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Apple Talk: the art of propping up your products

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Apple Talk: the art of propping up your products
Regardless of what your opinion of Apple is, one thing can’t be denied. It’s taken presentations to another level, especially during “these difficult times” when all keynotes and announcements are virtual and prerecorded. But, of course, even the live events before that were scripted and every word carefully selected to fit the ultimate goal: to present the Apple product in the best light possible.

Words like “fantastic”, “amazing”, “gorgeous” and “awesome” are generously sprinkled throughout each presentation, while others like “cheap” are straight-up missing from Apple’s vocabulary. But that’s the obvious part of the “frosting”. There are other layers that are harder to catch up on since, well, that’s the whole point.

Here we’ll talk about some of them, how to spot them and how to decode their meaning. Before we go further, it’s important to note that all manufacturers follow these practices. No company will go out and say how their new product is inferior in one aspect or another. But Apple’s cherry-picking technique shows its phones aren’t always the be-all-end-all.

What Apple’s comparisons mean

When talking about a new feature or a certain hardware spec, there are a few types of comparisons Apple makes. Which one will be used depends on where the current product is on the tech ladder.

Better than the previous iPhone

This is perhaps the weakest comparison since it’s used when a certain aspect is improved compared to last year’s models but isn’t necessarily the best Apple has ever done. For example, the iPhone 12 is slimmer than the iPhone 11 but it’s not the slimmest iPhone ever, which surely would have been mentioned had it been the case. However, changes Apple decides to make between generations give it the opportunity to always have some additional improvements to show off during presentations.

The first ever on an iPhone

When a new feature appears on an iPhone for the first time it's always great news. This means millions of users will soon have access to it and have their lives improved thanks to Apple's engineering team. However, "on an iPhone" in this scenario often means "we finally decided to add it after other phones have had it for a while". Sure, in some cases Apple is waiting for the technology to mature enough before implementing it. But in others it feels like it's just spoon-feeding iPhone users with new features one at a time. Like reverse wireless charging, which Apple is clearly capable of offering yet chooses not to.

The best ever on an iPhone

One of the most common phrases used during the presentation of a new phone. It makes sense, of course, the newest model is supposed to be an improvement in all categories compared to previous ones.

Biggest display, biggest battery, fastest charging, you can add many achievements in front of that phrase. The key here is, of course, the “on an iPhone” part. If you hear that, it’s a signal that there are other phones that objectively beat the iPhone in that category. The ones mentioned above are all areas Apple is far from being at the top in. With the wide range of Android phones, “the best” titles are often spread between different devices; one has a massive display, another has a huge battery, a third the fastest charging and so on.

Some might argue that Apple users aren’t really considering Android phones, so comparisons like that don’t matter. Except they matter when the iPhone is the winner…

The best ever on a smartphone

Make no mistake, if Apple knows its iPhone is the best of the best, it will tell you. The best example of that are its chips. Hard numbers show that Apple’s silicon outperforms the best chips available for Android phones, so the phrase “on an iPhone” is quickly replaced by “on any smartphone”.

If you tune in to Apple’s keynotes regularly, you’ll notice that this phrase isn’t used very often, but when it does come into play, it’s highly emphasized. Naturally, being the best among thousands of devices is quite an accomplishment, so it’s definitely worth the time to talk about it.

The first ever on a smartphone

This is perhaps the most coveted statement. Even if it's by beating the competition by a few months or less, like it's the case with the 5nm A14 chip, you better believe that Apple will ride that wave as long as possible. I'm not trying to take away from Apple's achievements, some of the things iPhones are capable of are truly admirable. Those firsts are becoming harder and harder to achieve, so it's worth milking for marketing purposes as much as possible.

Using dubious phrasing

When none of the above can be used, Apple still has ways to present things in a way that make them seem better than they actually are. One way is to use specific words or phrases that people unfamiliar with tech might understand as meaning something different. If that happens, it's totally the person's fault and completely accidental, of course!

For example, this year's iPhone 12 Pro Max comes with "5X optical zoom range". One might understandably think that this means you can use this optical zoom to see an object 5 times larger. In reality, Apple refers to the range between 0.5X zoom, which is what the ultra-wide-angle camera offers and the 2.5X zoom of the telephoto camera.

With competing smartphones having actual 5X optical zoom cameras, Apple can't afford to appear as if it's 2 times worse. But with some technically correct phrasing, a comparison doesn't look that bad on paper. 

What Apple doesn’t talk about is just as important

Selling flagship phones has become increasingly difficult for all smartphone manufacturers, as standout features are trickling down to affordable devices faster than new ones are being developed. This forces marketing teams to get creative when the time comes to highlight why you should get their shiny new phone. And when it comes to Apple, the task is even more difficult.

Let’s take a look back at the iPhone 11 family. Last year, Apple talked about the improved battery life and how long you can watch videos on its devices. It didn’t mention, however, that the phones are slightly thicker and heavier to accommodate the bigger battery. Fair enough.

Fast forward to this year’s iPhone 12 announcement. Time is spent talking about how much thinner and lighter the new phones are, but battery life isn’t mentioned at all, instead, tucked in the corner of the features slide is “Great battery life”. 

The reason? The new iPhones have smaller batteries than their predecessors. And while the more efficient chip does partially compensate for that, Apple’s own comparison shows the new iPhone 12 Pro offers 1 hour less video playback time. And since that means it couldn’t fit in any of the three categories mentioned above, it's not worth talking about.

In the world of Android flagships, a reduction in battery capacity between generations would spark a huge outrage. But, of course, Apple doesn’t even list the capacity of iPhone batteries, we have to rely on certification documents and teardowns for that.

I’ll take a wild guess and say that next year, battery life will be back in the presentation, replacing body talk. 

Now, you have a better understanding of what Apple is really saying when they’re presenting a new iPhone and what to look for if you want to get a better idea of what the product really is.

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