The Grass is the Greenest it Has Ever Been

I make no secret that I have been using an iPhone as my primary phone since 2007. As an analyst, I have to try different products in all kind of categories including phones, which means I have been using Android phones as well as what has come before from Windows Phone to PalmOS and every flavor of feature-phone before then. No matter what phone I tried, however, my trials end up with me going back to the iPhone. There are two main reasons for doing that: one is that I prefer the UX and the second is that the value in using devices across the Apple ecosystem is much more evident to me.

In February, I got the Samsung Galaxy 10+ to test, and I was expecting to follow a similar pattern to previous Samsung’s phones trials, which is that I love the design and the way they fit in my small hands, I like the camera, but ultimately I am overwhelmed by the UX. What ended up happening instead, is that I am still using the phone and I have seriously thought about making the switch. So here is what has changed and what is holding me back.

A Cloud World

Maybe it is the maturity of the smartphone market, which has led to app parity for the most part. Or perhaps it is the fact that even in a home like ours that has more Apple devices than any other brand we have happily let other ecosystems come in and take a slice of our time and money pie. Or maybe it is the combination of the two that helps consumers move from device to device more easily. Of course, there are hardware differences and some proprietary apps or features all across the various ecosystems and differences in how brands approach privacy, but the point, I think, is that with services and apps that go across devices thanks to the cloud moving across ecosystem is more comfortable than it has ever been.

Ultimately this is why I think Apple is doubling down on services. Yes, they will get an extra revenue source, but more importantly, they will create more stickiness to their ecosystem which will lead consumers to think twice before moving on. While using the Galaxy S10+, for instance, I was quite happy to move from CarPlay to Android Auto and have Google Assistant promptly bring up whatever song I wanted from Apple Music while I was driving, but unable to play my Playlists even when they are available in iCloud.

Two Things Are Holding Me Back

There were two things that I particularly missed when using the Galaxy S10+ and the Galaxy Watch Active, and both are not out of reach for Samsung.

The first thing I missed while using the Samsung Galaxy S10+ was iMessage. It is not about the green and blue bubble, nor it is about saving on text messages. What I missed was the ability to send a message from any device I was on as I usually do making iMessage a core part of how I communicate at work. Unfortunately, while Windows 10 has made some progress in supporting text messaging across Android the experience is just not as fluid. I hope that Samsung will spend some time creating a better-optimized app that goes across their phones, tablets and Windows PCs. I do wonder how many iPhone users will consider a move to Android if iMessage were available as a cross-platform app. While there are other apps that I use to talk to people iMessage is by far what I rely on every day.

The second thing I missed was the deep integration that comes from controlling all the pieces of the experience. The best example possibly being the vibration the Apple Watch gives out when you are using Apple Maps directions, and you should be taking a turn. I prefer Google Maps to Apple Maps, but as Google has given up on designing an Apple Watch app, I end up using Apple Maps when I drive. With the Galaxy Watch Active, which I see as the best alternative to Apple Watch in the market today, I missed that gentle tapping, a feature that might be hard to implement due to the combination of the watch running on Tizen and Samsung not controlling the experience on the Google Maps side.

As you can see, both my examples have little to do with Samsung’s hardware and a lot to do with the limitations Samsung is facing because they are not controlling all aspects of my experience.

More Confidence, not Technology Would Make Samsung’s Devices More Desirable

Aside from not being able to control the full experience, I also noticed that the options that are available on Samsung’s devices are just too many. Yes, there is such a thing as too many choices. Especially for consumers coming to Samsung from iOS, I think the available range of options can be overwhelming. In a way, consumers on iOS are used to Apple making decisions for them. When it comes to settings, users can, of course, change them but by and large, Apple is picking defaults that many users will never change mostly because of convenience or because they are not savvy enough to go and replace them. In most cases, Apple’s choice does not hinder user experience and simplifies things for the user.

It seems to me that Samsung has opted for the opposite and they believe there is value in giving users all the options there could be and let them figure it out. The new One UI helps by surfacing the most common use cases and settings, but you can easily find yourself three layers down in the options menu at any given turn. I am not sure if this broad set of options are the manifestation of a lack of confidence by Samsung, but I think that over the years their software implementation has improved and so is their understanding of what consumers want rather than what is technically possible so they could make those choices for their users. The camera UI is an excellent example of where Samsung has spent some time making decisions on default settings and leaving options to the more advanced users, but there is more room for simplifications in my view.

