Not content with merely repeating unsubstantiated iPhone 6 rumors, the iOSphere this week turned to original research and to reading entrails, otherwise known as job postings. The results were, uh, mixed.
Google data showed that regular folks are more interested in "iPhone 6" than in "iPhone 5S." What's up with that? And what about those names anyway? Doesn't Apple realize what "S" actually says to buyers?
Also this week: flexible displays and fingerprint sensors, both of which miss the point and probably Apple's priorities; ranting on T-Mobile for delaying the Next iPhone, but what can you expect from a carrier that glorifies the color pink?
You read it here second.
"Looking at a new Apple job posting, there's a very good chance that the "iPhone 5S", Apple's 2013 flagship, may be a very, very incremental upgrade over the iPhone 5."
~ Brian Fulcher, GadgetInsider, insightfully drawing the Obvious Conclusion after seeing Apple's job posting for a software engineer to write "low level code to configure and control hardware" and use LabTool and FA software to test fingerprint sensors."
iPhone 6 has higher interest among consumers than iPhone 5S
And we know this because of some first-rate, original research by GottaBeMobile, as reported in a blog post by Josh Smith.
"According to the search trends, consumer interest in the iPhone 6 overshadows the iPhone 5S, even though this [meaning iPhone 5S] is likely the iPhone that will arrive on store shelves later this year," Smith declares.
Overshadows by a lot. "Consumers are nearly twice as interested in the iPhone 6 as in the iPhone 5S, and for the last year the iPhone 6 also claims dramatically more interest," he explains, in a sentence that should have begun his post.
Smith points out, helpfully, that "Apple is known for following an iPhone naming system that adds an S to the end of the name for the model after a major re-design."
Apple has done this exactly two times, out of six iPhone models: iPhone 3GS, and iPhone 4S. Doing it twice makes you "known" for a "system." Just like the system for naming iPads: iPad, iPad 2 and...uh, iPad.
"The iPhone 5S is expected this summer with iPhone 5 looks and a few new features, but consumers are clearly focused on the iPhone 6," Smith writes. He knows their focus because he made use of online research tools, and the riches of Google, in this case Google Trends, which shows how often a specific search-term is entered. Smith provides proof with a chart that shows this dramatic, twice-as-much, overshadowing gap in consumer interest and focus.
"While Apple's naming system could always change by the time the next iPhone arrives, many believe it will carry the iPhone 5S name, and that consumers will need to wait until 2014 for the iPhone 6." By "many believe," Smith means "those of who write for websites like GottaBeMobile."
But still. This dramatic disparity has to mean something, right? Why are these people so interested in a phone they won't see for 12 to 18 months when the other phone is probably just months, if not weeks, away? What's going on?
Finally, Jones asks the Big Question. "Why Is the iPhone 6 More Popular?"
"There are a number of reasons the iPhone 6 is more popular than that iPhone 5S, but perhaps the most obvious is that even with two generations of S models, many iPhone users think the iPhone that comes after the iPhone 5 will be the iPhone 6."
Those ... fools! These are probably the same people who like sheep just do whatever they're instructed by Apple's advertising campaigns. Don't they realize that Apple has a damn Naming System? Don't they follow obsessively every single rumor about plastic vs. metal casings or flexible display technology, or every compulsively detailed analysis of temporary Apple price cuts or of 4.5-inch display shipment variances? Don't they read sites like GottaBeMobile? Apparently, incredibly, not.
So what GottaBeMobile really discovered was that most of the people searching the web for information about the Next iPhone search for "iPhone 6" instead of "iPhone 5S" because they think that the Next iPhone - the iPhone to be announced in 2013 -- actually will be called "iPhone 6."
iPhone 6 will be the Next iPhone even if the Next iPhone is actually the iPhone 5S
And speaking of iPhone naming systems, though the preferred term is "naming conventions," Erica Ogg at Gigaom is clearly impressed with the analysis of Apple's naming conventions, and the judgment of their failure, by "former Apple ad man Ken Segall."
"Former Apple ad man Ken Segall has done some thinking about the tendency to assume that the next iPhone will be called the iPhone 5S and he thinks it's a pretty bad idea," she shares in a blog post. "He argued in a blog post Thursday why Apple should call the next smartphone it releases next the iPhone 6, no matter what. It's true...."
One of the most widely quoted statements from Segall's own blog post expands on why the "S" spells "deathtrap" for Apple: "[T]acking an S onto the existing model number sends a rather weak message. It says that this is our 'off-year' product, with only modest improvements. If holding off on the big number change achieved some great result, I might think otherwise. But look what happened with iPhone 5."
