shiny, happy iPhones

I almost didn’t want to write this post. Really, I mean, I rant too much. Especially about Apple. Do I (and every one else) have the patience to write (or in your case, read) yet another rant?

The funny thing is, just the day before yesterday, I was thinking the unthinkable: should I buy a MacBook Air? As loyal readers may recall, I’ll be travelling to New York next week (I really can’t wait), and I will (probably) buy an ultrabook. While I would of course prefer a Windows 8 machine that cozily fits my well established Microsoft device ecosystem, the specs (battery life), and most specially, the design of the MacBook Air, are very appealing. And as I also said in the same text, Windows 8 has started to seriously tire me with its bipolar-ness. It felt kind of exciting and adventurous to think of owning an Apple device with a whole new OS, to learn to use it from scratch, to sit down on my favorite Starbucks (for those of you in São Paulo, in the corner of Alameda Santos and Campinas) and blend in with the hipster, Mac-owning crowd, typing away my serialized novel.

Yet today I can’t help  but feel I don’t want anything to do with Apple. At all. That MacBook Air I craved? It has had the same design for years, suffering only incremental upgrades (and not many of those, actually, as it still lacks a Retina Display). The biggest thing that will happen to it is OS X Mavericks, and even then, it’s just a bunch of mildly helpful amusing features. Windows 8 may be confusing, but at least it’s completely new, and it’s evolving and changing at a rapid pace – the same can’t be said for the Mac family (except the Mac Pro, which I have previously praised for looking like a thing out of a science fiction movie). Yet the reason I suddenly changed my mind and entered this crappy mood was not spontaneous, rather, it was provoked by today’s dull, boring, coma inducing announcement on Apple’s part.

Good (?) things first: iWork, iMovie and iPhoto will be available for free on new iOS devices. Why is this good? Well, for the same reason Office in Windows Phone was good in 2010 (and yes, this is a subtle way to point out that Apple is late to this particular game): it’s always good to be able to rely on your smartphones for emergencies, and for us hard-working professionals, many emergencies arise from work. So, knowing that you’ll be able to open that attachment even when you’re away from your computer (and for no extra fee!) gives you peace and makes you realize what a powerful piece of technology you’re paying for (thus making you feel less guilty about paying so much for a phone). This is good news for all you productivity-focused bees out there, and that is all the good news we got from today’s event – from then on, it goes downhill.

Good news: iWork is now free on iOS. That’s all the good news.

iOS 7 and iTunes Radio both met my disdain in June, and nothing has changed since then. There’s just nothing here that hasn’t been done before (or better, for that matter – I’m looking a t you, flat design and internet radio). No (new) comments on that matter.

Then come the phones – the actual reason for holding the event. Notice I said “phones” because yes, Apple announced two (as expected) of them, and one is “cheap”! Wow, that’s great! No, it’s not. I don’t know where to begin, so let’s use a basic organization system that Amazon frequent shoppers might be familiar with: Price – from low to high.

The iPhone 5C (C as in “cheap” – whether this was Apple’s actual intention I don’t know, but it’s compelling to think so) is Apple’s attempt to put an iPhone in the hands of those who still cling to a 3GS because they can’t afford the newer shinier models. We’ll, I think they’ll keep clinging because the cheapest model costs $99 on contract, or $549 unlocked – the true cheap iPhone is now the 4S, free on contract or $450 unlocked. Yet I’ll admit there’s some bang for the buck here, considering its specs are not as low as, say, some truly cheap Lumia or Android phones. Apple took the iPhone 5, improved some internals and ditched metal for plastic. And in it lays the whole appeal: colors!

The iPhone 5C boils down to two things: color and plastic

In a throwback to lighter, happier times at Apple, the company decided to make a rainbow out of iPhones and is offering the 5C in five happy, kid friendly colors, much as it did with its iPod and MacBook line once. In the smartphone field, it’s Nokia who’s built a reputation on using strong colors (a fact it was quick to point out and which it has used previously to taunt Apple), and Apple seems to have decided it’s a good strategy as well (there must be studies proving that poor people like colors and rich people like only black, gray and white). And… that’s it. Visit the Apple site for the 5C and you’ll find color is the only real novelty (along with some questionably-looking cases – and let me just say this: when a case and a warranty plan are elaborated upon in the Features page of a product, it’s proof you have nothing else to talk about). So yes, the only things new in the iPhone 5C are plastic and color. It is, as Apple so elegantly puts it, “for the colorful”.

The 5S, on the other hand, is “forward thinking”. Which means it has fingerprint sensor, because frankly, that’s all there is to it. Yes, the phone has 64bit architecture, making it really, really, really fast (I believe we’ve crossed a threshold of speed in devices – I mean, wasn’t the iPhone 5 already fast? How fast is fast? The next device anyone makes has to do things before you even think of them to be faster), but the design hasn’t changed (except now you can get a golden iPhone! How cool is that? Ha? Anyone?) and the only other thing Apple talks about is, again, the case. So it all boils down to a flatter, harder Home button that can read your fingerprint, which replaces your phone password. It’s an interesting idea (Itaú, the bank I work for, has already done this in its ATMs and I can attest it makes live so much easier, as you can make payments and withdrawals without having to carry your card around) and certainly safer than facial recognition, which has yet to be proofed against photos and videos of the devices’ owners. It’s cool. Yet to present a phone whose sole real innovation is fingerprint recognition (and I’m not dissing the idea, quite the contrary, I hope it becomes an industry standard) is ludicrous. This is the seventh iteration of the iPhone. We need more than that. The industry is moving towards ever present, ever knowing devices that predict our behavior and adjust to our patterns, that present us with solutions to problems we never knew we had. Fingerprint recognition is great, but it would be so much more awesome if it was one of many new features. I mean, the M7 coprocessor brings possibilities along this lines, but Apple failed to provide a clear, real example of its uses – so, it won’t ask you to join Wi-Fi networks while you’re on the car because it knows you’re driving. Good, what else?

This is the seventh iPhone, and the only real innovation is fingerprint recognition.

Imagine Apple presenting a new iPhone that unlocked with your fingerprints, then stayed on as long as you looked at it, was always listening so it knew when you gave it a command and used Siri to perform it, gave you spontaneous notifications based on the time and your location (and your next appointments) and, when not in use, displayed the time and notification icons on a low-light screen. Yes, all this features exist in other devices (some of them in the iPhone itself) and yet no device has all of them. They sound great because all of these functions would make the phone work around our lifestyle and routine, and not the other way around. Computing has moved past the point of absorbing tasks that were previously accomplished by other devices (pencil, paper, clock, calculator) and now strives to perform new tasks, tasks that previously didn’t exist and make our lives easier, more comfortable, more capable – freeing up space in our routine to dedicate to what matters most to us, be it projects, causes or our loved ones. That’s the way of the future. That’s the sort of thing I expect from Apple. Not cases that are “a significant part of the colorful experience”.