Making those decisions for consumers will also improve the cross-device experience that you will get from owning multiple Samsung devices. Samsung might be at a disadvantage because they are not controlling the underlying OS, but this disadvantage can turn to an advantage as consumers come to care more and more about an in-app experience and find best of breed products. In other words, if productivity is what I care about the most, I am likely to find a PC and phone combination that empowers me to be efficient, and this might mean that my two devices are not running on the same OS and are not part of the same ecosystem. The same can be said about gaming or media consumption. We have seen Samsung work with many partners to bring unique experiences to their products. I hope that such partnerships will extend to developers as well at the next SDC in the Fall. Pointing at the large installed base of devices that developers have access to is useful, but working with them to create better experiences is critical for developers and creates more stickiness for Samsung.

There is Still a Place in the Market for the iPad mini

It would seem counter-intuitive to think that there is still a place for the iPad mini when we have iPhones that have a screen as big as 6.5 inches. Yet, the iPad mini retains a loyal fan base thanks to its compact form factor. Since the arrival of the iPad mini back in 2012, some industry commentators tried to position it as the entry-level iPad, the first step into the product family that eventually grew to include the iPad Pro. Apple’s positioning and pricing made it clear, however, that the only thing that was “less” about the mini was its size. This latest update stays true to the successful formula adding Retina display and the A12 Bionic chip with Neural Engine to the iPad mini basically giving it the same brain as the iPad Pro!

When the first iPad mini came out I tried it but then decided the larger size better fitted my workflow. The iPad for me has always been more than content consumption. This is especially true today with the 12.9” iPad Pro that I usually alternate with the Surface Pro as my primary computer when I travel, which is often. I had the opportunity to test the new iPad mini and it became obvious to me, very quickly, that the iPad mini is the perfect companion to my iPad Pro. Reading and taking notes in particular, really brought out the big advantage of the iPad mini form factor.

I can touch type on glass, which is my preferred way to take notes while in meetings because I do not like to have a barrier between myself and the other participants. The new Smart Keyboard design no longer allows for the wedge fold making typing on the glass more challenging. This meant that I started using Pencil more and given my appreciation for the Samsung Galaxy Note I went as far as writing about Why Apple should add Pencil Support for iPhone. The new iPad mini is probably as close as I am going to get to that dream for a while. The new Moleskine note-taking app called Flow that I had the opportunity to try, reminded me of writing on one of their notepads which were a crucial part of my travel equipment for so many years.

It is a shame that Apple did not add support for Pencil 2 for iPad mini. I do understand that the iPad mini cannot charge it and that Pencil pairs through the lightning port, but I am guessing that there would be a software workaround to the pairing and that you could have charged through your iPad Pro. This would have meant carrying only one Pencil rather than two.

Reading books is also great, going from reading on an iPad Pro 12.9” to an iPad Mini is like going from reading a large textbook to reading a paperback. You can do it for longer and more comfortably while maintaining the crisp screen quality.

I also had the opportunity to see the new Angry Birds AR in action, and I can see how the game will become as addictive as the original, if not more. The iPad mini gives you a larger field of view compared to an iPhone but retains high mobile making it very well suited for AR.

Of course, as a screen for video content, the iPad mini can also do the trick thanks to the updated Retina display. This makes it a timely upgrade for those consumers interested in the upcoming Apple video service. It will be interesting to see if Apple will run any special promotions bundling the new iPads both the iPad mini and the iPad Air with the video service. What is interesting to me, however, is that while Apple might be keen on providing more “screens” for consumers to enjoy the upcoming video streaming services, they are not sacrificing hardware value by lowering its price.

The iPad Portfolio

I read many comments that referred to the iPad line up as confusing, calling out the products for having a lot of overlap. The reality is that there are several ways to look at the new portfolio. You can look at all the iPads as one family. You can see the iPad Pro models as a continuation of the Mac line. You can also see the iPad (2018) as an education first device and the rest of the iPad portfolio as one. Finally, you could see the iPad mini as much of a standalone as the iPad Pro models. The bottom line is, whichever way you look at it, the products make perfect sense to address a potential market of users that go beyond the iPhone installed base. There are, in fact, many Android phone users have iPads making the addressable market for iPad particularly diverse.

The other important point to make, especially as people comment on the iPad mini pricing, is that there have always been cheaper tablets. Maybe there are less today than in the 2010-2012 period just because vendors could not sustain to be as aggressive while keeping up with the iPad’s feature sets. But, the price of an iPad, even more so than that of an iPhone, has a lot to do with the ecosystem of apps that are available. Apps that can turn the iPad hardware, that some in the Android camp could attempt to replicate, into a versatile computing platform that marries entertainment and productivity very well.

