10 ways the iPhone 6 could give Android a run for its money

The iPhone 6 was revealed on September 9, 2014.
Find out what features should have Android developers scrambling to pick
up the slack.
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Image: Apple

Whether
you’re a fan of Apple or not, its product announcements are a huge deal
— sort of a block party and rock concert with new gadgets and concepts
as the guests of honor — which echo throughout all walks of life, from
hard-boiled technologists to casual users, from businesses to personal
consumers. An Apple event is showcased with plenty of hullabaloo and
nonstop social media coverage; I’ve even heard it referred to as the
American version of the Royal Baby.

True to form (once Apple fixed
the embarrassing problems with its live feed), yesterday’s unveiling of
the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus generated a wave of buzz over the
size, form, and associated features that will be included. There’s no
shortage of information on what’s new on the Apple front, so my goal
here is focus on how the new iPhones will stack up against existing
Android models and software. Let’s shine the spotlight on where the
Android platform might need to play catch-up.

The basics of the new designs

Before
I talk about what’s unique about the new iPhones (or at the very least,
what might scare Android), let’s look at some of the basics.

  • The iPhone 6 will be 4.7 inches long and the iPhone 6 Plus 5.5 inches
    (it’s being referred to as a “phablet”– a cross between a phone and
    tablet), both of which are improvements on the smaller 4″ or less
    displays that have limited the capabilities of existing iPhones.
  • Apple has improved the camera to 8 megapixels.
  • The devices can take regular video at 30 or 60 frames per second and
    capture slow-motion video at 120 or 240 frames per second.
  • The new iPhone designs are metal and glass bodies without direct edges, which are thinner than prior models.
  • Apple is offering enhancements like a retinal display (Retina HD); an
    improved 64-bit A8 chip, which provides 25% faster CPU/50% faster
    graphics performance; 802.11C Wi-Fi; a barometer to measure air pressure
    (which seems part of a trend of fitness-related apps); a mobile wallet
    service (NFC for Apple Pay); and tie-in to the upcoming Apple Watch
    (to be released in early 2015), a wearable device which boosts the
    capabilities of your smartphone by providing access to convenient
    features.
  • The iPhone 6 will have a screen resolution of 1334 X
    750 pixels and 326ppi — more than one million pixels — while the
    iPhone 6 Plus will sport a screen resolution of 920 X 1080 and 401ppi —
    two million pixels.
  • The new additions to the iPhone family come in storage sizes of 16, 64, and 128 Gb.
  • The phones go on sale on September 19 and will cost $199 / $299 / $399
    for the iPhone 6 in 16GB / 64GB / 128GB, and $299 / $399 / $499 for the
    same versions of the iPhone 6 Plus (two-year contract required).
  • Apple’s
    newest mobile operating system, iOS 8, will be released free of charge
    on September 17 and will be available for the iPhone 4S and later
    models, iPad 2 and iPad mini and later models, and the fifth-generation
    iPod touch.

Here’s some of what’s NOT different

  • The bigger screen real estate is more of a leveling move against
    Android; nothing particularly new here in terms of overall smartphone
    size.
  • The 8 megapixel camera is also unimpressive. This standard has been achieved on Android smartphones for some time.
  • The screen resolution on the new phones isn’t anything Android hasn’t achieved already.
  • The iPhone storage specs also aren’t anything the Android models can’t
    match, and the prices are impressive but no lower than you would
    reasonably expect to pay with a Samsung or Motorola; probably the
    contrary in fact.
  • The Watch tie-in is nice, yet Android has
    the Android Wear smartwatch. Making phone calls over Wi-Fi will also be
    an option (at least, if you’re a T-Mobile customer, though other
    carriers are likely to join in). But it’s possible to use apps like
    Skype on Android to do the same thing regardless of carrier.
  • The upcoming iOS 8 software for iPhones (and iPads) will provide a
    dedicated app for browsing through your iCloud files, but this is
    already possible with Google Drive.
  • The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus
    come with 802.11ac networking for faster Wi-Fi speeds, but the Samsung
    Galaxy S5, for instance, already boasts this capability.

Here are the possible game changers

So where are the possible pain points for Android amidst this unveiling?

