Archive for the ‘iPhone’ Category

The Freakout Cycle

April 4th, 2015 4 comments

Gs6EdgebendIt seems we’ve come full cycle now. A video has been released showing that the Galaxy S6 Edge will bend not only as easily as an iPhone 6 Plus, but more catastrophically so.

Expect this to become a major PR scandal everyone will freak out over in 3… 2… 1… Never….

This comes after Samsung and others mocked Apple for making a phone that bent so easily. Nor was this the only time this kind of thing ever happened; in fact, it seems that every release of a new iPhone nowadays has some major, controversial “flaw.”

With the iPhone 3G, it was that cracks appeared in the back shell. With the 3GS, the phone overheated. With the iPhone 4, there was “Antennagate,” which topped the charts and became such a huge thing that Apple had to hold a special event just to address it. With the 4S and 5, there were issues with the screen and camera displaying yellow and purple, respectively. With the iPhone 5 there was “Mapsgate” (a more deserved embarrassment), while Samsung was mocking Apple for the fact that users would have to get all-new connectors. With the iPhone 5S, there was the “scandal” that the fingerprint sensor could be spoofed. With the 6 Plus, it was “Bendgate.”

Never mind that pretty much every single supposedly catastrophic flaw had been an issue with numerous other phones before or since. Apple was hardly the only phone to have antenna interference issues when held a certain way. Nor is it as if no phone had experienced display issues. Fingerprint sensors have always been vulnerable to someone with enough will and opportunity.

Samsung’s mocking of Apple usually turns out to be ironic, like when they hit Apple for changing connectors for the first time in ten years, and then we found out Samsung had changed theirs about a dozen times in the same time period.

No matter: it’s an iPhone that it’s happening to. So many people focus on how Apple fans go nuts over new releases, but few cover how Apple haters similarly go nuts when they find a flaw they can make a big deal over.

I even noted this phenomenon back in 2010:

The iPhone 4 antenna story is the result of a snowball effect, amplified by a media sector looking for a hot story to sell ads and Apple-hating crowd which live to puncture the inflated hype about Apple products. A few users note the antenna signal dropping when the phone is held a certain way. For a few days, most other people are like, “Really? I hadn’t noticed. Hey, how can I replicate that?” The story gets out, videos are produced, more people try to find the problem, and while most can’t, more than enough can make bars disappear and take more videos of that, causing more people to try it. Meanwhile, the media sees a story it can’t resist making a brouhaha about it. Rinse and repeat.

I think I have the cycle worked out even better now:

  1. Apple releases new iPhone
  2. A few users find a flaw
  3. There is a rush to post videos and images on blogs, as these will draw huge audiences and major ad revenue
  4. Most users don’t notice it and/or can’t reproduce it
  5. Some users, who didn’t notice the issue before, try as hard as they can to reproduce the issues in videos, wanting to get more traffic on their sites
  6. The media goes berserk, people who hate Apple have a field day
  7. Competitors pile on, usually with mocking ads
  8. We find out that other phones have had and/or will have the exact same issue and it was never a thing with them
  9. Apple goes on to sell record numbers of the new phone, despite “fatal” flaw
  10. Everybody forgets there was a thing in the first place, until the next time

Rinse and repeat.

There is a similar phenomenon when it comes to labor in Asia. When the media wants to highlight how American firms use cheap labor in Asian countries, the “go to” story is always Apple in China, and inevitably focuses on Foxconn employees killing themselves in droves. Despite the fact that they, well, weren’t really. And while Apple does exploit the cheap labor markets, they tend to demand better working conditions than most other companies and tend to run more frequent checks than other companies to make sure standards are not being violated.

But it’s Apple, and it’s something whiffing of scandal, and that’s what grabs the headlines. So.

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iPhone Killers!

March 28th, 2015 4 comments

There’s a cute article about 16 smartphones that were ballyhooed as being “iPhone Killers,” listing phones that were destined to dethrone the iPhone and leave Apple behind in the dust. A review of the list brings back some memories, but even more reactions along the lines of, “Why don’t I remember that thing even a bit?” They all tried and failed. But, hey, the article only covers phones between 2008 and 2011.

The list certainly didn’t stop there! In 2012, the Galaxy S3 was an iPhone Killer; CNN believed it was because it “dethroned” the iPhone 4s… as it was being taken off the market a week before the iPhone 5 was released. Then, of course, it got wiped out.

Not to worry! The Galaxy S4 was the “Real iPhone Killer”! And if that wasn’t good enough, the Galaxy S5 was an iPhone Killer too! Well, okay, maybe neither of those killed the iPhone. But wait! In late 2014, the Galaxy Alpha was absolutely going to kill the iPhone! They had their “next” iPhone Killer all lined up! Then they released their “next” iPhone Killer! Which didn’t kill the iPhone! But not to worry, the Galaxy S6, or at least the Galaxy S6 Edge will almost probably certainly maybe be the Real Next iPhone Killer!!! Yeah!

Well, no reason why Samsung should be the only one to release iPhone Killers. Microsoft Windows Phone 8 also killed the iPhone in 2012, along with the Nokia 808 PureView. And remember how Amazon killed the iPhone?

China Wireless’ Coolpad killed the iPhone in 2013, as did the Blackberry Z10 and the Moto X.

2014 was a bumper-crop year for killing the iPhone, with the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact (the “True” iPhone Killer), the Huawei Honor 6 (we all remember that one!), the Xiaomi Mi4 (a household name!), the Nokia Lumina 930 (the “Latest” iPhone Killer!), another Xiaomi (they just can’t stop killing the iPhone!), with Amazon and Sony both waiting to release all-new iPhone Killers!

I could keep going on, but you get the idea. Seriously, Bill O’Reilly should publish a book titled “Killing the iPhone.”

Meanwhile, here in Japan, where people have always just despised the iPhone, the rankings show that the iPhone lost it’s standing as the #5 smartphone to the Xperia Z3. I suppose that it will have to be satisfied with the #1 spot. And the #2, #3, and #4 spots. And #6. And #9. And spots number 14, 15, 16, 19, 23, 30, 32, 33, 46, 49, 54, 60, 61, 65, 66, and 78. What shame! #78! Apple should just stop trying to even sell the 18-month-old 32GB-variant Docomo-sold iPhone 5S! Um… oh, wait. They did. It’s discontinued. And yet, somehow, it’s actually still on the list. Must have been a leftover or two.

The moral of the story: don’t rush to buy stock in any company that is releasing yet another “iPhone Killer.”

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Carrier Nonsense

November 2nd, 2014 3 comments

Usually I get new iPhones as soon as they come out, but my carrier kinda screwed me on that; somehow, over time, they added a few months to my contracts, and I couldn’t get out of it until November 1st. That, and a bunch of other stuff has me good and tired of SoftBank. For example, they offer “points” with your service, but after three years (after which the points expire) I had a grand total of ¥1090 (about $10) after about $5000 worth of bills for myself and Sachi over that time. To add insult to injury, you can’t buy squat with that at their store, which means you can only do so at the online store. And their online store is so convoluted that after 20 minutes, the staff member there couldn’t figure it out either, and started to give me a phone number which I am sure would have inevitably been staffed by a teineigo operator who would use such obscure vocabulary that they would only confuse me more.

