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« Tidbits from Smartphone Wars - Carl Zeiss, HTC, Sammy and look out for Huawei vs iPhone next two quarters. | Main | Whispers From the Void - When nothing is going on in tech, a few brief observations on the occasional news tidbits »

August 04, 2017



"Apple never joined the megapixel race for cameras."

Because it could not. Camera was never a core competence of Apple, and still isn't.

"Apple chooses to optimize on the photo quality...."

While good, iPhone imaging capabilities have never been the best, and still are not. Again, cameras are not a core competence of Apple (just as wireless communications and maps aren't), and therefore it provides good, but not as good imaging features as others. It is that simple.

Notice that the much-touted dual camera setup of the iPhone came first with LG G5 -- on sale in April 2016, well before the iPhone 7. As for the marked improvement in cameras in the iPhone 7, they were largely the outcome of hiring in external competence -- most notably former Nokia smartphone camera developers. Still leaving glaring shortcomings (no OIS on one of the two optical lens, for instance).

"and as Samsung and others came around to see that pov, they too DROPPED BACK in the megapixels of their cameras."

The fact is: there never was a real megapixel for the megapixels' sake race in the past 4-5 years.

What really took place were attempts to solve three major issues:
1) high-resolution, low-noise photos;
2) low-light photography;
3) real zooming.

Most manufacturers attacked (3) with special lenses configurations (ASUS), slapping camera objectives on a phone (Samsung), or dual lenses setup (LG), addressing (1) with more pixels, while leaving (2) to continuous improvements of optics and sensors.

Nokia attacked (1) and (3) with monster sensors with many large pixels -- resulting in the 808 and 1020. They required expensive optics, thick bodies, bespoke processors, and special digital image processing algorithms -- things that Nokia knew how to develop, was ready to invest in, and which were acceptable for photography fans.

Nobody followed that trail -- other models topped at 20mpx, when they tried (Samsung Galaxy S* never went beyond 16mpx). Only Sony, with in-house camera competence, went beyond 20mpx and attempted something vaguely similar to Nokia (with 23mpx cameras) -- but only produced incomplete, unsatisfactory solutions.

Nowadays, ultra-slim bodies make this high-megapixel count proposition unpalatable -- even technically infeasible.


"They can add LTE to their products before Apple will. NOT because Apple can't buy the same LTE chips as everyone else does, but because Apple isn't willing to put out a phone with terrible battery life"

Sorry, but this kind of argument needs to be debunked once and for all.

Integrating LTE is more than buying a chip. It impacts the protocol stack, the operating system, the power management, antenna and hence chassis design.

And if Apple comes after all others, it is because RF is simply not one of its core competences.

Remember that Apple was also late with 3G in the iPhone. And that its Bluetooth implementation is still patchy compared to the competition. And there was the badly designed iPhone 4 antenna (exaggeratedly called antennagate).

What have all those things in common? RF. Wireless communications. It is simply not a core competence of Apple, hence Apple is late, and sometimes mucks up. It is _not_ because Apple wants to make it perfect.

Want a final evidence? Look at who has core patents in LTE (here: Apple has a low number of essential patents -- and they were all acquired from Nortel.

You correctly point out that iPhones have more balanced, more consistent high computing performance than competing products of the same range.

You make the typical error of focusing on the processor -- but so much more in computer design is required to achieve high computing performance: the bus; the memory hierarchy; cache management; the balance between GPU and CPU.

Is this a core competence of Apple? You bet. Apple has been designed computers for decades -- its engineers know how adjust RAM speeds to CPU and make sure that data and instruction paths are not obstructed when needed.

User interface? Another core competence of Apple.

System integration? Another one -- all software and hardware elements work seamlessly together in the iPhone.

A place where Apple lacks a core competence? Maps.

There was a systematic study of mobile mapping software (several versions of Apple maps were studied, but also Google maps, Here, Bing, TomTom, OpenstreetMap...) The criteria were objective: strict cartographic criteria. E.g: labels must not overlap; they must be used consistently; their typography must be consistent; when panning the label of an entity must remain visible as long as the entity is visible; etc. Totally objective criteria -- instead of the usual "how complete is the map", "how can we customize POI", or the like.

