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iPhone updates

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No significant iPhone news for a few days, so I’m stopping the “Your Subject Here” subject – if I’d known there’d be so many updates on that; I’d really have put in a non-joke phrase, so the Googlebots would have an easier time. Sorry about that.

A few interesting updates have com up in the meantime, however. For instance, a preliminary bill of materials estimate by iSupply details expected manufacturing costs of $245.83 and $280.83 for the 4GB and 8GB iPhones. I have a little experience in embedded design and the hardware numbers look reasonable to me; no idea how they arrived at the software costs. $7 for OS X is a weird figure, probably calculated by analogy with Windows CE OEM pricing, which would be totally inapplicable to an Apple product. Is the iPhone expected to pay for the total OS X development costs? In any event, these figures imply a gross margin of roughly 50%, very good even for an Apple product; average margin for their last quarter was 31.2%.

This report and some other articles have confused me even more about the “Cingular subsidies”. Are we really to believe, as one Cingular VP said, that Steve Jobs humbly agreed to all their usual business practices and “bent a lot” to get their contract? The iPhone judo theory is a little more convincing. Anyway, some people are saying that in June Cingular will subsidize perhaps $150 off the iPhone’s prices, making them retail for $350 or $450 net; others are saying that the subsidy is already built-in and the “unlocked” prices would be $800 to $1000. Or perhaps those prices are the real prices and Cingular will be neither subsidizing nor penalizing iPhone users, being content to charge just for their service and basking in the “halo effect” of being next to the Apple radiance…

Meanwhile UI guru Bruce Tognazzini has posted a long article about his impressions of the iPhone. Worth a read, but here are some nice quotes:

The origins of these bits and pieces, however, is not what’s important about the iPhone. What’s important is that, for the first time, so many great ideas and processes have been assembled in one device, iterated until they squeak, and made accessible to normal human beings. That’s the genius of Steve Jobs; that’s the genius of Apple…

…I have yet to get my hands on an iPhone?frustrating! (You can imagine Bill Gates’s frustration. He probably has a cadre of engineers ready to take it apart, put it back together with a couple of screws missing, and paint it brown.)…

…email echoes the voicemail interface. It is clean and simple. What is startling is the apparent hard separation of email, SMS, and voicemail. What I would want is a single list, defaulting to the newest and unread/unheard first. I don’t care about the medium, and neither should iPhone.

Of all the iPhone features, this is the one that seems to have completely missed the target. It would be like Blackberry having three lists: One for mail with more than 100 characters, one for mail with fewer than 100 characters, and one for mail sent from more than 3000 miles away.

That last suggestion is marvelous, at least as an option for less technical users; Apple should really try to do this.

Meanwhile, we’re back to business-as-usual, it seems. Apple posted absolute record numbers for the last quarter and the stock went down afterwards, it’s 10% off the peak of some days ago as I write this… with no justification except some vague complaints about Apple’s conservative guidance for the next quarters. Analysts just aren’t getting used to conservative guidance followed by better numbers, it seems. Some others complain about lesser growth in Mac sales, but given that Adobe’s software suite isn’t out yet, the posted figures look quite good to me.

John Gruber and several others are coming to agree with me about the general philosophy of OS X as a generic OS family for Apple devices. Good.

Finally, I’ve often commented on the excessive price of Apple products in Brazil, but for the first time this has been reported by international sites:

…the survey prices the 2GB nano in US dollars and found that Brazilians pay the most for an iPod, shelling out $327.71, well above second-place India at $222.27.

Canada was the cheapest place to buy a nano, at $144.20…

pervas wrote:

What about this?

Scott Stevenson has a great post about iPhone development and one of the comments points at Tom LaPorta‘s page. He has collaborated on many papers about cellular networks and has detailed how a SMS-based attack on the network might be achieved. I haven’t had time to check out details, though.

