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What we know (and suspect) about the iPhone 6 and iOS 8


As it is almost becoming a tradition in the industry, this time of the year gets fuelled with speculation, rumours, concepts and ideas on what the next iteration of Apple’s SmartPhone and mobile operating system would be. Here is a consolidation of what we know so far:

The Screen

Little room for doubt here, the iPhone 6 will definitely have a larger screen and quite possibly come in two different screen sizes (4.7 and 5.5 inch). There are quite a few facts pointing in this direction, and beyond leaked designs and alleged pictures of iPhone 6 parts, the key hint is coming from down the supply chain, where screen manufacturers are already ramping up production of screens in these sizes in time for a potential September launch. The latest to be added to the rumour mill is the announcement by Japan Display that they would start production of  a Quad-HD 5.5inch display in the second quarter of the year. Japan Display has recently been mentioned as to be entering the list of Apple’s component suppliers, and would mean a huge jump from the current 640 x 1136 resolution to a staggering 1440 x 2560. Details on the resolution for the eventual 4.7 inch display are yet to be released, but could be easily higher than current Full HD standards if density is maintained.

Design

Some very realistic and others bordering science fiction, iPhone concepts are a gradual approximation to the real product to which we are already used to. There seems to be consensus on two aspects: A slimmer body and a much thinner bezel allowing to minimise the volume (and hence weight) increase of the device due to the jump in the screen. Most of the concepts are evolutions from the current 5/5s family design (see this beautiful – and realistic – video by Sam Beckett).

There have also been alleged leaks of schematics that describe with high precision how the device would look like which have been used to create yet another concept which would inaugurate a new look for the iPhone saga.

iOS 8 and Wearables

It is becoming increasingly clear that iOS 8 would evolve the new look and feel inaugurated with iOS7, and would have a strong focus on Health and Fitness, in line with the blooming of wearable devices in the last couple of years which are seeing fitness as a huge potential market for wearable technology. It looks like all Health functions will be grouped inside Healthbook, just similarly to what Passbook meant as a place for coupons and passes. The increased popularity of iBeacons could possibly mean some further development of this technology with real life applications in iOS 8.

iOS 8 rendering by Sam Beckett

iOS 8 rendering by Sam Beckett

And wearables. While Healthbook would put your iPhone 6 at the core of your fitness activity, allowing you to track all your progress, monitoring health parameters would require sensors that are best fitted to wearable devices. This would be a good symbiosis with the much spoken and yet to be seen iWatch, which could pack an array of sensors to monitor your blood pressure, heartbeat and possibly even sugar levels and other parameters. This would be the perfect complement to create a complete ecosystem around Health & Fitness and would mark the start of Apple in wearable technology where others already have a couple of iterations.

As in previous years, still quite some time until we get to know iOS 8 as usual in WWDC 2014 -likely to be held mid June this year- and an eventual launch of the iPhone 6 in September, once iOS 8 goes through it’s beta phase, in what should be possibly one of the most feature and innovation packed launch in the iPhone’s history, teaming it with new devices, new design concept and a change in size. Looking forward!.

 

 

Fitness, Gamification and Payments – or what the iPhone 6 should bring to the party


So this could be it, the next generation of the iPhone seems to squeeze into a thinner case to possibly maintain it’s volume while finally going beyond a 4 inch screen.

Possible iPhone 6 prototype

Possible iPhone 6 prototype – Photo courtesy of MacRumours

Form factor aside, there are two elements that I believe would be the next trend setters: Fitness and Payments.

Payments

Your phone will be your wallet

Your phone will be your wallet

For the last two generations we have been missing NFC to be packed into the iPhone, sending a clear signal that this is not what Apple believed in for the short range / contactless communications required for mobile payments. In exchange, the iBeacon technology was introduced in iOS7, built over bluetooth 4.0, by making use of the BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) standard.

