Did Apple Show us Enough to Stay Ahead in the Smartphone and Other Markets?

In the most recent Apple show of their newest gadgets, we saw the announcements of the Apple watch Series 2 and the iPone 7. As no surprise, Apple showed us their “BEST iPhone” ever together with the second iteration of the Apple Watch, which they call Apple Watch Series 2. A little more on that later.

So, the iPhone is the best iPhone ever as reiterated by Tim Cook and Philip Schiller several times during the event. Really, would Apple have announced a new iPhone that is worse than the old one? At least by their own standards there should be some improvements. And here is where it becomes interesting.

For quite some time now Apple has been trailing behind Samsung when it comes to smartphone displays in terms of technology and performance. So Apple announced a Retina HD display for the new iPhone 7 with 4.7″ diagonal for the iPhone 7 and 5.5″ for the iPhone 7 Plus. The display technology is a LED backlit multitouch IPS LCD screen. Wait a second, wasn’t that the big thing for the iPhone 6? Yes that’s right, on the first look the displays haven’t changed but then there is always a second look.

As published by our colleague Ray Soneira from DisplayMate Technologies, the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus came with an almost perfect sRGB color gamut even though the white point is a little off. The iPhone and 7 Plus will come with a wide color gamut display! According to the technical specifications, the new iPhone displays will conform to the P3 gamut, which of course is the standard for the digital cinema industry. Why they were not shooting for the Rec 2020 standard may have to do with the fact that LCD displays cannot easily achieve this standard today (actually not at all at the moment – Man. Ed) and support for Rec 2020 is just starting to gain momentum in the industry.

If color gamut is their big play for market leadership, we have to wonder how they are dealing with the color gamut of entertainment content downloaded from ‘somewhere on the web’. While there was no distinct explanation, Apple did state that the device will handle the color management from the source to the display for the user, but there was no word on how they are doing it, just that they are going to do it. I guess we will learn more after the first devices are in the market, which is only a week or so away.

In addition, the new camera is also capable of capturing wide color gamut images. This is where Apple always shines, with every new technology they create a space within their own hardware and software where everything works together just fine, or, at least, better than within their competitor’s systems.

Beyond the wide color gamut the iPhone 7 / 7 Plus displays are about 25% brighter with a brightness of 625 cd/m². This compares to 500 cd/m² on the iPhone 6S / 6S Plus. Not bad considering there is an overall improvement in battery life for the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.

On the other hand, there is no OLED display here or any other display surprise with the exception of the integration of some haptic feedback that allows some interesting functionality in gaming. If you think that is far fetched, I want to remind you that gaming is the largest segment in the Apple app store. By the way, while Apple is suffering from decreasing sales on the hardware side, their app store is showing very strong growth (over 100% YoY in the recent quarters). In addition Apple showed several new games that are taking advantage of the faster processor and the GPU including a Super Mario game that will come to the app store soon.

Watch Apple

As promised, here are a few words about the new Apple Watch. Within the last 18 months, Apple has become the second largest watch manufacturer behind Rolex – not bad for a start! Remember LG and Samsung, among others, were in the smartwatch market way before Apple and couldn’t convert this into market leadership at all.

While there was a lot of discussions about the possibility of a micro LED screen in the upcoming Apple Watch 2, these speculations have been laid to rest. The new Watch comes with an OLED display, just as before, with a sapphire glass (for the stainless steel and ceramic case models) even though Apple upped the brightness level to 1,000 cd/m² compared to around 450 cd/m² in the old model. There is no change in the display resolution.

It seems that Apple means it when they talk about a retina display. This is what your eye can see, everything beyond that is pointless and, to a certain degree, counterproductive.

Are New Tricks Enough?

So taking this all in, Apple did show quite a few new tricks in their next generation iPhones and Apple Watches, even though much of it comes from the camera and new software. The question is ‘is it enough to regain the market share the firm has lost in the last two quarters’? While the ultimate judge of this is the global consumer, I would guess that even with a certain amount of rebound, Apple will have a tough time to regain world leadership in smartphone shipments.

All of the better smartphones today are very good in terms of performance, in the display and otherwise. The differences between them on a performance scale are shrinking from generation to generation. Smartphones are more and more a kind of fashion expression than a technology statement. In addition, with the increasing complexity of the operating systems, a switch from Android to Apple or vice versa is kind of a bummer. What has become easy for you on your old phone is a hassle on the other one.

On the other hand it maybe good to recognize what Apple did not talk about. First, they did not talk about augmented and virtual reality. While Apple has some stakes in the AR/VR industry through its investments, they did not talk up any short term activity to benefit from the initial market interest. There was also no talk about the iPad, Mac, or the famous Apple Car. Apple stayed focused on its flagship product, with the Apple Watch, maybe, becoming almost an accessory to the iPhone. This is a good indication of Apple’s self understanding as a true market leader; they announce new stuff when they think it is ready and not when others are talking about it. – Norbert Hildebrand