Tag Archives: iPhone Upgrade Program

Yes, I’m (Planning On) Buying an iPhone X. Here’s How, and Why… but WHEN?

When I watched Apple’s iPhone presentation last week, one of the biggest surprises to me came when they unveiled the iPhone 8, because it wasn’t the 7S!

 

First, a brief history lesson (scroll down to “HOW” to skip to my thoughts on the iPhone X):

In 2008, Apple released their first upgrade to the iPhone, the iPhone 3G. Its biggest improvement was, naturally, its ability to make calls on the 3G network. Otherwise, it was the same shape and size as its predecessor, the original iPhone (never actually called “2G” or “Edge”).

One year later, Apple added voice command interactivity—a precursor to Siri—and other improvements in 2009’s iPhone 3GS. The “S,” according to Apple’s Phil Schiller, stood for “speed.”

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Phil Schiller introduces the iPhone 3GS. Source: CNN.com

Then came the iPhone 4, which, if you’re counting along, was indeed the fourth iPhone—incidentally, this was also the last time that number would indicate which iPhone release it was.

Following that, in 2011, came the 4S (this time, the “S” stood for “Siri”). With the 4S, a pattern was established of a “numbered” iPhone, followed the next year by the “S” version of that model. This pattern gave us the iPhone 4 and 4S; the 5 and 5S; and the 6 and 6S. In 2016, true to form, Apple released the 7. Unlike previous “numbered” iPhones, this one was mostly the same shape and size as its predecessors in the 6 line. The biggest (and most controversial) change was the removal of a headphone jack. For a reminder, check out my blog from that time.

By this point, many iPhone owners had gotten into the habit of waiting every other year to get their phone on the “S” cycle. This would allow Apple time to work out the kinks in design (such as the structural issues in the iPhone 6, resolved with the 6S); as well as allowing third-party manufacturers time to release appropriately-sized accessories, such as Mophie’s Juice Pack line of battery cases.

So imagine the surprise in the tech community to hear that the next iPhone would not be the iPhone 7S, but instead the iPhone 8!

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Okay, it didn’t take EVERYONE by surprise! Source: cultofmac.com, click image to go to their article, now proven correct.

In the 8, the most prominent hardware update beyond the camera—they do that with every new iPhone—came in the form of wireless charging, via the Qi wireless charging standard. Not only had Apple defied expectations by not naming this phone the 7S; now they were adopting established standards, instead of inventing a proprietary technology! What’s next?!

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An iPhone 8 charging wirelessly. Source: CNN.com

And then they showed us what’s next.

In a rare move, Apple launched another phone at the event (and I don’t just mean the larger iPhone 8 Plus). No, this is where X marked the spot. But forgive me, I don’t mean to misspeak. It’s pronounced “Ten,” as in the Roman numeral. Just like how the tenth incarnation of its computer operating system, Mac OS, featured an X in its brand for over 15 years. And that was pronounced, “Oh Ess Ten.” Ironically, just as they’ve abandoned the Roman numeral X in their macOS software, they’ve brought it back front and center for a whole new generation of users who will no doubt pronounce it, “iPhone Ex…” at least, until the next model comes out: the “XS?” The “10 S?” I’m sure the brain trust is working hard on that name already.

Strictly speaking, the X (or 10, whatever) doesn’t represent which iPhone model this is. It’s actually either the 18th (if you’re counting 5C, Plus, and SE models); or just the 12th (if you’re ignoring them).

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The 15 iPhones up to 2016’s 7 and 7 Plus (lower right). Source: MercuryNews.com

So if they wanted to match their numbering system the way they did with the iPhone 4, that ship has long since sailed. No, this number represents the tenth anniversary of the iPhone (which, strictly speaking, came and went in June to no official fanfare).

I have to admit, announcing the X at the same time as the 8 is a bold step by Apple. Sure, they’ve done “parallel” releases before, such as the colorful, plastic iPhone 5C (it practically looked like a co-venture with Fisher-Price!). Or the compact iPhone SE, targeted at those who preferred the smaller form factor of the 5 and 5S. But the 5C didn’t call itself the 6. And the SE, released at the same time as the 7, certainly didn’t call itself the 8!

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2016’s iPhone SE (left) and 2013’s iPhone 5C (right). Source: uSwitch.com

For most users, the 8 is fine. It’s got the 7’s familiar shape, size, and interface. Good ol’ home button where it should be, fingerprint sensor and all. Now it’s got a couple more bells and whistles—the wireless charging is certainly an idea whose time has come—but otherwise, there really isn’t much to adjust to with this new phone.