In short, iBeacons are indoor located, low-power, low-cost emitting devices that, making use of the BLE, can make iOS devices in their vicinity aware of their presence. This enables all sort of use cases based on close proximity, allowing for any system to send notifications to your iPhone. The main advantage over NFC is that is doesn’t require any specific hardware on the mobile device, as it operates over Bluetooth 4.0, and it broadens the possibilities well beyond sending payments from a POS to a mobile device for them to be authorised (remember that fingerprint reader in the iPhone 5S?), retailers are already using iBeacons to enhance and augment shopping experiences.

Bits and pieces of the eventual payments ecosystem have been gradually introduced, with Passbook, introduced in iOS6 possibly playing a role in storing your payments information in conjunction with iCloud keychain. iBeacons would solve the problem of communicating with the mobile device to exchange the payment information and get the operation authorised.

It’s yet to be seen how far will Apple want to go, as this model would just automate and mobilise payments and allow for Customers to digitise their credit cards, but essentially the payment method would still be a credit card, which limits the revenue Apple would get should they become a payment processor. With about a billion credit cards on file, it’s difficult to believe they wouldn’t want to make the jump, but that’s possibly material for another post on the matter.

Fitness

Nike Fuel Band

Nike Fuel Band

It’s not a secret that games are the most highly ranked and rated mobile apps in all platforms, together with the most retained. Such is the difference with other applications that a whole science has been crafted to bring what makes games so addictive to other applications and businesses: Gamification.

Gamification is the use of game thinking and game-mechanics in a non-game context to engage users and solve problems. 

Wikipedia

Gamification techniques are based on human’s natural desire for competition, achievement, status and altruism, and can be implemented into applications in different manners:

  • Rewarding the customer for accomplishing desired tasks (badges, levels, virtual currency or just showing a progress bar)
  • Encouraging competition by making achievements and rewards visible to other players or providing leader boards
  • Integration with Social Media increases visibility and leverages the power of referral and recommendation, together with the engagement and competition with friends and relatives for progress

Quite a few companies have understood these dynamics and are getting increased engagement in all sort of fields, and fitness couldn’t be a better example. SmartPhones have been good companions in fitness in the last few years, and recent developments like Fitbit or Nike with Nike+ are putting all the Gamification ingredients in the shaker to create a perfect SmartPhone-Fitness-Social Media triangle. These companies are having to develop hardware to cover for the natural lack of fitness specific sensors in SmartPhones, but that is possibly going to change, and here is where I believe the iPhone 6 will again step ahead of the competition.

Reportedly, Apple would be packing into the 6 a few sensors that would enhance it’s fitness capabilities, like the ability to measure heart rate. The motion coprocessor is already there and tracks your movements with precision, so with new additions the 6 could be the perfect fitness companion. Game!

Apple to enter into mobile payments?


Your phone will be your wallet

Your phone will be your wallet

Last week at WWDC, Apple introduced iOS 6 amongst others. Without entering into two much detail about the hundreds of new features that the new OS will bring, there is one that reveals that Apple might be taking a serious look at mobile payments. With the introduction of Passbook in iOS 6, your iPhone will turn into a very convenient digital repository to place all sorts of digital goodies. Vouchers, loyalty cards, promotion codes, QR codes, which include boarding passes, and movie tickets, just to name a few. These can even be geotagged, so they would become active whenever you are near the target location.

Interesting and definitely very useful, but not outstanding from other competitors which are already offering partial solutions to this problem. Likely to have a wonderful user experience though, and would define standards so that companies can create their own passbook-able digital goodies. Apparently big players in different industries are already signing up for the new platform.

However, this touches some of the items that other companies are defining around a potentially very lucrative industry: mobile payments. Storing credit / debit / stored value cards in your mobile phone would be no secret, and would be similar to Google Wallet, which opens the door to adding more intelligence to the physical moment of payment.

Apple Passbook

Apple Passbook

Game changing?

There are many different ways into which Apple might decide to introduce mobile payments, but considering their usual appetite to be real game changers, it will be interesting to see if they have anything awaiting down their sleeve.

