POSTS FOR 2012

App Judgment and sloppy reporting

Tech Industry1582 words8 minutes to read

For some time now, I’ve been a fan of the App Judgment podcast, which discusses new apps, devices and grades them on-air. Lately, however, I’ve noticed some saddeningly ill-informed “reporting” when it comes to Apple, iOS 6 and the new iPhone 5.

Bias is bias

First of all, everybody is free to have their own opinions. If these guys prefer Android-based OSs and non-Apple hardware, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you’re in the business of reporting information, however, make sure you have your facts straight and aren’t misleading anybody by leaving out relevant information.

Anything less than that is simply sloppy reporting.

“Apple vs. Android: iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3 Specs”

In the recent episode entitled Apple vs. Android: iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3 Specs, Mauricio Balvanera (producer) and Jackie Talbott (host) compare the new Apple iPhone 5 to the Samsung Galaxy S III in a number of factors. Here are some highlights:

Being pedantic

First of all — and yes, I understand how completely pedantic I’m being — let’s break-down the accuracy of the title of the episode: “Apple vs. Android: iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3 Specs”.

  • Apple is a company, which makes both the phone hardware, as well as the phone software.

  • Android is a base operating system, which hardware vendors take, modify, and re-release as their own custom operating systems. Android is built primarily by Google.

  • iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III are both (hardware) phones made by Apple and Samsung, respectively.

    • Apple’s iPhone 5 runs iOS
    • Samsung’s Galaxy S III runs Samsung’s modified version of the base Android OS. I have no idea what the product name of their custom OS is.

This is just plain sloppy.

Leapfrogged

Mauricio: So we’re going to go over the technical differences between the two and basically decide whether or not Apple has leapfrogged Android technology.

Has it already been decided that iOS has been leapfrogged by Android? If so, I wasn’t aware that this decision had been made. There are several cases where Apple and iOS have left other devices and mobile platforms in the dust. Were these not taken into account when the decision was made that Android was ahead?

Device size

Mauricio: So, the S III obviously takes the cake on size, while the iPhone beats out the S3 on thinness […]

Yes, the S3 is physically larger. Does that mean it “wins”? I would argue not, but Mauricio seems to imply that requiring two hands is a feature. The be fair, however, he and Jackie both made it a point to mention that it can all boil down to a matter of preference, so there is neither a winner nor a loser here. Although I think they could have done a better job addressing this up-front, I’ll let this one slide.

What they didn’t talk about, however, was the weight. The iPhone 5 feels considerably lighter than both the glass-backed 4 and 4S models, and clocks in at 3.95 ounces (112 grams). The Galaxy S III clocks in at just over 4.69 ounces (133 grams).

Now, I own an iPhone 4 which clocks in at 4.8 ounces (137 grams). Various co-workers of mine have iPhone 4Ss, which clock in at 4.9 ounces (140 grams). The new iPhone 5 is 28g lighter than the 4S, and 25g lighter than the 4, and the difference in your hand is substantial. It would be reasonable to infer that being 21g lighter than the Galaxy S III would be nearly equally substantial.

Camera

There was too much banter here for me to transcribe, but they basically compare 8 MP to 8 MP with 1080p recording for each, and leave it at that. What they completely leave out is the quality of the lense, the aperture, low-light boosting, etc., which really make or break the quality of the photographs.

Now, I’m not going to pretend to be a photography buff who knows the difference from one aperture size to another, but what about providing real-world photographs comparing one device to another to see what the real-world differences are?

And that’s only for still shots. What about the quality of the recorded video? 1080p is a shorthand reference for 1920-by–1080 resolution; this has nothing to do with quality. And what about things like image stabilization during recording? I know first-hand that the last couple of iPhones have had awesome image stabilization. How does the Galaxy S III stack up?

Lightning port

First, Mauricio makes a comment about replacing the old proprietary dock for a new proprietary dock (*womp, womp*) — implying that proprietary is inherently bad. Mauricio’s bias is showing.

Mauricio follows that up by explaining that the Open Mobile Terminal Platform (OMTP) Forum chose to endorse Micro USB for power and data transport in 2007. He also added that Apple was “notably absent.”

