The New Baseline

All the colours of the candy rainbow.
Lickable shiny. Just … keep your tongue away from mine, okay?

The announcement this week of Apple’s new range of iPhones has generated some new and some standard complaints from pundits. For the new top-of-the-line iPhone 5s, the complaint is that it’s not all that different from the previous model. For the new midrange 5c, it’s that it isn’t a cheap iPhone. Oh, and the colourful plastic shells look tacky.

To deal briefly with the 5s: yes, it’s a speedbump. Everyone saw that one coming. However, initial reports suggest that it’s a substantial speed bump, and there are new and useful features in the form of an improved camera, an intriguing standalone motion detection chip and the much-discussed fingerprint sensor. Perhaps most importantly, it shifts the iPhone towards 64-bit computing, providing some decent futureproofing.

I’m not going to comment on the looks of the 5c until I have one in hand, other than to note that those who have handled them seem to have come away impressed. The issue of whether the 5c is too expensive to work for Apple as a “cheap” iPhone is the more interesting question, and it’s one where most critics (including the perennially misled markets) seem to have missed the point.

For all the talk of a “cheap” iPhone prior to the arrival of the 5c, Apple doesn’t do cheap, certainly not since the second coming of Steve Jobs. Its products tend to fit between “premium” and “affordable luxury”, depending on how you view those scales. In that sense, the 5c has been positioned as a “midrange” iPhone, fitting just beneath the new 5s.

Except that doesn’t tell the entire story either. Up until now, Apple had only one model of iPhone: the new iPhone. (It also sold last year’s new iPhone, and the previous year’s new iPhone too.) Selling older iPhones alongside the new model allowed Apple to leverage investments in manufacturing and economies of scale, but those old iPhones always felt a little second-hand.

With the release of the 5s, Apple has doubled the breadth of its new-iPhone product line in a stroke, giving consumers a choice much more appealing than one between the “new shiny” and the “old shiny that you can actually afford.” Relatively expensive the 5c may be, but to balance that it’s still a fully capable smartphone, in a brand new form factor that offers a splash of colour never seen on iPhones before.

Yes, an old-new iPhone still remains on the product list, in the form of the 4s, but I’m not sure that’ll last even a year. With two lines of iPhones above it, both using the iPhone 5 form factor and manufacturing lines, Apple is going to be shifting as quickly as it can to focus solely on these products. Improved manufacturing techniques and greater output lead to economies of scale and enhanced margins for Apple—or lower prices.

Because that’s really the thing with the 5s. Once the 4s goes, it becomes the new baseline for the iPhone line, and while it will never be “cheap”, I can see Apple cutting its price by €100 or so in about six months, making it even more price-competitive with Android smartphones.

After that, Apple suddenly has two product lines to work with—the “top-end iPhone” for those who want the latest and best iOS device, and the “iPhone for everybody” who wants an iPhone device but doesn’t want to break the bank for the latest and greatest.

What the 5c means is that the latter group no longer has to see themselves as buying last year’s cast-offs. The 5c isn’t about what it is now, as much as it might sell on its release. It’s about what it’s going to be a year from now. Because Apple always plays the long game, and it’s just shifted the iPhone baseline.

Advertisements

Intermission

Gulfoss Falls, Iceland
Some gaps are for jumping into. This one isn’t.

 

A few weeks ago, I went to the cinema with a friend to see one of my favourite films. Specifically, 2001: A Space Odyssey in a 70mm print. Being such an old print, it was scratchy in places, though the glorious visuals more than covered for that. As an old print though, it had another surprise to give: a little over halfway through, the screen went dark and a single word popped up. “Intermission.” Now that was an unfamiliar experience.

Maybe not all that unfamiliar though. Two years ago, a lot of the things that had defined my life had come to an end. The most recent of them was that the company I’d worked for had been bought out and the job I’d been in since college was being made redundant. The first part of my working life was over. Time for an intermission.

My first reaction was the obvious one: start looking for work, start looking for something to fill the yawning gap that had opened up in my life. Obvious, but wrong. I’d been complaining about being in a work rut for years at that point, wondering how I could get out of it. Well, life had delivered a short, sharp answer.

So, I took my severance package, had a quick think about what I really wanted to do, eyed up that yawning gap and jumped. Within a few months, I was travelling around the world, visiting places that I’d wanted to see for years (and, as a direct result, starting up this blog – the earliest posts are all about this trip).

It wasn’t all indulgence though—I was thinking about what sort of working life I wanted on the other side. On my return I secured a few freelance jobs, leveraging my publishing experience, but the two-dimensional nature of my career to date limited my opportunities. Luckily, there was another jump to take.

Not long after my travels, I was at a meeting of publishing folks, where I was told about a course in Trinity (by one of the people taking it), the MSc Interactive Digital Media, which covered a broad array of media forms and the technologies used to manipulate and present them. A pretty good fit for my interests and skills, even if some of them were dusty from years of disuse.

So I applied, to just that one course, and after a certain amount of trepidation on my part, I got in. That was just under 12 months ago. It’s been a year of fascinating education, good company from my new classmates and more pressure to excel and achieve than my job had thrown at me in a decade and more.

This morning, I gave a presentation (together with the rest of my team) on the project that we’ve been working on for the last two-and-a-bit months. You can see our work here, though be aware it’s a hefty download and requires a WebGL-compatible browser (and doesn’t work at all on IE). Tomorrow, we get our results and find out whether we can append that MSc to our names.

So. Intermission over. Time to retake my seat, metaphorically speaking, for the second act. Once again, it has the look of a yawning gap of uncertainty ahead of me. But you know what? Having jumped once, the second time really isn’t all that daunting.