I changed to a new carrier, Au, for a couple of different reasons. First, switching carriers means you get a discount in the first two years just for that. Au’s prices in general were already a bit lower than Softbank’s, and that was further sweetened by an additional $15 a month discount (each) because our home Internet connection is with KDDI, which is the same company as Au. Au was also much more accessible and open about the terms; for example, I had never known that the “unlimited” data plans get severely throttled after 5 or 7 GB of use in one month; Softbank’s people never mentioned that over the years, but Au was very upfront about it.

In addition, Au did me a solid on timing. While some orders can take a month, and commonly two weeks to fulfill—a problem with me because I had a short window in which to switch carriers else suffer a $100 penalty—Au happened to have an extra iPhone 6 the color and capacity I wanted, and decided kindly to hang onto it for me for 10 days after I signed up, so I could pick it up immediately as soon as my shackles to Softbank evaporated.

On top of that, KDDI (and, it seems, Au) have English support—if not total, they do try their best, and it’s appreciated.

Long story short, instead of paying about $75 apiece per month to Softbank, our contracts are now for about $55 for each of us. Over two years, that saves a lot of money (almost a thousand dollars over our first two years). We lose about $10 a month on each contract after that, as the switching discount is not renewed and the home-Internet discount is cut to $10 a month instead of $15—but even then it’s still better.

Not to mention I was getting the Worst Sales Rep Ever at Softbank every time I went, who was royally pissing me off. Glad to be rid of them.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2014, iPhone Tags:

iPhone 6 Sales in Japan

September 23rd, 2014 2 comments

When I went to the SoftBank and Au shops last week, I was surprised that there were very few people there, and thought perhaps the iPhone 6 was not doing all that well here… until I learned that most people were just ordering online.

The numbers are out for first week of sales, and so it should not be surprising that the iPhone 6 is in the #1 spot. That is, the 64GB version from SoftBank. The Au 64GB is in the #2 spot, while the DoCoMo 64GB version is at #4—the SoftBank 128GB breaks that up in the #3 spot.

Yep, we have the stupid “let’s break down iPhone sales by carrier and capacity despite doing so for no other phone” strategy so as to keep the iPhone from dominating the #1 spot perpetually. Except it usually captures the #1 spot anyway, and most of the top 10.

So, how many of the top 10 did the iPhone 6 capture? As it turns out, eight of them. The other two spots were taken by the iPhone 5s. Interestingly, the 6 Plus did not make the top ten at all—but it dominated the next ten spots.

In fact, the iPhone 5s, 6, and 6 Plus occupied all top 18 sales spots, followed only by the Kyocera Gratina in the #19 spot, and the Sharp Pantone Waterproof at #20.

After that, the iPhone occupied #22, #24 (both 5s), #27, #28, #32 (those three being all 5c), #34 (5s), #41, #42 (5c), and then we return to the 6 Plus at #48, #50, and #51 (all the 16GB version). More iPhones take up later spots, but I think you get the picture.

Kinda amazing to recall that even after the iPhone was released in Japan, the “common” wisdom was that Japan would reject it… because it lacked emoji and strap holders.

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The iPhone 6 and Carriers in Japan

September 13th, 2014 5 comments

So Sachi and I have been with Softbank since the iPhone first came out in Japan—me because Softbank was the only carrier with the iPhone at that time, and Sachi because she wanted to be on the same carrier as I was. There are good reasons for that: family members get to call each other for free, for example. Also, when we renewed last time, Sachi opted to use my old iPhone 4 (the one I repaired, in fact) for a substantially reduced data fee, something like ¥3000 a month. I believe that was only for family members also.

With the iPhone 6, Apple has upped its prices, however. The low-end iPhone used to go for ¥55,000 ($515), the iPhone 6 will go for about ¥73,000 ($675) in Japan.

So a few days ago, I went to Au, and asked what they could offer. I couldn’t get much information at the time, though, because it was Thursday and they wouldn’t give any info on pricing before the official sign-up period started on Friday at 4:00 p.m. (it had to be timed to start with the U.S. release, which was midnight PST).

Instead, they printed out a sheet showing me what the would offer were I to sign up under the iPhone 5s: ¥5985 ($56) per month with the iPhone discounted to zero—free with the 2-year contract. Then I went to check with Softbank; same thing, they couldn’t give me the new pricing, but they could tell me how much I was paying for my iPhone 5, and it was much higher: around ¥7100 ($66) a month. That’s a $20 difference per month for two contracts, or $480 over two years.

Well, that seemed like a no-brainer. I figured we’d go with Au. I knew we’d have to wait until November, however, since that’s when my Softbank contract runs out (a month after my payments for the iPhone 5 stop).

Then Friday came, and for fun, I thought I would pass by the Au shop on the way home to see how miserably long the lines were.

To my shock, there were no lines. Previously, with almost every other iPhone, there were long lines of people signing up. Not this time. I saw all of two people in the store. Interesting.

I figured I’d go in to get the pricing then. I did, and got a shock: a discount they offered before was now dropped. Monthly pricing: ¥7425 ($70) per month. For the entry 16GB iPhone 6. Softbank was cheaper than that!

OK, I thought. Back to Softbank!

So I went there today to get their new pricing. As it turned out, I had overlooked something: The new entry-level iPhones were free with a 2-year contract… only to people who switched carriers. That was not something that had been in place last time I renewed. Continuing customers pay ¥610 ($5.70) a month, or about $137 over 2 years. That rises to ¥1160 ($10.80) a month, or $260, for the 64GB iPhone 6.

Yikes. That would bring my monthly bill to about ¥7700, or $72 a month, even just for the 16GB model!

OK. Back to Au.

On my way, I thought I would drop by DoCoMo, just to see what they offered. The rep asked me, “Do you want the 2GB monthly data plan, or the 5GB plan?” “Um, how much for the flat rate?” “We don’t offer one!” Buh-bye. (It’s not even halfway through the month, and I have already racked up 5GB; I had no intention of counting packets and pennies all the time.)

When I go back to Au, I am in for a pleasant surprise: not only do I qualify for their ¥0 discount for switching customers, but they neglected to inform me before that I qualified for another discount: I have Au’s Fiber-optic plan for home Internet. This, they tell me, gives me a $14/mo. discount. For the 16GB iPhone 6, that brought me down to ¥5390 ($50). For the 64GB model—which I plan to get—it goes up a similar ¥540 per month, setting the price at ¥5930—about $55 a month. That I can live with.

But I was not through with problems: when you leave a carrier, your number portability is free for only a 1- or 2-month window. After that, you pay a fee of about $100. The problem: iPhones take several weeks between ordering and delivery, and you can only pick up the phone when after the portability window opens.

My Softbank contract only allows me to get off the bus between November 1 and 31. It is impossible to predict how long it will take for an iPhone to be delivered. They say 3-4 weeks, but it might arrive in 2 weeks. Or it could arrive in 6 weeks.

Let’s say I order my iPhone with Au early, on October 1. It arrives October 25. Au allows only 3 days to pick it up, else you lose it and have to re-order. I can’t leave Softbank until November 1, and the handoff has to be immediate. So I lose the phone I ordered, and have to re-order. Only this time, it takes 6 weeks, arriving December 10, and now I have to pay a $100 fee to Softbank to get loose. Argh.

So I have to time my order just right. Find out what delivery expectations are for the iPhone 6, and try to aim for the early middle of November.

