested, have fewer bugs and crashes, and update more frequently. 1 Developers who take full advantage of the tools will be more likely to have tested their app thoroughly the same device that you’re carrying.


    Apps will be better at staying in-sync across multiple devices. Whether they use iCloud or their own cloud-based service, your data will be pushed to other devices more reliably, and when something does go wrong, you’ll get better support from the app’s author.


    This one’s hard to explain, but you can expect to see apps that integrate more tightly with businesses and services in the real world. When you walk into a store, tour a museum, or attend an event in a stadium, apps will participate in the experience of being there.

    I’m excited about the possibilities and the opportunity to build stuff for iOS 7, but I’m even more excited about using the new breed of apps that we’ll start to see in a few months. Not every app will take advantage of this stuff, so it’ll be a great time to start looking for new apps that do — because those are the apps that, over time, will earn their place on your home screen.

    1. Which, by the way, will happen tranparently in the background, so it won’t be annoying.