Let's look. According to Segall, even though the iPhone 5 had all kinds of "major changes" -- bigger screen, better camera, etc., etc. - [y]et its improvements were still dismissed by many as 'incremental.'"
This indeed is terrible. Who would waste their money on some once-innovative product now ruined by incremental changes? Who, that is, apart from the record 47.8 million people who did buy one in Apple's fiscal first quarter, outstripping the iPhone 4S's sales a year earlier in the same quarter of 37 million, which was also a record up to that point. Quarterly breakdown of iPhone sales is here; the quarterly total includes all iPhone models bought during that period.
We're having some trouble following the "thinking" here. Segall's argument first is that the "S" weakens the brand, making people less likely to buy it. So his "solution" is to use only a number, which presumably will strengthen the perception that the phone is innovative or at least more innovative than an "S" model. But he himself has already shown that the iPhone 5 was especially denounced by the cognoscenti for not being innovative, suggesting the "5" actually didn't help. Except, of course, in record sales...just like the 4S had record sales.
"And I agree with his take: why lower expectations for a device from the outset by telegraphing to buyers that this year's device isn't as new or "innovative" as the one coming in the next year?" Ogg says.
But in buying a personal electronic device, it's a bit unclear to Rollup what the significance is of "lower expectations" before the device is announced. Or for that matter, if most buyers-who-don't-write-for-tech-blogs actually have lower expectations regarding a future iPhone. Surely what matters isn't your low expectations of what Apple will announce in the Next iPhone, but rather your decisions based on what Apple actually does announce in the Next iPhone.
For both iPhone 4S and 5, record numbers of consumers were happy to buy it. So how is this "unwise" naming convention a "bad idea?"
iPhone 6 will have flexible display because Apple is hiring a flexible display guy
For the iOSphere, Apple job postings, like Apple patents, are the 21st century version of Etruscan and Roman haruspicy, or "the inspection of the entrails of sacrificed animals." KnowYourMobile's Paul Briden doesn't shrink from getting his hands bloody.
"A new job posting at Apple shows that the company is interested in developing flexible displays, a technology which could see use on the rumoured iWatch or the future iPhone 6," writes Briden, in a post at KnowYourMobile.
Briden's link to the specific job posting, for a "sr. optical engineer," doesn't work: Apple apparently deleted it, according to 9to5Mac, which helpfully provided a screen capture of the original.
The original's general description is: "Apple Inc. is looking for a Display Specialist to lead the investigation on emerging display technologies such as high optical efficiency LCD, AMOLED and flexible display to improve overall display optical performance."
Briden, 9to5Mac's Jordan Kahn, and almost everyone else who posted about this focused on the words "flexible display," the idea being that ... flexible displays are the Next Big Thing. Kahn mentions the speculation: "Flexible display rumors have picked up steam even more since rumors of an iWatch from Apple, and just today we came across two new Apple patent applications detailing flexible devices that could change states as a user bends or twists the device."
Twistable iPhones. Not to mention the mythical iWatch. The excitement of it all makes us a bit twistable, too.
"Today's job listing is definitely the first bit of solid proof directly from Apple that it is looking into developing devices with flexible displays," Kahn concludes.
Flexible displays may be the Next Big Thing for the display industry as a whole in a few years, but probably not for smartphones. That's because there's a limit to the useable additional surface area that a curved display can create in something the size of a smartphone. If you're holding it in one hand, and manipulating the screen with that hand's thumb, having the screen curve around the sides or around the back isn't going to do much for you, because you won't be able to reach it or see it.
Neither Kahn or Briden, or many of the other bloggers, refer to the other technologies and requirements mentioned in the Apple job posting. The most significant one is the mention of OLED (and AMOLED), or organic light-emitting diodes( and active-matrix OLED). Flexible displays are made possible by OLED, which uses an organic "emissive electroluminescent layer" or film between two electrodes.
Apple currently relies on LCD technology, or liquid crystal displays: a layer of liquid crystal sandwiched between sheets of glass and other stuff. And Apple is really good at LCD screens. AnandTech's Chris Heinonen, after a highly detailed analysis if the iPhone 5 display performance concludes: "Wrapping up, the iPhone 5 display is a quantum leap better than the display on the iPhone 4. Contrast levels and light output have both been increased, and color performance is astonishing. The full sRGB gamut is present here, and color errors are remarkably low even for a high end desktop display. While many were hoping for a move to OLED or some other screen innovation, this really is a huge step up that is very easy to quantify."
