iOS 9 to Focus on Stability Over Features: A Marketing Misstep?

9to5Mac, known for stellar sources, reports:

For 2015, iOS 9 is going to include a collection of under-the-hood improvements. Sources tell us that iOS 9 engineers are putting a “huge” focus on fixing bugs, maintaining stability, and boosting performance for the new operating system, rather than solely focusing on delivering major new feature additions. Apple will also continue to make efforts to keep the size of the OS and updates manageable, especially for the many millions of iOS device owners with 16GB devices.

This is welcome news, as a decline in Apple’s software quality, while exaggerated by some members of the media, has become apparent as of late; iOS 8 is unstable, but nowhere near as bad as Android 5.0, for example. It’s refreshing to hear Apple listening to their users’ concerns, especially as some of my ‘non-techy’ friends have been apprehensive to update their phones recently.

However, without a set of tentpole features I imagine that a large proportion of users will ask ‘what’s new’, and Apple won’t have a convincing answer. Many still are ignorant of iOS 8’s extensions and Today widgets, so why should they care about ‘bug fixes’, whatever they are?

OS X Snow Leopard, an under-the-hood update for the Mac, was a huge success for Apple, but this was a time before Macs were ‘mainstream’, they were just breaking out into some schools and colleges at the time. Now there is a more critical and yet more technologically apathetic audience to please, and it will be hard to do that with an stability focussed update.

I feel it could be wise for Apple to release iOS 9 later than usual. They could announce it in September and release it in early 2016. Most people won’t miss it, and then maybe they’ll have the time to add some exciting, ‘mainstream’ tentpole features as well as smoothing out operation. Whatever they do, Apple need to make sure as many users as possible update, and reducing the OTA file size is a promising first step.

Birdman: A Rare Work of Ambitious Cinema That Verges on Perfection

Birdman follows Riggan Thompson, an actor who played an infamous superhero character, as he makes a comeback through a Broadway play. The filmmakers created the illusion of one long-take, in this film with 9 Oscar nominations including Best Picture. It stars Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough and Amy Ryan.

From the little I had read about Birdman before I pressed play—on a night in which I would be starved from sleep, contemplating an incomprehensible amount of metaphors that would give any English student an aneurism—I knew it would be a film I would like. I had heard it was ‘new’, ‘different’ and of course Oscar-nominated. So when the Steadicam started its first swoop around Keaton’s character’s dressing room, I couldn’t help but analyse this film critically. I quickly became conscious that I was spending too much brain power admiring the carefully considered framing of shots instead of taking in the story itself. I was worried I was missing the point. Was the faux-long take was too distracting, I asked myself as I searched for its value; I became one of the critics the film itself so vehemently and ironically denounces.

Soon, however, the cinematography faded into the background as it balanced masterfully on the line between complimentary to the story, and exciting to movie-buffs and the drumming in the soundtrack became as vital to pacing the film as it was musically skilful. And then it became clear what is so great about Birdman—what makes it a marvel of cinema—the mastery of its composition, the performances and the dialogue aren’t garish or unnecessary, but they are immersive, to both you and your subconscious. Even with all that the film does that is new or absurd, it feels mature and wise: It’s an old man in his rocking chair reading you a story from his Kindle.

Birdman is like a dance. A splendid foxtrot where the camera paces around the setting as carefully as the actors recite their lines. When the camera stops, often inches away from the characters’ faces, we catch nuance after nuance in both the writing and the performance. Keaton, Stone and Shiner have completed the work of their lives; in their own ways they are brilliant. The emotion is raw, especially from Stone in her monologues. Keaton’s lead character is impossible not to love and root for despite all his flaws, and Shiner is skilful and ballsy enough to play a villain who is hateful but worryingly easy to empathise with. Galifianakis’ now proven dramatic ability makes me excited for his future work, and Watts’ experience on stage really shows.

The ending of Birdman, which I will resist spoiling in too much detail, is the real accomplishment. The final act brings together the skills of everyone involved while taking daring dramatic choices. The film gives you an ending, a resolution of sort, and won’t leave those who hate cliffhangers unhappy, but there are still a plethora of different interpretations of what really happened to Riggan Thompson. Is this a modern interpretation of the story of Icarus, or just a hilarious satire of Superhero movies? What did the end of the momentous long take mean? Emma Stone’s smile as the looks into the sky in the final shot opens up more questions, but to me, it says that it doesn’t matter what this film is about, whether Riggan has powers or not, what matters is that he has all he needs and wants and he can now move on; it’s really quite sweet.