Sachi, in the meantime, has a nice 2-month window—but one that started September 1st. So we’ll be going down to Au very soon to order hers, and maybe will wait 3 weeks or so to order mine.

She brought up an interesting point: if you quit your existing contract with your carrier inside the free number-portability window, you can avoid the fee, though you are without cell service until your new phone arrives. That sounds reasonable, though I would not be surprised if the official policy was not reasonable.

Hopefully, I’ll at least be able to get the phone before I leave for the U.S.; that way, I’ll be able to try out the Apple Pay system, and use the new camera for photographing Rica (my Dad’s dog) and other stuff.

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Apple Watch, iPhone: First Impressions

September 10th, 2014 1 comment

I still am a little in the dark; I stayed up until 4 a.m. watching the live stream (or trying to), and just woke up a little while ago. I probably missed a lot about the iPhone 6 because of Apple’s screw-ups with the stream, and won’t know what that was until I have a chance to catch up (not until this evening), but I did get to see the iWatch portion.

I will almost certainly not be getting an Apple Watch—yet. Frankly, I just don’t have a need, but there’s another strong reason: the Apple Watch 2, or more probably, the Apple Watch 3. Apple did a fairly good job with the design, working with the compromises of thickness to deal with things like hardware demands and variety of features, but I am pretty sure that successive watches will be thinner, sleeker, and better-designed—just look at the iPhone.

Not to mention the health sensors—did I miss something, or is the heart rate the only physical sensor on the thing? I read somewhere that other sensors take a longer time to be approved by government agencies; it seems likely that future versions will have more of them.

While the Apple Watch would be nice now, I am fairly confident that in a few generations, it’ll be much nicer. And since the iWatch is something I am more likely to buy only once every 4 or 5 years at most, I am reluctant to jump in so early.

As for the reviews which are panning the physical design… yeah, it would have been cool to see something radically different. A lot of people are moaning about design possibilities without thinking about how it would affect the health sensors, for example. However, I’ll go with functional and still-beautiful.

People kind of forget that with Apple devices, the #1 draw is not the product’s appearance. It’s the user experience. The physical design, while usually striking, is secondary—though very often, it’s a huge secondary feature. This is essentially the iPad all over again: people wanting to find fault with Apple jump all over the design as a major failing, and completely miss the fact that how people feel when using the device will be something unexpectedly good.

And then there’s the pricing: it’s no mistake that they only mentioned the starting price. Knowing Apple, the version of the watch that you want will cost $600 or something.

As for the iPhone… well, my contract with my carrier is up, and carriers here have given no indication or dropping phone subsidies. I’m not sure how carriers in the U.S. are able to do that—if Softbank dropped the subsidy but KDDI’s au kept it, I’d switch in a heartbeat.

With that in mind, as for the iPhone 6 being worth it, I’d say the answer is a definite “yes.” For me, just the camera is a big deal; I have a dog, and the 240fps slow-mo will be irresistible. Transitioning from an iPhone 5 to a 6 will be a very nice jump in processing speed as well.

While the big sizes look nice, I am not so interested in carrying around a huge slab. The 4.7-inch device will be quite sufficient.

The Apple Pay system was not advertised as ready in Japan, and there is no telling how it might work out. If they can arrange for it to work like current NFC systems do, allowing for train passes and fast payment at shops, then great—but I have no idea if those existing systems are exclusive and will require a whole new set of gear to accommodate Apple. But if they can work it into existing systems, that’ll be a pretty big deal for me. Ironically, I’ll probably be using it in America before I can in Japan, as I’m visiting again in December.

And, really, there’s not too much more than that—at least that I know of. The iPhone 6 won’t be revolutionary or something, but it’ll be well worth it to get one.

Categories: iPhone Tags:

iPhone 6

July 12th, 2014 1 comment

There has been an unprecedented amount of leakage concerning Apple’s iPhone 6, due to be released in 3 or so months. It seems all but certain that there will be two versions, both bigger than the current size, with 4.7“ and 5.5” screens. We know the phone will have more rounded edges, and will be around 6.7mm thick.

So what do we not know?

Premium Features

It has been rumored that there may be more than just a difference in screen sizes between the 4.7“ and 5.5” models. You might have to pay extra to get some of the fancy features this time, similar to what happened with the iPhone 5s compared to the 5c:

Sapphire Screen: Apple’s new sapphire glass technology, being produced in large quantity at their new plant, has long been rumored as a replacement for the surprisingly fragile Gorilla glass. (A key difference is scratch resistance, as a scratched screen is much likelier to break.) It is currently used only for the Touch ID sensor in the iPhone 5s home button. Apple has been ramping up production, and it looks like it is setting up to produce much more sapphire than could be used in an iWatch only. However, you may be only able to get it in the 5.5“ model, if certain rumors are to be believed. Not everyone is saying so; competing rumors hold that there will be enough sapphire to go around, allowing for both iPhones and the rumored iWatch to get the goodies.

Optical Image Stabilization: This should be coming also, but again, maybe only to the 5.5” model. Presumably this would allow users to take movies with a lot less hand-held jitter.

Standard Features

Several more features have been rumored, but nothing is set in stone. What should be included, from most likely to least:

Apple’s New A8 Chip: Apple has been designing its own mobile CPUs for a while now, and these chips have very good performance, at least since the A6, with the A7 showing very good numbers. The A8 will hopefully deliver even more power and speed. Th A8 may deliver better power consumption as well, so you should expect slightly improved battery life—unless the bigger screens take a bite out of that.

Better Camera: which might not mean a higher resolution camera. The built-in back-face camera might still have “only” 8 megapixels. However, the autofocus might be faster and better, and the camera app might have more features—the apparent time-lapse feature to match the previously-added slow-motion feature, for example.

NFC Chip: This would be a surprise, because Apple has said that it is not currently on their radar. However, several reports have come out saying that Apple is ready to deploy a mobile payment system, and that the iPhone 6 could be equipped with the ability to tap or swipe your phone over a sensor and then use Touch ID to clear the payment. Presumably, the charge would come out of your iTunes Store credit card account.

While NFC is still relatively underutilized in America, it is pretty widely used in Japan. I know that I would love it if the iPhone 6 could hold my train pass (I currently swipe my wallet), but in all likelihood, train lines will not let Apple carry their monthly passes, instead favoring their own system. The best that I would hope for would be to use the iPhone for straight purchasing of items or individual train fare payments.

Inductive Charging: We’d all like it if this were true, but it’s one of the rumors I’ve heard least about. This would allow you to charge your phone just by placing it on top of a pad. Apple presumably would supply that (at a higher-than-usual cost, natch; these cost from $20 to $25 and up, so expect Apple to start in the $40 to $50 range at least). It would go along with Apple’s new Cloud initiative, updating less through iTunes than from your iCloud account. This would be nice but far from a huge deal, which is why I am doubtful.

Haptic Screens: Haptic screens provide touch feedback by vibrating as your finger runs over the surface. Aside from the battery drain, this just sounds like to much trouble for too little return. It seems like a nice ornament but not much else—and Apple is trying to make these machines smaller, and not add anything instead, especially for a throwaway special effect. But who knows?