Greg Joswiak answers some questions about OS X. In particular, it’s “optimized but full” and uses “considerably less” than half a gigabyte of the built-in flash memory – not incompatible with my previous guess of between 64 and 256MB.

“Optimized but full” probably means that most of what makes Mac OS X be, uhm, “OS X” is present – like the keynote slide, it means Cocoa, multitasking graphic GUI, animation, etc. Since most of Cocoa runs atop Carbon and BSD APIs these must be present also. However, Darwin/XNU and the whole IOKit are a little hefty for an embedded environment and no doubt a new, much smaller kernel and driver model were slid underneath. Direct Mach calls are certainly still used in some places but no doubt were recoded or faked out with a compatibility shim. And the BSD subsystem/command line tools will certainly be absent.

The Apple-hating crowd seems to be out in full array. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much people calling “liar” or “bullshit” on almost every sentence of the keynote, or of often barely literate commenters saying such-and-such decision or feature are “brain-dead”; at least not since the iPod launch. It’s certainly easy to tell in retrospect where Apple or Jobs have been wrong – sometimes even egregiously so – in past years, but calling this in advance is a little foolhardy. Especially in light of the ROI for recent investors.

I just found an interesting post over at the ever-interesting Language Log:

…But it’s important to note that these people are not lying, exactly. They simply don’t care one way or another about what the facts are, and this shifts their work out of the category of lies and into the category for which Harry Frankfurt has suggested the technical term bullshit:

What bullshit essentially misrepresents is neither the state of affairs to which it refers nor the beliefs of the speaker concerning that state of affairs. Those are what lies misrepresent, by virtue of being false. Since bullshit need not be false, it differs from lies in its misrepresentational intent. The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.

So, while I don’t think Steve Jobs is lying about anything regarding the new products or Apple’s plans, he certainly is “deceiving about… his enterprise” in several places. And rightly so, as the competition’s watching and analyzing every word too. While as a developer I’m certainly miffed about all the secrecy, as a stockholder I approve.

Speaking of stock, here’s a nice quote from Jerry Pournelle:

If ever there were an indication that America has gone greedily insane and needs ways to curb the rapacious Trial Lawyers, the story of minority stockholder suits against Apple charging that in 1997 Steve Jobs manipulated options dates in order to keep key executives from bailing out has got to be it. The minority stockholders cleaned up because Jobs pretty well single-handedly saved the company; had he not done so, the stock would have become worthless. So in return for this, the stockholders let some contingency fee lawyers talk them into fronting for these suits. Any sane judge would throw all those out on the grounds of standing: “You weren’t damaged, so how can you sue for damages?”

pervas wrote:

Rainer Brockerhoff wrote:

(…)Makes sense, unfortunately. Still, I get the impression that selected applications may apply for inclusion providing Apple can verify them thoroughly. Hm.

Ahem!

What about this?

This quotes the same story I linked to in my original post, but then basically says there’s no technical foundation to Jobs’ claims about the vulnerability of the phone network.

I’m can’t claim to be well-informed about the internal workings of the cellphone network. But I seem to remember reading that there are safeguard requirements for the 911 system at the very least. And even supposing that the Ars writer is right… most phones require certified apps. I’ve browsed a few developer pages for other phones and they emphasize that (for instance) Java’s ability to restrict access to some APIs is fundamental.

I think that’s about all one speculate before the device is actually out.

Posted by pervas:

Rainer Brockerhoff wrote:

(…)Makes sense, unfortunately. Still, I get the impression that selected applications may apply for inclusion providing Apple can verify them thoroughly. Hm.

Ahem!

What about this?

Helvécio

I’ve finally had time to look up Apple’s patent on embedding a camera inside a screen. Here’s the brief at New Scientist and here’s the original patent. Looks very interesting. For the current iPhone and screen technology it’s of course still in the labs; as you would usually have one camera sensor pixel for every screen pixel, or some submultiple even, to get iSight resolution (640×480; VGA) the screen would have to be double the size (or double the pixel density). But I don’t doubt this is coming in some future version of the device, and certainly it may make its debut in one of the laptops, where there would be only one sensor for every 4 or 6 screen pixels.

