Is it too early to ditch the iPhone’s last port?

The Lightning Port
Image via CNBC

Apple is known for making its devices as simple as possible by taking away what they deem to be unnecessary additions. This policy goes all the way back to the Mac, which didn’t feature arrow keys to push users to use the mouse. More recently, it can be seen in the removal of the headphone jack on the iPhone and the narrow port selection on current MacBooks. While this practice has come under fire, it has allowed for the adoption of more futuristic technologies, such as the aforementioned mouse or wireless earbuds like Apples own AirPods, which wouldn’t have been nearly as popular as they are if you didn’t have to use a dongle to connect regular wired headphones. However, we might not be ready for the next step in this line of removing complications from our devices. According to multiple reports, the one with the most weight coming from CNBC, Apple could ditch the lightning port for wireless charging only power delivery on the next iPhone. Such a move would certainly be true to Apple’s history, but are we ready yet? Wireless charging has seen some widespread adoption, and the technology has some clear benefits over the conventional charging over wire, such as being easier to charge your device, easier to remove it from a charger, and more sleek design. It’s also important to note that, unlike the case of the removal of the headphone jack, the removal of the charging port would not be that big of a loss. With the massive batteries in iPhones these days that allow them to last all day without needing a charge, one of the major advantages of conventional charging is eliminated, that being the portability. You don’t really need a charging port when you have a wireless charger, which will presumably be included with the new iPhone in place of a conventional charging cable and brick, and when you don’t need to top off your phone, you wouldn’t need a charging brick and cable to bring with you. Sure, when going on road trips you might need a wired charger to charge your phone, but I foresee new cars coming with built in wireless charging pads and for the right now, many companies make portable wireless chargers. I think, just like in the case of the arrow keys, headphone jack, any countless other examples, taking something away would give be giving you an experience that is that much greater.

Should Apple release a cheaper iPhone?

The iPhone SE, the last “budget” iPhone Apple released
Image via The Next Web

Perhaps the most outspoken criticism of Apple in this day and age targets the price of their products. First it was the iPhone, then the iPad Pro, most recently, the Mac Pro. The second Apple releases a new product, someone is already making a twitter post about its “unbearable” price tag. These calls for cheaper products often go unanswered, isolated in the echo chambers that are Twitter and Facebook groups. But according to recent rumors, Apple could finally be listening to calls for more affordable products. According to a rumor first first publicized by Bloomberg, Apple could be working on a cheaper iPhone, rumored to be called the iPhone 9, that would serve as a successor to the popular iPhone SE, which was a more affordable offering from a few years ago. The new model would reportedly go back to the older home button design, last seen on the iPhone 8, with lesser specs and a smaller screen to keep costs down. But while introducing a cheaper iPhone sounds like music to some people’s ears, there are several less clear problems that could arise with such a move. The first pertains to their product lineup. As I have previously stated, Apple’s current product lineup is in pretty rough shape when compared those of previous years. Each product line has way to many devices in it, each with names that mean almost nothing and say almost nothing about the product, I mean, on their website, they’re selling four different iPhones, four different iPads, and four different Mac desktops. I’m all for covering all your bases, but making as many products as you can is the not the way of going about it, for each new product that you add, you lose some focus, and you make buying products harder for consumers, while simultaneously hindering the user experience of products as you make them more specialized and less general. This brings me to my biggest concern about introducing a cheaper iPhone. A lesser user experience. Steve Jobs understood the importance of imputing, or giving a good first impression, to your customers. This understanding led to the amazing user experience that built the foundation for Apple to become the most valuable company in the world. When you introduce cheaper products, with a more limited set of features and worse user experience, you impute a lesser image to your customers. I understand the need to reach users through financial accessibility, and I can see the business benefits of this move, but I think the effect that it would have on the brand and brand image as a whole far outweighs the benefits of a little bit more marketshare and a little bit more money to talk about at your annual report.

Have Subscription Services ruined our connections with products?

