Life is a Mystery

22 July 2017 . Comment

The iPhone Edge

There’s been a lot of speculation about the next generation of iPhone widely expected this fall. The most compelling analysis for me has been John Gruber’s dive into iPhone pricing strategy. Gruber suggests that Apple will add a new tier of iPhone, a “pro” phone that is priced much higher than the iPhones we know today and allows Apple to make use of technologies that they cannot put into a phone that has to be produced in the massive quantities they usually sell. This makes a lot of sense to me. To see why, lets just look at one technology: OLED.

All iPhones to date use LED screens. Apple’s LED screens are great, super high resolution, bright, lovely. But there is a new technology available, OLED, that looks like it may be even better. In addition to better colors, OLED requires a whole lot less “bezel” (the space around a screen). In fact, Apple already uses OLED screens on the Apple Watch. But Apple cannot add an OLED screen to the iPhone 7S this fall because Apple simply sells too many phones. The world cannot currently produce enough OLED phones to satisfy the demand Apple would create. If Apple tried to do this, it would end up with a huge backlog of iPhone orders.

One possible solution: create a phone with an OLED screen but sell many fewer of them. This is what Samsung does. Since so few people buy a Samsung Galaxy phone (as compared to an iPhone), Samsung can actually get their hands on enough screens to meet their demand. Their lower sales allow Samsung to sneak out closer to the future. How can Apple sell fewer phones? By making their price higher. If Apple rolls out an updated iPhone 7S with an LED screen, but also creates a new “pro” line with an OLED screen (and many other innovations), they could charge way more for the “pro” phone (Gruber guesses around $1,200) and sell correspondingly fewer of them.

So far so good. But how will you feel buying a new iPhone 7S if you also know that Apple has an even better phone that you just can’t afford? What does this do to the Apple brand, which is balanced on the tightrope of excellence (best phones you can buy) and egalitarianism (best phone anyone can buy). You feel great buying an Apple product partly because you feel great treating yourself to the best technology available. Will the “pro” phone tarnish the regular phones? Would you, maybe, wait until you can afford the “pro” phone or wait for some feature of that phone to trickle down to the regular line?

I wonder if part of the problem with this approach for the phone may be thinking of it as a “pro” model. Everybody likes to think they are a pro, especially when something like a phone is the item in question. Maybe I don’t need a “pro” iPad because I don’t think of myself as an artist, or a “pro” Mac because I don’t think of myself as a gamer or nerd, but don’t we all think of ourselves as pretty “pro” phone users? We all text. We all take pictures. We all love to hold the most beautiful object in our hands. Maybe instead of positioning this as “pro” Apple can position this new, more expensive phone as something else: risky.

There is already a precedent for this in software: beta software. We all know beta software has the cool new features, but even though it is often free, we don’t all rush to install beta software because we also know it is risky. Most of us are willing to live on the bleeding edge in some domain of our life, whether that is trying new foods, traveling to new places, reading new books, wearing new styles of clothes, driving luxury cars, or maybe buying the latest tech. But nobody lives on that edge all the time, and I believe many of us would avoid that cuts and bruises of that bleeding edge in our pocket.

So what if the new high end iPhone were marketed as a kind of cool but risky product, a kind of step into the future, like a software beta, but with Apple’s full support behind it. In this case, you pay for the privilege of living on the edge, your phone will cost more than any other. To both emphasize the riskiness and cushion you from those risks, AppleCare would always be included with this phone. In fact, instead of calling this a “pro” model, let’s call it the iPhone Edge. It points to where Apple is going, but it is intended only for those who are willing to pioneer that trail. Join Apple a little closer to the future and help refine the experience before Apple repackages it to sell to the rest of us.

This kind of high end marketing of the future is what we see in cars. Many luxury brands are well known as proving grounds for technologies that eventually end up widely deployed in mass market cars. And savvy customers realize that owning a luxury car is a riskier proposition, one that will likely result in significantly higher costs of ownership and maintenance than owning a mass market car.

