Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for September 14th, 2021

Ex S

What’s in a name?

Apple is a company of shifting patterns. For years, it has been content with a tick-tock cycle in iPhone hardware. In one year, the flagship model will have a new visual design language with modest under-hood improvements. The following year, they will be replaced at the top end by phones that have a similar — if not identical — industrial design, but with bigger improvements to the processor, cameras, and other hardware elements.

Rinse and repeat annually until you have one the most successful businesses the world has ever seen.

But we have not seen an S-branded iPhone since the XS of 2018. Its successor models — the 11 and 11 Pro — seem to have set a template for the iPhones of today: a shared industrial design language with subtle differences between the two product lines — and also some changes that set them apart from last year’s models — with one line that is more consumer-oriented, and another that has better cameras and nicer materials.

The iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro models introduced today seem like a continuation of that pattern.1 But as you read through the press release or launch coverage, one thing that seems apparent is how much of the changes are on the inside. Sure, they have slightly smaller notches and the cameras on the back of the 13 are orientated differently — for technical reasons, Apple says — but the improvements are otherwise entirely about what the hardware can do, not what it looks like.

In the past, a faster processor, a radically improved camera system, a new display, and some new colours would surely have encouraged an “iPhone 12S” moniker. But the S-branded models generally receive worse coverage purely because of their looks. Instead of being seen as new iPhones, their updates are treated as more modest — even though their technical improvements have often eclipsed comparable changes in non-S models.

I still find it hilarious how the wise tech commentariat of Twitter and the mainstream press alike yawn at S-branded iPhones despite their internal improvements. It reveals so much about the often ridiculous way we consume products. But that reaction is no good for Apple. It wants people to pay as much attention to its iPhone events even when it is not creating an entirely new industrial design language. Just look at the Cinematic mode in these new models, which allows users to change video focus after capturing it. If it works as well as we saw today, that is a huge leap forward.

From a marketing rationale, I think the S-branded models are gone for good. The question is whether we can now expect the numerical branding to continue incrementing for the foreseeable future. The iPhone naming scheme is uniquely cumbersome for an Apple product, but it is hard to see how the company could change it without messing up its pricing strategy. In the U.S., base iPhone models are priced from $399 all the way up to $1,099 — and that is before you change storage options. There are nearly no gaps in the base price of an iPhone; the biggest jump is $200, between the 13 and the 13 Pro.

As long as Apple wants to continue offering such a wide range of prices while including previous years’ models, I think it will stick with this naming scheme. Dropping the “S” naming convention simplifies the line further: an S-branded phone means nothing, but it is implicit that a higher number means a better model. And, if it means less chance of people minimizing it as a tweaked version of last year’s phone, that is even better for Apple.


  1. I am glad the Mini is sticking around for another year, too. ↩︎

SEC Charges App Annie With Securities Fraud in $10 Million Settlement

Issie Lapowsky, Protocol:

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced Tuesday that it’s charging App Annie, the mobile app data provider, with securities fraud, accusing the company of “engaging in deceptive practices” and misrepresenting the origins of its data. App Annie will pay a $10 million settlement, according to the announcement, although the company has not admitted to any of the SEC’s findings.

The ability for companies to settle charges like these without admitting fault is a fascinating piece of legal spin I would love to learn more about. I looked at all of the press releases issued by the SEC since July 1. About one-third of them contained some variation of the phrase “without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings” — including for settlements for inflated income reporting by Kraft Heinz, misreporting a security breach of Pearson, auditing interference by Ernst & Young, and UBS failing to control for risky investments. Allegedly.

We all have to use the word “allegedly” because none of the above companies — including App Annie — admitted guilt, nor were found guilty. They all get to pretend as though they have not broken the law. This settlement process may be less expensive than taking these cases to trial, but the result is that fraud and systemic abuse is treated as a business expense. And remember: these press releases are all from the last ten weeks.

Anyway, all of that is surely beyond the scope of this little website. I wanted to look at that App Annie settlement in more detail and got sidetracked. Here:

[…] The order finds that App Annie and Schmitt understood that companies would only share their confidential app performance data with App Annie if it promised not to disclose their data to third parties, and as a result App Annie and Schmitt assured companies that their data would be aggregated and anonymized before being used by a statistical model to generate estimates of app performance. Contrary to these representations, the order finds that from late 2014 through mid-2018, App Annie used non-aggregated and non-anonymized data to alter its model-generated estimates to make them more valuable to sell to trading firms.

A reminder that App Annie’s data collection practices, like other similar companies, are horrible and creepy.

Video From Today’s ‘California Streaming’ Apple Event

John Voorhees at MacStories has posted copies of all of the videos from today’s “California Streaming” launch of the iPhone 13 lineup, Apple Watch Series 7, and new iPad and iPad Mini models. Apple did not launch new AirPods — which is a bit embarrassing for me — but at least I was not peddling rumours about a big Apple Watch redesign or satellite connectivity in the iPhone.

To find these videos, you may have to look at little harder than simply visiting YouTube and searching for “Apple”. Right now, the top-ranked video for that query is a live stream of a cryptocurrency scam. When I checked earlier, over fifteen thousand people were watching, and the channel broadcasting it somehow has over a million subscribers. As of writing, it is still live, and the Bitcoin and Ethereum addresses associated with the scam have received over $170,000 in just a few hours today.

Google has not responded to my questions about how easy it is to hijack an obviously popular brand term on YouTube with a commonplace scam like this one.

Update: A Google spokesperson confirmed the channel was terminated.