Before iTunes, the only legal way to download music onto your computer was through subscription services. But these subscription services were not like the Spotifys and Pandoras of today. No, they truly sucked. They were clunky, hard to navigate, and lacked a lot of popular songs as they were often produced by the record labels. In people’s eyes however, the biggest problem with these subscription services was that they didn’t own the music they were paying for. Steve Jobs understood this, and made owning the music you purchased the foundation for iTunes, on of Apple’s most successful products. But in 2019, subscription services rule the market, and only a small percentage of people still buy their music. So what changed? Was it us? Was Steve Jobs wrong? No. What really made iTunes so much better than all the streaming services it was contemporary to was not that you owned the music sold on it, but the connection you felt with the music for owning it. Today, music streaming services replicate this connection through user profiles, which allow us to define ourselves through the music we listen to and the playlists we make. We have this connection with the music on these services not because of whether or not we own it, but because of the things we can do with it. We can make playlists and share them with the world, and that makes the music feel like it is truly ours. User profiles that suggest music based on our tastes contribute to this connection as well. We feel connected because we are, things that are suggested to us are based on what we listen to, and our user profiles, playlists, and recommended feeds feel like a true reflection of us, just as much as owning a record or a cd.

All of today’s music sucks, but it won’t always be that way. Here’s why:

SoundCloud is one of many companies that has made it easier for users to spread their music
Image via FACT magazine

Money. It supposedly makes the world go round. At least it does to today’s “musicians”. In decades prior, the popularity of a musical genre directly correlated with large societal changes and shifts, but now, the popularity of genre depends on how much money it makes its producers. I’m not saying all modern music is shit, but almost everything that gets produced by the big record labels is. Producers aren’t willing to take the risks on genre-starting new artists they used to, instead opting to to play it safe with rappers and pop stars, which have proven to be popular, despite the lack of meaning in their music. New genres only emerge through this risk taking, and because these risks aren’t being taken, new genres aren’t emerging like they used to. Where as before, there was a vast offering of musical genres being produced, that vast number has shrunk to just two: rap and pop, with the line between the two becoming ever blurred. There’s no more variety in music, simply because the record labels don’t want to take the risk and sign artists that could create era-defining new genres and types of music. But this dangerous pattern is ripe for disruption. With the accessibility of music production software like GarageBand and the vast reach of online music sharing platforms like SoundCloud or YouTube, producing and sharing your own music has never been easier for aspiring artists, many of which would have been seen by record labels as too avant-garde or risky to sign on. This ability to circumvent the producers, who have been the greatest limiting factors on which musicians get the spotlight, will undoubtedly lead to the development of new genres that would never had been heard under record labels, and with advances in accessibility for this software, both in terms of ease of use and availability, more and more people will have the ability to make music, and when everybody plays, we all win.

Why conservatives can’t innovate.

There is a reason why all of the most recent technological advances have been executed by liberal thinkers. There is a reason why all of the biggest and most innovative tech companies are based in California, the most liberal place in the United States and possibly, the world. The reason: conservatives can’t innovate. This inability to technologically push the human race further stems from the idealogical basis of the conservative mindset: the want for things to stay the same. The most innovative and successful tech companies are based off of liberal ideas and ambitions, they are started by the people who want to change the world, and conservatives want the opposite. How can you change the world if you don’t want it to be changed?

Apple’s design has lost most of its character.

The new App Store Icon next to the old one
Image via The Verge

Apple is a company that appreciates design, sometimes to a fault. But in recent years, especially with the absence and eventual departure of Jony Ive, Apple’s once market leading design has lost a lot of what made it special. This is apparent in its software but more so in its hardware. Where Apple once distinguished consumer and professional products through the use of fun design choices and vibrant colors, all of their computers today share a plain metal design once reserved for their pro products. Sure, some of Apples phones come in somewhat vibrant colors, but they share too similar of physical designs to stand out against the rest of their products. On the software side, app icons have lost almost all meaning they once had. For example, the App Store used to have an icon that depicted a pencil, a ruler and a paintbrush in the shape of an “A”, symbolizing the great tools and entertainment you could find within the store. But now, the icon is simply three lines put together to form an “A”, leaving the icon devoid of almost all meaning. This really highlights Apple’s current problem with design. Sure, all of their designs look cool, but they have no meaning, and since products can’t talk, design is the only form of communication between users and products, and right now, Apple’s products just aren’t saying anything.