There were a couple of mishaps in the film’s story, for example, Laura and Lesley’s relationship was underdeveloped and thus pointless. I also felt that the soundtrack, while excellent, relied too much on existing classical music where it could have done its own thing—it was disqualified from the Oscar for best Original Score because of this. In addition, Sam and Mike’s ‘forbidden love’ storyline ruined the notion of a bittersweet ending where Riggan had everything he wanted. He hated Mike, why didn’t he do something about it? These are just too minor to detract from the film’s genius however. They weren’t mistakes, they were intentions. I’m sure, somewhere I can find a convincing explanation to these concerns; Birdman does that, it has answers and convincing solutions for all its puzzling references and metaphors.

There is so much to read about this film, essays and analysis’ that could be for Shakespeare. In itself that doesn’t make it a good film, what does, is that these theories and interpretations only make sense when they consider the way the cinematography, acting and writing interact. The film is so thoughtful, so considered. It plays with your emotions and teases your intellect.

At this point, I’ve seen four of the eight Best Picture nominees. Birdman is the best. By a long way. I enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Theory of Everything intensely, but Birdman is something else. It’s special. I haven’t seen a film this bold and adventurous in a while, let alone one that succeeds on every level. It’s a deep, layered, beautiful character study and an ambitious technical feat. Not everyone will like it because it isn’t ‘normal’, and the trailer ruins some key moments that are best seen as a surprise, but to me, it’s the best film of 2014, if not of this decade.

BT to buy EE for £12.5 billion

The Verge:

British telecoms giant BT has agreed to buy the UK’s largest mobile carrier, EE, in a deal worth $19 billion (£12.5 billion). The deal means BT now has access to EE’s 31 million customers, and the largest 4G customer base of any operator in Europe.

The telecoms giant sold its shares in O2 in 2002, but BT has now come back to the mobile market in a big way. As a result of today’s deal, it wields the largest 4G network in the country to go alongside its broadband, landline, and TV services.

With Three also buying O2, I worry that soon UK consumers won’t have a choice in who their mobile provider is. Let us just hope that Three don’t increase their unrivalled prices, and BT can improve EE’s shambolic customer service and price structure.

Maybe we’ll get an equivalent to T-Mobile US’ ‘Un-carrier’ program.

Notes on Snapchat Discover

Along with a subtle redesign and the controversial but fair removal of the ability to view other people’s best friends, Snapchat have taken a daring step in a direction that we would never have expected from the company a year ago when it wasn’t much more than a sexting app. And when I got the update, I was ecstatic; I had faith and the belief that Snapchat had ‘revolutionised’ bitesize journalism; I thought that they had cemented themselves within the ranks of the major internet social players. I might have been wrong.

The feature itself, the ability for publications to create channels with their own content, visual and textual, makes so much sense. Already, publications, celebrities, companies and YouTube personalities had all created accounts in which they published ‘behind the scenes’ content or supplemented their written work: The Verge did this well. Discover isn’t quite the same, though. It misses key functionality, and doesn’t offer what most users seem to be looking for.

Here’s what is wrong:

It’s too time consuming – The whole point of a ‘snap’, is that it is, well, just that. A snap of someone’s day. A moment. A tease. For example, as incredible as Vice’s video content is, I don’t open Snapchat to watch a 15 minute documentary or read a heartfelt, powerful article on a controversial topic. I want a brief burst of information, something to encourage me to think about a topic, not tell me everything about it. Yahoo News is a channel which also suffers here: I don’t want someone to read a headline to me, or over explain something I could read about later.

No saving or sharing – What you send to your friends is not there to be saved. But a recipe from the Food Network, shouldn’t be viewed just once. My fridge is not a Tesco, and I don’t want to cook a meal at 4pm when I open the app. I honestly don’t understand the point of this channel. By the time I’ve been out, bought the ingredients and waited until dinner time, there’s new content—the old is gone forever. And then how about National Geographic or Vice who I’m sure would benefit greatly from people sharing the content they create, not swiping past it or forgetting about it later; I might want to watch that video of sloths again another time.

It’s scheduled – Snapchat is about spontaneity. Content on a schedule does not fit in with Snapchat as a brand at all. It’s not even useful. I don’t want to have to organise when I’m going to view content, I want to see relevant stuff when it happens. I want to see how long I’ve got left to see that stuff. I want to know when it’s going to disappear. Food Network should give me a cool coffee shop around lunchtime, when news breaks of an event in Israel, show me some relevant Vice articles I can read in my own time, when there’s violence in the UK, show me something from the Daily Mail that blames it on the Muslims! Snapchat Discover, right now, is irrelevant.

Snapchat had so much potential. It still does. But Discover right now is a mismatch of ideas that just don’t work. It’s not social enough, what is being shown is not interesting enough, and it’s not timely. A real missed opportunity. A massive disappointment.