That move to OLED undoubtedly is coming, because the technology offers a number of advantages over LCD: lower power demand, faster refresh, better contrast, greater brightness, wider viewing angles, high durability, and light weight. (For more details and background on OLED, check out OLED-Info.com.) And in February, it was widely noted that Apple had hired Dr. Jeung Jil Lee, reportedly an OLED research fellow at LG Display, one of Apple's display panel suppliers.
But relatively higher cost and other technical issues have made OLED a non-starter for Apple so far. This post by a Forbes contributor has some of the OLED critiques offered in the past by Apple's Tim Cook and the late Steve Jobs.
Whether OLED displays, even flat ones, appear in the 2013 iPhone or even the 2014 iPhone is anyone's guess at this point.
iPhone 6 will have a fingerprint sensor because Apple is hiring a fingerprint sensor test guy
More from the Entrails Dept., courtesy of GadgetInsider's Brian Fulcher.
"Long thought of to be one of the iPhone 5S' new and unique features, fingerprint sensor technology (possibly located underneath the next iPhone's home button) may actually debut on the iPhone 6, which is what most sources call Apple's 2014 flagship handset," he reveals.
The Rollup loves that "long thought to be" an iPhone 5S feature. That actually means "ever since the announcement of the iPhone 5," because until the iPhone 5 was announced it was long thought that a fingerprint sensor would be one of its new and unique features.
By "looking at a new Apple job posting," Fulcher discerns that not only is it unlikely that iPhone 5S will have a fingerprint sensor but that "there's a very good chance that the 'iPhone 5S'...may be a very, very incremental upgrade over the iPhone 5."
"The job opening is for a software engineer at Florida's Melbourne Design Center, and would require the successful candidate to write 'low level code to configure and control hardware' and use LabTool and FA software to test fingerprint sensors." He has a link to the job posting, but here, too, Apple seems to have deleted it.
This is interesting, says Fulcher.
"This is interesting because Melbourne is where Authentec is headquartered, Authentec being the maker of fingerprint technology solutions Apple had acquired last year," he notes, significantly. "As this is a late-cycle posting, this suggests that the iPhone 5S won't come with fingerprint technology after all; that feature may turn up on the iPhone 6 instead."
The trained, experience haruspex can see truths beyond the abilities of others like us.
The Rollup covered the Authentec rumors in August 2012, when people were predicting that the iPhone 5 would incorporate the company's sensor. As TheNextWeb's Matt Brian confidently wrote then "Will we see fingerprint technology in the new iPhone (or iPad)? It seems almost certain....we could see it in just a matter of weeks." We know how that turned out.
Authentec's fingerprint sensor is only one part of the technology bundle for which Apple paid $356 million: it also offers a range of smart sensors, identity management (including PC/laptop fingerprint sensors), and embedded security products, all of which may be of interest to Apple in creating, for example, a viable, trusted mobile commerce service that would go far beyond using a fingerprint sensor to unlock your iPhone.
iPhone 6, 5S delayed and you can blame T-Mobile
This rumor, notable even in the iOSphere for its lack of foundation, appeared in a post at International Business Times by the indefatigable Kristin Dian Mariano.
"The release iPhone 6 and iPhone 5S is rumoured to be postponed due to US carrier T-Mobile's delayed availability of the current iPhone," she posted. "With the delayed availability of the handset in T-Mobile, Apple may not release the successors of the handset yet. Rumours claimed that Apple is set to unleash iPhone 6 and iPhone 5S in June."
There is not one source cited for this; not even hinted at. For this assertion to have even a vague semblance of plausibility you have to first believe the rumors of a June announcement for one or two or even three new iPhones (don't forget the Cheap iPhone). Then, you have to believe that T-Mobile's decision to start selling iPhone 5 in April creates a problem for Apple's plan to announce iPhone 6 in June. Then, you have to believe Apple couldn't have figured this out ahead of time. Finally, you have to believe that a flummoxed Apple abruptly decided to "postpone" the Next iPhone announcement to accommodate T-Mobile.
One person who apparently believes all this is SidhTech's Chris Toberlake. He grants that a June announcement "is of course a little sooner than expected given that the last iPhone (iPhone 5) only launched in October of last year." Just a little sooner.
"Even if this does prove true, it has to be the most asinine thing I've heard," he rants. "Imagine delaying the iPhone 6, Apple's flagship smartphone that is set to release all over the globe, because one little carrier in the US was late to jump on the Apple bandwagon!"
"I would understand if IBT Australia suggested that a T-Mobile iPhone 6 would be delayed but for the rest of globe to be left waiting for the iPhone 6 because of the pink carrier is nonsense."
This is a frothing-at-the-mouth level of outrage...over an unannounced product and its unannounced product schedule, without a nanoshred of evidence to support IBT's assertions.
Maybe it was a slow rumor day.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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