1: Form factor

The
new iPhone designs are elegant to say the least, which is a standard
we’ve come to expect from Apple, a company that even makes sure even the
box the iPhone comes in is impressive. Cruder and clunkier Android
smartphones can’t compete in the looks and glamour department, at least
not yet. This may not bother some people (I’m thinking of the hardcore
techies who are more interested in Android ROMs than what the body looks
like). But for those who dwell within the Apple ecosystem — or want to
— this may be a substantial draw.

When I was a teenager, my dad
worked in sales, and he told me many people in his field felt the need
to drive showy cars as a status symbol since the cars attracted interest
and discussion. (Whether they really had the income for these luxury
models was another story.) It’s clear that the iPhone product line
carries the same sort of appeal to those who live by aesthetics. Android
manufacturers would do well to incorporate a bit more flash into their
models.

2: Display specs

Bright sunlight is a huge problem
with my Samsung Galaxy S3; the display is virtually unreadable unless I
shade the device and squint hard. The Retina display for the iPhone 6
models will include a new polarizer in the glass to provide better
readability in bright sunlight. Apple said that the display uses higher
contrast: “…we developed an advanced process of photo alignment. This
involves using UV light to precisely position the display’s liquid
crystals so they lay exactly where they should. Better-aligned crystals
deliver a superior viewing experience, with deeper blacks and sharper
text.” Wider-angle viewing is another touted feature designed for users
who share photos and videos. For those who need a clear, readable, and
vivid display, this could be a major shot across Android’s bow.

3: Communication

The
iPhone 6 models will offer faster and more diverse networking than
predecessors in the form of LTE (long-term evolution, a wireless
networking standard). Speeds may reach 150 Mpbs, compared to 100 Mbps in
prior models. While that doesn’t necessarily edge out Android devices,
the killer component here is that 20 LTE bands can be accessible to the
iPhone 6 line, which means better roaming capabilities than any other
current smartphone while traveling. Road warriors, line up!

4: Mobile wallet

Apple
is entering the mobile wallet arena with its Apple Pay product, which
it’s partnering with Visa, MasterCard, and American Express (along with
several banks) to make available for use with over 220,000 U.S
merchants.

The mobile wallet idea is simple: You can buy stuff
with your smartphone instead of cash or a credit card, which in this
scenario involves an NFC chip in the phone that sends the transaction
wirelessly. The iPhones integrate with Touch ID and Passbook, and users
can add a credit card from iTunes or by scanning their card with the
camera. Android has a similar feature in the form of Google Wallet, for instance, but it has had some significant problems gaining traction.

Tim
Cook said this regarding Apple’s designs in the mobile wallet space,
“We’re gonna start by focusing on payments. Payments is a huge business.
Every day between credit and debit we spend 12 billion dollars. That’s
over 4 trillion dollars a year, and that’s just in the United States…
200 million transactions a day. That’s 200 million times we scramble for
our credit cards and go through what is a fairly antiquated process.”

Whether
Apple can pull it off is another question, but given the ability to
assess what’s gone wrong in the mobile payments space and to
meaningfully plan out innovative solutions, it may be poised to become
the front-runner in that segment.

5: Wearable possibilities

Like
Google Wallet, wearables have had some struggles, being seen as a niche
(read: fitness) product by many. I’ve often heard comments such as, “My
smartphone eliminated the need to carry around a wristwatch — now the
smartphone makers want me to add one back on?” Both Apple and Android
have a smartwatch candidate now, though it will be interesting to see
how useful each one is in its respective ecospace. The Apple Watch will
work with the iPhone 6 candidates and will be backward-compatible with
iPhone 5, 5c, and 5s, heightening the possibilities that this is really
the one wearable to beat — or at least it will saturate what market
share there is to saturate for this kind of product.

6: Battery life

The
iPhone 6 batteries will be more energy efficient. The iPhone 6 will
provide 50 hours of audio, 11 hours of video, 11 hours of Wi-Fi
browsing/LTE browsing, 10 hours of 3G browsing, 14 hours of voice, and
10 days on standby. The iPhone 6 plus will provide 80 hours of audio, 14
hours of video, 12 hours of Wi-Fi browsing/LTE/3G browsing, 24 hours of
voice, and 16 days on standby.