So far the traditional approach would be to use cards stored in the phone –in Passbook- to be used through NFC (it is yet to be seen whether iPhone 5 would ship with NFC, even though many rumors point in this direction) the integration with Passbook and other digital goodies such as vouchers, loyalty points, etc would help create a more interactive payment experience, but this would not be seen as a breakthrough as it would be quite similar to the ecosystem defined by Google around Wallet. And above all, Apple would be making not –or little- money out of this.

The payments ecosystem is complex and involves many actors. From issuers to merchants, it’s an industry which has a great dependency on a very established infrastructure, and in which having the right coverage and capillarity to reach a high percentage of POS (Points Of Sale) where new technologies of mobile payments would be accepted.  This will surely be a challenge, even for a company with the drive and ability to massively push technology as Apple. NFC, with support from many companies will take some time to takeoff until a large number of Points of Sale are upgraded to support the near field technology. Yes, it is getting lots of support from mobile phone manufacturers, but merchants are yet to catch up (one-third of POS expected by end of 2012, with 2% at mid 2011 in the US).

So having set the scene, it will be very interesting to see what Apple has to offer in the mobile payments space, whether they will just rely on their ability to attract merchants to adopt Passbook as their natural digital distribution platform for digital goodies -and eventually payment methods- while reusing the existing NFC standards and Card issuers as Mastercard, Visa or American Express, or whether they will decide to change the way we understand mobile payments the same way they did with the way we understood the SmartPhone or even the way we consumed music.

NFC beyond payments


The spread and adoption of NFC seems to be gaining momentum in the industry, with a number of terminals either supporting or having the intention to support the technology. With the exception of Apple, who still have to make a move in this space, most SmartPhone manufacturers are already shipping NFC-enabled devices, updated list can be checked here.

With strong support from key industry players like Visa or MasterCard, and with Google redefining the whole payments ecosystem, the late 2011 and early 2012 will see the consolidation of NFC as a standard feature in mid to high-end SmartPhones. Yet more to see if Apple decides to include the technology in their yet-to-be-seen iPhone 5.

While contactless payments will continue to be the source of growth for a number of years, however there are many other uses and applications that are strongly emerging, which promise a bright future for this technology. NFC is here to stay.

SmartPhones have been gradually conquering other devices space, replacing your agenda, phone, photo and video camera, business card holder… and even computer with very advanced applications being available out there in the respective appstores. The next thing to come is clearly your wallet, changing your old-fashioned plastic credit cards for their virtual counterparts.

Cash Cards have been successfully implemented in some markets, whilst others are still hesitant to make use of them. The burden of balance top-up is still something to be resolved. NFC can boost the usage of these, as they are really convenient for day to day micro payments where a contactless, signatureless payment can be really convenient. Vending machines, public transportation, paying a taxi or your coffee at Starbucks are likely to be done with a cash card, which now you will be able to store in your SmartPhone. And guess what, recharge it directly from your banking account too!.

But there is room for NFC beyond payments.

Merchants offering loyalty cards, with or without stored value can benefit of this technology. You have loyalty cards from a couple of airlines, half a dozen hotels, your favorite coffee shop and a myriad of other merchants. Now all of them can fit comfortably in your NFC-enabled phone, and you can easily track your points, miles and rewards easily in one single place.

Access Control through NFC

Access Control through NFC

Access control

Modern houses use cards and readers to access doors and gates instead of traditional keys, pretty much like you would see in any hotel. Wouldn’t it be nice to use your SmartPhone to access home?. And it would not stop here, home automation might be one of the next things to be conquered by your SmartPhone, so start guessing the possibilities here.

Anywhere requiring identification in the form of a card can benefit of NFC for access control, so will no longer have to carry your identification badge with you. Your phone does.

Information sharing

The next best thing is information sharing. In the era of Social Media, it is all about sharing. Also in the physical world, where you are likely to exchange your business card when you meet someone, give your phone number or your facebook profile to someone you just met, or leave your card to participate in the next lucky draw. All of them can now be done by putting your phone close enough, so you can transfer your contact details, social media profiles or leave a reduced version of your contact details on a merchant. How many times have you been asked to write down the same contact details on a hotel at check-in?. Guess what, never again.