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The 8 Plus (the three on the left) looks pretty much like the 7 Plus (the five on the right)… except not quite as many color choices, this time. Source: Macrumors.com

The X, on the other hand, is for the “bleeding edge” types. The kind who don’t mind beta testing a new design. “Facial recognition? Let’s try it out!” They’d say. “If it fails and I have to type in my passcode because there isn’t a fingerprint sensor anymore, well, that’s the price of living on the edge!” And thank goodness for them. We need them to carry the banner for the latest, crazy ideas. For everyone else, a good, dependable iPhone experience is just fine.

Apple has boasted that the iPhone X is the culmination of ten years of research and development. Whether it lives up to the hype remains to be seen. The official release date of the iPhone X is 11/3/17, with pre-orders starting on 10/27/17. And yes, I’ll be getting one—when I can.


HOW

I used to wait every other year, starting with the 3GS. I didn’t have to suffer the “antennagate” headache that accompanied the iPhone 4; likewise, I missed the “bendgate” controversy with the iPhone 6 (see the video below). But when it was time to get my patiently-awaited 6S, I was presented with a new way of getting my iPhone.

I signed on for the iPhone Upgrade Program upon its debut in 2015. I got the 6S—the Plus was a bit too beefy for my pocket—and, as long as I kept up my monthly payments, I would be able to “trade up” to the new release each year. And so, last December, I was able to turn in my 6S for a 7 (I still don’t miss the headphone jack, truth be told).

When the X is readily available, I intend to turn in my 7, and begin the cycle anew. I understand that the monthly payments will go up—it does retail for $999, after all!—but I appreciate the freedom of a no-interest financing plan. It means I don’t have to shell out a healthy chunk of change for a device that, let’s face it, comes with a limited lifespan under the best of circumstances. I’m thinking about the future!

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Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program (click the image to visit Apple’s site). Source: Forbes.com


WHY

Okay, but couldn’t I get the iPhone 8 on the iPhone Upgrade Program when it comes out on 9/22 (available to order now)? Certainly. But it’s not enough of an upgrade from my 7, if I have to choose between the 8 and the X (seriously, they should have called the 8 the VIII to avoid confusion!). I don’t use the phone as a camera enough to justify the upgrade just for the new camera; and for the vaunted wireless charging, I’ve got a great case by Mophie on my 7 that does that job just fine. Here’s a review!

Besides, Apple’s native charging pad, AirPower, won’t be available until 2018.

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Apple’s AirPower charging pad, shown here with an iPhone X, an Apple Watch Series 3, and a wireless-charging AirPods case. None of these devices are available at the time of this posting. Source: ZDNet.com. Click the photo to go to Apple’s wireless charging page.

So why upgrade at all?

I’m tempted to ignore such a silly question; but since I’m the one who asked it rhetorically, I’ll indulge it.

In my specific use case, it’s my job to introduce my clients to new technology. I have one client who lives on the cutting edge. He’s already told me, he’s definitely getting the X when it comes out. It would behoove me to be as expert in that phone as possible when he, and clients like him, have questions about learning the new interface. The fact of the matter is, not enough has changed from the 7 to the 8 to justify that purchase. The big changes on the 8 will mostly be software-based, in the form of iOS 11, which will be available to all iPhone users as far back as the 5S, starting 9/19. I’ll be putting that on my iPhone 7, so I’ll be pretty much ready to go to help any 8 users with usability questions. But when the X comes out, I’m going to want one… but not just so I can keep up with my clients.

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iOS 11, coming to an iPhone near you 9/19. Source: EgyptInnovate.com, click the image to visit Apple’s iOS page.

The X has two major selling points for me, and they’re both in its screen.

IF IT FITS, I SITS

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Some things work better in pockets than others. Source: CAT-GIFs.com

I’m a bit envious of those iPhone owners who have the Plus models. Those glorious 5.5-inch screens look like a dream come true for those of us who find ourselves squinting at our 4.7-inch screens from time to time—a literal sight for sore eyes, if you will. But those big screens come at a cost: the body of the iPhone 8 Plus, like its predecessors from the 6 and 7 lines, measures 6.24 inches long by 3.07 inches wide. And that’s just too big for my pockets. Compare that with its little sibling the 8, measuring a much more pocket-friendly 5.45 inches long by 2.65 inches wide.

The X, on the other hand, measures only 5.65 inches long by 2.79 inches wide, so it’s closer in shape and size to the 8 (it’s under 10% larger than the 8) than to the 8 Plus, which is over 20% larger than the X.