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iPhone in Japan

December 4th, 2013 1 comment

This is kind of crazy. After two months, the iPhone still dominates the top 9 rankings in smartphone sales in Japan. Consistently. That’s something like 9 weeks in a row. And not just because DoCoMo is in the picture now, they occupy only the #5 and #9 spots, compared to Softbank’s dominance of the #1, #3, #4, and #6 positions.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2013, iPhone Tags:


September 25th, 2013 3 comments

Splist02As I predicted, BCN’s practice of fragmenting iPhone models to diminish their top-rank standing has, as I predicted, rather spectacularly backfired.

As you can see from the graphic at right, the iPhone now occupies 9 of the top 10 spots (#10 being held by the Galaxy S4). Yep, nine different individual iPhones with a specific model, capacity, and carrier each all sold better by themselves than the Galaxy S4 did altogether.

And note the dates: 9/16 ~ 9/22. Meaning that this is just from the first two or three days of sales. Meaning that next week, with a full week of sales (albeit without the punch of the first-day buying spree), we may see the iPhone garner even more spots on the top list.

After all, the #11 spot went to Kyocera’s Gratina, the #12 spot to the Xperia A, and the #18 spot went to a Panasonic handset. The iPhone claimed all other seven spots in the 11-20 list.

And three spots in the 21-30 list. But I just find it amusing that 16 of the 20 top-selling phones are iPhones.

What I find interesting is that the high-capacity models are gaining top spots, when usually it is the 16 GB models that dominate—a discouraging sign that the prior system of making the new top-quality 16 GB iPhone free with a 2-year contract is no longer in effect—the much-less-appealing 5C has probably taken that place, making those who lust after the 5S pay a monthly fee or even buy outright, meaning that they pay only a little more to get the higher-capacity version.

I have a student in one of my classes who says that she has already ordered the gold iPhone 5S, but may have to wait a month or more before she gets it.

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iPhone Fingerprint ID Uselessly Hacked

September 23rd, 2013 1 comment

A German site is claiming they have successfully defeated Apple’s Touch ID technology with “materials that can be found in almost every household.” OK, let’s see what they require:

  • A clean original print of the finger used to set the Touch ID;
  • Colored powder or superglue
  • Ability to photograph the print cleanly “with 2400 dpi resolution”
  • “A bit of graphical refurbishment”
  • A laser printer
  • A transparency slide
  • Wood glue
  • Glycerine

I think we have superglue in the house, and I have a high-quality digital camera and the graphics software. None of the other stuff, though. I’d have to go buy a laser printer and the transparencies. Other trouble with the list lies in the vagueness. For example, how much is “a bit” of cleaning up the image in a graphics app? From the photo they showed, it looked like a semi-tough job to me, balancing the contrast and then repairing the ridge detail just so. Most people I know couldn’t do that. And they say that you “may” use “glycerene” (I presume they mean glycerine), but did not say that they were successful without its use. Nor did they detail how many attempts were necessary with perfect conditions before they were successful.

But let’s see how this process might work in real life.

The trouble begins right there at the top of the list: a clean print of the correct finger. They assume this will be easy to get, from a glass bottle or doorknob. Getting such a print is not quite as easy as they suggest. Have you ever tried to get a glass or bottle that a stranger used? It’s not as if they are simply laying around everywhere. Unless you live or work with the person, you would have to go to quite a bit of trouble to acquire that. And a doorknob? If you happen to find one the person used, like on a hotel room door, would you really have the time and privacy to use the powder, glue, and photography equipment in order to lift the print?

You could try to use the phone itself, but that’s not entirely easy either. The phone will have to have a full, clean print of the correct finger. Take a look at your phone: you may see some prints, but look carefully, and ask if any of those prints are complete and clear enough (not partial or smudged) to lift a usable print. I checked my iPhone and my wife’s at a random time: neither had anything close to a usable print. My iPad had a lot more prints on it, but all of them were smudged and not complete.

So, if someone is lucky enough to steal your iPhone or find it when lost, what is the likelihood that they will also be able to get your prints? While it may be possible that you leave your iPhone at a bar with a glass or bottle with a clean print of the finger you used that you can pick up and leave without anyone noticing or objecting, the chances are not exactly high. Realistically, the thief would have to follow you around for days to find the opportunity to get your phone and the print, and probably would have to take significant risks in doing so.

Next is the process of getting an image of the print. It is described as being a simple process. If you think it is, then I suggest you try it. Maybe under good lab conditions with a great print specimen with an experienced person doing it—but most people, I am fairly sure, would not have an easy time of it at all without a great deal of practice beforehand. So, again, you need someone really dedicated to the endeavor.

I am further puzzled by the incorrect terminology, as they describe a “2400 dpi” photograph. DPI is a printing measure, not a photography measure. Perhaps they mean 2400 pixels per inch of fingerprint area? It would be more clear if they could express the required detail of the fingerprint in pixel resolution.

Finally, aside from not revealing how many tries were necessary under perfect conditions to get the usable fake print, they introduced a further vagueness: the video shows the same person who established the fingerprint on the iPhone also using the fake print to unlock the phone. Apple’s technology claims to look beneath the outer layer of skin; I am not sure if it would be harder for a different person to also successfully use the fake print, but their video example raises that exact question.

So, let’s review what is actually needed:

  • The ability to steal the phone (not easy in the first place);
  • The ability to acquire a clean fingerprint of the correct finger;
  • The skill to successfully process and photograph the print;
  • The skill to use graphics software to clean up the print;
  • An unclear number of attempts to create a usable fake print;
  • Presumably the ability of a person other than the original user to successfully apply the print;
  • All the materials listed in the first list above.

You begin to get an idea of how the chances for all of this to be applied in a real-life situation are vanishingly slim. Right off the bat, most people who steal a phone have no ability to also obtain a fingerprint, and few thieves have the forensic skills to actually accomplish this process. As stated above, the thief would have to spend a great deal of time and effort, specifically targeting you, just to have a chance at being successful.

And they would have to accomplish this quickly enough so that the phone’s owner does not have the time to notice their phone is missing and wipe the data from it.

Does Apple oversell the technology? Absolutely. If you are a corporate executive or government official with top-secret information which you happen to store on your phone, should you rely completely on Apple’s technology? Of course not, you would be stupid to do that.

But if you are just a normal person trying to keep your personal information safe, then frankly, this is more than secure enough for you. Anyone so dedicated to accomplish the described hack would probably have an easier time just figuring out your online account passwords.

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iPhone Sales in Japan

September 22nd, 2013 Comments off

Wow. In the week before the new iPhones come out (9/9 to 9/15), the iPhone 5 still dominates, taking the #1 and #2 positions (Softbank and Au 16 GB versions), as well as the 7th and 10th spots (32 GB versions).

This is significant because usually sales drop off dramatically in the weeks before a new model is released. In the past, that has been the only time when other models get to surpass the iPhone in sales.

I will be very interested to see the numbers for the next few weeks, in part because of the tracking web site’s method of fragmenting iPhone sales by model, carrier, and capacity, something it does for no other phone, and clearly an attempt to make it appear that other phones are doing better against Apple’s handset.

This fragmenting has already produced eight different iPhone listings (for all three capacities of iPhone 5 plus the iPhone 4S, and two carriers).

However, from now, DoCoMo joined as a third carrier, and there are two new models concurrently released, with five different capacities, and the iPhone 4S. That’s eighteen permutations.