Will the 2020s see an end to the smartphone?

The first iPhone came out 12 years ago, and ever since, people have been asking what the next device to share its cultural effect will be.
Image via CNBC

A lot of companies have thrown around the phrase “the next smartphone” when talking about their products, a claim that has lost most of the weight it once carried with it due to the sheer amount of times it has been used to describe products that have failed to recapture even a sliver of the cultural impact of the smartphone upon its introduction. Nonetheless, companies are always looking for new ways to develop their vision for the future of mobile computing, which means they’re always looking for the next smart phone. Some companies think the next big thing will be less of a new type of product and more of a new innovation for the smartphone, such as the case with folding phones, which companies like Samsung and Motorola seemingly view as the future of mobile computing, for now at least. However, others believe that only a radical new technology like AR would be able to capture the same response and amass the same number of users as the smartphone. Many people believe that the future of mobile computing lies in wearables, especially augmented reality headsets. But in its current state, AR is not ready to become a mass market technology, and whether it will be by the end of the decade is something that we will have to wait and see about. Another possibility for the next smartphone could be found with innovations in smart watches. Smart watches have been a mainstream technology for some time now, and have seen widespread adoption. The limitation with a majority of them is inability to be used independently of a smartphone. This flaw is analogous to one in pre-iphone smartphones, where users couldn’t really conceivably to accomplish the tasks of a computer due to hindrances like less than adequate web browsers and email clients. The iPhone was the first smartphone to come without these flaws, being the first phone to include a web browser and email client that were built from the ground up for the device they was running on, rather than being a dumbed down desktop browser like on other devices. These innovations allowed for smartphones to finally made the use of smart phones without the need for a personal computer feasible, and similar innovations to smart watches could finally allow them to transcend being neat gadgets for your phone or fitness trackers. These are just a few examples of some of the endless idea of where mobile computing could go within the next decade, and it is crucial to note that the execution of the idea is equally if not more important to the idea itself, as all it takes is one company to make a great product for “the next smartphone” to be born.

When the quest for the best user experience goes too far.

The Sonos One, one of the company’s latest products
Image via B&H Photo and Video

So called “planned obsolescence” is something we hear a lot about lately. Just a few years ago, Apple made headlines for supposedly using software to make older iPhones seem slower, with the goal of pushing users to upgrade to a newer model. While Apple never admitted to the latter, they dd acknowledge that they had held back older phones in the past, which they said was to increase their longevity, through practices like reducing the amount of charge batteries on older iPhones could hold, so that, while they may not hold as big of a charge, they could last much longer without needing a replacement. This method of putting some restrictions on hardware with the goal of “giving users a better user experience” is not a new one. Most recently, Sonos has come under fire for using this practice. The company introduced a new trade in program this week that offers users 30% new speakers when they trade in their older models. The kicker is that users have to brick their perfectly working speakers to be eligible for the offer. The company makes users put their speakers into “recycle mode”, which effectively makes the speakers unusable, before they can send them in to the company for a discount. This means that people who want to upgrade to a new speaker an utilize the offer have to ruin their perfectly functioning model that could easily be sold to someone else. Not only does this practice have a financial impact, as it stops recycling firms from being able to sell perfectly fine used hardware to people who may want them, it could have a drastic environmental impact as well if other manufacturers follow in Sono’s poor example. I’m all for scrapping old, obsolete hardware to gain materials for newer devices with better user experiences, but in this case, the hardware that is being thrown away is perfectly functioning and there is a marginal gain in user experience between the newer and the older models. It is clear that the choice to introduce this trade in program was made purely as a financial one to get older speakers off the market, and not as one with the benefits of the user experiences of consumers in mind, whereas it should always be the other way around.

