It’s the Production Line, Stupid

“Apple Absolutely Has To Make An iPhone With A Bigger Screen”

(Warning: Business Insider link)

While that may be true, take a look at what happened at the end of last year: 47.8 Million iPhones Sold.

That’s a shitload of iPhones. But how many is a shitload?

47.8M iPhones
/ 90 days = 530K per day
/ 24 hours = 22K per hour
/ 60 minutes = 369 per hour
/ 60 seconds = 6 per second

That means that every second of every day you need six cases, six headphone jacks, six LCD screens, six batteries, six CPUs, six 10µf capacitors, six 10kΩ surface mount resistors, and thousands of other components.

Look at where all the leaks about new products come from: it’s always the supply chain that produces all these components. This should give you an idea of how many partners are involved.

Basically, Apple creates a pipeline that produces devices at an amazing rate. And it’s a finely tuned machine with a lot of inertia. You don’t just walk in and say, “Hey, let’s change the screen!” Doing so would throw that machine out of balance: a new screen means that some of the components (like the headphone jack) don’t change, while others would (the case, for example.)

A finely tuned production machine takes a lot of time and money to set up. Take a look at Apple’s capital expenditures. A mere $10B in 2012.

These capital expenditures show that Apple is planning ahead. At least 2-3 years, maybe more. You don’t just walk into Foxconn and ask for 50M iPhones. You need to predict the future.

Sure, it would be great to have a larger screen iPhone from what is known about current market conditions. But was a larger screen a sure thing 2-3 years ago? While you were falling in love with the new Retina display on your iPhone 4, I bet you weren’t thinking “Man, this display has got to be bigger!”

The cost to setup that production line is also a part of the final cost of the device. More frequent changes to the production line means that each device costs more or earns less profit for Apple.

As Apple continues to sell ever more devices, I see two things that could happen:

  1. A broader range of products (meaning more, smaller production lines to spread the demand)
  2. Increase the size of the production lines along with amount of time they stay online (meaning new devices are introduced every three years instead of two)

Given the highly competitive nature of the mobile space, I suspect we’ll see the first option come into play in the coming years. In the meantime, screens tick, while speed tocks:

Cheap as in Computing

There’s a good case for an iPhone that costs less. But with this lower cost, developers fear that device specifications will suffer:

As someone who’s actively working on an iOS 7 update, I’m noticing a definite pattern emerging: we’re removing a lot of shadows, gradients, and transparency. A lot of views that were previously required to make an app look at home on iOS 6 are no longer needed.

The visual simplification of iOS has led directly to a simplified implementation. As every developer knows, the less work your app does on a mobile device, the better it performs. It’s a lot easier now to make an app that feels fluid and uses less CPU and GPU resources.

While everyone focuses on what Jony Ive has put on the screen, he’s also made the hardware under that screen able to do more with less. And yet again, Apple’s tight integration of hardware and software is going to kick everyone’s ass.

Updated August 14th, 2013: A lot of Twitter followers are saying, “But what about the live blurs? Aren’t those CPU/GPU intensive?”

Yes, they are. And you should also note that access to those features is strictly through private API. An iPhone 4 turns off blur, an iPhone 5C could do the same if necessary.

(If you look closely at the blur behind a toolbar, you notice that there’s some kind of sub-sampling of the screen image. Because this implementation is private, the algorithm could also be adapted for other devices.)

There’s also the question of all the new dynamics in the UI (like bouncy messages.) The highest costs in a GPU, both with computation and hardware components, is with dealing a lot of textures. The math for a physics engine is relatively easy to handle.

AMBER Alert Usability

If you live in the State of California, you got an AMBER Alert last night just before 11 PM. If you have an iOS device, you saw something like this on your lock screen:

Or like this in Notification Center:

And if you’re like most people, you had no idea what it meant. Considering it’s a broadcast to locate missing children, that’s a bad thing. Let’s examine the usability of this alert and think about how this system can be improved.

Updated August 6th, 2013: Lex Friedman has written a great summary of AMBER Alerts at Macworld. Among the revelations: the text of the messages are limited to just 90 characters!

First Impressions

In our household, there are many iOS devices. At the time of the alert, we were in the living room with two iPads and an iPhone. The alert’s sound is designed to get your attention, and that it did!

Both my wife and I gave each other that “what the hell is wrong” look as I grabbed my iPhone from my pocket. Turns out we weren’t the only ones who were frightened by the sound:

My wife’s first question as I looked at my phone was “Are we having a tsunami?” (we’ve had these kind of emergency broadcasts before.) I replied with, “No, It’s an AMBER Alert”. To which she replied, “What’s that?”