The result: Apple maps were the worst. Repeatedly. Version after version. On the other hand, one of the best mapping system was the iOS version of maps developed by Google prior to the switch to Apple-inside mapping system.

Is Apple carefully polishing its mapping software and therefore taking some more time in coming with features and improvements? Nope, Apple is just not as competent as mapping as the others -- and therefore produces usable, but inferior mapping software. Because it is not its core competence. It is that simple. And with wireless, it faces the same issue.

I could go on telling about the lack of competence of competitors like Sony, HTC or Nokia in specific areas, but this post is already too long. The essential message is this: no firm is competent at everything. If, in a specific domain, a manufacturer comes repeatedly late, or with less features that are common in the competition, it is not because it wants to polish its implementation like a craftsman of yore, but simply because it does not have the competence to do it.

James Glu

Oh, I know....Apple is incompetent at everything...except perhaps marketing. Apple keeps adding more and more to the things Apple can do. Even Apple maps is good now. The latest is AR. Apple was said to be behind and then Apple leaps to the fore front.

I stand by my LTE analysis.

Apple sources its cameras from Sony like most everyone else. And yes, Apple did refrain from the mp race because more is not better (at some point) especially with these tiny sensors. And yes, the Android cameras have become top notch in their own right,..but only AFTER stepping back from the mp race themselves. But Apple doesn't JUST buy off the shelf camera modules. Like in everything else they work with their vendors to tailor specific solutions to Apple's specifications, and the Apple writes the software.

And yes, it's not just about the CPU...but everything else that Apple can integrate more closely than anybody else.

Dual camera systems are not the same. LG went with wide and paired it with super wide. Apple added a telephoto lens to the wide and then used AI to interpret depth information resulting in a DSLR like portrait mode. It works amazingly well. I bought the 7+ just for that feature alone. Well that, and the color calibrated screen with the wide color gamut. But as far as I'm concerned...the iPhone part was plenty good enough already...I paid to upgrade my camera.

I'm happy that Android cameras in the premium category have also become excellent.

These debates amount enthusiasts like us have zero impact on sales. You have your reasons for your preferences, I have mine. I look forward to the next set of results


"Oh, I know....Apple is incompetent at everything...except perhaps marketing."

Straw man argument. I never wrote that Apple was incompetent. On the contrary!

I _explicitly_ explained that there are _core competences_ and the rest, and in some areas, Apple comes _systematically_ late because, while not ignorant, these are not its _core competences_.

Apple came late with 3G, late with LTE, late with Bluetooth features, has no wireless charging. Not because it wants to do best, but because wireless is just not its core competence. Proof: look at who has essential patents in the field. Apple has none of its own. Is Apple incompetent in the area? No, but it is not its core competence, hence it repeatedly comes late, or not at all, and sometimes goofs up.

Apple was late with mpx, late with OIS, late with high zoom support. Because it was polishing a super-product? Nope, because camera was a core competence of other manufacturers, not of Apple.

And by the way: when you say that "because more is not better (at some point) especially with these tiny sensors", you are only repeating the argument that I put forth explicitly, explaining that the mpx-oriented approaches died out because the ultra-slim trend (which Apple always privileged) condemned large sensors anyway.

"Apple maps is good now."

They are not bad, but based on cartographic usability criteria, they still are the worst of the pack. It is an incontrovertible fact.

And that is the lesson: cameras, wireless and maps on the iPhone are not unusable or terrible, they are good even -- and I _explicitly_ acknowledged it. But not as good, and come later than the competition.

"Apple keeps adding more and more to the things Apple can do."

That is the point: there are things Apple can do, and others it cannot. And amongst those it can do, there are areas that are its core competences (have been for decades), and others where it just trails others, who have had those core competences for a long time.