The Future

Apple kept the bezel-less design and Face ID exclusive to the iPad Pro family, but as those devices get new features, I do expect to see the bezel-less design trickle down into the portfolio. The lack of bezel on an iPad mini could potentially have it replace the 9.7” with the rest of the portfolio set on 10.5” and 12.9”. This would continue to please those users who love the smaller footprint while opening up the mini to a broader market.

The timing of these upgrades is no coincidence. Clearly, Apple is building a portfolio that has the broadest possible appeal in time for its video service launch. But to think that these devices have been created just for that is certainly a mistake. While the tablet market is dead the iPad market is alive and well and these new devices widen the opportunity while the rumored video and news services will certainly grow engagement even more.

Microsoft Surface is the Only Apple Competitor in the PC Market

A bold statement to make, right? Especially when you look at the latest PC market share numbers, and Microsoft Surface is nowhere to be seen. Yet, the Microsoft Surface brand’s mindshare has been growing among Millennials and Early Tech Adopters.

In October 2017 we, at Creative Strategies, asked a panel of 1300 US consumers about their personal and work preferences in both PC brand and workflow habits. We were eager to understand how users feel about specific PCs they are given at work as well as what tools and apps they value.

First things first, the industry has been talking about the death of the PC for years. Yet, especially for productivity, we are still very much bound to our notebooks. So it is no surprise that when it comes to working on a report, presentation or other projects, 81% of Americans we interviewed said they use a notebook/desktop as their primary device. Millennials too prefer a notebook or a desktop (74%), but they are the group most open (14%) to using whatever device they have at the time and often using their smartphones (or tablet) and their notebook/desktop together. This reflects how Millennials (37%) have embraced the cloud, which is a core enabler of multi-device workflows. Along with Early Tech Adopters (44%) and Early Mainstream (39%), Millennials see the benefit of the cloud precisely in the ability to access content from any device they choose.

2in1s or hybrid computers are certainly growing in popularity. Twenty-one percent of American consumers have already replaced their laptop with a Surface Pro or an iPad Pro. Another 17% is interested in making the switch to a Surface Pro and 14% to an iPad Pro. While both these families of devices support pen/pencil input, this input tool does not play a role in the purchasing decision process for 31% of consumers.

Dear Employer, the Tools You Provide Reflect on Your Company

“Bring your own device” is a trend that impacted enterprises across many countries, but while the direct impact might have remained mostly contained to the mobile space, the indirect effect on employees’ expectations when it comes to technology has been more extensive.

Early Tech Adopters looking for a job would pass on an opportunity if the position did not offer flexible hours (60%) and if they could not choose the type of computer they would use (32%). For users of Apple products in the enterprise, the need to pick their own PC climbs to 40%.

When asked to pick their PC of choice Early Tech Adopters have a strong preference for Microsoft Surface (52%) over everybody else, including Apple (38%) while Millennials and mainstream consumers see these two brands being equal.

People firmly believe that the technology employers provide you with shows how much they care about the work their employees produce (29%) as well as how much they actually care about their employees themselves (28%). Millennials feel even more strongly about it with 13% going as far as saying that it shows “how cheap they are when it comes to anything to do with employees.”

Microsoft Surface winning over Early Tech Adopters

Despite the fact that most of Microsoft Surface’s sales are in the enterprise market, consumers are very familiar with the brand with only 10% of consumers not being familiar at all with the devices. Consumers who are very familiar with the name think that Microsoft Surface products are the best products with Windows software on them (21%) and this is precisely because hardware and software are optimized for each other (18%). Another 16% of consumers feel that although they are good products they are too expensive.

The main differentiation against other Windows 10 devices rests in the hardware quality (36%). For some consumers (18%), the fact that Microsoft makes Surface products is a key differentiator, and for current Apple owners (36%) Surface products run the best implementation of Windows 10.

When it comes to comparing Microsoft Surface to Apple products the key differentiator rests in the operating system Surface products run (43%). Current Surface users, in both personal and work, see the key differentiator being the touch and pen support (27%).

Microsoft has been talking a lot lately about creativity being the new productivity, and the good news for Surface is that early adopters see Microsoft Surface as the brand that empowers them to be both productive (49%) and creative (48%). Interestingly, Millennials continue to see Apple as the brand that empowers them to be creative (45%). I am sure that such belief comes partly from the strong integration with the iPhone and the range of apps that seamlessly work across iOS and MacOS. Apps availability is something that Microsoft needs to continue to address, especially for devices like the Surface Laptop that ships with Windows 10 S as the default OS.