Political Partisanship Shouldn’t Exist

The symbols of the Democratic and Republican parties
Image via Smithsonian Magazine

Since the dawn of mankind itself, man has divided itself into factions. In the earliest days, man formed tribes, then nations, and in those nations man divided itself into political parties to surround himself with people who claimed to support his ideals. Now, thousands of years after man’s earliest civilizations rose and fell, our countries are still divided under this ancient system , but they shouldn’t be. Partisanship, political partisanship especially, is one of the greatest handicaps on mankind’s advancement. It discourages individual thinking and thus limits the proposals of new ideas, and instead promotes the idea of the hive mind, essentially an echo chamber that only spews out ideas as antiquated as partisanship itself. Partisanship does this by promoting the idea that, if politicians disobey any the ideals of their political party, they will lose all support and all of their power with it. This forces politicians to conform and constrict themselves to the parameters of the party they fall under, often restricting them from proposing potentially beneficial policies due to the fact that they may not agree with the ideals of said political party. Furthermore, it prevents candidates that don’t run under a political party from coming into the spotlight, candidates that could have life changing policies that they could be looking to put in place. It is this restriction on individual freedom that makes political partisanship such a danger to mankind’s advancement, and what lead to George Washington’s warning against it in his farewell address. But we can steer mankind ship off this dangerous course and move on from this antiquated system. The internet has been a powerful platform for proposing new ideas, and, if used correctly, the internet with its large outreach could be a key weapon towards defeating political partisanship through platforms like YouTube or Instagram, which could be used to promote lesser known candidates who don’t run under a political party, potentially getting rid of the cost of a campaign, which would remove one of the major restrictions of running as a non-partisan. Perhaps, the internet could bring unknown political candidates into the limelight to the same effect that it did with internet celebrities and icons, finally breaking down one of mankind’s greatest limits towards advancement in the process.

In a world where retail stores struggle to survive, how does Apple thrive?

The Recently Renovated “Glass Cube” Apple Store located on Fifth Avenue in New York
Image via Apple

Retail stores are a dying breed. Nowhere else is this statement more true than during the holidays. While stores were packed with eager, savings hungry customers, they now stand as relics, ghost towns occupied by the scarce souls who firmly grasp the ways of the past. They lie as empty tombs, their wares undisturbed, unseen to shoppers’ eyes that are instead scrolling through products on Amazon. But there is one store that has escaped the retail holocaust unscathed. Its beautiful metal walls tightly hold countless visitors whose eyes are lighten up by wonderfully fun and inventive products. The Apple store became the Mecca for shoppers that it is today as part of Steve Jobs grand reconstruction of Apple upon his return to the company. When he took position as interim CEO of the company in 1997, Apple’s retail situation was in shambles. They had no physical stores, instead opting to partner with larger vendors like Best Buy to create stores-within-stores. While this did make it easier and more cost effective to open new retail locations, the strategy had many downsides. For one, the stores often had no set design language, so each one looked different, and, well, pretty plain. On top of this, many of the employees at these locations were not actual Apple employees, but workers at whatever store the Apple store was within, often making them less knowledgeable in the products they were selling. Steve Jobs understood the importance of a string retail presence, especially for companies in the tech space. They allowed for users to get a hands on experience with the devices they might be buying and this allowed for them to establish physical connections with products that could not be established in a virtual environment. The problems with with Apple’s retail approach formed the basis for the retail reconstruction and are still the basis for what makes Apple’s retail approach so effective today. Jobs knew that stores needed a clean, consistent design language that served as a backdrop to amplify the meanings and feelings released by the products on display in the stores. To accomplish this, Jobs worked with all types of designers to design retail locations that looked high tech and futuristic, yet friendly and welcoming. Job’s also knew that the stores needed to reflect and share the unrivaled user experiences of the products that were being sold in the, so well trained and enthusiastic employees were a necessity. Not only did the employees need to know about the products they were selling, they also needed to know how to help customers with any problems that they may have with said products. This need of impeccable customer service is what led to the invention of the Genius Bar and ensures that all employees in Apple stores are enthusiastic and well versed in the products they are selling. What it comes down to is that, unlike stores like Target, Sears, or any other failing retail store, Apple understands its not just the products that your selling, its the experience. This idea is what makes Apple Stores such popular retail locations. They’re cool to go to, they have cool gadgets to play around with and they make you feel like you live on a space ship. If you go to Target or Sears, you walk through seemingly endless and boring aisles, that may contain good products, but don’t provide a good enough user experience to make them worth going to over shopping online from your own home.