Contrarily to what you seem to think, Apple does not excel at everything -- no organization, no matter how successful and awash in resources can.

I _explicitly_ recognized the superiority of Apple in its core competences -- among them computing system design, system integration, user interface (there are others, like OS, thermal design, distributed systems -- think cloud -- and, oh yes, marketing too).

Notice that Apple, for instance came _earlier_ with 64b platforms, _earlier_ with capacitive displays with a user interface tightly optimized for them, _earlier_ with high-resolution displays, _earlier_ with fingerprint features...

And top-notch, complete implementations at that! And that it keeps those features up-to-date from one release to another (which it keeps in synch with a regular rhythm of OS releases and device updates -- another core competence: software product management).

That is the difference: coming systematically earlier with a complete set of competitive features that work really well => core competence; coming systematically later with incomplete competitive feature sets that work => competence, but definitely not high, core competence. Not coming at all with a feature, or only buggy, unusable ones => incompetent.

Forget the dithyrambs; forget the hagiography of Jobs, Cook, Ives. No rational analysis of the power, potential and risks of Apple is possible if one keeps on with that blind admiration for everything wearing the bitten fruit logo.

Similar remarks apply to Google by the way. I am getting tired of those paeans to the open, adaptable, comprehensive, etc, Android that most often than not eschew the most glaring weaknesses.

Tomi T Ahonen

Hi everybody

Interesting discussion on the Retina display argument. So lets inject some realism and facts into the discussion. First, Apple didn't invent this (super-sharp display idea) that was once again - Nokia and the E90 Communicator which introduced the world's sharpest display of any smartphone (far more than then-current iPhone) in I think it was year 2007 if I remember correctly, could be 2008 (sorry, fuzzy with dates, am on summer vacation mode). But that E90 Communicator obviously was never sold in America, so only Americans had never seen a super-sharp display on a massive screen (E90 also had 4 inch screen vs then-current iPhone 3.5 inch).

But remember launch of Retina display? It was Apple's ill-fated attempt to defeat Samsung's success with larger screens of the first Galaxy Note series phablets.

So all were begging Apple to give larger screens for iPhones. Apple did what Apple does, spits in the eyes of its customer demand, and 'Steve Jobs knows better' and did Retina Display instead. And after several years of playing THAT game, they finally relented and give phablet-sized screens after Sammy had utterly dominated that market segment and Retina Display could not fight in that battle.

So with that history lesson first, and the facts - lets see WHY Apple did Retina Display. They didn't want to 'destroy' the 'purity' of the elegant SMALL (and slim) device. They felt that Samsung Notes were 'ugly' and 'too big'. Even as the screen size clearly trumped any other tech features. Apple wanted to fight for 'slim and small' and 'elegant' instead. So rather than give larger screen, we will keep screen size same, but give such incredible pixel density that the human eye cannot detect the difference (and typical Apple, also invented a cool name for it, Retina Display). Obviously then when exact same resolution Retina display came on a later iPad - the pixels were that much larger that technically a human COULD detect them - but by then the myth had been formed that these were magical pixels...

Now, comparing CONTEMPORARY 4 inch screens, and setting aside first iPhone Retina display vs ANY rivals - the iPhone was VISIBLY more sharp. That did kind of work. The iFans got a 'better' screen than previous iPhones - while it was not 'larger'. And then comparing to first phablet-screens of Galaxy Notes and its early clones - it was even more vividly clear, that the iPhone screen was super-sharp.

Well, fast forward a few years, the rivals added pixel density to match or nearly-match the iPhone (or even exceed) and the Retina Display 'competitive advantage' was lost, but all along, Samsung racked up massive phablet sales and Apple abandoned a significant slice of the 'low hanging fruit' that they could have taken if they had had a more rational CEO not obsessed with his own god-like understanding of what tech nerds will pay for. Steve Jobs was a genius but he was also not infallible, obviously. Here was one call he made that was seriously wrong...

