The Most Underrated Innovation Buried Within The iPhone 5S

“The new M7 coprocessor is like a sidekick to the A7 chip. It’s designed specifically to measure motion data from the accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass — a task that would normally fall to the A7 chip. But M7 is much more efficient at it. Now fitness apps that track physical activity can access that data from the M7 coprocessor without constantly engaging the A7 chip. So they require less battery power. M7 knows when you’re walking, running, or even driving. For example, Maps switches from driving to walking turn-by-turn navigation if, say, you park and continue on foot. Since M7 can tell when you’re in a moving vehicle, iPhone 5s won’t ask you to join Wi-Fi networks you pass by. And if your phone hasn’t moved for a while, like when you’re asleep, M7 reduces network pinging to spare your battery.”

The iPhone 5S announcement had but one surprise: The M7 chip. Every other feature we knew about in advance, but the M7 managed to sneak past every leak.

The M7 chip is nothing to necessarily advertise, and the chip’s sex appeal in the 5S is nothing compared to the phone’s fingerprint sensor and slow-motion video camera shooting at 120 fps. But the M7 chip is arguably the most important innovation inside the iPhone 5S, and here’s why:

As Apple explains, M7 helps to offload some of the various duties of the phone’s main processor, the A7 chip, specifically in relation to motion and orientation. Certainly Apple doesn’t need the M7 chip — prior iPhone models have performed perfectly fine without it — but Apple is likely giving the M7 a test run within an iOS device that doesn’t necessarily need it to function before releasing it in a device that truly does need it.

Another example of Apple giving new features a test-run: Apple customers craved — nay, demanded — LTE in their iPhones, but first, Apple gave LTE a test run on a different iOS device — the third-generation iPad, released six months before the first iPhone with LTE, the iPhone 5. By the time the iPhone 5 was ready, Apple had worked out the kinks to ensure its LTE technology was stable enough for a mass production of iPhones.

Applying this strategy to the M7 chip, Apple must have big plans for a motion-sensing chip if it was introduced in the iPhone (as opposed to the iPad). Apple sells more iPhone units than iPad, which means Apple must plan on using the M7 on an even grander scale. Of the many conclusions, the wide implementation of the M7 via the rumored iWatch seems the most reasonable.

Apple has been working on its smartwatch for several years now, but the appearance of the M7 chip means the iWatch is inevitable. 

Apple designed the A7 and M7 chips for interplay between each other. Many believe the iWatch will communicate with one’s iDevice, so embedding a single M7 chip and letting an iPhone or iPad do most of the heavy lifting — err, processing — when it comes to loading personal or location data makes the most sense. If Apple wants to conserve battery on the iWatch — the company is reportedly aiming for a solid 7 days of life — the M7 chip should certainly help limit the amount of information processed directly on the wristwatch.

What’s more impressive is how sensitive the M7 chip is. The sensor can reportedly tell if you’ve changed modes of transportation or if you’ve stopped moving, which will be important for certain applications based on health, fitness and lifestyle. Sure, the inclusion of the M7 chip is nice on the iPhone 5S, but once it makes its way to the iWatch, context-sensitive applications will never be the same. And that’s a good thing.

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The iPhone 5C Is A Luxury Phone After All

Many of those listening to rumors leading up to Tuesday’s media event in Cupertino believed “low-cost” iPhone meant “low price” iPhone, which just simply isn’t true with the iPhone 5C.

Yes, the rumors about the 5C were right in every single regard, including those rumors most people didn’t want to believe — namely, that the budget iPhone would not be so “budget-friendly” after all. In July, a Korean website first reported Apple’s intentions to remove the iPhone 5 from its iPhone lineup entirely, which meant the iPhone 4S (the last remaining iPhone in the classic 3.5-inch screen design) would likely remain at its $0 on-contract price, while the iPhone 5C filled the $99 void between the 4S and the newest high-end phone, the $199 iPhone 5S.