Let Us Admire The Greens For Being Absurd

In a piece titled: “The Greens, chaotic as they are, give a lesson to the main parties”, The Guardian’s Will Hutton puts the rise of the UK’s minor parties into perspective:

The startling rise of the smaller parties’ membership and opinion-polling presence in part reflects people’s instinctive rejection of what in reality is both democratic and economic nonsense – and a hunger for political activity that is grounded in some vision.

Politics is about workability and coherence. But the sudden rise of the Greens is a vivid reminder to our political class. Without heart and great animating goals, even momentous choices appear to collapse into managerialism. Democracy deserves better.

The Green’s economic policy is a shambles, much like Ukip’s or the Monster Raving Loony Party’s. Each of these minor political movements has risen with a vision: for Ukip it was the desire to leave the EU, the SNP’s rise was due to potential Scottish Independence, and the Lib Dem’s surge followed promised reforms in education and the cutting of tuition fees. The vision—the fanciful dream—for prospective Green voters is a fairer society. A vision so broad it is impossible, but one that it is easy to get behind.

We all want to be part of the latest craze, whether it an internet meme or a political organisation. I admire the Greens for being so driven. But with too many of us on one quixotic bandwagon, the parade of politics collapses and the electorate are left more apathetic than ever.

We might be on our way to a rainbow coalition this year. I hope we’re not. The rise of exciting and passionate minor parties has shown that Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are the only ones capable of running the country, even if they aren’t the ideal. But when has anything been ideal?

As much as I like the Greens, I urge you not to waste your vote on them.

Don’t Blame Anyone for the Celebrity Photo Leaks… Yet

Just because there was an iCloud security flaw near to the time nude photos of celebrities leaked last week, it does not mean that Apple are to blame. Even though many of these celebrities likely had weak passwords, there is nothing to confirm that the ‘hack’ is their fault.

Headlines blaming companies and people are frustratingly inaccurate. It may have been iCloud’s fault, but a host of other factors could also be involved, as the Guardian report:

It was initially suggested that Apple’s iCloud service could have been compromised to access the images, but experts have said this was unlikely. Independent security expert Graham Cluley told the Guardian suggested that a hacker could have worked for years to gather information leading to the images, or could have hacked an address book with celebrity emails and then used phishing techniques, where users are tricked into divulging their password by fake emails. “My suspicion is that this isn’t an iCloud security flaw as such,” he said.

Wait for proper investigations to take place before making a judgment. All we need to know now is that this was a terrible exploitation that needs to be prevented somehow in the future. Celebrities are people too.

Super Premium, Incredible Value Earphones: RHA MA750i Review

My poor old Klipsch S4is broke recently. They lasted me a good few years, had set me back £80, and sounded great. As the price suggests, they are mid-range earphones, from a respected company. They were comfortable and lightweight: I was pleased.

But I needed replacements, and after hearing good things about a relatively unknown British brand: RHA, I took the plunge and purchased their highest end earphones1, at only £90. That price, for what were meant to be some of the best earphones you can buy left me sceptical. But I risked it—I had a £60 Apple Back to School voucher anyway. Needless to say, I was so impressed from the moment I saw them, let alone listened to them.

Unlike my old plastic—rather cheap looking S4is—the 750is are made from stainless steel, which are heavy, but luckily have over ear wires that come with multiple benefits such as reducing interference, and holding the weighty earbuds into your ear. The inline remote is also steel and rubber, and the 3mm jack is gold plated, with a steel cover and a spring over the wire to prevent fraying—an all too common problem with cables of this sort. It is hard to not appreciate just how durable these buds are. And they come with a three year warranty too; if that’s not enough to make them worth the cost, what is?

This build quality does bring about a downside, however. I personally prefer in-ear headphones to over-ear ones because they are so portable. The 750is aren’t that portable, and often don’t fit in my pocket. They do come with a leather carry case, however the quality of this was very poor. Not only was the logo printed wonky, but the zip hardly worked and the pouch inside that is meant to fit the headphones didn’t stretch wide enough to fit just one bud. But this is a petty complaint—RHA had to make a compromise somewhere.

Of course, the most important part of any earphones are how they sound. RHA include ten different pairs of rubber and foam tips to assure you get a perfect in-ear seal, and this goes far. It takes some trial and error, but finding the right fit creates some excellent sound isolation.

The actual drivers themselves are what really shine though. I’m no real sound coinnessuer, but these headphones rival the best of the best: I’ve used £250 Bose earbuds that compete. You would not be mistaken if you found that bass was lacking, as it isn’t as punchy as it could be, and there are some vibrations when notes get too deep, but it isn’t bad. I’d rather it be quiet than loud and muffled. The trebles are crisp, with every tap of a tambourine or hit of the hi-hat reproduced perfectly. Vocals are unbelievably smooth, along with all the other mids. They are so clear and warm and an absolute pleasure to listen to. I found alternative and rock are the genres where this really shines, as live instruments and autotune-less singers encapsulate everything these immersive buds do well.