The primary reason for Retina Display was a DEFENSIVE move, to try to do a screen better than current screens, but without forcing the iPhone design to become larger (ugly, cumbersome). It is the SAME philosophy such as the on-screen keyboard rather than a slider/folder true QWERTY physical keyboard (which would be far bulkier and ruin the slender thin apperance of the iPhone; it worked in that case) or the idea to do the image manipulation in software with a crummy camera rather than capture high-resolution high-quality images with a better camera (that would be bulkier). Apple always attempts to do the slim-slender way first (like refusing to give long-lasting but larger batteries).

To be clear - it worked for Apple 'enough' that loyal iFans kept buying newer iPhones, with their sharper but smaller screens - until even Apple had to admit, this is a dumb strategy, and they had to introduce the phablet form factor too. So this strategy was a pretty clever attempt by Apple to avoid large-screen phablet form factors - and to be fair - considering the QWERTY keyboard AND considering high-megapixel-obsessed camera tech - the Apple way COULD have worked too. It didn't. Now any rival can copy high-density pixel screens but the race had long since shifted to larger screens and there Apple lost a huge slice of market where the owner is (mostly happily) on Android and Apple has the FAR more difficult task of attempting the buyer to switch platforms, than sell to virgin users who never were wedded to any platform to begin with (the early stage of many phablet first-time buyers especially in Asia where they often were/are the option vs tablet PCs)

I'd give this as a 'good attempt' by Apple but their recognition of it not working - that took too long. They should have done the phablets sooner. BUT imagine if the tactic had worked and phablets had turned out a fad-only. Then Apple would have avoided an expensive form factor development. I don't fault Apple for attempting this tactic, only that they should have seen it FAR faster, that it was not working. They became blinded to the phablet opportunity perhaps believing their own bullshit propaganda (very VERY dangerous in management to not know what part of your story is bullshit...)

Tomi Ahonen :-)

Tomi T Ahonen

On the loyalty/market share argument

Good points. I want to just re-iterate. Apple had once a chance to be a major player - if they had pursued mass market opportunities earlier. And that would have GREATLY added to other Apple product sales (and their profits). Then if it was a 2-way race, as it turned out to be - if Apple now had 20% or 25% market share but Android had the rest, it would still lead to the eventual decline of iOS to something near 10% level where I still think in the long run Apple will end (can be 11% or 12% but close to 10%).

BUT at THE TIME - there were several 'strong' OS choices being fielded just to mention Windows by world's largest software company Microsoft; Tizen by world's largest tech company Samsung dangerously aligned with world's largest chip-maker Intel; and Palm OS which was picked up by HP the world's largest PC maker back then. And a whole host of minnows too, from Firefox to Ubuntu to Sailfish. In the video gaming console wars, for several generations the Nintendo, Playstation and Xbox race had 3 viable platforms, where each had between 20% and 40% market share and usually the leader could not get to 50% of the market (in annual sales).

If the smartphone market had evolved like gaming consoles (and if any SANE CEO had been running Microsoft, Windows would today have between 15% and 25% global market share in smartphones, it was idiot Ballmer who threw that away) and say Windows had 20% market share and the little guys combined (lets throw Tizen there too) had 10% and Apple was at 25%, it would leave Google with 45% on Android and we'd have a market race VERY similar to the videogaming market.

It was sheer stupidity in management (I would add Samsung's mess with Tizen to that) which is why there isn't a viable 'third' option. And then if Apple can't get to 20%, they are utterly doomed to be a niche OS. They cannot somehow supplant Android at 85% market share with their 15% installed base today. Impossible. BUT if a third platform had emerged - AND if Apple had rather played a strategy of taking all affluent customers, they could be in the 25% range today rather easily - only launching a 'nano' iPhone model with lower price points than they did, and also doing the phablet when it was obvious to all analysts. Then Apple would sell today about twice what they actually do. And while the profit-per-phone would be less - their TOTAL profit would be at least 25% and possibly 50% more than they do today - with their handset unit - and the profits of their OTHER units would be at least 30% more.. and Apple would be ridiculously MORE obscenely profitable than they are today.