It is entirely possible that, for a few weeks at least, the tracker’s attempt to break up and diminish the appearance of iPhone sales in Japan will actually result in the iPhone inhabiting all ten of the top ten spots, and probably most of the #11 to #20 spots as well. Should be interesting to see!

Categories: iPhone Tags:

New Cell Phone

September 15th, 2013 4 comments

Got a giggle from reading a 10-year-old blog post about how I got a new cell phone.

I wrote about the “feature-rich” phones back then (relative to U.S. phones at least), and mentioned someone taking pictures of a nature spot with them. I can only imagine that they treasure their 144 x 120 pixel memories.

My other note in the post: how it took an expensive cable, hunted-down freeware, and hours of frustration to transfer the address book I had to enter on a PC to the phone. So difficult that I used it just the once.

From memory, I recall that most of the features were cyphers to me (it had three different kinds of “email,” I never figured out what they were), and I almost never used much except just the phone. Then, after a few years, the contacts for charging wore down so much that just recharging the phone was a mixture of enraging frustration and disappointing failure.

What I also recall is that I just wanted one thing, really: the ability to sync my address book with my phone. Just that would have made me a happy camper. And though I was able to, it cost a whole bunch and was so much trouble that I rarely repeated the process.

A little less than five years later, I got my first iPhone. You can guess how that changed things.

When I see people saying stupid crap like “Apple tried to patent the rectangle,” I get pissed off, because it is eminently clear that these people have completely forgotten how absolutely abysmal cell phones used to be before Apple changed the game.

Categories: Gadgets & Toys, iPhone Tags:

The iPhone and Japan

August 13th, 2013 7 comments

A few days before Apple officially announced the first release of the iPhone in Japan, I wrote on whether or not it would be popular here. The popular belief was that the iPhone would flop, because of stiff competition from “advanced” Japanese mobile phones, and because the iPhone lacked features like emoji or a strap loop. Many articles were published stating why the Japanese people would just hate the iPhone.

My prediction, not surprisingly, was that the iPhone would succeed, but would take off slowly in the first year or two. Which is what happened. My take at that time:

[A]s soon as Japanese users–conditioned to simply take the standard Japanese fare without question–begin to see and hear about what the iPhone can do, it will take off.

It might take a year or two, but it will eventually trend that way. I seem to recall that when the iPod was introduced in Japan, people similarly predicted it would have trouble catching on because the Japanese market was already saturated with and dominated by advanced, domestic-produced music players. But today, when I walk around town, I see most people using iPods. The success was not immediate, as I suspect the iPhone’s will not be. But the iPhone should succeed despite the naysayers’ reasons, in just the same way as the iPod did before.

Sure enough, for the first year or two, the iPhone was not easy to spot in public. The best place to see what kind of phone people have is to ride the trains, where most people seem to use them pass the time. In that initial year, I did not see many iPhones in use.

Now, however, it is very different. When I ride the train, I will often look around and take a quick count of phones within view.

Almost invariably, about half the phones in view are iPhones.

Now, that does not mean that iPhones have 50% of the Japanese market; it may just mean that iPhones provide better entertainment on a train. However, it is kind of telling.

Amusingly, a site which tracks the best-selling smartphones in Japan biases its results on iPhone sales. Since the time the iPhone came out in Japan, the site reported sales of iPhones divided by internal flash memory capacity—a measure it uses for no other phone. When carrier Au picked up the iPhone, the site further split the rankings by carrier—again, only for the iPhone. Other phones with multiple carriers and capacities are given a single, consolidated ranking.

The reason is obvious: were they to do otherwise, the iPhone would be the only phone ever to inhabit the #1 spot.

Take today’s rankings, for example. The Xperia A tops the charts, having been released just a few months ago. Sitting at #3 is the Galaxy S4, released in late April.

The iPhone, release almost a year ago, has the #2 slot. And the #4 slot. And #5, and #6. The slots are for the 16GB Softbank iPhone, the 16GB Au iPhone, the 32GB Softbank iPhone, and the 32GB Au iPhone, in that order. The 64GB Softbank iPhone rests at #29, with the 64GB Au version at #31.

This despite the fact that not only is the iPhone 5 much older than the competing models, but it is about to be refreshed in just a month or so—a fact which usually depresses sales rather significantly.

Clearly, if the iPhone were treated like all other phones and ranked as a single device, it would be #1, and it would stay there all the time.

Which is strange, because Japanese people were supposed to hate the iPhone.

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Samsung Galaxy S III and the iPhone 5

October 7th, 2012 2 comments

The Samsung Galaxy S III is currently at the #2 spot in smartphone sales in Japan, with the new iPhone 5 in the #1 spot. Admittedly, the iPhone 5 just came out, while the S III has been out since May.

On the other hand, the iPhone is counted as 6 different phones—once for each carrier (SoftBank and Au), and once for each capacity (16, 32, and 64 GB). That’s why, in addition to holding the #1 spot, the iPhone 5 also holds the #3, #5, #7, #8, and #10 spots as well—6 of the top 10 spots on the best-selling list. The reason this unbalanced reporting is done is to prevent the iPhone from always being #1; ironically, it still gets to the #1 spot, and with new model releases, dominates the whole top ten.

The Galaxy S III, despite having two capacities, is listed as a single phone, thus strengthening the relative position in the ratings compared to the iPhone. That is likely the reason why the Galaxy S III is shown as beating out the old iPhone 4S, which still occupies the #4 and #9 spots, in addition to the #16, #22, #48, and #59 spots. Were the iPhone 4S to be counted as one phone as the Galaxy S II is, it would almost certainly take over the #2 spot from Samsung’s model.

The Galaxy S II, similarly, has multiple carriers, also not divided, thus giving it an advantage against the iPhone 4S, which also is listed as six different models. The S II, however, despite being a newer phone than the iPhone 4S, is languishing at #41 on the list.

This gives me the opportunity to also mention the little war that’s been going on between the two manufacturers, a kind of mini Mac-PC war, with users battling it out.

Overall, the fighting is silly. Choose the phone you like, and enjoy it. That’s what I tell my students when we talk about operating systems; they ask which is better, and after listing the advantages and disadvantages of each system, I conclude by asking them simply, “Which do you like better? Which one feels more comfortable to you? Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the one you are using?” And then I point out that a lot of the determination is subjective, and is simply a matter of preference. The same holds for the cell phones.

What annoys me, however, is when people repeat Samsung’s pithy assertion that “Apple patented the rectangle.” A lot of trolls use it in discussions, and you know you have to ignore these pinheads. Nevertheless, it’s out there and should be addressed. Obviously, phones were already rectangles before the iPhone came out; to suggest that Apple’s innovations were so general and unworthy of note is laughable. Remember what “smartphones” were like before the iPhone? Probably you don’t; it’s easy to forget how hopelessly bad they were. Apple went over virtually every tiny little aspect of their design and function and remade them, most of these changes being significant—or at least significant enough for most cell phone makers to copy or imitate them.

Ironically, it was one of Samsung’s own documents that showed this up—a 126-point slide presentation showing how the iPhone’s design was better than Samsung’s S1, and how Samsung should copy Apple’s design decisions on each of these points. Here’s a representative slide:


Ironically, two of the points express how Samsung should copy the iPhone’s design, while a third notes that an effort should be made to avoid looking like they were copied. In short, copy the elements which make the iPhone stand out, then change the appearance enough so that it doesn’t look too blatant. Copy but don’t look like you’re copying. Little wonder Samsung lost in the U.S. case, and yet telling that it didn’t lose in Korea, not to mention elsewhere.

