How We Came to Understand Apple’s Unreleased iPhone 5C

| Particle Debris

The evolution of our knowledge about a rumored new Apple product is an amazing thing to watch. It's akin to scientific discovery. The best observers on the Internet steadily collect and assess leaked information and photos until the community has a fairly good idea of what the product will be like and why Apple is developing it. The process is repeated again and again, sometimes over the better part of a year, and it's just too bad we're so impatient, in the early phases, each time it happens.


Arthur C. Clarke once said that new ideas pass through three periods (in the minds of critics).

  1. It can't be done.
  2. It probably can be done, but it's not worth doing.
  3. I knew it was a good idea all along!

What I recollect from the early days when we first found out about a possible "low cost" iPhone was that some writers thought that it would be a bad idea. Including myself. Apple would never undercut its very successful, premium brand iPhone series just for the sake of a desperate grab for market share.

In time, as I recall, more and more information was disclosed about about Apple's plans and the product profile. Various leaks started to flesh out our body of knowledge about this product. Of course, many astute websites had it right from the beginning, but my own memory of the sequence was that, with very little to go on, many thought even a lower cost iPhone would be a bad idea.

The evolution of our understanding of the iPhone 5C has been like a scientific investigation into the laws of physics. At first, we're confused, but we accumulate data and start to form theories. Theories are tested, and eventually a consensus emerges on what's happening. Eventually, we're able to affirm the design of nature. 

In an analogous way, Apple's logic becomes clearer with time, and we come to comprehend Apple's vision, needs and market savvy. There's no better example of our current state of iPhone 5C understanding than the article this week by John Kirk at Tech.pinion. In a delightful exhibition of appealing style and convincing reasoning, Mr. Kirk answers, "Who’s The Gorilla And 8 More Questions About the iPhone 5C."  This is the Particle Debris must reading of the week.

The uphot of all this, as evidence by the Kirk article, is that by the time the product is officially announced, we all sit back and say to ourselves, "Of course! I knew it was a good idea all along!"

I don't know to what extent Apple is able to orchestrate all this though intentional leaks and how much of it is a byproduct of our current Internet grapevines. I do, however, find the process amusing and interesting.  It's a constant reminder to take the long term evolution of our understanding of a rumored product into consideration when the very first rumors appear.


Tech News Debris for the Week of Aug 19

Very often, when a technical author or researcher becomes very immersed and very knowledgeable about certain matters, there emerges a feeling of technical righteousness. Very deep knowledge means that the matter so thoroughly explored implies a certain correct way of doing things. Technical experts form a clique and lament that their advice isn't being heeded. This happens all the time, and it's not limited to the world of technology.

We often see that in the Apple world where we wish that Apple would be more geeky with its products, but the company steadfastly listens to customers instead. In this next example, we see the natural friction between eBook standards and what customers really care about. Anyone with an interest in the eBook industry's scuffles behind the scenes will enjoy: "Proprietary ebook formats versus DRM."

No, this next story isn't about voyeurism. Rather, it's about how Nordstrom is planning to use technology to improve the shopping experience. (Like another fruity company you may know.) "Nordstrom is thinking of putting iPads in dressing rooms." The way I see it, it's not so much the invocation of a gadget so much as a corporate attitude. While other CEOs may scoff, Nordstrom will continue to surge ahead thanks to ideas like this.

Scanning the Internet, in an hour, is like getting a physical exam from the family doctor. It can explain a lot about trends and the health of the patient. That's exactly what a team of researchers at the University of Michigan have done, and the results are fascinating. For example, when a hurricane takes computers off line, an IP map of the region can show the extent of the damage. Fascinating stuff: "Here’s what you find when you scan the entire Internet in an hour."

East coast IP outage map after a hurricane. Credit: Univ. Michigan

If you're a steady reader of The Mac Observer, you know two things. 1) The iPad was originally thought of as a content consumption device rather than a content creation device, and 2) You followed along as we predicted that clever developers would turn the iPad into a content creation tool. But what kind of content?

