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Farhad and Mike on How Apple’s New, Smaller iPhone Is Easing the Pain


Trying out the iPhone SE after an Apple event on Monday announcing new products. The diminutive SE has a 4-inch screen. Credit Andrew Burton for The New York Times

Each Saturday, Farhad Manjoo and Mike Isaac, technology reporters at The New York Times, review the week’s news, offering analysis and maybe a joke or two about the most important developments in the tech industry.

Mike: Greetings, Farhad! Or should I say, “Sup, brah?” I’m trying to change my vernacular to a more local dialect, as I am now a Californian living in the Bay Area.

Farhad: Yeah, say, “Sup, brah?” That’s how we all do it. Especially if you’re interviewing important people, that’s the best opener.

Mike: I “hella” agree.

Onto the news!

Twitter turned 10 years old this week, which gave me time to reflect on how much of my life I have spent marking tweets as favorites. It really makes you think. And wince.

Facebook is testing an “impersonation tool” that will alert you when someone is pretending to be you on Facebook. I got really excited about this, until I learned that no one is trying to be me on Facebook. Or off Facebook, really.

Also, TiVo is in merger talks with Rovi, mostly because they are practically anagrams of each other.

The Information published an excellent rundown of what’s going on at Nest, the smart thermostat company owned by Google. Things are looking, uh, not so hot, according to some current and former Nest employees.

Farhad: That story was amazing for its frankness. People in Silicon Valley have trouble criticizing anyone. Even when companies are in trouble, people tend to be gentle about what’s going on. But in this story, people let loose, especially Greg Duffy, the co-founder of Dropcam, the camera company that Nest bought. In one scene, Mr. Duffy tells Tony Fadell, Nest’s chief executive, “I think you’re running this company like a tyrant bureaucrat and it’s holding back all progress.”

That kind of reminded me of dealing with you, to be honest.

Mike: Silence, plebeian. You have interrupted my creative process.

Moving on, things are rocky over at Pebble, which just laid off a quarter of its staff, blaming a rough funding environment. Personally, I have never liked watches or really anything on my wrist except for a slap bracelet.

And let us not forget the latest in the Apple vs. F.B.I. saga, in which the F.B.I. said it had found a third party to potentially unlock the iPhone used by one of the attackers in the San Bernardino, Calif., slayings last year. Now, the court proceedings are apparently halted as the government figures out if it actually needs to try to force Apple to crack open this phone.

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Farhad: Boy, what a twist this was. Everyone was set for the legal battle of the century and then, at the last minute, it fizzled. I don’t think the F.B.I. would fib, of course, but it’s hard not to be a bit suspicious of the last-minute turnabout. Apple’s lawyers had been arguing that this case could set a precedent that would pave the way for future intrusions into our phones. Perhaps the F.B.I. got worried about that at the last minute, too — like, wait, if we lose this, it might haunt us forever.

Mike: Or maybe they actually found a third party to do it when all of this went public? It’s all so cloak and dagger, except far more nerdy.

So while I do want to talk about Apple, this time it won’t be in relation to the F.B.I. Let’s chat about the iPhone SE, the newest device to come out of Apple.

Is it revolutionary? Is it spectacular? Is it any one of the umpteen superlatives that the Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller uses to describe the company’s newest products?

Nah, not really. The big reveal here is that it’s small and cheap.

Here’s my stance: It may not be curing diseases or wowing audiences with crazy new technology like 3-D Touch or whatever. But above all other things, small and cheap are basically two out of the top three things I’ve wanted from an iPhone, aside from “better battery life,” over the last few years. If I can buy a new iPhone, without a cellular contract, for half the cost of every other new generation of iPhone, that’s a big enough deal for me.

Farhad: I agree. It’s good to see Apple do something a little scaled-down once in a while. I resisted big phones for years, and I reluctantly converted when the iPhone 6 came around. But I still miss typing with one hand, something that’s nearly impossible on the latest iPhone, the 6S, and its even larger sibling, the 6S Plus. I got to try the new iPhone SE at Apple’s press event the other day and my hands really liked it, even though its screen was way too small for my aging eyes. I liked it enough that I may buy one someday.

Mike: Biggest first-world problem ever: I have legitimate thumb pain from stretching to type single-handedly using the iPhone 6. I’m considering filing for workman’s comp. My thumbs are my livelihood.

Farhad: Wow, you’re in more trouble than I thought. Anyway, it’s kind of remarkable that nearly 10 years after the release of the first iPhone, the only real innovation we’re seeing anymore regards size. People want big, then they want small, then we’ll go back to big again. But beyond that, I don’t think there’s much else to get excited about regarding phone hardware. We seem to be at the end of the line in terms of interesting innovations in smartphones — each new one will get us faster processors and maybe slightly better battery life, but beyond that, these things seem to have reached the natural limit of how amazing they can be.

Or is it just me? What’s that thing people say — only boring people get bored?

Mike: I don’t know, I think it’s fair to say we can be bored. Last time a company tried to get fancy with crazy software features on a smartphone was Amazon with its Fire phone. And we all know how that turned out.

So what next? Wait until the October iPhone event to continue being bored with the releases, yet buy new phones in record numbers in the meantime?

I guess what I’m saying is “O.K., we’re bored.” And I’m fine with that as long as my dumb phone works.

Farhad: Take care of your thumbs, friend. They’re all you’ve got. See you!

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