And therein lies the first problem: I had no idea.

Unlike all other notifications on my iPhone, I couldn’t interact with the alert. There was no way to slide the icon for more information or tap on it in the Notification Center to get additional information. Through a combination of Google and my Twitter timeline, I eventually figured it out:

But I was also seeing a lot of people on Twitter whose response to the confusion was to ask how to turn the damn thing off. And since AMBER Alerts aren’t affected by the “Do Not Disturb” settings, a lot of people went to Settings > Notification Center so they wouldn’t get woken again in the future.

That’s exactly what you don’t want to happen when a child is abducted.

Alert Text

In looking at the message itself, it’s hard to tell what it’s about. Starting an alert with an acronym may make sense to the government, but there’s wording that could resonate much effectively with normal folks:

It’s also hard to tell if this is a problem with “Boulevard, CA” or a “Nissan Versa”. And where is Boulevard? And what does a Nissan Versa look like? Who do I call if I see license 6WCU986? In summary, this notification provides more questions than answers.

This one image has answers to all of these questions and more. Why can’t I see that image after tapping on the notification?

The Alert Sound

As I mentioned above, the sound definitely let us know that something was wrong. But we were sitting comfortably in our living room. A friend of mine was driving at the time and probably listening to music from their iPhone on a car stereo. Being startled at high speed is dangerous:

Unlike the devices that existed when the AMBER Alert system was first introduced in 1996, our iPhones and iPads do a lot more than calls and texts. Music and video are immersive activities and hearing a loud horn can be a cure that’s worse than the disease.

Also, we’re all conditioned to immediately look at our phone when the normal alert sounds are used: a simple ding would have gotten just as much attention.

Do Not Disturb

And what the heck is up with this crazy sound happening if Do Not Disturb is turned on? Dammit, it’s my phone and I get to tell it what to do. Stupid Apple!

Well, take a look at your government first:

And if you want the details, it’s only going to cost you $205 to download:

Bottom line: these bugs aren’t going to be easy fixes.

(And if you think getting woken up because of an AMBER Alert is such a terrible thing, why don’t you explain your pitiful situation to this boy’s parents.)

File A Radar

Even though these bugs probably aren’t Apple’s direct problem, I’m still going to file a bug report. If you have a developer account, please feel free to duplicate that Radar.

Apple is in a very unique position to address these issues:

  • It has direct access to millions of customers and their mobile devices.
  • It employs many people with a deep understanding of how mobile devices are affecting our lives.

This is clearly a problem where cooperation between Apple, the Department of Justice, and the public can improve a system where everyone benefits. Better usability with AMBER Alerts is case where “think of the children” isn’t a trite platitude.

App Updates for iOS 7

Like many of my fellow developers, I am in the middle of an update of an app for iOS 7. As you’d expect, it’s a lot more work than previous versions of iOS. But results are stunning: both David Lanham and I have commented that our shipping version was “feeling old and clunky.”

While cranking along on the update, a couple of thoughts occurred to me: how many other developers were doing the same thing and were they going to commit fully to iOS 7? The depth and breadth of the changes in iOS 7 makes it difficult to support older versions of the OS.

So I just asked. I also included a simple question that any developer who was actively working on an update would be able to answer as a sort of CAPTCHA.

After a little over 24 hours, I had my answers:

An overwhelming number of developers are updating apps for iOS 7. Of 575 valid responses, 545 developers indicated that they were working on an update for iOS 7. That’s an adoption rate of 95%!

Of those developers who were working on an update, I then calculated how many were going to require iOS 7 (and drop support for iOS 6):

Just over half of developers (284 of 545) were leaving the past behind. Initially I was surprised that this number was so high, but then I remembered how much time and effort I was putting into my own work :-)

If you’re a consumer of apps, this is great news: it’s likely that your favorite apps will be ready for action come this fall. If you’re someone who has a device that’s a couple of years old, now’s the time to start thinking about upgrading. Many apps will require a device capable of running iOS 7.

After I posted the survey, I heard from several game developers who complained that they didn’t know the answer to the trick question: UIView -tintColor is only used in traditional interfaces. Most of the difficulty in adapting apps is changing navigational and content elements to match the new style. Games don’t have this problem: they’re basically all content. Considering these facts, my guess is that games will have much broader support for older versions of iOS.

If you’d like the raw data and my analysis using Numbers, here you go: iOS_7_Updates.numbers