South Africa and Apple’s Plastic iPhone

Plastic iPhone concept by MacRumours
Renderings of what the iPhone 5C might look like (source: http://www.macrumors.com)

Rumours have it that September 10th is the date for Apple to reveal their next iteration of the iPhone, dubbed the “iPhone 5S”. It logically follows the current 5, and is meant to be an incremental improvement – i.e., nothing drastic in its exterior design.

But there’s another rumour, backed by copious part leaks and design drawings: talk of a cheaper iPhone, an iPhone made of plastic and not Apple’s signature glass and unibody aluminium. A phone they’re calling the iPhone 5C.

The “c” is ambiguous (as was the case with the “S” suffix). Some say it could stand for “cheap”, others, that it’s “colours”, an indication that this phone will be available in various colour options, the first iPhone to break away from the traditional black or white options.

This “lesser” of the two iPhones compels me to think of its implications in markets not yet transfixed by Apple’s mobile lure. The iPhone has, since its introduction, been considered a premium device. Its detailed construction, use of expensive materials and manufacturing processes, and the fact that it has the 1 Infinite Loop fruit printed on its back, makes it a device that dictates a hefty price tag. But with the plethora of cheaper, plastic Androids flooding the market, it seems like business sense for Apple to develop a product to get them back into the game and make themselves relevant in a mobile-centric world where these plastic droids are increasingly becoming a viable and economical alternative to the Apple way of things.

As they did with the iPod, this venture into the cheaper alternative model for their flagship product could be a great way for Apple to reinvigorate the iPhone’s image. However, it’s a risky move: it threatens to potentially disrupt the iPhone’s brand as one of quality craftsmanship and style. Let’s face it: plastic has the reputation of being a “cheap” material.

The rumours place this iPhone 5C (or whatever it’ll be called) as a replacement for the iPhone 5 when the iPhone 5S launches. Part leaks suggest that it will share many of the internals with the current iPhone 5, but will sport the new plastic shell. It’ll also be slightly bigger in form factor, but will retain the new screen size of the iPhone 5.

For the South African market, the possibility of this new phone becomes rather interesting. I won’t go as far as to say that it will be the exceptionally cheap iPhone we’ve all wanted (the fact that it’s an Apple product means that it will still be marked-up significantly, especially with our wonderful local distributers who love to take advantage of this country’s fledgling tech market). But it will certainly prove a strong competitor to Samsung, who’ve been making waves here recently with a strong marketing presence.

When BlackBerry launched in South Africa, it took the market by storm because it provided an economical way of staying connected. However, customers in South Africa are starting to awaken to the fact that BlackBerry is in a precarious state, and that their devices are struggling to keep up with  Android and iOS offerings. This faltering brand opens up the opportunity for Apple to get into the country’s mobile sphere and truly create a lasting image, and not just the superficial one it currently holds in the tiniest of market shares. What we really need, then, is for our networks to offer good data deals: it’s a big thing to ask of our marvellously overpriced operators, but combine a lower-cost iPhone with a solid data bundle, and I think Apple has the chance to make itself a stronger brand here, perhaps even as ubiquitous as BlackBerry managed.

The iPhone 5C may not be “what Steve would’ve done”, but then again, Tim Cook has explicitly stated that the culture at Apple post-Jobs is not “What Would Steve Jobs Do”, but rather, how can they make the best products possible. Apple needs to cash in on significantly growing markets in order to make themselves relevant and to keep in a game that the Androids are already winning; South Africa represents a strong playing field for them to do so. Our smartphone market is growing daily, and couple that with a more technologically aware society, we’re one of the perfect mobile hotspots for these tech giants to invest in.

Whatever may transpire come September 10th, I’m looking forward to Apple’s latest round of products, and will definitely be charting Apple’s inroads into our country continuously.

WWDC 2013: It’s like the old times again

I’m really excited about the imminent keynote to kick-off this year’s Apple Worldwide Developer’s Conference. It’s usually a time when the fruity company announces its latest and greatest – at one time, the next iPhone, but more importantly, its latest addition of OS X, and iOS. Whilst we Apple devout aren’t expecting a new iPad or iPhone announcement this year, Apple designer Jony Ive’s influence on the latest iOS – iOS 7 – is widely expected to make its debut.

However, with so many conflicting reports, and the tight secrecy that’s for once befalling a recent Apple event, today’s keynote is actually anybody’s guess. Which is exactly as it was a few years ago, exactly how I remembered it, and exactly what drew me to religiously following these Apple events.

It seems that in the past few Apple events, perhaps since the ones held around Steve Jobs’ death, Apple’s tightness on secrecy has loosened somewhat. In fact, before the iPhone 5 was announced in October last year, we knew most of its features. The official keynote event just became the formality for a product that was, for the most part, already announced through its copious part leaks.

I guess that’s the beauty of a software-centric event: software can be a lot more tightly controlled, since it’s mainly developed and built in a centralised location, and not much can really be leaked. Sure, we’ve got a very grainy photo of a pre-alpha (i.e. really early build) of what the new iOS will look like. Which doesn’t say much, as it would’ve changed significantly in subsequent builds and internal tests.

