Apple calls its new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus “The Biggest Advancements in iPhone History,” but does reality live up to the hype? “Seldom have so many waited so breathlessly for so little,” tweeted veteran business journalist and Seeking Alpha blogger Dana Blankenhorn (http://www.danablankenhorn.com), commenting on last month’s iPhone rollouts. Atlanta-based Blenkenhorn is bearish on Apple, but he had a point. My own first impression of the new iPhones was: “no surprises.” Mobile payments, iOS 8, an A-8 system on chip (SoC), 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch displays, upgraded cameras, and so forth, had already been baked into Apple-watchers’ expectations by leaks and rumors, with the official word from Apple amounting more to to confirmation of what we were pretty confident we already knew, than it was breaking news.
There’s no question that the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are excellent pieces of equipment, and the best Apple handsets yet, but is that enough — especially to justify the premium price? The same could be said for every generation of iPhone since the original in 2007 a the time they were respectively rolled out. If you want to stay in the iOS ecosystem it has to be enough for now, but not everyone is convinced.
A forum poster to an iPhone blog I write for sometimes made several cringe-worthy criticisms of the latest iPhones, some of which blow uncomfortable breaches in the residual Jobs reality distortion field.
This critic contends that in entering the phablet play, Apple came up with the iPhone 6 Plus, but didn’t even try to innovate on past ideas, instead just lazily taking the iPhone 5s, increased its screen size and added a bit of extra battery power, to create the new and “revolutionary” iPhone 6 Plus.
One has to concede that he has a partway point, although the iPhone 6 is more of a substantial redesign than he’s willing to credit. For instance, the 5s’s glass enclosure has been swapped for anodized aluminum (although that has resulted in the ‘bendgate’ issue), and the A-8 SoC provides a substantial speed bump. Apple claimed in their iPhone 6 presentation that the A8 has twice the number of transistors, and that the iPhone 6 is 25 percent faster than the than the already very lively A7, even though it’s 13 percent smaller and about 50 percent more energy-efficient. However, AnandTech says the iPhone 6 is also said to offer 84x the GPU performance of the iPhone 1, and observes that while last year Apple said the A7 offered 56x the iPhone 1’s performance, we can accurately infer that the A8 must be 1.5 times faster.
The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus with their A8 SoCs, believed to be built with Taiwan Semiconductor’s state of the art 20nm fabrication process, do help maintain and advance the iPhone’s technology advantage of offering 64-bit mobile processors combined with still the only true 64-bit operating system offered across the board by any smartphone maker. But on the other hand, all of Apple’s major smartphone competitors have quad-core processors with clock speeds of 2.3 or 2.5 GHz, while the iPhone 6 soldiers along with dual cores and 1.4 GHz clock speed.
The critic does land a solid punch with his observation that having only 1 GB of RAM is “just sad” compared with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 with its 3 GB of RAM. And he’s also right that there’s nothing really revolutionary or particularly innovative about these new iPhones, unless you count the overdue arrival of a large-screen model. Certainly nothing to justify Apple’s “biggest advancements in iPhone history” hyperbole.
He maintains that adding optical image stabilization to a supposedly flagship device is noting remarkable since it is an elementary feature of all Android flagship phones. Apple also stood pat with camera resolution with only a 8 MP camera while Nokia has made a Lumia phone with more than 5x that amount of MP on a camera. Even BlackBerry’s new Passport phablet has a 13 megapixel shooter as do the Motorola C and the Xiaomi Mi-4; The Samsung Galaxy 5 has a16 MP resolution camera, and the Sony Xperia Z3 20.7 MP. And while pixel resolution is far from being the only significant contributor to image quality, 8 MP is beginning to look pretty pedestrian on a top-tier premium priced smartphone.
The rest of that commenters’s criticisms seemed more like nit-picking, and the “bendgate” issue he also cited has been blown way out of proportion (check out http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/09/consumer-reports-tests-iphone-6-bendgate/index.htm Consumers Reports testing on that matter) but he’s certainly not entirely mistaken with some of his critique.
Seeking Alpha blogger WestEnd511, an anonymous hedge fund manager, http://seekingalpha.com/article/2529315-now-that-the-iphone-6-is-out-time-to-put-down-the-apple-kool-aid?uprof=53&dr=1, contending that the faster SoC, a sharper display that the six didn’t get, longer battery life, and an NFC feature would’ve come within expectations anyway given that they represent a normal progression of the product upgrade cycle. And while much of public attention was focused on the larger 4.7″ and 5.5″ displays, Apple was really a late-comer to that segment of the market that had long since become a trend. So in his estimation there’s virtually nothing in the iPhone 6 release that differentiates Apple from its Android competitors.
The lone exception is Apple Pay, and WestEnd 511 applauds Apple for being the first hardware company to attract all three major credit card companies and major banks to be on its NFC platform, noting that endorsement from the credit card companies and banks is a positive for Apple and potential adoption of Apple hardware, at least in the U.S. Outside of the U.S. maybe not so much.
Apple Pay does appear to be a promising concept, and is reportedly expected to add $billions to Apple’s balance sheet from transaction fees, but it’s not re-invention of the wheel.
As for the handset itself, WestEnd 511 observes that compared with the preceding iPhone 5s, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have the larger displays (as expected) and a slightly faster SoC (1.4GHz vs. 1.3GHz). However, he notes that the display pixel density his the same as the 5s (326ppi for the 6; 401ppi for the 6 Plus) — the latter a necessity given the larger display) and still lower than all of the major competition. Front and back camera resolutions have also stayed the same as they’ve been since the iPhone 4.
And while he acknowledges that Apple users often argue that the iOS ecosystem involves seamlessly transferring data from their mobile devices to their PCs, and vice versa,, even with an Android phone users that simply involves dragging the file into the appropriate folder (frequently DropBox, which this writer uses by preference with my fleet of Apple hardware) which many would contend is simpler than dealing with iCloud
The key question, he maintains, is: “are average consumers willing to pay a premium for the iPhone to experience that user experience of the iOS ecosystem?” He thinks such a premium is unjustified and users will likely switch to the cheaper Android alternatives that offer comparable specs and software experience, and his projected decline of the iOS ecosystem brings the sustainability of Apple Pay into question.
So far, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus sales have been robust, no doubt reflecting a considerable head of pent-up demand for an Apple phablet. The imponderable at this point is whether the pace will be sustainable. It will also be interesting to see how the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus do in China, where they will be released on October 17.
As I observed on intro day, the sixth-generation iPhones are a solid tripple base hit, but fall short of the home run many Apple watchers were hoping for. They will need to dig deeper with the iPhone 7.