SamsungadAs a result, when one sees someone holding a cell phone nowadays, one often has to look carefully to determine whether it’s an iPhone or something else. Admittedly, the Galaxy S III is visually different to a greater degree, although I was chagrined and amused to discover that in my initial viewing of the ratings list I had mistaken the S III for another iPhone. Seriously.

Samsung also went on the offensive with an ad showing how much better the Galaxy S III is than the iPhone 5, at right (click for the full-size version). One may note that they used differently colored phones, and keep the iPhone off while the S III is on. I confused the two in the ratings list because both were black and shown activated. I don’t think it was a random choice to show them that way in this ad. It would have looked a lot worse for Samsung had they been side-by-side, both the same color, and both turned on.

The ad made these comparisons:


Samsung actually has some points here, but to a knowledgable observer, it’s clear that they’re not going for actual advantages, but instead are aiming to pad the list.

The screen is one point of difference, but is listed three times. The S III has a 4.8“ AMOLED screen at 1280 x 720, whereas the iPhone 5 has a 4” Retina screen at 1136 x 640. The final point—the resolution—is the only significant difference in most cases. People like big screens, but they also like small profiles. AMOLED gets you better contrasts and deeper blacks with lower power consumption, but Apple’s display has been rated as the best-quality in a broader range of points. And in the end, few will notice the difference in resolution. Advantage goes to the S III in most cases, but not by much.

Another three points are about the battery. The S III has more standby time. However, how many people let their phones remain idle for more than ten days? How many don’t recharge every day or two? Samsung brags about battery life in use; in some tests, the S III’s battery lasted longer, though nowhere near as much as advertised. These running times vary, and the advertised times are based on settings at minimum, which do not reflect real-world use. When the screens are set to maximum brightness and LTE is used, in fact, the iPhone 5 battery actually lasts longer than the S III. In normal use, the battery is more or less a wash. The only significant difference comes with the point Samsung moved to the end of the ad: replaceable batteries. If you find yourself forgetting to charge at night, or are such a heavy user that you run out of battery before you get home, this can be a huge difference (albeit a greater cost), but most people don’t need it. Advantage goes to the S III, but again, not by much.

The Samsung has 2 GB or RAM compared to 1 GB on the iPhone 5. An advantage, but then again, Android uses more RAM, making it more of a wash. Currently, the iPhone 5 runs perfectly well with the 1 GB, making the difference meaningless. However, in a few years, the new OS versions and software will tax that 1 GB. Advantage goes to the S III; by how much depends on the actual RAM requirements of software used. It should be noted that some variants of the S III only have 1 GB, however.

The real advantages of the S III are the removable battery, the ability to use SD storage in a meaningful way, and the larger screen, for those who like that and are willing to put up with the disadvantages involved (increased size and weight, less battery life). NFC is a possible advantage, depending on whether or not you can use it.

Some points are a wash; both do 4G LTE, both record 1080p video. The OS (iOS vs. Android) is a matter of preference.

Other points? Apple wins on weight and dimensions. You might note that Samsung “overlooked” the physical dimensions. The iPhone 5 is notably smaller in all three dimensions: 4.87 x 2.31 x 0.3 inches (123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6mm) for the iPhone 5, and 5.39 x 2.80 x 0.34 inches (137 x 71 x 8.6mm) for the S III. If you give the S III points for screen size, you have to give points to Apple for profile. Advantage goes to Apple, depending on preference.

Samsung’s ad also notes Siri, pitting it against Google’s “S Voice.” According to those who have used both, Siri wins hands-down.

Amusingly, Samsung touts their own “Standard micro-USB plug,” while calling Apple’s connecter “a totally different plug.” After having used it, I must say I love the fact that you can plug it in either way; I used to struggle with directionality a lot, and still do on the iPad. It’s a pain when you’re doing it just as you’re falling asleep, for example; it wakes you up. True, Apple is hogging all the revenue for the new connector, denying cheap copies to be sold for a while. But Samsung’s main charge, that it’s different, is bogus on the fact that Samsung has changed their own connectors more than a dozen times in the past 10 years; this is the first time Apple has change the plug in a decade. I would call this a wash.

After this in their ad, Samsung then proceeds to list 14 different features presumably unmatched by anything Apple has. As noted above, only two are significant: the NFC and the removable battery. Almost all the rest are specific features residing in a category which, if honestly compared with the iPhone, should allow for dozens more Apple features to be mentioned. I mean, really, “Tilt to Zoom”? “Turn Over to Mute”? Many of these are trivial at best.

How about iCloud built in? Shared photo streams? iMessage allowing texting to expand to other devices? Airplay video streaming? Find my iPhone? Apple’s VIP Mail feature, or “Do Not Disturb”? Facetime? These don’t count? Apple’s 700,000 apps don’t count? (OK, maybe 100,000 when you subtract fart apps. Ditto for Android, though.)

Then there’s security. Even with a jailbreak (which cancels out many of Android’s advantages), the iPhone is likely to be more secure.

Then there’s the hardware. Samsung uses plastic; Apple uses metal. I have never liked the cheap plastic feel of so many phones (including when Apple used it), and much prefer the more solid construction. Both use glass, but in drop tests, Apple fared far better than Samsung.

When I have been able to get my hands on an Android phone, I always test the touchscreen. Apple is noted for having the best sensitivity and fine control, and it shows. Relative to using the iPhone, I have trouble using screens of competing phones, and have seen the owners of these phones experiencing the same difficulty.

I have wanted to do a side-by-side with the S III, but ran into another difficulty: I couldn’t find anyone who had one. It made me wonder if it had come out already, but yes—it has been out since May.

And that’s what it really comes down to: preference. And back to: sales. See the ratings list I started this post with. Apple is hands-down the winner in terms of popularity.

One thing that I regularly do when I ride the train is to try to note cell phone use. In Japan, at least half the passengers are using them, or so it seems. When I do a count—how many are using the iPhone versus any other phone—I regularly come out with about the same result: about half the phones I see in use are iPhones. That’s versus every other maker combined.

In a country where the iPhone was supposed to be an abject failure, that’s saying something.

Categories: Gadgets & Toys, iPhone, Technology Tags:

Apple Maps, Ctd.

September 27th, 2012 4 comments

I tried Apple Maps a few times for turn-by-turn directions. Didn’t work out too well.

When I tried it in my car, it suggested a route I knew was not the best one. My car’s GPS makes the same suggestion, and I ignore it as well, taking a faster alternate route on a road which is not numbered and therefore is not as “visible” to the GPS. But once I start taking the better route, the car’s GPS comes on board and projects that going all the way down that route is in fact best. Not Apple’s GPS: it kept insisting that I take side roads back to the initially suggested route, even after it was clear that this would significantly extend the travel time.