Sure, $99 on-contract for a new iPhone isn’t a bad deal in the U.S., but as my colleague Sophie Song points out, the same iPhone sells for the equivalent of $735 in China, which is pretty nutrageous considering how so many analysts believed the purpose of this budget iPhone was to bridge the gap between luxury consumers and the mainstream, especially in countries where iPhones aren’t so easily subsidized by carriers.

This would initially make the 5C seem like a great-plan-turned-PR-disaster for Apple, especially in the relatively fragile Tim Cook era, but the iPhone 5C strategy is actually quite brilliant. Here’s why:

1. If the iPhone 5 still existed, it would cost the same as the current iPhone 5C; if anything, the 5C performs either equally well or better than its predecessor. The FaceTime camera has been beefed up a bit, its surface has become more scratch-proof and more comfortable to hold (so I’m told), and owning an iPhone 5C in one of five bright colors definitely makes it feel more fun and personal. The color strategy has worked for Apple in the past (see: iMac, iPod), and the iPhone is Apple’s most popular product. You do the math.

2. The  5C is more forward-thinking than the 5S. Apple knows — probably better than anyone — how quickly technology can become old. Even with the iPhone 5C and 5S officially out the door, the clock is ticking on the next iPhone. And if there’s a new iPhone, you can always count on last year’s iPhone getting a price drop. If we’re lucky, we could see this year’s 5C model — a perfectly good phone in its own right, considering its many similarities and improvements to the bestselling iPhone 5 — sell for $0 on-contract by this time next year. And in the technology world, “next year” isn’t very far away. In a year, the five colors of the iPhone 5C could still be the best smartphone deal on the market (looking at you, Moto X).

3. The iPhone 5C stays close to Apple tradition. If you were expecting a truly cheap iPhone this year, well then you don’t know Apple, jack. Apple will continually take pride in itself as a luxury brand, and nothing less. There is nothing “cheap” about this iPhone — the plastic has an extremely high-quality feel and finish, and there’s no point in calling its starting price a bargain. Therefore, owning this particular phone will still be considered relatively exclusive and special in many countries. And if the iPhone wasn’t distinctive before, its five new colors certainly ensure that from now on.

So, as it turns out, the rumored “budget iPhone” turns out to be a luxury item after all. I like the green one.

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Apple Is Testing Bigger iPhone Screens, Which Isn’t Really News At All

Even The Wall Street Journal has slow news days, apparently.

Apple is constantly testing different sized iPhone screens. Constantly. This is absolutely nothing new at all, but it’s also highly unlikely any of those large-sized models will come to fruition anytime soon. Apple doesn’t want to Android its developers by forcing them to accommodate their apps to so many different screen sizes and densities (yes, I just used Android as a verb). The only way this story is newsworthy is if Sonny Dickson managed to get his hands on one of these iPhone Megas.

Samsung’s Watch

When describing its own invention, Samsung called its Galaxy Gear smartwatch a “companion,” which is apt because the wristwatch fails to be smart on its own.

Sure, it’ll tell you the time on its 1.63-inch 320×320 resolution touchscreen, and it’ll take pictures from its awkwardly-protruding 1.9-megapixel camera, but most “smartwatch” functions in the Gear require another Samsung device — and only four such devices will support the Gear in the next several months.

The Gear is indeed a companion, at least to would-be Samsung device owners. But will even Samsung owners care?

The Gear, despite being a completely new piece of hardware, offers surprisingly few unique features. The Gear either mirrors or extends features from other Samsung devices — this includes the S Voice personal assistant, notifications for calls texts, emails and alerts, Voice Memo, and even the new Memographer feature from the Galaxy Note 3. Sure, these Samsung features are easier to access from your wristwatch, but in the Gear’s case, Samsung owners might prefer using those native features on their phone or tablet.

