Don’t they look great? I might get one (no, really). They’re interesting... Let’s play Apple Pundit!

You might get one?! · Well, it’s like this: Since June, I actually haven’t had a smartphone; just an ancient account-free Nexus S that I use for voice, SMS, and occasional hot spots. I’m not starved for mobile Internet because my 16G Nexus 7 with celullar data has been a champ, makes me very happy every day, is a terrific world traveler, excels at email and Web and The Economist and Ingress and Twitter and G+ and Kindle and I’ll probably replace it with one of the new ones because, well, have you held one?

So I guess I must need a handset, only I haven’t been able to get any of the nifty ones. Samsung is still in my penalty box for their egregious GS4 launch. Nobody seems to want to sell me an unlocked HTC One or Moto X in Canada.

My first choice would probably be the X because I love the stylin’ and I don’t actually need a high-end phone, the N7 is my workhorse.

And here’s the thing; the Identity group at Google where I work puts a lot of investment into authentication/authorization on iOS, which is not nearly as good as it should be. Hm... wonder if I can expense one?

Now, it will be a cold fucking day in hell before I write software on a plantation where you have to get Massa’s permission to share your work. But writing Android sample apps and server back-end stuff is burning most of my coding bandwidth these days anyhow.

Anyhow, so I played closer attention to the announcement than I usually do. And there was a lot of interesting stuff.

Looks · The 5s is a titanic upthrust of restrained good taste; you couldn’t possibly listen to the Clash on it. Which is to say boring. I guess it’s a little snazzier when wrapped in dead animal skin but still.

The 5c on the other hand; pink & black is pure rock&roll and yellow/black screams “killer bee”. Love ’em.

Touch ID · This kind of thing is my day job; I salute Apple for running a mammoth-scale identity-tech experiment. It might work. There are things to worry about, but it might.

First thing is, if I’m authenticating myself with a password or YubiKey or whatever, and the whatever gets compromised, I can revoke it and replace it. But with biometrics... well, it’s a problem. On the other hand, perhaps the fingerprint sensor is so cosmically wonderful that you just never have to worry about things going off the rails.

And of course, there’s privacy paranoia. Yeah, I heard about how the prints are in a magic vault guarded by angels with flaming swords where nobody can ever ever see them. Uh-huh. It’s sort of a central dogma among Identigeeks and Securinerds that Mobile Devices Can’t Keep Secrets. I’ll be waiting to hear what the jailbreak hackers say after they’ve had a look. And so will the guys who write NSA’s FISA demands.

64bit bafflement · I’ve spent way more time at this particular coalface than most geeks. Apple claims that it’ll be X times faster and I can believe that, but don’t see the connection. I’m not gonna ramble on here about the trade-offs around memory bandwidth and object sizes and floating-point implementations; but I think most clued-in practitioners would agree with me that 64-bit is not necessarily faster.

On the other hand, when you really need more than 4G of RAM those extra bits start to smell nice. Now, I know about the ARM PLAE thingies that give you 40 bits of space, but in my experience address-extension tech has mostly been pretty stinky. And the M7 co-processor looks like a terrific idea.

But that’s not what’s puzzling me. I mean... it’s a phone! Who bloody cares how many bits wide the CPU buses are? “Desktop-class architecture”?! Excuse me, your marketing armwaving is going to spill my beer.

And the whole pitch feels totally un-Apple to me. Oh well, nobody doing marketing in Cupertino cares what I think.

$$$ · Damn,these are some expensive toys; I mean, for those of us who don’t do locked phones. $549 (entry-level 5c) to $849 (top-end 5s). Let me see, I can get a new unlocked HTC One on EBay for $500-ish. I guess most people leap cheerfully into some telco’s maw and get out of the store for $200-ish. I don’t like those economics though.

Anyhow, thanks to Apple for making my Tuesday a little more interesting.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Lucian (Sep 11 2013, at 02:33)

I liked the Nexus 4 so much, I got one for my girlfriend. It's also very cheap, which is nice. Can't go wrong with a high-end £160 smartphone, really.