VGA is good enough for videoconferencing, but it’s barely 0.3MP when used as a camera. So it would still make sense to have the camera/screen facing the user and a higher-resolution camera on the back of the device. Two hi-res cameras, one on each side? Expensive. Moving cameras, twistable prism/mirror, zoom lens? Expensive and it would need moving parts… the iPhone is certainly a further design move towards having no moving parts at all, not even buttons if possible.

Speaking of moving parts, I’ve been told that practically everywhere it’s mandated that a phone’s SIM card be user-removable. I’ve checked the keynote and at the 39:20 mark Steve Jobs, discussing the top of the iPhone, says that there’s a “tray for the SIM card”. However, no opening, slot or door is visible. Sure, that might have been left out of the few prototypes – some reports say there are only a handful in existence. And the seam on the back of the device, between the black part and the metal, looks unusually wide; perhaps the phone slides apart there. If so, having a removable battery there would incur little extra cost, incidentally removing one of the objections that have been voiced.

In any event, much may change in the 5 months before the final model is in the stores, so I’d say both the doomsayers and the fanatics need to take a step back and relax for now.

Personally, I’m much more interested in the implications of “OS X” and the iPhone UI for Leopard. The zoom in/out gestures can now be seen as an evolution of the recently introduced control/scroll wheel zooming feature in Tiger. Couple that with higher pixel densitie, a fully resolution-independent interface and a larger trackpad on laptops (and perhaps a trackpad-like area on desktop keyboards or desktop mice?), and you’ll have easy zooming built into all versions of OS X/Leopard.

Still on the OS X topic, several people are swearing that the TV also runs OS X. While I’ve been unable to find any mention of this in either the keynote or Apple’s site, it would make sense. Unfortunately at the Apple booth at Macworld, people weren’t allowed to look at the configuration screen.

Messages from the future: iPhone unboxed. Also, from an idea of Peter Hirshberg‘s, Doc Searls wrote a news report from MacWorld 2008:

Apple introduces one-button iPhone Shuffle

The vast and adoring audience at Steve Jobs’ annual Macworld performance heaved a sigh of relief when the Apple CEO announced the radically minimal new iPhone Shuffle. The company’s first sub-$100 iPhone extends the iPhone line both a downprice and a downscale direction, beyond the $200 candy-bar-sized iPhone Nano, introduced last September.

When pressed, the iPhone Shuffle dials a random number from its phone book.

“Our research showed that people don’t care who they call as much as they care about being on the phone,” said Jobs. “We also found that most cell phone users hate routine, and prefer to be surprised. That’s just as true for people answering calls as it is for people making them. It’s much more liberating, and far more social, to call people at random than it is to call them deliberately.”

Hilarious.

Jobs said in an interview that the iPhone is currently a closed system:

“You don’t want your phone to be an open platform,” meaning that anyone can write applications for it and potentially gum up the provider’s network, says Jobs. “You need it to work when you need it to work. Cingular doesn’t want to see their West Coast network go down because some application messed up.”

Makes sense, unfortunately. Still, I get the impression that selected applications may apply for inclusion providing Apple can verify them thoroughly. Hm.

Update: In another interview (registration required) he confirmed what I said above:

“You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work anymore. These are more like iPods than they are like computers…

These are devices that need to work, and you can’t do that if you load any software on them,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there’s not going to be software to buy that you can load on them coming from us. It doesn’t mean we have to write it all, but it means it has to be more of a controlled environment.”

This definitely mean’s there’ll be some sort of certification or verification program for selected third-party developers.

Let’s hope Apple has a non-cellphone, “OS X”-based tablet somewhere in the pipeline; that could be used as a development environment without spooking the cellphone providers, and selected/certified apps could then migrate to the iPhone…

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