Welcome to the latest edition of Jeremy’s 5, my latest quick roundup of 5 interesting little things that aren’t big enough for full articles, but are still worth sharing with you.
My first edition of 2016 looks at two separate topics related to this week’s 2016 CES: first, Apple’s continued absence from the show, and second, the annual event’s seemingly declining interest to Apple fans. I also wanted to share some additional thoughts on Apple’s Remote Loop for the new Apple TV’s Siri Remote, the classic (but ever-evolving) iOS app Akinator the Genie, and the continued scourge of free-to-play games…
1. Apple’s (Still) Not At CES. Although it had another explanation at the time, Apple effectively stopped participating in trade shows when then-CEO Steve Jobs’ declining health made the events inconvenient to stage. Years earlier, Apple had depended on trade shows such as Macworld Expo and Apple Expo Paris to announce and show off new products, but as its “last year at Macworld” press release said — somewhat convincingly — Apple’s own retail stores and marketing efforts were extremely effective, while trade shows had “become a very minor part of how Apple reaches its customers.” Apple employees continued to attend trade shows, including the annual CES in Las Vegas, but often with their badges obscured and never again formally with gigantic, Macworld-sized booths.
While Apple’s decision to pull out of trade shows has had modest impact on its mindshare and stock price, it has created some major consequences for its device ecosystems. Trade shows used to be the ideal opportunity for Apple and third-party developers to demonstrate new co-developed initiatives, such as iPod car integration or Made for iPhone accessories. That just stopped after Macworld Expo. Consequently, think about all of the under-promoted ecosystem initiatives that Apple could be spotlighting at CES this year: HomeKit, CarPlay, the Mac App Store, Made for Apple TV, iPad in the Enterprise, Lightning headphones, or Apple Watch apps. If this year’s CES is anything like past years, however, attendees will be lucky to find more than a stray piece of signage for any of these things. Yes, there will be HomeKit accessories and CarPlay head units on the floor, but they’ll be mixed in with competing products, and easy to miss.
Trade shows used to be an opportunity for journalists, retailers, and sometimes members of the public to interact with Apple and key third-party developers, all in a single location, to see their “big picture” vision. Even if there are hundreds of Apple Stores across the globe, none of them hosts as many important people or product launches as a single trade show. When Apple stopped showing up at Macworld Expo and Apple Expo Paris, this opportunity was lost, and despite third-party efforts to fill the gap, nothing short of Apple’s re-engagement is going to fix it. Should Apple get involved again, or is the very idea of a consumer electronics trade show (despite record CES attendance) a vestige of the past?
2. On That Note, The 2016 CES Looks To Be A Snoozer For Apple Fans. Years ago, I co-created and helped to curate CES’s Apple accessory exhibition area (originally called the iLounge Pavilion, later the iProducts Marketplace), which grew from under 100 exhibitors to over 500, eventually spanning multiple football field-sized sections of the Las Vegas Convention Center and the adjacent LVH hotel. Unfortunately, the Apple area has recently declined significantly in both number of exhibitors and size, last year deliberately to weed out vendors who were only marginally Apple-focused, and this year seemingly due to declining interest and tougher finances. (If it’s not already obvious, Apple accessory companies have been closing, shedding staff, and/or merging over the past couple of years, leaving fewer players and far fewer products of interest.)
There used to be a thriving, growing market for Apple-specific accessories, but for various reasons, the last few years have seen an almost complete collapse of the Apple-specific electronic accessory business. AirPlay and Lightning speakers were all but completely absent from CES last year, and the big story of the past two years has been the triumph of the universal Bluetooth standard for everything from audio to health accessories. That’s left a lot of case makers and vendors of generic power accessories (such as wall chargers, batteries, and docks) to fight for attention at CES. Unless you’ve been waiting for more Apple Watch bands or iPad Pro cases, the early press releases I’ve seen from the show suggest that there’s not going to be a lot of excitement from Apple’s third-party developers this year. Here’s hoping for some surprises.