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The three new iPhones for an at-a-glance size comparison (L to R): iPhone X, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone 8. Source: TheVerge.com

But even with the compact body, the X has the biggest iPhone screen yet, at 5.8 inches, measured diagonally. Apple was able to achieve this feat by nearly eliminating anything on the face of the X that wasn’t part of the screen.

Well, almost.

It wouldn’t be an iPhone announcement without some controversy, I suppose. Last year saw the absent headphone jack; this year, while the 8 series gets away essentially unscathed, the X endures the slings and arrows of its critics for “The Notch.” This strip on the top face of the X contains the front-facing camera and the facial recognition sensors (another neat feature exclusive to the X, but not a “dealbreaker” for me). The primary criticism here is its unusual shape. Unlike past iPhone screens, this would be the first model not to be a pure rectangle, with this small chunk cut out of one side.

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Behold: THE NOTCH! Source: Macrumors.com

Personally, I don’t see the big deal (it’s still so much more visual real estate than I ever would have had before), but I’ll have to see if it truly bothers me when I see it in person.

OLED UP THE GARDEN PATH

The other killer feature, that standout aspect of the X that the 8 models just don’t have, is the “Super Retina HD display,” running at a resolution of 2436 by 1125, with a pixel density of 458 pixels per inch. That’s a 32% increase in resolution over the 8 Plus, and a 14% increase in pixel density. And remember, that’s all in a body still smaller than the 8 Plus.

But what I’m really excited about is the Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) display, a first for iPhone. With OLED, there is no need for a separate, prone-to-failure backlight; the pixels generate their own light! This means the lights are lighter, the blacks blacker, and the phone itself can be thinner and lighter-weight.

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The iPhone X’s OLED display probably needs to be experienced in person. Source: Apple.com, click to visit their iPhone X page.

Hopefully, this will be just the first in a new wave of OLED screens: first on iPhone, then iPad, then MacBook screens, even iMac screens. The final dream would be a large (maybe 30+ inch?) desktop OLED monitor running at 5K or greater. And since Apple hasn’t made their own standalone monitors since the Thunderbolt Display was retired in June of 2016, I’d say it’s about time.

Again, the proof is in the pudding. I need to see this screen for myself. So…?


WHEN

I was lucky when the iPhone 7 came out. I wasn’t in a particular rush to get one, waiting until Mophie would come out with a new Juice Pack case for it. Once that case hit stores, I was able to waltz right in at the end of December 2016 and pick up the iPhone 7. No pre-ordering, no waiting in line. Sure, I wasn’t the “first on my block” to have one, but that’s really never been a priority for me. I did a piece on waiting a while back, take a look.

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Mophie’s Juice Pack Air for the iPhone 7. Source: Mophie.com

With the iPhone X, I don’t really need any external accessories. After all, wireless charging is built right in, and my usage never really demanded an external battery. I’m pretty much ready to go, when it comes out. So we’ll just have to see if Apple can meet demands in a timely manner. Given what I’ve been reading about part shortages, I have to admit I’m not particularly optimistic that I’ll have the iPhone X in my hot little hands before 2018.

But what I lack in optimism, I make up for in patience. After all, I’ve been doing this dance with Apple for… how many years is it, now? V? L? M???

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My New Best Buds

Happy New Year! In the spirit of putting my best foot forward, I am happy to report that I have achieved closure on one of my lingering items from 2016… no, I still haven’t found a Nintendo Classic. At this point, I may as well set my sights on its rumored successor, the Super Nintendo Classic.

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Come on, Nintendo. One heartbreak at a time. (Source: @trademark_bot on Twitter)

This loose thread from last year involves my quixotic quest to find the perfect wireless earbuds. In my Dec. 12 posting, I touched upon my experiences with earbuds from Sol Republic and Jabra. Neither brand impressed me, nor had models from Plantronics and Jaybird, which I also tried out. In fact, while I was patiently waiting for Apple to release its AirPods, only one brand met my demands for comfort and functionality: Skybuds, by Alpha Audiotronics, Inc.

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Alpha’s Skybuds, enlarged to show detail. (Source: Skybuds.com)

The size and shape were a perfect fit, and the sound quality was great… once I was able to pair them to my iPhone 6S. Out of the box, the setup process was arduous, to say the least. I had to install the Skybuds iOS app, and then, pairing each bud was a fussy process. Sometimes Left would pair without a problem but Right wouldn’t show up; sometimes vice versa; and sometimes neither bud would appear at all. To resolve these issues, Skybuds had a software update I needed to get before I could continue. The update told me it would take three hours to download. Three. Hours. Several times during the download, it would drop the connection and I would have to resume. Luckily it didn’t start over at the beginning of the three hours, but each pause was an unwelcome interruption.