Now, many Android models with
beefier batteries can provide longer battery life. But it should be
pointed out that the above statistics blow away the capabilities of my
Samsung when I first got it, since it shipped with a weak default
battery that literally would not last me from 7 AM past 3 PM. The ante
has been upped in the battery contest, and here’s hoping to see future
releases more efficient and powerful on both sides of the smartphone
debate.

7: Reachability

Apple’s Reachability is a feature
that facilitates one-handed operation on the iPhone 6 models. Users can
double-tap the home button to move the user interface down to put
elements at the top of the screen within thumb’s reach. Samsung has done
the same, but the results have been less than satisfying in my personal
view. I continuously find myself having to exit a menu or app I
inadvertently pressed; I find the interface clumsier than it should be.
True one-handed operation is a must for me, whether I’m carrying
something in my other hand, trying to multi-task, or just quickly gain
access to something vital on my phone. I think if Apple can polish the
screen sensitivity to a more responsive level, this will be a hot space
to watch.

8: Enterprise features

iOS 8 will bring a number
manageability options for enterprises to take better control of mobile
devices. For instance, it will include a Device Enrollment Program that
can automatically set up smartphones with certain settings,
applications, and content, as well as apply desired restrictions for
users. It will bring better security to protect data and apps,
per-message encryption controls, and content filtering opportunities for
third-party developers.

Google offers some similar options for
Android devices (and so do third-party providers), but many of these are
applicable to Google Apps customers or have to be cobbled together. The
default settings for Android devices hooked up to Exchange 2010 via
Activesync, for instance, are somewhat limited and basically revolve
around mandating passwords and allowing apps to run. With the BYOD
movement in full swing, businesses sorely need better administration,
safeguards, and customization of employee mobile devices.

9: Integration

If
there’s one word that comes to mind when you think of Apple, it’s
probably integration. Integration among the Mac OS, iPhone, and iPad
products is the best in the field, and Apple is holding onto this trend
with features such as Handoff, which can let you switch using apps or
functions between devices. Google does a good job linking data via
Google Drive and synchronizing apps like Gmail, Chrome, Google Calendar,
and Google+ across devices — and the advent of Chromebooks can help it
continue to build upon the transition of function and data between
smartphone, tablet, and desktop/laptop operating systems. At the moment,
Apple still leads the integration charge thanks to its gift of
publicity. But Android can change the direction with a bright enough
spotlight.

10: User-friendliness

With each product launch,
Apple seeks to capitalize further and further upon its reputation as a
user-friendly industry. “It just works” is something I’ve heard applied
to Apple products so many times that if I hear the phrase at parties, I
know immediately what the speaker is referring to.

Android isn’t
necessarily out to be user-friendly, so it’s a different type of
platform — one often geared more toward tinkerers and customizers who
like to pick and choose elements they want to use or work with. The
attraction to Apple is that it’s a “one-stop shopping” environment for
devices, applications, and data. This can be a distinct turnoff for
other people, of course.

I’m not saying Android should try to be
something it’s not (this is not a teen comedy from the 1980s, after
all). But I will admit that even as an IT guy, I’ve sometimes had to dig
my way out of a few Android challenges that I genuinely don’t know how a
layperson might have solved. While there are plenty of resources are
out there, in terms of help guides, support forums, and alternate apps,
making sense of the mountain of options can be a challenge. For Android
to retain its popularity (it does possess a significant market share
among devices), a blend of customization and simplicity to attract and
retain a wide set of users will remain a key priority.

Cleaning up the champagne bottles

Well,
the long-awaited iPhone 6 launch has come and gone, and I’m sure the
array of reactions will be as varied as the array of features shown by
Apple. How Android responds in the upcoming months will be the next big
question in the never-ending game of mobile device brinkmanship… which
always keeps pontificators like me guessing!

Also see…

Your turn

How
do you think the iPhone 6 is going to stack up against Android? Any
diehard Android folks out there tempted to jump ship? Share your
opinions with fellow TechRepublic members.

– TechRepublic

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