Next, I tried the GPS while walking. One problem I ran into was not necessarily Apple’s fault: construction blocked a road crucial to the route. It actually cut off the road completely, which was very rare. I also noted that even after I went completely out of the suggested path, the GPS did not re-route. Worse, every time time turned of the phone and turned it back on again, the maps app had reset, completely losing my route, forcing me to re-input the route every time I pulled out my phone; the only other solution was to leave the phone turned on in my pocket. Later, after I had finished, I tried it again and the route had not reset when I closed and opened the phone—apparently, it only loses the route when you actually are using it to get directions…

I also found a driving bias in the GPS tracking: while taking the train home, the GPS locator tried to track my route along adjacent roads. If the road veered off, the GPS location would follow the road, until it was clear I was not going that way, whereupon the location would snap back to the rail line, only to snap to an adjacent road the moment one presented itself. Clearly, Apple does this to avoid the turn-by-turn directions from showing you driving through city blocks, making up for GPS inaccuracies. When you’re not driving, though, it creates inaccuracies because of this feature.

The more I see the maps, the more I see bogus locations, most notably numerous instances of a single train station in multiple locations. Worse, Tokyo’s city geography is largely centered around rail lines and stations, but Apple’s map app doesn’t show train lines until you zoom in a certain amount, and doesn’t show train stations until you zoom in almost all the way.

Also, why am I not getting 3D building renderings in downtown Tokyo? It seems that feature is not active in Japan; instead of a 3D Buildings icon, I just get a button with the characters “3D,” and all that does is tilt the map a little. Hardly “3D” anything.

Apple has to do a lot of work on this. If they don’t hire a couple thousand people to do the grunt work on getting these things fixed, then they’re idiots. This will only work well for Apple if, by next year this time, most of the errors are fixed and the functionality improves. Right now, with the iPhone 5 playing catch-up with Android features and the Maps actually going pretty far in the other direction, Apple is in danger of losing the reputation for best quality that is chiefly responsible for so many people reflexively buying the device.

Categories: iPhone Tags:

iPhone 5

September 24th, 2012 4 comments

I got the iPhone 5 yesterday. The deal with SoftBank worked out; they had a plan where Sachi could actually keep her data plan at a bit less than half price. It involved her using my old iPhone 4 and canceling her own phone’s contract—which suited her, as her phone’s home button was glitchy anyway. Mine has the repaired screen, but you can’t tell the difference. My new plan costs 1000 yen a month more for the LTE (which I haven’t seen yet, just 3G so far), and allows free tethering from January 15th n

First impressions: the thing actually does seem considerably thinner. Looking at the specs, it’s about 20% thinner, and you really do see that. I imagine they lost a good deal of it getting rid of the back glass. The new backing does come across as stylish, but it is reported that it is very easy to scuff this and have the coloring scraped away. I have no idea how it happened, but I already have a small ding which shows lighter color on the back edge. This will probably show wear & tear real quick. I’ll have to start looking for cases, I suppose. Kinda defeats the purpose of the thin profile though…

As expected, the slightly larger screen is… well, only slightly larger. You don’t even notice it after a few minutes.

The new connector is very small, and I had to stop myself from check which side was up before plugging it in. Definitely a lot easier to plug in; I never liked the larger connector, to be honest, and don’t have any peripherals that require the old cable—I just have a bunch of the older cables, which are still needed for my iPad.

The phone is noticeably faster. As a test, I ran the “Action Movie” app, the J. J. Abrams special-effects app which adds disaster elements to video you take. It usually involves processing which would take some time on my iPhone 4; the 5 just zipped through it. Definitely better, though this is a jump from the 4 to the 5, skipping the 4S.

The camera panorama seems to work fine, though I have not tested it outside yet. There is definitely the possibility for straight lines getting warped, however; I’ll have to practice to see what gets the best results. I also tried the camera in low light—it did an excellent job, and the flash is also much better.

Maps is a wonky as they say. It didn’t take me long to find errors (Two locations for Higashi-Shinjuku Station, one being in a seemingly random location on a small street nowhere close to the station). The app is artfully done, but lacks details that Google Maps has, and no Street View is a marked loss. I am definitely keeping my iPad on iOS 5, and will be using Google Maps on the web as well… I’ll even get the chance for turn-by-turn directions today in my car! Apple has an embryonic technology and it will definitely improve over time—but Apple does have a history of keeping such software “free” of too much development. We’ll see how it matures over time.

Siri is as I though, a relatively useless little toy. I might find some uses for it, but right now, it just does a mediocre job of understanding me. I could not get it to understand “Shiba Inu,” for example. It also is not able to look up things on maps in Japan, a common lack outside of North America.

The new earphone buds are as I thought: not so great. One of my ears is slightly misshapen (dog attack when I was a kid); ironically, that’s the one the ear bud doesn’t keep slipping out of. I have never had a usable set of ear buds, and these are no different.

More as I use it…

Categories: iPhone Tags:

Apple Maps

September 21st, 2012 1 comment

Apple is getting very bad press for its new Maps app, which is understandable due to a transition from an old technology to a new one, and from a mature database to an untested one. It was probably not possible for Apple to transition without glitches like it is now being lambasted for.

The question is, did Apple make a mistake going with its own mapping app? In my opinion: absolutely not. Apple learned that lesson with Microsoft and integral apps like browsers and office suites.

And it showed with maps. When I visited home a year ago, I used Google’s map app on my father’s Android phone, and was frankly startled at how much more advanced it was than the same app in iOS. It instantly became clear: Google was putting all its work into improving the app on their own mobile OS, allowing the iOS version to languish, thus giving iOS and Apple a black eye—and Android a selling point.

Apple would have been stupid to let that continue. And now Google has the gall to release a new, updated maps app to Apple, as if that had not been possible a year ago—upgrading their iOS app only when Apple itself competes. Even if Apple’s map app is a flop, at the very least it will have prompted Google to update their app on iOS (hopefully a decent update this time).

The point is, however, that Google seems to be becoming Microsoft—leveraging their position to screw other people over. So much for “not being evil.”

Categories: iPhone Tags:

SoftBank Slowly Releases Details

September 19th, 2012 2 comments

One detail: they will (finally) allow tethering. Not immediately, but from Jan. 15 of next year. And it’ll cost an extra $6 per month, or thereabouts. And there will be a 7 GB limit. The first two years may be free, but what the “first two years” may mean is open to interpretation—is this only available for new subscribers? It doesn’t look like it, but I would not be very surprised if that was their meaning. In the past, they’ve offered nice stuff only as incentives, like gifts for people coming to SoftBank for the first time, or in exchange for extensions of contracts. You will be able to apply for the two-year fee waiver when the iPhone 5 comes out, so we’ll see.

I’ll also have to figure out what 7GB a month feels like; that’s 233 MB a day on average. That would be something like a couple of Apple Trailer downloads—but if you avoid heavy stuff like that, I imagine you could do just fine with that amount.

Categories: iPhone Tags:

SoftBank and the iPhone 5

September 16th, 2012 1 comment

So, I reserved an iPhone 5, but I may pull back at the last moment. One issue: they are upping the data plan fees for the LTE network, from about 4500 yen a month to about 5500 yen a month. Another issue: they made very clear that the details of the plan are not yet set. Their basic fees, what speed the LTE network will function at, what coverage is like, whether tethering is allowed, etc. I’ll have to decide when they have the phone ready for me.

Despite what the guy said above area coverage not being set, SoftBank does have an interactive map set up.

SoftBank also plans to throttle if your use is too high, but the rep I spoke to would not specify what the trigger would be or what the lowered data rate could be.