But there’s so much Apple can potentially talk about. They’ve been conspicuously silent in quarter 1 this year, whilst their competitors have been very busy: Samsung announced the Galaxy S4, a monster of a mobile device; Microsoft revealed the (lacklustre) Xbox One; even Google held its annual I/O conference and has been making waves with more details on its Project Glass. Whilst Apple mentioned moving to a yearly release cycle for OS X, it revealed nothing at the beginning of this year about 10.9, despite having announced 10.8 in the same timeframe last year, having it ready for the WWDC ’12 developer rush to test. Right now, however, 10.9 is still anyone’s guess, and time will only tell…

Then there’s Mac hardware, something that’s widely expected to debut despite a lack of major part leaks (is Tim Cook finally “doubling-down” on secrecy like he promised almost a year ago?). But pro-level hardware is best targeted at pros, who will be in abundance at the Moscone West centre in San Francisco for the week-long conference. A new Mac Pro is imminent, and might get launched – significant for us consumers and prosumers, since whatever specs the big Mac gets will inevitably set the tone for the next generation of Macintosh hardware.

I will be following the keynote with scrutiny as it unfolds, via the live blogs. You’ll be sure to get my verdict of whatever transpires soon after. This is one Apple event fans can be sure not to miss – there’s just too much drama surrounding it!

A quick roundup of what’s rumoured to be announced:

Most likely:

  • iOS 7: completely redesigned, with a “flatter” and “black and white-heavy” look, headed by design guru Jony Ive, the man who designed Apple’s iPod, iPhone, iPad, MacBooks, and a multitude of their other successes.
  • OS X 10.9: major speculation on what it’ll be called, it its going to be named after a big cat at all.
  • iRadio: an Apple-led streaming music service that’s long been rumoured.
  • New MacBooks: MacBooks with Retina all-round, perhaps?
  • Mac Pro: could the beast of a machine they pass for a computer finally get the major update it deserves…?

Less likely:

  • New versions of iWork and iLife for Mac
  • Logic Pro X
  • Aperture X

Least likely:

  • New iPhone (5S or 6?)
  • Low-cost iPhone
  • iPad 5
  • iPad mini with Retina display

iOS hardware is a big enough market now for it to warrant its own, dedicated event. Historic precedent also indicates that, following iPhone release cycles up to 2012, these devices would be announced in the September-October timeframe along with the final build of iOS 7 perhaps.

The case for an iPhone 6

What sounds better when you’re buying a new car: a “2013 model” or a “2012 S” model? Nomenclature is a powerful thing, and it can extend its control to determining how people buy products. At least, that’s what a former Apple consultant believes, according to an AppleInsider post.

Apple is noted for its simplicity, its clean design philosophy, and, most importantly, the clarity of its product naming. You don’t hear of the “Apple iMac G5600-913” (or something ridiculous like that). It’s simply “iMac”.

When it comes to their flagship product, however, the Cupertino giant has had an interesting take. Yes, the names of the various iPhones are still elegant, and they do denote the revision cycle: single number for a “major release” (e.g. iPhone 4, iPhone 5), and an added “S” (no one knows what it exactly means) for “revisions” – such as the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4S.

However, as with all things tech, the pace of development and competition moves rapidly. Apple’s biggest rival, Samsung, has already announced its next major device: the Galaxy S4. It’s packed with features, and poses a serious threat to iPhone. Now, psychologically, if Apple were to announce an iPhone “5S” this July at WWDC, most would draw the conclusion that the company is finally slowing down on the innovation train. Already, iOS is accused of its dated aesthetic. It hasn’t changed much since 2008; most visuals remain the same. The next iPhone itself isn’t expected to bring a dramatic new design, like its predecessor the iPhone 4 did. But if they were to name it an “iPhone 6”… that would be a major thing. It would denote a major leap up from last year’s 5, and, like the car analogy earlier, it would just “sound” like a newer, more enticing product. Something that would do wonders for Apple’s reputation.

The consultant, Ken Segall, argues that Apple’s naming pattern for the iPhone is sending out a negative message about the product and the company itself. It’s psychologically important for us, living in a consumerist culture, to get the latest and greatest. That’s just a fact. We can’t escape it.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Realistically speaking, and from a plethora of rumours, part leaks and analyst reports, along with obvious precedent, there’s no expectation for Apple to do anything drastic to the next iPhone. That’s expected to happen next year (2014), with the “iPhone 6” – which would follow this year’s expected “iPhone 5S.” What is expected, is a major revision of iOS. Apple’s design guru, Sir Jonathan Ive, is now heading the software design team, and rumours are that he’s already slashing the existing skeuomorphic tendencies and working towards a cleaner, minimal aesthetic.

Whilst its great to speculate and hope for an iPhone called the “iPhone 6” to land this year, we must remeber that Apple’s naming culture hasn’t really hurt iPhone sales:

Despite Segall’s protestations, Apple’s naming conventions don’t appear to be slowing sales of the company’s hit smartphone. Apple CEO Tim Cook has previously noted that each revision of the iPhone, regardless of name, has gone on to sell more than all of its predecessors combined (from the AppleInsider post)

Whether the next iPhone will be the iPhone 6, or the iPhone 5S, one thing’s certain: before the year’s end, the software that powers the smartphone that shook the world, iOS, will certainly look and feel different. And bottom line: that experience, above all, is what counts on an Apple mobile device.