iPhone X launch, EV pledges and more: best of the week’s news
E&T staff pick their favourite news stories from the past week and reflect on what these latest developments in engineering and technology mean to them.
Jack Loughran, news reporter
Apple used to be the king of product reveals. The tech in the early iPhones was not only more impressive than any of its rivals at the time, but the wall of secrecy around its new products was deftly maintained so that the reveal itself contained genuine news that was perfectly stage-managed by Apple. Those days are long gone.
In 2010 the iPhone 4 was famously leaked by tech site Gizmodo six months before its official reveal, after one of its developers got hammered and left a prototype device in a bar. That was the start of the now annual tradition where iPhones are routinely leaked months ahead of their release so that by the time the keynote conference takes place, everyone knows everything about the device. The iPhone 4 was also the last model to truly stand out in an increasingly crowded smartphone marketplace. The premium metal build and ‘retina’ display was not to be bettered by any other smartphone released that year.
Fast-forward to 2017 and Apple just cannot command the control and excitement that it used to elicit from rabid iPhone fans. The iPhone became increasingly iterative as time went on, and Android improved rapidly in all of the areas where iOS once demonstrated superiority. The iPhone’s closed ecosystem also became frustrating in comparison to Android’s relative openness. For example, Apple is only just adding a file browser in iOS 11. It’s 2017 guys, come on.
In addition everyone knew everything about the ‘revolutionary’ iPhone X before it was officially shown to the public. Every spec and detail had already been discussed and scrutinised months before the keynote speech, which itself just became a confirmation of what people already knew. Meanwhile, although the phone may have been ‘revolutionary’ if considered purely within the confines of the iPhone range, a number of Android devices already contained many of its most interesting features. The S8, now over six months old, also had facial recognition and a massive display that took up the whole body, and although it’s expensive it’ll still cost significantly less than the ludicrously priced $999 iPhone X.
There will of course still be a market for iPhones even at that price, but years of diminishing returns are starting to take their course (iPhone 7 saw a marked fall in sales in comparison to the previous year). As the lustre of the new models slowly fades, the premium price expected from consumers becomes increasingly less justifiable especially considering the alternatives.
Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
It’s a question on the lips and minds of many and something one should definitely be considering in relation to one’s chosen profession. Whether or not we all end up becoming robot service personnel remains to be seen. Personally, I highly doubt it, because no matter how advanced robots become, there will always be certain human endeavours at which they royally suck. Ergo, jobs for humans will continue to exist.
In considering the above problem - that of robots nicking all the work - perhaps mankind should consider its own failure to make the most of the prevailing technology and push on to a higher level of productivity and prosperity. We appear to be floundering in an age of unprecedented opportunity gifted to us by technology.
The whole world and its wife knows by now that there are new iPhones coming out soon, although what impressed me most this week was how switched on and proactive Apple is in enticing new customers to its shiny handsets (literally shiny - they’re made of glass). No sooner had the presentations finished at the Special Event [sic], the first to be held at the new Steve Jobs Theater, than Apple’s website home page and all dedicated product pages were updated with an avalanche of new information - all presented in the slickest, most impressive web way possible. The next morning, I received a personal email from Apple, as an existing customer of its iPhone Upgrade Programme, suggesting that I set a calendar alert for 08:01 on 15/09, in order to be first in line to reserve a new iPhone 8. The same e-mail - again, replete with multiple gorgeous images of the new products - also told me I was eligible for the iPhone X, if I cared to spend a little bit more money, and suggested the optimum reservation time and date to be first in line for that, too. I could also check my current upgrade programme status and payments with one click, making it incredibly easy for me to find myself effortlessly seduced into upgrading my existing iPhone 7, which actually I am perfectly happy with. I haven’t quite succumbed to Apple's seduction… yet. There’s clearly no sense of any productivity problem over at One Infinite Loop, California, though.
Dickon Ross, editor in chief
The last few weeks have seen a series of announcements from both industry and governments on electric cars, such as this one from BMW. And this from Jaguar the previous week. Most manufacturers are now committing to electric with model plans and actual dates. Governments too are committing to electric with plans for phasing out sales of internal combustion engines. China has not yet set a target date for all-electric or all-hybrid sales forecourts and we'll see if they are any more meaningful than the deadlines set by other governments in decades from now, well after manufacturers have long forgotten the petrol or diesel car anyway. According to industry analysts, cost parity between electric and combustion vehicles is just a few years away. While there’s plenty of work to be done still on infrastructure, it's hard to see what targets set decades from now will achieve, such is the speed of development in this sector. And banning the sales of combustion vehicles decades from now seems slightly pointless if economics will make it happen anyway. Unless, perhaps, there will always be a few petrolheads left who yearn for the good old days.
Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
For a country that’s famous for its railways, India has taken a surprisingly long time to start building high-speed lines, but the process is now starting to happen. The line linking Ahmedabad and Mumbai will slash the fastest journey time between these major cities from around seven hours to just over two. Many commentators have picked up on the political aspects, with Japan favoured over China to provide financial and technical support to the project, but the engineering aspects are interesting too. The line will be 508km long, but only 13km of this will be at ground level. The great majority - 468km or 92 per cent - will be elevated; it’s said that this is to prevent trespass by people or animals, to ensure that the service can operate reliably. The final 27km will be in tunnels, including India’s first undersea tunnel, on the approach to Mumbai. A project to watch.
Jade Fell, supplements editor
It’s been a glorious week at E&T with the arrival of not one, but two specialist supplements back from the printer. This month’s supplements focus on two very different subjects with a similar overarching theme – staying competitive in times of great change. Keeping in line with the ‘future of work’ theme from the main magazine, our first supplement takes a look at how learning and development continues into professional life, and what you, as engineers, can do to keep on top of your game, as well as some exciting changes occurring at the IET. Our second, no less important, supplement looks at productivity within a factory setting, and how industrial changes in products, services and production systems are revolutionising the test and measurement sector. If you were lucky enough to receive one, or both, of our specialist supplements this month, or happened to read them on E&T online, we’d love to know your thoughts. Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Whatever you think of US states like California legalising the sale and possession of marijuana in small quantities for recreational use, at least it signals the death knell of ‘stoner’ movies – surely one of the most witless genres in film history. Fans of ‘Up In Smoke’ and the like will have to rely on the existing body of work to enjoy Cheech and Chong’s apparently hilarious antics evading the forces of law and order while trying to maintain their supply. Which means that, thankfully, we’re not likely to be exposed to plotlines based on developments like the California Bureau of Cannabis Control’s attempts to wrestle with the advent of technology that could see street corner dealers replaced by remote-controlled aircraft or driverless cars capable of dropping off a delivery without the need for human intervention. “Transportation may not be done by aircraft, watercraft, rail, drones, human-powered vehicles or unmanned vehicles,” its new policy states. Not to mention that delivery vehicles with drivers will have to be trackable by GPS. It all makes cinema outings like 1981’s ‘Nice Dreams’, in which Cheech and Chong apparently “make a living selling weed out of an ice cream truck,” seem rather quaint.