This next article is the first article I've seen that explores that subject in such a nuanced fashion. This article explores why, even though the PC and Mac remain supreme for traditional content creation, it isn't a total slam dunk. Moreover, the kinds of content being created on tablets are also shifting by virtue of its design and mobility: "Yes, tablets are for creating -- a new kind of content."

How do you know if you're addicted to the Internet? Easy. Just check out: "14 Signs You Spend Too Much Time on the Internet." It's hilarious -- and the animated GIFs are great. Here's another warning sign: Texting in your sleep.

Back in the late 1970s, just about every engineer and scientist turned their research reports over to the typing pool to be entered into Wang word processors. Even good-sized businesses back then used Wang word processing equipment. And then the IBM PC came along in 1981 and totally disrupted Wang. Very shortly Wang was gone, gone and gone.

Wang Word Processor. Credit David Strom's Web Informant.

It's a lesson told over and over again in business classes. Even so, the CEOs of BlackBerry (formerly RIM) must have skipped that class. The NYT's Joe Nocera tells the story, delightfully, about history, sadly, repeating itself with BackBerry. A fun read. "How Not to Stay on Top."

There are two kinds of people. Those who want a smartphone so that they can achieve a goal and those who merely want a smartphone. That's my own take on this excellent Jonny Evans exploration: "3 ways Apple's new iPhones should change your life."

Finally, today will be remembered as the day Steve Ballmer announced his retirement from Microsoft. Everyone is jumping on the bandwagon to get your attention. It is, after all, a big deal. The best analysis I've read and can recommend, one with a calm, respectful but concise analysis is by Nicholas Thompson at the New Yorker . "Why Steve Ballmer Failed."

If you want to hear it from the man himself, here is part one of Mary Jo Foley's interview. "Microsoft's Ballmer on his biggest regret, the next CEO and more."


Particle Debris is generally a mix of John Martellaro's observations and opinions about a standout event or article of the week combined with a summary of articles that didn't make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holidays.




The BlackBerry link is missing, FYI. (Sounds like a good read, too.)

John Martellaro

Link fixed.  When I cut and paste a block of text in this system, the links get stripped… Grrr…



Thanks, John. It was a good read, as was yours (as always). I found this at the article’s end interesting:

There are companies that occasionally manage to reinvent themselves. They are nimble and ruthless, willing to disrupt their own business model because they can sense a threat on the horizon.

Would you say that could be applied to Apple after SJ’s return, especially seeing how they went from struggling computer maker to consumer electronics giant, disrupting themselves so much as to remove “computer” from their name?

John Martellaro

mrmwebmax: Absolutely.  The name change was part and parcel.


I grew up in the Lowell, MA area where Wang was located. I had friends and family who worked for Wang. My mother-in-law was a QC inspector for Wang. She, as well as many others, were also invested in Wang.

The economic impact of Wang’s failure were wide and severe. Even today driving past the “Wang Towers” in Lowell brings on a sadness. I can only feel the same with the news of the former RIM’s similar fate. People are hurting. That is sad.


Regarding how we come to understand Apple’s moves, not just the 5C. A lot of pundits and posters approach this with two implicit assumptions:  that their industry information set is not significantly inferior to Apple’s information set, and if given control of the ship, they are as good at steering the company as Apple’s execs.  Thus when they observe Apple doing or seeming to do something that, on the face of it, is just plain puzzling, reactions are usually Tim Cook must Go! or Jony Ive has lost his mojo! or Big mistake firing Forstall!  I’ve learned that we get to understand Apple better by doing the opposite:  Assume that Cook and Co. is way smarter than me when it comes to running their company, and, when Apple does something unexpected, try to infer what could be in Apple’s information set that makes that ‘baffling’ move perfectly rational.

John Martellaro

aardman:  Exactly.


I dream Internet all night, every night.
It’s usually Facebook or Twitter.  The Twitter messages are usually not completely intelligible (they fade quickly), but I can read enough to tell that they are profound (I follow a lot of journalists from all over the world).