I've said many many times that in time, Apple will be seen to have won a battle to lose the war, they focused too much on short-termism and abandoned the far GREATER profits they could have taken in the long run.

BUT with the benefit of hind-sight. Apple could never have taken 40% or 50% of the market with an exclusive OS strategy. So 25% maybe, but not much more. And if the OS wars were going to be fractured as most expected (like in videogaming consoles) then 25% could be a significant mid-player and VERY sustainable. But as the rivals abdicated to Google (and to be fair, Google played its market VERY smartly) then it was a two-horse race and there 85/15 is hopeless for Apple. They cannot grow from this anymore, they can only shrink over time. It will be slow, but they are in decline and will settle to about 10% as I said, give or take a few points perhaps above that.

Now, on loyalty - as long as Apple feeds iFans with iStuff and lovely bedtime stories of iNonsense - they'll keep their fans who will keep paying iTaxes on their iGadgets forever. I refer to the $2 BILLION payment Apple did to Nokia on stealing Nokia patents for years. That is absolute proof that the LEADER was Nokia, the follower and criminal stealing from the leader - was Apple. Did Nokia play this the smart way? No, they hired idiot Elop who was brainwashed by iBullshit who actually JOINED in the lies, claiming Apple was years ahead haha.

If you are 3 years ahead of Apple and have 2x the market share of Apple (in smartphones) and you are consistently profitable - you are WINNING. You do not destroy that STRATEGY. Nokia would have remained EASILY the largest and consistently profitable smartphone maker (while Apple would be 'more profitable' yes, Nokia would still 'be profitable') until today - as Samsung would have climbed ahead of Apple to take second place and today we'd be monitoring the race for 3rd place - Huawei vs Apple, not race for 2nd place Huawei vs Apple...

But that is yet another 'what if' story. Apple is good at distorting reality. My job on this blog is to keep the tech story straight. I report the facts. Once again, I am vindicated....

Oh, to summarize - Apple made a big strategy blunder BUT it partially worked out, as OTHERS made similar blunders too and thus even if Apple had tried, they could not have generated a sustainable 2nd-place mass market strategy - because others (also) failed. This is remarkable because Microsoft had MANAGED to succeed to become a Top 3 OS rival in the gaming market you would have thought they would certainly be able to replicate that with phones too. If Bill Gates had been running Microsoft, they would be a Top 3 OS provider today, most definitely...

Tomi Ahonen :-)

Abdul Muis

@Jim Glu / Jim Glue .... Have you settle which one you're gonna use?

"Hi EC,

You are definitely less blinded by Apple hatred than most I read on this forum"

Are you trying to kill me with joke? You were the most bias person in this forum. You were blinded by iShine.

Let me tell you the TRUTH about screen!!! A couple years back, I use Galaxy Note 4. It have 1440x2560. If we compared to the 5.5" iPhone which has the same body size, but lower screen resolution, you could find that my Galaxy Note 4 can watch video 2.5x longer than iPhone... FYI, the Note 4 battery is NOTE 2.5 bigger than iPhone. Apple has been lying to you and iFans about more pixel = more battery hungry. The truth is, Apple software/hardware is NOT AS GOOD as samsung. So, Apple can't use better screen.

The same is true for the small iPhone. The 4.7" iPhone, that have the same size as 5.2" Samsung Galaxy S series. The ONLY HD resolution of iPhone can't keep the phone as much as the Galaxy S series (S5 with FullHD, or S6 with 1440x2560). If what you said is true, that more pixel equal worst battery, than, Galaxy S series battery will be worse than Apple.

When you compare when watching high-res movie... HD scren iphone (4.7") vs. FullHD Samsung S series, you can see that MORE PIXEL = better image... You should really watch a 1440x2560 Galaxy S6 vs. the HD-only small 4.7" iPhone. Perhaps you think iPhone is better because you never try expensive android phone, and just comparing US$50 android Phone with top of the line iPhone.

Tomi T Ahonen

Hi everybody

On India...