And the last, yet best

Angry Birds Magic

Angry Birds Magic

It had to be Rovio and in had to be Angry Birds to give us the latest example of NFC. The latest version of their ultra-popular game, still only available on the new NFC-enabled Nokia C7,

allows gamers to contact other gamers to unlock new levels of the addictive game. Fun?.

Does Apple bet for NFC?


There is something I quite missed on today’s Apple event. It was not Steve Jobs, and it was not iPhone 5. Actually, whether it was an upgraded iPhone 4 (as it finally turned out to be) or the long awaited iPhone 5, the feature I really missed is the NFC chip built into the latest object of desire.

NFC Enabled Phone

NFC Enabled Phone

Taking a look at the recent movements by Google, announcing Google Wallet and Offers, which create a whole ecosystem to make the most out of the NFC hardware, as well as the list of

iPhone 4S

iPhone 4S

manufacturers announcing -or even shipping- NFC-capable phones, it is surprising that Apple chose not to make a move on this space. The whole set of actors in the industry, from hardware and software manufacturers to card issuers, financial institutions and merchants are positioning themselves on what looks like one of the next big things in both Mobile Technology and Financial Services.

Apple is known for not leaving anything to chance, so either they do not believe in NFC (clearly unlikely, considering the push and support the technology is getting) or they are preparing something really big that is worth waiting for their next generation SmartPhone to be unveiled.

So is Apple preparing a move similar to Google’s in this space, by combining the hardware -probably linked to the iPhone 5 launch sometime next year- with a complete ecosystem of applications and platforms to cover the whole, end to end payment experience?. Is it wise for Apple to reach the market at least half a year later if they want to have a predominant position in this space?. Time will tell, but it looks that either they have an ace under their sleeve or it will be a big leap to cover if they wait for iPhone 5 to step in.

OS Wars vs Patent Wars


The Patent Wars

The Patent Wars

The holidays are now over, so time to resume the activity after the holiday break. However, August has not been as quiet as it normally is, at least in the Mobile Industry, well, it was, until Google announced by mid month that they where acquiring Motorola’s mobility to seriously jump into the hardware industry and give yet more power to the Android platform they have been developing over the last few years. Although boosting Android (see stats below) is the main official reason behind the operation, Motorola’s vast portfolio of patents has surely played a role in the decision, specially after the war started earlier this year when Apple and a number of other manufacturers, including Microsoft and RIM teamed to acquire other patent portfolios, something which was publicly criticized by Google.

This comes in a moment where Android is clearly becoming the rival to fear for Apple’s omnipresent iOS powering their iPhones and iPads. While SmartPhone sales rocket literally on every market, Android surpassed iPhone in market penetration on a global basis, after it had already done so in the US in November 2010. If we include tablets into the equation, Apple still leads the way.

But not everything seems to be a honeymoon after Google’s announcement. Even though Google claims to have gained agreement with the main phone makers using Android, looks like behind the lines some of them are not too happy about Google entering into competition with them in their traditional marketplace. Maybe casually, only two weeks later Samsung announced a new set of devices using the Bada Operating System, the Waves Y, M and 3.

Probably this will not mean that Bada will gain enough market penetration to threaten Android’s leading market position, but from an application development and marketing perspective, definitely is something to keep an eye on, as this could potentially degrade into an OS war.

When facing the marketing, product definition and development of a mobile application, one of the key decisions to take is the platforms to support. Every business will have different target audiences, and the multiplicity of platforms has a great impact on the total cost of ownership of the mobile software products companies provide. It is not only the different skills needed for development, but also the different user experiences that each platform provides, as well as the increasing complexity of testing, customer support, incident management, etc. This is clearly being a barrier for some other platforms to gain growth in the number of available applications in their respective application stores and markets, as corporations will need a minimum number of customers to justify the development and maintenance costs for a specific platform.

Time will tell wether this evolves into an OS war, or wether the market continues the consolidation under the two -for the moment- winners.