I can only see TouchID used as a username of sorts. It may make some flows faster, but it'll still need some sort of password.

AArch64 is significantly cleaned up, so it might actually be perceptibly faster after backwards compatibility is no longer needed (and, presumably, there is some spare room on the die). But for now, I also very much doubt the claim.


From: Hub (Sep 11 2013, at 02:47)

I have to admit Samsung is actually on indefinite suspension to me.

As for Moto, given their attitude with bootloader locks, I'll give them another major penalty for game misconduct. The new owner didn't seem to understand either.


From: Gary (Sep 11 2013, at 06:26)

The 5c is a very interesting device. I think Apple might struggle to promote the benefits of the 5S over it, although it doesn't seem like they care (or need to).


From: Geoffrey Sneddon (Sep 11 2013, at 07:38)

It's worthwhile to note that AArch64 is a ground-up redesign of the ARM ISA (in many ways it is closer to MIPS than ARM!), and there's no shipping chips yet so who knows what performance will be like.


From: Sandy Ressler (Sep 11 2013, at 07:47)

Yeah I very much agree a very un-Apple like presentation. That only part where they riffed on the graphics performance was for one game (Infinity Blade) and how we should all be drooling over the lens-flare...seriously? Way too geeky, where is the "humanity" that Apple is know for...the tear jerker use of graphics (photos of kids and grandparents etc.). I probably will be buying one buy only because my contract is up and I do want the improved camera.


From: Dewald Reynecke (Sep 11 2013, at 07:48)

Well, someone has to run a biometric proof of concept and it might as well be Apple. A big (visible, vocal) install base will force them to innovate/tinker fast as well. I say it's for the greater good in the long term.


From: Cedric (Sep 11 2013, at 09:13)

Why spend $500 on an unlocked Android phone when you can buy a Nexus 4 for $199 directly from Google?

And you get OS updates a mere few weeks after Google announces them.


From: Dan (Sep 11 2013, at 09:18)

I think the key to understanding the value of 64-bit and some other things is that it'n NOT a phone. Phone is one uninteresting app that has modest hardware demands.


From: Rafe (Sep 11 2013, at 11:17)

I think Apple has demoed one or two games at every iPhone announcement to show how much the performance has improved.


From: Carl Howe (Sep 11 2013, at 13:31)

There's a slide from Phil Schiller's part of the Apple keynote that shows where the performance improvements come from in the 64-bit architecture. To my mind, a biggest driver is 2x the number of processor registers in the 64-bit version. Assuming good optimizing compilers (and I assume Apple's are quite good), that can result in a significant performance boost on some algorithms. Whether it's enough to offset pulling in bigger addresses from memory is algorithm dependent.

Just my $0.02,



From: Angelis (Sep 12 2013, at 04:32)

> Yeah, I heard about how the prints

> are in a magic vault guarded by

> angels with flaming swords where

> nobody can ever ever see them.

> Uh-huh.

Has Google yet provided developer access to the SecureElement inside its devices like the Nexus 4? Oh wait, that's right, the SecureElement is protected by the GooglePlex for its proprietary APIs for NFC / Google Wallet. Uh-huh right back to you Bray. Pray and bow to Massa, beg for access to SecureElement (the analog to Apple's "Secure Enclave" in the A7). In the mean time, have fun Google Wallet sharecropping.


From: Dave Walker (Sep 12 2013, at 06:54)

Just watched the recording of the launch keynote. Personally, I leapfrogged a bunch of technical 'phone generations by going from a Nokia 4110 to an iPhone 1, and then to my current iPhone 4; I probably won't get a 5-anything, but read on...