Just to remind you, you’re paying £90. You can save £10 and ditch the iPod friendly remote too.

I cannot recommend these earphones enough. RHA are making a name for themselves as producing high quality, durable products, made and designed with care. A pleasure to use and own. Splash out and ditch those Apple EarPods. Or save some money, ignore the bigger, more expensive brands, and go for these. They are so worth it.

Show 1 footnote

  1. Shortly after writing, I found the company will shortly launch a new top-end model, the T10i, so I purchased their second most ‘premium’.

iWatch To Reach $400, But With Cheaper Options

Re/code’s sources prevail once again, this time revealing some information on the price of Apple’s upcoming wearable:

Apple executives have discussed charging around $400 for the company’s new wearable device.

Pricing has yet to be finalized for the forthcoming product, which is expected to begin shipping next year. Sources say consumers should expect a range of prices for different models including lower priced versions.

$400 is an excellent price point for affordable luxury. It comes well below what you can pay for a premium watch, but well above what the competitors are currently producing, suggesting it will be a ‘no compromise’ device. The iPhone was also somewhat expensive when first released.1

Cheaper options will be necessary if the iWatch is to be competitive, but as Apple may be reinventing a product category here, they need one model to highlight what the company are capable of—they shouldn’t worry about price when doing this.


Show 1 footnote

  1. The 4GB model cost $499, the 8GB option totalling $599. This was above the competition, but the device was unrivalled in design and features.

The Apple PR Team Is Far More Complex Than We Think

Apple’s PR team is going under change, and 9to5Mac present an extensive look at that small group of employees and their relationship with the media. It is a fascinating read, that you must take a look at, even if it does mean that 9to5Mac’s poor relationship with Apple will not change. A few picks from the piece are below:

Unsurprisingly, Press Events are planned in much detail, rehearsed, and done so with constant contact with media outlets. They need to manage expectations as best they can:

The process starts weeks before keynote addresses. Apple’s PR/Communications and Marketing teams keep an eye on media reports to determine expectations, leaking information to temper expectations that won’t be matched by the announcements. Executives typically practice for two weeks in Apple’s Infinite Loop auditorium, and senior PR members prepare special white booklets to be handed out to the rest of the Communications group during a lengthy meeting, held about one week prior to the main event.

Apple will often feed news outlets stories to twist what another organisation may have said. Pitching publications against each other seems like a nasty and manipulative strategy, which is almost disrespectful to journalists. On one of many strategies:

Another cornerstone tactic of Apple PR was playing publications against each other, according to Brian Lam, founder of The Wirecutter and former head of Gizmodo. When print magazines dominated, Jobs could get either Newsweek or TIME to promote Apple on the front cover by making them compete against each other for an exclusive. Lam explained that “you can’t convince them to give you a cover, but you can convince them to take a cover from a competitor.” As technology blogs became more important, Jobs played rivals Gizmodo and Engadget against each other, publicly complimenting the freewheeling Gizmodo‘s work in front of the more serious Engadget‘s then-editor Ryan Block.

There is a excellent account on PR “tyrant” Katie Cotton’s departure from Apple. It highlights the changes that Tim Cook wanted to happen to Apple following Steve’s death:

When Tim Cook officially took the reins at Apple in late 2011, “he started informing the PR group that Apple needs to become a friendlier company,” both internally and in the public’s eye. The message was clear, but it was unclear whether Cotton would be able to meet that expectation. As an Apple employee said, “is Tim going to [still] want Katie, an attack dog with Steve’s DNA” at the helm of the company’s image? Cook opened Apple up to the Fair Labor Association, began to match employee charitable contributions, and gradually made not only himself but also other top executives available for magazine interviews. Change was afoot at Apple, and Cook wasn’t playing by all of the established rules.

Read more

iWatch to Ship After Christmas, But That’s Good

Re/code report, in regard to the upcoming Apple wearable:

It’s going to be a while before anyone is actually wearing it. Sources in position to know tell me it won’t arrive at market for a few months. “It’s not shipping anytime soon,” said one. So when does Apple plan to ship its eagerly anticipated wearable? That’s not clear, but my understanding is that we’re unlikely to see it at retail until after the holiday season — think early 2015.

This is really good for Apple PR and marketing. Apple’s announcements are most exciting when a product is truly secret, such as the iPhone, iPad or Mac Pro. Leaks usually occur from the production line, so announcing a product before it even reaches that point means that the details remain under tight guard.

Of course, this can only happen when Apple announce a new product category, or any device that will not cannibalise one of Apple’s existing markets. The iWatch fits into this category, so I expect a genuinely riveting event on September 9th.