It’s almost Christmas in September. Although Apple has yet to confirm it, informed speculation suggests Apple will be announcing the next generation of iPhones on 9 September US time.
If that’s true, and Apple adheres to timeframes from previous years, we’ll get iOS 8 on 17 September. There’s plenty of great new material in iOS 8, and based on pre-orders of my book “iOS 8 Without the Eye”, huge anticipation of the release of Apple’s next operating system.
iOS 8 is going to be a free upgrade, but of course you’ll have to part with a bit of dosh if you want the latest Apple hardware.
So with apparently less than a month to go until the next iPhones, I thought it would be interesting to ask our tech-savvy readers what would have to be in the next iPhones to cause you to whip out the credit card.
A Sound Idea
I’m delighted overall with the iPhone 5s. It’s a great device for productivity and leisure tasks. But the thing that has disappointed me most about it is its speaker.
In fact the speaker is the only area where I feel there was actually a downgrade between the 4S I had and the 5s I now own. It exhibits a kind of distortion. Often it’s evident with VoiceOver speech, but it’s particularly noticeable with the VoiceOver bonk sound you hear when you flick to the top or bottom of the screen.
So much Apple hardware has amazing audio for its size, that I’m hoping the 5s sound was a rare slip up. With larger devices reportedly on the horizon, there may even be room for stereo speakers, although the purported thinness of the devices will pose challenges – challenges I’m sure Apple is capable of meeting.
Crank Up the Wi-Fi!
I’ve never celebrated such a thing before, but presently, they’re digging up our neighbourhood. Fibre is being installed, which will ultimately offer gigabit speeds and initially give us 100 megabits down and up.
Already, I’m considering ways of getting Cat6 cable installed to key areas of Mosen Towers, such as the living room so we can have blazing speeds for downloading movies. But Wi-Fi is going to be the real bottleneck. It’ll be a shame to have such fast speeds available, while the iDevices are constrained by the maximum throughput of 802.11N.
New Macs have come equipped with the next generation of wireless technology, 802.11AC, for a couple of years now. I was disappointed when the 5s didn’t also offer this technology. Now that the standard has settled down and equipment is becoming commonplace, hopefully this year is the year we see it arrive on the iPhone.
Does Size Matter?
At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I was pretty happy with the size of my iPhone 4 and 4S. While some blind people say they enjoy the extra row of icons on the Home Screen found in newer iPhone models, I could have survived without that. I have Siri, handwriting, and Spotlight Search to get to any app quickly, no matter which page of the Home Screen it’s on. I like a phone that can fit easily in my shirt pocket.
Going from a 4S to a 5s was a size expansion, and now those who upgrade to the next generation of iPhones, we presume they’ll be called the iPhone 6 although I guess there’s some chance they’ll be known as the iPhone Air, will be sporting even larger devices. If all the rumours are to be believed, we’ll be able to choose from two iPhone models – one with an 11.9 CM (4.7 inch) screen, and the other falling into the “phablet” category at 13.9 CM (5.5 inches). To give you some perspective, the current iPhones have a 4 inch screen. So whichever model you get, it’s going to be bigger, although it’s conceivable that design changes to the form factor will result in the size of the new smaller device being not much bigger overall.
While I like my little iPhones, consumer choice is about trade-offs. Size matters a lot to me when it comes to the size of the battery. A larger device means there’s room for a bigger battery, and indeed there is speculation that the larger of the two new iPhones will pack a considerably bigger punch in this regard. That’s pretty compelling. If you have VoiceOver chatting away, and you’re out and about for a few hours with some navigation apps running, it’s not difficult to get to a point where you’re reaching for an external battery pack to give your device a little extra juice.
The fact that Apple makes the hardware and the software means it can do a lot behind the scenes to optimise energy consumption. But it’s not unreasonable to surmise that with new iOS 8 features such as Handoff, the device will be doing more potentially battery-draining things behind the scenes than ever. So the more battery capacity, the better.
A recent survey resoundingly told smartphone manufacturers that customers would happily forego more bells and whistles in exchange for truly decent battery life. And battery life of the current Apple devices is a weak spot, if Samsung’s recent ads are to be believed.
Yet another area where size does matter to me is storage capacity. Following the release of a 128 GB iPad, I was hopeful the 5s would also ship in a 128 GB flavour. Again it’s only a rumour, but there are suggestions Apple is going to offer a 128 GB version this year. Some are suggesting it will only be an option in the larger model, adding another point of differentiation. If that’s what they do, it’s going to make the choice pretty complex.
It’s true that my need for local storage on the device isn’t as clear-cut as it once was. Services like iTunes Match and Spotify, plus the nifty iOS apps available for many network attached storage devices, mean that you can have terabytes of music on the go via the cloud. But such options consume data, and they’re not viable if you do a lot of flying where Wi-Fi isn’t available.