Looks: I'm used to the iPhone 2001-style black slab, and rather like it. Not sure about the extra length on the 5; the 4 and its predecessors seem designed to fit perfectly in a shirt breast pocket or a jacket business card pocket, whereas the 5 would stick out. Also, I think a 4 with a free case (to avoid the left-hander Vulcan loss-of-signal pinch) has a reasonable heft to it, whereas a 5 feels a bit on the light side; if some skilled pickpocket wants to relieve me of my 'phone without me knowing, feeling the shift in weight when it goes is actually a desirable feature.

In all honesty, I probably won't be playing music on it; I've never been a big headphone user (though I thought Sennheiser 580 Precisions were pretty good).

Touch ID: Ah, biometrics. Like you, I'm with Schneier on the "biometrics aren't secrets" front; also with fingers, it's great that Apple have recognised the need to register multiple fingers, as they're remarkably easy things to damage. I'm steeling myself to pull up a blackberry bush which has sprouted in my garden over the summer, and even with my thickest gardening gloves on the thorn tips still come through, so my hands are going to get pretty scratched-up in the process. The emphasis on looking at sub-dermal features will make an interesting challenge for an old contact who has until this point been proud to claim that he can spoof any fingerprint reader on the market, but I note that there's nothing to detect that the finger is alive - so if someone *really* wants access to information in your 'phone, they're going to come equipped with bolt-cutters.

The home button's an interesting choice of place to put the sensor, and at least it's ambidexterous. I wonder whether an iPhone 5S generation of mobile banking apps will be enhanced to try to deal with the problem of 'phones being snatched from users' hands while in use, by requiring the continuous presence of a finger with a correct print in order to operate - it bears thinking about.

64-bit: I'm wondering, too, and need to go back through the video with my pointer over the freeze-frame. As another commenter has mentioned, the doubling in the register count is interesting; if A7 contains an ARM TrustZone architecture, this could be a precursor to splitting the 'phone context in two and running an iOS instance on each half, for much-desired assurable separation for BYOD. Alternatively (and in some ways, hand in hand), while it's not something that can be done on many 'phone networks yet (3 in Australia is the only one I know of, right now), IPv6 means that it would be possible to turn 'phones into first-class network citizens which can not only get to the Internet, but be got *to* from the Internet - at which point, you could run some kind of server on your 'phone, in a separate context. A 64-bit architecture is desirable for this, but one thing you'd certainly need is a bunch more RAM - and it's looking for RAM specs in slide small-print, which will have me reviewing with my finger over the pause button.

I'm not fat-fingered, but I still find a 'phone screen a bit too small to type on; I therefore won't be upgrading my iPhone, but it'll make me think rather harder, when this technology comes to the iPad. I got an original iPad and then upgraded to a 3 when they went Retina. I'm more likely to stay closer to current, on iPads.

Briefly, on iPads, it'll be interesting to see whether there's a big one in the offing. There's Windows 8 tablets masquerading as all-in-ones up to 20", HP have just announced a 21" touchscreen box running Jelly Bean, and I'd love to see a similarly maximalist iPad...

Camera: Surprised you haven't had more to say on this, though I expect you're probably brewing another post up on it. The flash looks remarkable, they're doing some extremely sophisticated things in the image processing, and I'll bet the pixel size debate will run and run...


From: 64-bit rocks the house that Steve built (Sep 18 2013, at 04:50)

Tim Bray says he's baffled by the iPhone 5S move to 64-bit. Mr. Bray, you have been duly schooled by Anand Shimpi:

The conclusion? There are definitely reasons outside of needing more memory to go 64-bit.


From: Laura Hamilton (Sep 20 2013, at 16:13)

The 5S and 5C phones are interesting, but they're not game changers.

I'm happy with my iphone 4 (off contract) which gets service from Straight Talk for $45/month. I just can't see paying that much money for a slightly faster (and maybe cooler looking) phone. If it ain't broke, don't fix it :-)


author · Dad · software · colophon · rights
picture of the day
September 10, 2013
· Technology (85 fragments)
· · Apple (1 more)
· · Mobile (84 more)

By .

The opinions expressed here
are my own, and no other party
necessarily agrees with them.

A full disclosure of my
professional interests is
on the author page.