Even though I know I’m dreaming, my first instinct is to get up and turn on my iMac or iPad to check those messages for complete clarity, as though there is a bad WiFi connection with my brain.

God help me.



Kirk’s piece is absolutely right, in my view, on practically every front; including his analysis of the balance between cost and value of the iPhone 5C, wherein he disagrees, as do I, with Dediu on this being fundamentally about cost (a rare miss on Horace’s part). He is certainly correct that successful people and enterprises are criticised, and that criticism reaches stentorian proportions should success rise to preëminence, as Apple have, in their field. Furthermore, his analysis about the strategic use of product differentiation, rather than mere cost containment, that centres around addressing a defined market niche rather than merely skimping on specs (generally an non-satisfactory business formula), is also the right way to think about this, as businesses that have done otherwise have learnt the hard way.

However, it is his point number 5, that criticises the notion that history is about to repeat itself with Android vs Apple; that Android is about to do to Apple in mobile computing what MS did to Apple with PC computing (I know, redundant terminology, but no more so than public use of ‘HIV virus’), that is the pièce de résistance. I know I’ve argued this before, but Kirk’s piece provides a timely opportunity for a revisit.

Google in 2013 is not Microsoft in 1990, and Android is no Windows. Not even close. The dawn of the personal computing era, conveyed on the wings of the PC, was played out in a naïve environment on the part of the industry, the enterprise, the consumer and the law makers. MS were able to capitalise on the freedom of that market to stage a coup against their ostensible masters, IBM, thanks in no small measure to the clones that IBM allowed to flourish and which MS played off against each other, IBM and their emerging arch rival Apple, to seize control of the enterprise, which at that time was the seat of power of early personal computing market. They who controlled enterprise controlled PC platform adoption. Full stop. Not only did MS succeed in controlling that sector, it eventually garnered north of 90% of not simply the marketshare, but the profit share as well.

Let me repeat that. MS controlled both the majority of the market share and the profit share using their proprietary software and exclusive contracts. It was a unique moment in time, and yes, it was an aberration - a jurisprudence-facilitated monopoly.

Enter the 21st Century and the dawn of the second epoch of the personal computing age; the rise of the post-PC era. Legal systems are in place to protect. The enterprise is saturated with PCs. MS own the PC space and control the enterprise. Consumers, however, are beginning to use their tech for both office and personal use. Apple focuses on the consumer, making modest inroads with the Mac, but going to warp with new tech that quickly coalesces into a consumer-centric ecosystem of products and services that leaves the entire industry flat-footed and awestruck. Google are quick to respond with Android that functionally mimics what iOS, and counter-strikes by unleashing it into the wild - for free! (Except that it’s not free, the consumer is barter; but that’s another discussion).

Not all devices take up Android, and only one uses iOS. There are also Blackberry and Windows devices; and each appeals to enterprise and the consumer with differentially distributed emphasis and success. Apple’s iOS enjoys first mover advantage and a mature consumer-centric strategy, which is ably reinforced by a shift in the balance of power between the consumer and enterprise, with consumers driving enterprise adoption. This undermines bilaterality between tech giants (MS, Blackberry) who do not win the hearts and minds of consumers. Consumers rule, which means Apple gains profit share.

Android succeeds in gaining the majority of market share, but over a fragmented environment strewn with cheap knock-offs that, in the main, are not participating in Google’s business model, bleeding Google’s profits. Google claims marketshare dominance while holding minority profit share. Worse, one of its chief allies (Samsung) threatens to do unto Google what MS did unto IBM. All of this under-minds Google’s R&D and war chest. Apple commands profit share, which feeds R&D and its war chest. Meanwhile, competition between all of these players, and others, including Amazon, Nokia, MS to name a few, grows white hot, with every indication of settling into a maturing consumer-driven market characterised by choice. What part of this is reminiscent of MS and the 1990’s? Nothing.

Those who argue that history is about to repeat itself are not simply wrong, they are historically illiterate.

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