India WILL be as large a smartphone market as China. But Apple has NO chance near anything it was able to do in China.

Remember my favorite word 'inevitable'? A few things are inevitable when we consider India and smartphones. We know now that it is inevitable that all humans in age bracket of 10 years to 70 years will have mobile phones - even in Emerging World (while often the poorest will have second-hand, used and hand-me-down phones). So this is now inevitable. Even the poor in India will EVENTUALLY all have mobile phones (but probably not kids at age 5 haha).

This was NOT inevitable when I first made that forecast a decade ago but today, it is accepted by most techs and we - readers of this blog - know it is inevitable. All humans past a certain age limit, which if we want to be conservative, we can set at about 10 years of age - will get a mobile phone, even if they're illiterate or have no electricity or are incredibly poor. It is that useful and they'll figure out some way to get a used phone from somewhere.

We are only a few years from that level.

Secondly it is now INEVITABLE that all phones become smartphones. That was not obvious when I first made that forecast but today all major handset experts agree it is only a question of time. Many put the point of time when the last new dumbphone is manufactured at around year 2020. It may be a bit after that but it is coming. And while old dumbphones will continue to be used for many years beyond that point - it also means - inevitably - that at some point in the future EVERY mobile phone in use (and in practical terms, lets say 99% of phones in use) are smartphones.

It is INEVITABLE that at some point in the future, maybe around year 2025 to 2030 all phones in use even in India will be smartphones. All of them (ie about 99% or more).

Today India has 300 million smartphones. When all over 10 year-olds have smartphones in India, that is 700 million more that will be sold in India to consumers who do NOT own a smartphone today. A little over half of them own a dumbphone, and under half of them don't own any phones yet.

The global average sales price of smartphones is about $200. The ASP in India is only about $150. That is for the 'richest 300 million' who have bought a smartphone up to today, when Apple has about 1% or 2% market share in India.

The DUMBPHONE average price worldwide is under $30. THAT is the market that will shift in India to smartphones. THAT is the ONLY growth market in India. Not smartphones costing $200 like in China. Not smartphones that used to cost $150 like in India up to now. The 700 million who WILL get smartphones who do not own one today - they will average about $30 per phone - the VERY VERY VERY cheapest new Android smartphones from no-name brands - and used phones, used Samsungs and Huaweis and Xiaomis.

Apple has no viable way to compete in the sub-$200 dollar smartphone market. IMPOSSIBLE.

So they will take NOTHING of the 700 million who will get smartphones. Those will be 100% Android (and Nokia's cheapest Android smartphones, the Nokia 2 and Nokia 1, will be major players in that race).

If Apple today has say 2% market share out of a market of 300 million smartphones, and the market grows to 1,000 million (1B) but Apple gains nothing of the growth, it means Apple is down to yes, 0.6% market share of installed base in India by year about 2025...

Now the silver lining is, that the iPhone has a remarkable after-life, so its success in the after-market will be far better than most rivals (although to be fair - especially in India - NOKIA will have better after life, starting with legendary battery life vital in older phones in countries of Emerging World where electricity supply is not reliable).

So Apple could conceivably get to 1% installed base with old used iPhones landing in India from the rich world say Dubai etc... but no, there is no chance of Apple gaining ANY share out of the 'new market' of 700 million smartphone BUYERS. The only chances Apple have are via second-hand sales in that segment and there, it will not be the most popular device in the way it is in the rich world..

I don't often use the word 'inevitable' and I have never been wrong when I used the word - it is a POWERFUL tool in understanding tech trends to notice when some trend becomes inevitable. India sits on two inevitable developments and they doom Apple's chances in that market...

Tomi Ahonen :-)

Abdul Muis


"Now the silver lining is, that the iPhone has a remarkable after-life,"

This is because apple only sold flagship, last year flagship, and last-last year flagship. So, if you compare average android phone which skewed by low end device, apple seems to have a remarkable after-life.

For Android right now, any old Android phone with 2GB RAM still good enough.

Poit Piot

iSheep trolling detected

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