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This tour was only supposed to be three hours, too. (Source: Parade.com)

Once the software was updated and the Skybuds successfully paired in tandem, the listening experience was great. And it had better be, at $249.99 retail*. This was my new gold standard for wireless earbuds, even with the setup headache. Apple was going to have a pretty high bar to cross, whenever their long-awaited AirPods would arrive.

And then they arrived.

I had gotten the Skybuds on 12/12, just after posting my blog about my false starts with other brands. Precisely one week later, on 12/19, my local Apple Store notified me that the AirPods I wanted, and for which I had put my name on a waiting list in September, had finally arrived. I didn’t immediately return the Skybuds; I wanted to try out the AirPods before deciding on a “keeper.” So I bought the AirPods over the phone–mustn’t risk their selling out before I got to the store!–and went to pick them up.

 

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And I didn’t even have to wait in line. (Source: MacRumors.com, click photo for their article on the AirPods release.)

 

The setup process isn’t much to describe. I opened the box in the store, opened the charging case, and the AirPods automatically paired with my iPhone 6S. No app downloads, no three-hour updates. I was reminded of the simplicity of adding components to my first Mac, after switching from a Windows PC over a decade ago. “You mean, that’s it?” I thought to myself. And the answer was a resounding yes… and no.

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For real, that’s the process. (Source: CNet.com, click the animated GIF for their article on how easy it is to set up the AirPods.)

Listening to iTunes or Spotify sounded great with both AirPods in. They even stayed in my ears when I would move my head around, despite this satirical take from Conan O’Brien:

So they sounded good, they paired easily, and they fit well–in my ears, at least. What was left?

 

Despite all the positives, AirPods didn’t get along perfectly with my iPhone 6S, when I tried to have a phone call (fun fact for my younger readers: the iPhone, in addition to supporting email, web, and texting functions, also works as a telephone!). With both AirPods in my ears, paired to my iPhone 6S, the bluetooth would disconnect, forcing the call back to the phone’s built-in speaker. I looked into this issue, and apparently the glitch was even worse for some users, ending the call altogether.

In a recent post at AppleToolBox.com, the topic of “iPhone Airpods Disconnecting Calls” came up.  It appears that I was not the only one having difficulty maintaining a phone conversation with both AirPods in. Indeed, with that hypothesis in mind, I began taking calls with only one AirPod, reminiscent of the classic one-ear bluetooth earpieces of years past. This was not an ideal solution, but at least I could have my calls without worrying about losing the audio, or the call outright.

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Using only one AirPod? I suppose there are worse things I could have done…

According to that Apple Tool Box article, “Currently, the issue appears to affect iPhone 6S and 6S Plus more often than other iPhone models.” I’m not totally surprised. It’s no secret that the AirPods were intended to be a companion piece for the brand-new iPhone 7.

It’s the first iPhone without a headphone jack, remember?

At the end of the year, I upgraded to the iPhone 7. Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program lets me swap out iPhones each year, when the new model becomes available, so it would have been silly not to trade in my 6S (known to have problems with AirPod calls) for a 7. And for readers who recall my frustration with Mophie for not making a Juice Pack battery case that supported the 7, they finally released a compatible case. Everything was in place.

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It’s essentially the same as the Juice Pack Air for the 6/6S, but with a larger opening for the camera (upper left); and of course, no opening at the bottom for a headphone jack. (Source: Mophie.com)

After several days of testing, I can confidently say that the AirPods have none of the difficulties with the iPhone 7 that they had with the 6S. Songs, videos, and even phone calls sound great in stereo from start to finish. But the last lingering question remains: “Are AirPods better than Skybuds?”

AirPods sound just as good. In my ears, they’re just as comfortable. They’re much, much easier to set up. They’re fully supported by Apple; so if I have a problem with the connection, it’s one trip to the Genius Bar to see if the problem is with the AirPods, or with the iPhone. And it should be noted that they retail for $159.00, as much as $90* less than the Skybuds. For all those reasons, if you have an iPhone 7, AirPods get my full recommendation. If you’re still on an older iPhone (particularly the 6S or 6S Plus), save your money, at least until Apple can properly address the issue with phone calls. Heck, just use wired headphones while you still have an available jack for them!

* UPDATE: At publication time, it appears Skybuds have gone down in price to $219.99.