If you read a lot of audio books, they can also consume plenty of storage. So I would give a 128 GB iPhone some serious consideration.
The lack of NFC in the iPhone long ago got embarrassing and ridiculous. Many low-cost Android devices have had it for years. Every time I raise the topic of NFC, and it’s usually at about this time every year, a number of my American readers tell me how unimportant it is. If that’s the reality in the US market, I respect that, but America’s mobile market has always been different from much of the rest of the developed world. By the time text messaging took off in the US, it had been an every-day communications tool in other markets for years. Smartphone adoption in the USA was way behind other markets prior to the introduction of iOS and Android.
NFC is a big deal in Asia and the Pacific. I don’t know how it’s going in Europe, but perhaps some of my readers from that part of the world can tell us. What I do know is that Android users are using NFC here to pay effortlessly for public transport, purchase a range of items without the need to carry a credit card, and more.
It was suggested by some commentators that iBeacons would rival NFC. iBeacons are an excellent technological contribution, but if Apple intend really getting into the e-Commerce space, it’s going to have to jump on the NFC bandwagon. NFC has too much of a foothold now.
I’ve read numerous stories saying those who’ve seen iPhone 6 schematics are sure there’s an NFC chip on the board. I’ve heard that before, and before, and before. I’ll believe it when it happens. Fingers crossed, we got third-party keyboards in iOS 8, and I thought that was a pipe dream.
While some of us may be indifferent to the rumoured increased size of the new iPhone models, there’s an interesting rumour that there’ll be one new characteristic of the touch screen we may find of particular interest.
According to some news reports, the new iPhone may offer haptic feedback that could be localised to certain parts of the touch screen. A number of Android devices have offered a feature where the phone vibrates a little when you touch the virtual keyboard. But it sounds like what’s being described, and keep in mind that things may have been lost in the translation from the original Chinese story, is a much more localised experience. If that’s correct, when you press a key on the virtual keyboard, it really may feel like you’re pressing a physical key.
It’s not something that would have me queueing outside a store for hours, but it’s an intriguing little rumoured feature.
I want this, and have missed it since I moved away from the Nokia platform. My son the Android-head has this on his phone. My daughter who got given a Windows Phone has it on hers. My phone’s worth a lot more than either of their devices and I don’t have this easily-implemented feature.
If you think I’m being totally, ridiculously retro about this, hear me out. New Zealand is a natural paradise, but there are dangers in that. Just as we have many places to play, so sometimes mother nature plays with us. The country has frequent, mostly minor earthquakes, but as many of you will be aware, there were a series of very serious quakes in 2010 and 2011. We also have a bunch of volcanos, and to paraphrase Monty Python, they’re not dead, they’re just resting.
Last year, I went through a truly frightening experience. I was out shopping with my daughter, when the ground began to shake very violently. We were on the street, and had to try and avoid being hit by falling debris, and try to make sure we weren’t in the path of swinging street lights that were swaying precariously. I’ve been in many quakes while inside, but being in one outdoors in a crowded built-up area is something I hope never to have to go through again.
What do people do when something like that happens? They instinctively pull out their phones and start calling and texting loved ones. Cellular networks aren’t geared for such a massive, sudden spike in traffic, and many calls don’t make it through. It’s also possible that in a natural disaster like an earthquake, cellular networks may suffer damage.
I don’t make a habit of carrying a portable radio on my person in case of a natural disaster, but I do have my phone. In those sorts of situations, streaming a local radio station is impractical. The network will be congested, and streaming is a battery drain. An FM radio would give me access to emergency information with minimal battery drain and without having to access the cellular network.
A Small Accessibility Tweak
I’ve trained a lot of blind people on the use of the iPhone during the last year and a bit, and one of the things that causes trouble for many people is the very first important step – powering on the device. A lot of phones vibrate when you hold the power button down for just the right amount of time, and I’m surprised that a company with such a fantastic accessibility track record doesn’t address this. I find a lot of new iPhone users either don’t hold the power button down for long enough, or they hold it down for too long. A small vibration at the point of powering on would be so useful.
No doubt the new iPhones will be faster, perhaps sporting more RAM, although I must say I am very pleased with the performance of the 5s with the betas of iOS 8 at this point.
There seems to be a pattern where in even-numbered years, Apple comes out with a brand new look for their devices, and wows people with that. In odd-numbered years, we get the “S” version. Essentially, the phone is in the same case, but with attractive new hardware and software features. Look at Siri with the iPhone 4S, and Touch ID and a 64-bit processor in the 5s.
The market is more competitive than ever, so I think this year, the changes need to be more than aesthetic.
NFC would be enough to persuade me. Other than that, I may well sit it out for another year.
But who knows. All we have at present is a very busy rumour mill. Some of the rumours are likely to be correct, others not. I hope, despite all the leaks, Apple has something up its sleeve that will surprise us all.
So what’s on your wish list? Feel free to share it in the comments.