The rest of us can feel good buying the stable, solid, performance model of the phone. If those with the resources want to help pioneer our future on the bleeding edge, more power to them. Just like luxury car owners, we can feel like we have been savvier consumers and leave them to their toys. We will stick to what has been proven to work.

I am convinced of the wisdom of Apple striking out into the high end market so that it can explore new technologies in a more timely way. I will be very interested to see how they market the device that opens this new ground for them.

 

10 July 2017 . 1 Comment

Buying a projector

I have long been a fan of projectors for video. Since moving to St. Paul in 2000 we have not bought a TV, and in 2006 I bought a great projector and screen for our house. This year Mary encouraged me to consider replacing that projector, which had grown dim over the years and was not really doing justice to today’s more moody, atmospheric content. To make a long story short, I really came to appreciate an outfit called Projector People and wanted to sing their praises a bit.

My needs are a bit peculiar, so I have to do a lot of research before buying a projector, and I need a chance to try it out before committing to it. This means I need a good return policy, which usually means I like to buy locally. Also, funds are limited and so I’m always shopping for price. In fact, in 2006 I’d bought a demo unit locally to keep the price down.

I see rainbows with almost any home DLP projector, so I’m always on the hunt for LCD which severely limits my options. I also pay close attention to projector “throw” specs (which determine whether the projector can produce an image the same size as my screen from across the room where I want to place it), and appreciate lens-shift ability (which makes projector positioning more flexible). Projector People have a wonderful web site which makes it easy to sort through options using your own constraints. I’ve used the site over the years, though I’ve never purchased from them before. As I said, I like purchasing locally to make returns easier.

This year I noticed that nobody, even locally, made returns particularly easy. Every local shop either had an “all sales final” policy for projectors, or charged a 15% restocking fee at best. While I understand the need for a restocking fee for projectors (after all, you do use the bulb when trying them out, and that bulb has a limited lifespan), this 15% fee would mean I’d spend nearly $100 just to try out a given projector. In fact, even online the lowest restocking fee I could find was 10%.

The exception to this rule was Projector People. They offer a 30-day full money back guarantee as long as you don’t use more than 4 hours of bulb life. While 4 hours is not much time, it is enough to try out placement and check to see if the projector is working properly. Moreover, they offer this same policy even on their “B-stock” items (projectors refurbished by manufacturers and the like). This return policy even covers return shipping costs, something even Amazon does not do on many items.

That policy gave me enough confidence to try out a B-stock Epson projector from them. Since this was a refurbished projector, the price was really great, hundreds of dollars less expensive than I could find anywhere else.

Unfortunately, the projector had a serious issue. Everything was great except the noise. Projectors use a fan to cool off their hot bulb, and this projector seemed to have a defective fan which always ran at full speed. I was able to measure the noise it was producing with an iPhone decibel meter app and prepared myself for the return process.

This is when Projector People really earned my fandom. Their support was fantastic. From the call to my customer service rep, to my conversation with tech support, everyone was really friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful. Tech support quickly realized they had a well documented case and contacted Epson for advice on my behalf. In the end, they arranged to send out a replacement B-stock projector, reset my 4-hour bulb clock so I could test that one out with the full return policy intact, and got an RMA for me to return the defective projector directly to Epson. It was super easy, and all shipping costs were covered.

Later I called tech support again for some advice about mounting the projector. Again they answered immediately, gave me solid helpful answers, emailed me extra documentation, and really proved they wanted my experience to be top notch.

The replacement projector has a properly working fan and I am very happy with the service and support I got from this company.

Buying a projector can be daunting. There are a thousand options, they are expensive, and they are something you really have to try in your own space to be sure they fit well. Projector People helped me every step of the way, has great policies and staff, and followed through with terrific support. Nicely done!

Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 / efc@clst.org