The Gear, by most early accounts, totally reeks of a first-generation device. Four screws surround the Gear’s watch face, which is a major eyesore. Despite its 800MHz processor, it’s slow as molasses. The Verge said its software interface suffered from “tangible lag,” regardless if it was launching an app or activating the camera, and switching between apps and menus was not-so-intuitive. Engadget mentioned the inconvenience of its single physical button, located on the right side of the watch face, which is used for one too many essential functions like S Voice and the “safety assistance” feature for emergencies. The Gear was clearly built by engineers, not designers.

There are plenty of gripes with the Galaxy Gear, including its $300 price point, but the biggest killer to me, which also epitomizes the story of Samsung, is the device’s battery.

Samsung sees nothing wrong. The company boasts its Galaxy Gear battery, advertising a full 25 hours of life. Wow! 25 hours! That’s more than a day!

25 hours is more than a day, but the fact is, 25 hours of battery life is great for a smartphone, but not a watch. People don’t want to recharge their watches every day.

Samsung wanted a smart watch, and it got a wearable smartphone.

Samsung is an incredibly large, incredibly influential company. But even with its immense size and scope, Samsung’s name has been sullied since it was accused of stealing technologies from Apple’s iPhone and using a near-identical template to sell its popular line of Galaxy S smartphones. Apple’s opinion even held up in court, and Samsung was forced to fork over $1 billion for “borrowing” the iPhone’s essential patents –everything from icons, layout and interface design to the rubberbanding effect one experiences when scrolling to the top or bottom of a webpage.

samsung-phones-before-and-after-iphones

Samsung had a chance with the Gear to quiet the critics who said the company had no mind of its own, that it couldn’t innovate anything important. And as it turns out, Samsung cared more about preventing another court battle with Apple than creating a truly great product.

Samsung did beat Apple to the punch in creating the first smart watch, but Samsung once again confuses the issue. It’s not about specs on paper, and it’s not about doing it first — it’s about doing it best.

Apple was certainly watching today’s event, but unless the iWatch doesn’t work with non-iOS devices in the way Gear won’t work with non-Samsung devices, Cupertino need not worry about a bulky watch with visible screws, a slow and opaque interface, and a single day of battery life.

Sept. 10 Invitations Coming Today

For the last three product unveilings (iPad 4 & iPad mini, iPhone 5 & iPad 3), Apple has released its invitations exactly one week prior to the event. Since every news company believes Apple’s event is Sept. 10 (I was actually the first), we should be receiving invitations from Cupertino within the next two hours. I’ll update this post as soon as I get it.

Update (1:10 p.m. ET): Here it is.

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Foreward

“People get stuck as they get older. Our minds are sort of electrochemical computers. Your thoughts construct patterns like scaffolding in your mind. You are really etching chemical patterns. In most cases, people get stuck in those patterns, just like grooves in a record, and they never get out of them. It’s a rare person who etches grooves that are other than a specific way of looking at things, a specific way of questioning things. It’s rare that you see an artist in his 30s or 40s able to really contribute something amazing. Of course, there are some people who are innately curious, forever little kids in their awe of life, but they’re rare.”

Steve Jobs, 1985

Apple Inc. has transformed from a single computer company launched out of a California garage to one of the biggest and most influential companies in the world. With innovations like the Macintosh, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, Apple has pushed the industry forward over the last several decades. But the death of Apple’s visionary leader Steve Jobs in October 2011 has people concerned with the fate of Cupertino’s computer company now more than ever.

Apple is a highly secretive company, so quality information about the company’s activities is at a premium. There are literally dozens if not hundreds of websites and blogs solely dedicated to Apple news, but having covered Apple for several years for a number of different news websites, I can tell you that most information lacks authority, or is simply false. It’s difficult to wade through rumors and decipher what’s real and what isn’t, but that’s where I come in.

Unlike other Apple blogs singularly focused on repeating and rehashing news and rumors, this blog is written for those that want facts, analysis, and a historical perspective. There may be some bias — this is about Apple, after all, so forgive me if I become critical or romantic at times — but I promise to filter out the noise and only deliver the most important and relevant information.

Welcome to “Balancing Apple.”