Apple remains the Market Leader in Consumers’ Minds

When we asked consumers who they see as the leading notebook/laptop brand in the market, the answer came across loud and clear: Apple. Forty-six percent of American consumers chose Apple as the leading brand in notebooks, although interestingly Mainstream and Millennials were stronger segments than Early Tech Adopters and Early Mainstream, categories that I am sure Apple is hoping to excite again with the upcoming iMac Pro.

When we asked consumers why they picked Apple, it was mostly because “everybody seems to have one of their notebooks” (21%) and because “they have always been the most aspirational brand” (20%). Another 21% were split between an OS preference and that their products “just work.” Interestingly, to my earlier point of strong ties with the iPhone, 17% of people of picked Apple mention that as a driving reason.

There is also no doubt that in consumers’ minds the only brand able to compete with Apple is Microsoft Surface, especially among Early Tech Adopters (32%) and Millennials (28%). When we asked who chose the Microsoft Surface brand why they did, 22% said it was because it is the only brand able to compete with Apple and another 21% simply said they are leaders because they are their preferred brand. Nineteen percent also believes that Microsoft Surface products offer the best implementation of Office on Windows 10.

So, the moral of the study is that while overall sales might not ring any alarm bells for other PC manufacturers, Microsoft Surface quietly established itself as the most aspirational brand in the Windows ecosystem as well as the only brand able to compete with Apple. This might not translate straight away in an impact on sales, but it is likely to impact positioning and pricing on the higher end of the market where all PC vendors have been focusing more as of late.


NOTE: In this article, Millennials refer to the age group between 18 and 35 years old. The Label of Early Tech Adopters relates to panelists who self-selected the following description: “I’m pretty tech savvy. Friends and family usually come to me for tech related questions/issues” and “I tend to be the first person in my peer group to buy new tech/gadgets. I consider myself an early adopter.”



Why I take Issue with the iPhone X being labeled as Luxury

At least not in the derogatory sense that many are using to label a phone that costs $1000.

I started a conversation on Twitter last week trying to separate what is expensive and what is a luxury. And as the comments continued, I realized that explaining the nuances of what luxury means in tech would take longer than 140 characters so here I am. Please don’t think I am neglecting to understand the privileged position from which I am discussing what a luxury is and what it is not. The focus here is on establishing what the true value of the iPhone X is. What I am not discussing is the much broader and critical impact that the higher cost of technology has on society.

Expensive and luxury are very much intertwined, and they are labels that change slightly depending on what item you are referring to. If you look up the definition of luxury in the Webster dictionary you find that Luxury is:

  • something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary
  • an indulgence in something that provides pleasure, satisfaction, or ease

When you look up expensive you find:

  • involving high cost or sacrifice
  • commanding a high price and especially one that is not based on intrinsic worth or is beyond a prospective buyer’s means
  • characterized by high prices

I look at these definitions, and I seem to be doing a good job at gathering evidence against my point. After all, when I think of the iPhone X I do believe it is adding to my pleasure, and it is not necessary – the iPhone 8/8Plus could do the trick. Well, my current iPhone 7Plus does a darn good job at being a smartphone. The iPhone X is also characterized by a high-price, and it is beyond many buyers’ means fitting both the luxury and expensive definition.

Luxury Phones are Mostly Bling

When I think of luxury phone there is one brand that comes to mind first: Vertu. Vertu had a somewhat troubled life that ended this past July when the current owner, Turkish businessman Murat Hakan shut it down after failing to pay creditors. Vertu opened in 1998 as part of the Finnish phone maker Nokia. At that point, the phones were running on Symbian and were handmade with luxury materials from gold to rubber from F1 tires. Starting price: $5,000. Vertu was sold in 2012 to private equity company EQT when the phones started to run Android and were still hand-made in the UK. In 2015, the company was sold to Chinese company Godin Holdings and finally to Mr. Hazan in 2016.

In its glory days, Vertu was the mother of all luxury phones not only it was hand-made like an haute-couture dress and used the most expensive metals and materials, but it also came with a concierge service that will help you do whatever you needed to do from booking a taxi to shopping online.

In a less extreme sense, luxury phones have been about designer brands and bling. A quick search brings up a top ten charts with names from the fashion and car industry or unknown brands that took mainstream phones and covered them in gems.

