2013: lost year?

Couldn’t refrain from adding my two cents while reading this article.

The author argues that 2013 was a lost year. Among his arguments one of them is that “smartphones became commodities” … like that is a bad thing! Jeez! I am glad smartphones became commodities. There used to be a time when smartphones were expensive and good devices were un-affordable for most, but thanks to them being commodities now you can easily own a good phone for much lesser cost than before. The new iPhone 5S, for instance, is cheaper than the iPhone 4S when it was released (at least in Oman), and the prices dropped after a month or so thanks to Apple’s improvements in the supply chain. That’s not a small thing however much the author plays it down! Smartphones have also improved in terms of the overall quality and listening to user opinions. Android phones too have got better over the year, and most manufacturers now update the device faster or are at least open about it and there are many more options for customers (for instance the Google Play editions). Sure there isn’t any breaking enhancements anywhere but that isn’t a reason to argue 2013 was a lost year. You have leaps in technology, then you have periods when things are consolidated and refined, and the latter is in no way worse off than the former.

Another argument is how the iPhone 5S is not a big deal. All Apple could do with the new device was get a faster processor, use it to animate 3D effects (which users apparently dislike), and add a fingerprint sensor to solve a problem no one had in the first place. Moreover iOS 7 apparently crippled older devices. Wrong! Being an iPhone 4S and 5S user I love the fact that the 5S is similar to the 4S. In fact at a glance there’s not much difference between the two devices and so most people around me don’t even realize I have a new phone. And that’s a good thing the way I see it, because ultimately the phone is a tool and I don’t see why it should change in appearance every year. Why must users undergo the learning curve of a new device each time they upgrade? Why not just have a better device with a minimal curve? Better doesn’t have to be different; why make a difference if things are already working well the way they are?

I love the 5S (compared to the 4S) coz it is lighter. Agreed that’s not a 2013 innovation as the iPhone 5 too was lighter, but the big deal is that the iPhone 5S and 5 have differences between them and yet Apple managed to keep the same weight and form factor. I am a fan of the 64-bit CPU in the 5S and think it’s a good idea, future friendly. I am a fan of the improved camera sensor which lets me take better pictures with a phone. I am a fan of the M7 motion CPU and am excited about the new apps that make use of this. I am also excited by iOS 7 and it’s design improvements (not without some quirks, but that’s to be expected) as well as Apple’s use of technologies like Bluetooth LE for iBeacons and such.

The iPhone 5S fingerprint reader may not greatly enhance its security in that a determined hacker can break it, and any random person can break it provided they can get your finger to press the reader somehow (maybe you are sleeping with the device around). But that’s fine because you are not forced to use the reader. Even passcodes or pattern locks can be broken by looking at the marks on the screen and while fingerprint reader might not be as secure as that, it is more convenient. If you want higher security, use one of those alternatives; but if you want convenience with slightly less security, use the fingerprint reader. I find it so much more convenient unlocking the phone by pressing the home button and holding it a few seconds for the fingerprint to be read – beats entering the code any day!

The S versions of the iPhone have always been about subtle improvements to the non S version. And for this reason I usually stick with the S version because Apple seems to make internal changes to these devices to differentiate from the non S version. For instance, the 4 and 4S look same, but the 4S had a better camera, improved antenna, and was faster. Similar the 5 and 5S look same, but the 5S has the M7, better camera sensor, faster CPU, 64-bit, and other small changes. That’s how Apple seems to release its phones. The non S version brings external changes and some improvements, the S version brings internal changes and improvements plus refinements.

iOS 7 works well on the 4S (at least for me). It probably won’t work as fast on the iPhone 4 – but that’s kind of expected as it is a 3 year old device – and by the same measure I don’t expect iOS 8 to work as well on the 4S. I find it good on Apple’s part that iOS 7 works well on the 4S – from Apple’s side they haven’t made the device obsolete for me, moving on to the 5S was a choice from my end. Of course, not all features of iOS 7 work on the 4S, and some of them may have no reason for not working either, but that doesn’t make the device obsolete. The device works as it did before. In fact, in Oman the 4S still has a great resale value. The 16GB 5S costs about OMR 295, the 16GB 4S still costs in the range of OMR 200.

The author also argues against Google Glass and wearables. I haven’t followed Google Glass much (as I find it creepy) but I am excited about wearable tech. Pebble was released in 2013 and looks to be a great piece of wearable tech. 2013 is also the year when tech such as the Jawbone UP and FitBit Flex/ Force became popular. It also seems to be the year when one started using tech (devices such as the UP/ Force, or apps on the phone) to monitor one’s health, sleep patterns, diet, etc. Again, none of these are dramatic improvements, but they are small changes that go towards bettering the product.