This reminds me of the story about how Teddy Roosevelt’s own mother didn’t even vote for him! Why does the OMTP story remind me of Teddy Roosevelt’s mother? Because both statements are both true and entirely misleading. What Mauricio leaves out of his explanation are some additional facts:

  • The OMTP forum was a collection of for-profit corporations, and not an unbiased standards organization.

  • The OMTP existed from 2004–2010. It no longer exists.

  • Micro USB was selected for power and data transfer — because those are the only two things that Micro USB is capable of.

    • Apple’s 30-pin and Lightning connectors support video-out.
    • Apple’s 30-pin and Lightning connectors support controlling the iDevice from another device (including stereos and car adapters).
    • Apple’s 30-pin and Lightning connectors wrap additional functionality around the base USB 2.0 implementation.
  • Teddy Roosevelt was elected before 1918, when the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed to allow women to vote.

USB is a “dumb” protocol, and requires the primary machine’s CPU for any data transfer. FireWire, the 30-pin and Lightning connectors are much more intelligent protocols which use an on-board device processor, allowing for more efficient data transfer than Micro USB does — even over the same USB 2.0 protocol. Most USB 2.0 devices are lucky to get 280 Mbps (35 MB/s) of real-world throughput.

Now, although the current version of the cables come in the USB 2.0 variety, do we know if the iPhone 5’s connector is capable of newer protocols such as USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt? I don’t know what the answer is, but it seems to me that starting with USB 2.0 support makes the most sense because that’s what the overwhelming number of customers have available.

During a teardown of the iPhone 5 (which, to be fair, didn’t happen until after this episode of App Judgment was recorded), Ars Technica points out that Lightning might be USB 3.0-compatible. If the Lightning connector is supposed to last us another 10 years (as claimed by Apple), this seems to make the most sense.

Things that are missing

No Micro SD […]

Yay, because:

  • Micro SD is more than 10x slower than the built-in SSD drives, and…
  • Having multiple drives attached would complicate the UX of the device.

No NFC (Boo!) […]

Near-Field Communication (NFC) is still (arguably) a solution in search of a problem. It’s a cart-before-the-horse situation. If NFC really does unlock some fantastic uses that make my life easier/better in some way, by all means, show them to me. I’d love to be proven wrong.

Phil Schiller explains the majority of use-cases that people want NFC to fit are addressed by Passbook. Passbook is still new and apps are few (iOS 6 was released to the public only 11 days ago), but being an all-software solution means that developers can deliver new features quickly without requiring third-parties to purchase and integrate new NFC hardware.

Let’s see which way the real-world usage actually goes. Realistically, it’s simply too early to tell.

No Barometer […]

What? How useful would such a feature be in the real world, when weather apps are a dime a dozen? I have no idea why this was on the list, other than to be a kitchen sink item.

And no wireless charging capabilities.

This would be an interesting feature in theory, but I’m not convinced that I’d want a bulkier phone in exchange for this feature. Also, when I plug in my phone to charge, I also want it to sync. While the iTunes WiFi Syncing in iOS 5 and later addresses this, it’s more important to me to have a faster connection while transferring data — especially with movies, TV shows and games that are typically in the 500 MB–2 GB range.

So, I’d argue that it’s an interesting feature, but I don’t know how well it’d work out practically.

Conclusion

Mauricio: Apple — at best — have matched Android hardware […]

From there, they sit and mock Apple and new new stuff they recently put out. They did say that Apple’s build quality is better (it is, actually), but the rest was simply mocking.

They left out all of the software-related topics (since a piece of hardware is completely worthless without matching software), and they focused exclusively on hardware specs instead of actual features (also known as “feature checklist dysfunction)“.

All-in-all, I find myself so frustrated by such ill-informed reporting, that I’m rather put-off at the moment. I really hope that the hosts of App Judgment will avoid such opinion-filled, faux-reporting drivel in the future, and take the time to support their assertions with things like facts and empirical evidence. Tell the whole story, guys.

Ryan Parman

Ryan Parman is an experienced software engineer, open source evangelist, and passionate user advocate currently living in Seattle. He is the creator of and , and worked on DevOps and Security at . He is now bringing learning into the digital age as an Engineering Lead and Site Reliability Engineer at . Ryan's aptly-named blog, , is where he writes about ideas longer than .