So what happens when the Price goes up cause the Tech is better?

None of the phones you see associated with a luxury tag brings cutting-edge technology to the plate. Their price is merely defined by the materials used and the power of the brand name on them. And this very point is why I do not think the iPhone X deserves to be lumped into the luxury phone bucket.

Now, I would not go to the extent of saying that the iPhone X has a “value price” like Apple CEO Tim Cook did on Good Morning America. But I do agree with his underlying point which is that the iPhone X has a lot of tech packed into it.

Let’s pretend there was no iPhone X and that the iPhone 8Plus was the flagship product. Although starting at $799, $50 more than the launch price of last year’s iPhone 7Plus, nobody, as far as I am aware, called it a luxury phone. For some reason, there is something about getting to the $1000 price point that gets people to think differently. But let’s compare the features and see what the iPhone X has over the iPhone 8 Plus:

  • 8-inch OLED Super Retina HD display
  • HDR Display
  • depth sensor that powers Face ID and supports Portrait Mode and Portrait Lighting for selfies and Animojis
  • Dual optical image stabilization

If we are ok with $799 for the iPhone 8Plus and we add all this technology do we honestly think that the price should not increase? Some people argue that this is all Apple tax, but while of course, the Apple brand commands a premium it does so across devices. This means that the Apple premium equally impacts other iPhone models too.

Is a $1000 too much for a Phone?

A genuine question to ask is whether a $1000 for a phone is just too much even when that phone is an iPhone, and the answer is once again not a straightforward one. Not so much because most consumers don’t pay $1000 straight up but because the value they get from a phone as well as the tolerance they have for tech is different from user to user.

The return of investment that most people get from their smartphone is way bigger than what they ever got from a PC (outside of work), and this is more so with iPhones. There is also a much stronger emotional bond with a phone than any other gadget we own. Lastly, software updates delivered to these phones lengthen their life although the draw of the latest upgrade will try and make what you own feel inadequate.

So who is the iPhone X for? If you want the best product there is in the lineup – not just the most expensive, but the best tech – then the iPhone X is for you. If you want to indulge in tech that is adding pleasure but that is not necessary the iPhone X is also for you. But if you see smartphones as a utility device or are overwhelmed by how much technology these little rectangles have packed in then you better look elsewhere.

Something Special About Apple and iOS

The special needs community is rarely the target demographic for the tech industry. Many of the wonderful new gizmos and gadgets that come out simply aren’t designed for them. There are an increasing number of companies that are developing products and technology to make computers and mobile devices more accessible for the special needs community, however – and one of those companies happens to be Apple, Inc.

Apple’s VoiceOver technology was introduced with OSX 10.5 – better known as “Tiger.” It’s an accessibility feature that allows blind or visually impaired Apple users to interact with a computer through sound. A user can use the trackpad or keyboard to scroll through the applications on the docked menu at the bottom of the screen. It can literally read the user any text that’s displayed on the screen and allows users to edit text where applicable.

VoiceOver is also available on iOS devices such as the iPad. Visually impaired users have been incredibly receptive and appreciative of this, especially considering the fact that it’s a feature many other tablets and readers lack. As more and more publishing companies, universities, and corporations look to switch to readers and tablets in the future, accessibility features for the visually impaired certainly help Apple market its products as the superior choice amongst the competition.

Another feature that benefits the members of the special needs community is a new feature in iOS 6 called Guided Access. Guided Access allows parents and educators to “lock” onto an app so that children can’t accidentally exit out of it by pressing the home button. While this may seem like a very basic feature, it’s incredibly useful for children with Autism or learning disabilities who may become distracted or lose focus on tasks. There are a number of educational apps available in the App Store but it’s often hard for learning disabled students to stay focused on them long enough to actually benefit. With Guided Access, the task of keeping a child focused has gotten a little easier for teachers and parents.

While full accessibility is an on-going battle as technology continues to evolve, Apple is certainly taking steps in the right direction. Many other companies in Silicon Valley are taking their lead and continuing to improve accessibility features for different technologies and we hope to see this trend continue.

My own time at Apple saw many of these technologies discussed and drawn out on desks and white boards under the tireless leadership and direction of my colleague Dr. Alan Brightman, who was Director of Apple’s WW Disability Solutions for 12 years; and is now a VP at Yahoo focusing on Global Accessibilty. To see these things come to life and create impact all around the world is simply astounding (then and now).

Kelli Richards,
CEO of the All Access Group, LLC