3. Siri Remote + Remote Loop. One of Apple’s many Fall 2015 releases seemed seriously trivial when it was released, but I wanted to share a few more thoughts on it here. As you may know, Apple shipped the Apple TV with a new Siri Remote, but opted not to include the Remote Loop accessory, sold separately for $13. While it’s hard to justify the Loop’s price point on features, I have to say that it’s made the Siri Remote a lot easier to use every day.
If you use your TV in the dark — and who doesn’t? — it’s hard to sense which side of the Siri Remote is the top unless something is attached to the bottom Lightning port. The Remote Loop makes it easy to figure out which side is the bottom, and also to grab the Remote when it gets wrapped up in your bedsheets at night. If Apple isn’t going to include a Loop with future Apple TVs, it should at least make the small effort to rebalance the Siri Remote with a heavier bottom, so that you can more easily orient it in your hand without seeing it. Until then, the Loop is a reasonable investment.
One caveat on the Loop: the neoprene or neoprene-like material Apple is increasingly using strikes me as cheap, and looks as if it was expressly designed to degrade over time. It’s a functional material, and works quite well with the sturdy plastic and metal Lightning attachment that’s at its top, but it feels at odds with Apple’s “luxury” vibe. As a freebie, it would have been fine, but as a standalone purchase, it should have been nicer.
4. Akinator the Genie. Elokence’s Akinator the Genie ($2) is a novelty app that I’ve been using on and off for several years — effectively, a magic trick powered by a database in the cloud. I came back to it again over the holidays, reminding me that kids and parents both love it; it’s inexpensive enough to be an impulse buy when you see what it can do.
Akinator “magically” guesses the identity of any person, whether non-fictional or fictional, and it’s excellent at naming pretty much any character who has been featured in a movie, TV show, or other entertainment medium. While Akinator has been good for years, the genie’s database has only become more impressive over time. New people are constantly being added, such that you can be guaranteed that virtually every character from Star Wars: The Force Awakens is already in there, and thanks to the app’s large userbase, even obscure characters from older movies have been searched for hundreds or thousands of times.
Typically, Akinator can ID whomever you’re thinking of within 20 questions, using (mostly) yes or no responses to determine the person’s identity. In the rare event that it needs more than 20 questions, you’ve either found someone very obscure, or have tricked the system by providing bad answers. To deal with all-but-anonymous people (say, your sibling, significant other, or parent), Akinator does have a few catchalls, including generic “your friend” or “your family member” guesses, but even there, Elokence lets people build personal databases. It’s a very cool app, and worth checking out.
5. The Scourge of Free-To-Play Games, 2016 Edition. I can’t possibly be the only person who thinks that Free-To-Play/Freemium games have gone from being mildly repellant as an “option for other people to waste money on” in the App Store, to becoming a major deterrent to feeling good about the App Store and iOS experience — even if I’m not personally downloading the games. These days, it seems like I can’t go two days without an unwanted Safari redirect to a freemium App Store download page. And I can’t even begin to imagine how much real money people are losing to casino, match-3, farming and battle apps.
Even if Apple’s taking a 30% cut of the revenues, these games have been poisonous for the iOS gaming scene as a whole. Rather than selling games at a fair initial price, developers now feel compelled to offer everything for “free,” then interrupt gameplay every several minutes with advertisements, prompts to refill a meter, or offers to sell currency. It has become dispiriting to great developers, reducing the likelihood that they will come back to the App Store to release anything close to console-quality games. On the consumer side, freemium games are obviously successful at leeching cash out of some people, but I’ve personally gotten to the point where I’ve almost stopped buying iOS games, and cannot stand when my screen gets taken over by ads for Candy Crush, Hay Day, Clash of Clans or casino games. We’re well past the point where Apple should have said ‘enough’s enough,’ but with Phil Schiller now in charge of the App Store, I have some hope that Apple will take another look at the big picture, deciding the long-term health of its developers, software ecosystem, and customers would be better served by shutting down these freemium games.
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