I have to say, though, the panoramic feature is beginning to look a lot better to me; I do use the camera quite a bit, and want to get bigger images like the pano feature can give. And despite not desperately needing the map feature, I look forward a lot to playing with it. Not yet clear yet is whether it, or Siri, will function well here in Japan.

Does anyone know if email and text messaging is data-plan-dependent? Sachi doesn’t use data otherwise, and so for her, the data plan probably is an unnecessary expense. Disturbingly, however, the guy at SoftBank said that she can’t quit the data plan even though her contract has expired—she’d have to leave SoftBank entirely. Which to me, makes no sense—they seem to be saying, go to a competitor—which is what she may do! I’ll call up for an English rep on that though, it doesn’t sound right.

Alas, I got one of those obsequious reps who refused to use simple language for clarity, and had zero ability to clarify beyond rather technical language. He spent 15 minutes trying to explain the two different data plans—one that has a flat rate, and one that starts at a lower rate for minimal use but goes higher than the flat rate if you exceed a certain amount of data per month. That would have been dead simple to explain with minimal language, and yet the guy could not bring himself to simplify his vocabulary.

If, for example, I were an English-speaking rep talking to someone with minimal English ability, I could say, “This plan: use no data, or use a lot of data, price is always the same. This plan: use no data, you get this price; use more data you pay more; use this much data or more, you pay this rate.” Simple as pie. The rep I got, however, never left the level of, “With the flat-rate plan, the data usage doesn’t matter, you always maintain the same level of fees…” and so on, you get the picture. He consistently used a level of vocabulary which made it next to impossible for me to understand. I had to puzzle out the meaning by looking at the literature, after which I would explain it in simple Japanese which he should have used, after which he would sigh in relief and confirm, yes, that’s what I have been unable to express in the last five minutes.

Maybe it’s Japan’s homogenous culture leading to lack of experience in dealing with language differences that makes it impossible for people here to simplify their vocabulary, or perhaps the corporate training forbids exiting teineigo, the polite mode of speech. To me, it’s just hard to understand why these people can’t shift gears.

Categories: iPhone Tags:

The Difference Between K1 and K2

September 14th, 2012 Comments off

The iPhone is being criticized for not being mind-blowing; Timothy Lee of Forbes gives the rundown:

It has a faster processor, a bigger and brighter screen, supports LTE networking, and is thinner than its predecessors. It will doubtless prove to be a capable phone and a worthy competitor to the latest Android gear.

Still, judging from the Twitter chatter and early coverage by tech sites, what’s striking about the phone is what’s missing: a compelling story about what makes this phone better than its predecessor or distinguishes it from its competitors.

He then explains why:

Jobs instinctively understood that most customers don’t care about technical specs, they care about what you can do with a device’s raw hardware. Sometimes, if a new product had a particularly impressive technical improvement—as with the Retina Display—he’d come up with a whimsical brand name for the new feature and make that the focus of the presentation. But more often, his presentations would focus on small number of applications or characteristics, like Siri, that weren’t directly tied to any specific hardware upgrade but made the product dramatically more useful for ordinary consumers.

Had he been around, could Jobs have made the iPhone 5 sound more exciting? Maybe. Perhaps a focus on how much faster LTE is, like the old Mac-to-PC side-by-side presentations Jobs did showing a rendering process or something. Maybe Jobs could have made the new mapping technology a centerpiece.

But frankly, I doubt it. One of Apple’s disadvantages is that it is not competing against one company—Google and Android—it is competing against all other companies that make cell phones. It has to beat all of them out, and that’s an enormous task. Not only that, it has to beat all other phones combined. If one Android phone has features A and B, another has B and C, and yet another has C and D, the iPhone has to have A, B, C, D, and E to beat them. Not exactly a fair fight.

The biggest problem, I believe, is that we’re simply running out of features that knock our socks off. I noted this back in 2010 when the iPhone 4 came out:

One other thing that this makes me think of–there’s so much new stuff on this phone, what’s left to add to the next-gen iPhone a year from now? Seriously. It’ll be hard to make it much slimmer; doubtful they’ll up the screen resolution; no more cameras to add, or video functionality; no more wireless stuff to add that I can foresee. The iPhone 4 didn’t up the flash memory, nor did it add colors, so that could change, but those are relatively mundane “upgrades.” So, what could be added next year that could compare with this year? The iPhone 4 will be pretty damned hard to beat, even for Apple.

The 4S added Siri, but it’s not that easy to create iconic new technologies like that. The “S” upgrades are usually speed bumps anyway; the iPhone 5 was supposed to be one of those every-two-years major upgrades.

And that’s probably its biggest flaw: it didn’t live up to expectations. People have come to expect Apple to hit not just home runs, but grand slams every time. The iPhone is already such a good product, it’s progressively harder and harder to do even better.

This came more to light for me when a student in my class a few days ago asked if I was excited about it, and I gave my “Meh” response. but then they asked about switching from Android, and my response was much different. Students have handed me Androids in the past and I have played with them. They feel plastic and cheap. The touchscreen is less responsive. The interface is less intuitive. I know many people prefer Android, but the phones I have seen it on just feel inferior to Apple hardware and software.

From that perspective, it is my impression that the iPhone 5 is mind-blowing. I think you’re simply getting a much better product. However, coming from the heights of the iPhone 4S, it’s, well, also really good. But from that height, there just isn’t as much difference.

Another factor is Apple’s own popularity and how that has translated into leaks. iPhones in the past had some surprise. This one had zero. Nothing was unknown before the announcement. The taller profile and bigger screen had been known for a year or more, and parts leaks gave us a look at the entire exterior and much of the interior for at least a month in advance. We knew it was LTE from software clues. We knew about all the features in iOS6 already, including the panorama photo feature. The only things we did not know were some minor technical features, like the exact number of megapixels in the camera.

As a result, there was nothing that would surprise anyone who was paying attention.

Alas, a lot of this simply comes back to and down to perception. This was put rather cruelly to the test in this video:

Frankly, I hate videos like this. They play on people’s ignorance—which is the point, yes. But you know they edit out the people who either don’t see a change or who can easily spot that it’s not an iPhone 5. Worse, it plays on people’s desire to be on TV—some of the people in the video look like they’ve been asked to audition for an Apple commercial, and some perhaps think that this is exactly what they are doing.

Despite all that, Kimmel’s video has a point to make: people simply expect every new iPhone to be better, so they see it whether it is there or not. Basic human psychology. It doesn’t mean the new iPhone isn’t faster, thinner, lighter, and better—it just means these poor schlubs aren’t really equipped to tell the difference.

Anyways, I will probably go out and get my iPhone 5 pre-ordered today—SoftBank starts taking pre-orders from 4 p.m. For me, it’s not because I’ve gotta have it, it’s more because, well, frankly, it’s free and there’s no downside. If I thought the 5S or whatever will be out next year would be a quantum leap forward, I might wait, but there’s no special reason to think that. SoftBank subsidizes the entire price of the 16GB model in exchange for extending your contract another 2 years, which I would do with or without a new phone anyway, so I pay nothing extra for the hardware. Is essence, there’s no reason not to get a new phone. It would be turning down a free mini-computer, and while the 5 doesn’t blow me away, it is still a very, very nice product.

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