Thinking more about Bluetooth 5's inclusion in the next iPhone

I'm genuinely perplexed as to why Bluetooth 5's inclusion in the next iPhone isn't being more widely speculated. As far as I can google, Raymond Chuang in BGR's Disqus comments (1 2 3) and I are the only ones discussing this possibility.

I know I'm interpreting tea leaves here, but nothing I've read in the past two months has deflated my theory that Bluetooth 5 will be included in the next iPhone. I struggle to imagine a scenario where all of this smoke leads up to yet-another set of buggy Bluetooth 4 earbuds that get panned by the press. Apple must have a secret, and I think that secret is Bluetooth 5. It's the only way I can see them turning the "why oh why is Apple removing the headphone jack?" conversation on its head.

New developments

A few weeks after I published my theory back in July, the NPD Group announced that June sales of Bluetooth headphones (54%) overtook sales of non-Bluetooth headphones for the first time ever. Interestingly, Beats was also the top-selling Bluetooth headphone brand, beating out LG, Bose, Jaybird, and Skullcandy.

One week later in early August, Forbes reported that Apple had been spending the last few years developing a custom low-power Bluetooth chip with a startup they purchased a year before the Beats acquisition:

The low-power Bluetooth chip comes from technology developed by Passif Semiconductor, a startup Apple purchased in 2013. But the project has hit performance snags. Apple originally planned to launch the Bluetooth gadget in 2015, but Bluetooth performance issues stalled the release, the source told FORBES. “The way it works at Apple is if it doesn’t work 100%, it gets cut,” the source said. Whether Apple’s wireless earbuds arrive with a custom Bluetooth chip by Apple, or instead use a third-party supplier (like Broadcom) is still unknown.

(Side note: Apple and the Bluetooth SIG may have been targeting to release Bluetooth 5 headphones last year with the iPhone 6s to make this year's transition more palatable, but that likely got cut in late 2013 or early 2014 when the 6s' design was finalized. The "performance snag" surely wasn't recent. The casual mention of Apple wanting the headphones to work 100% also makes me think Forbes' source was Apple itself; pre-hyping the quality of their upcoming headphones.)

There's more. Three days ago, Bragi - creator of the oft-mentioned Bragi Dash wireless earbuds that are likely similar to Apple's - teased a 'big' announcement coming on September 5th (Labor Day) in Cupertino. Although the timing and location are curious, John Gruber believes that they "caught wind of Apple's imminent wireless AirPods" and are scrambling to get media attention before the big event, which makes sense.

Finally, earlier today iGeneration (read MacRumors for English) received a supposedly-mistaken email from Beats' PR team announcing that new Beats products would be unveiled at next week's Apple keynote. The screenshot they took of the email was later pulled down.

What I predict will happen

I don't bet (gambling is bad, kids!) but if I did I would bet a good chunk of cash that Apple is going to be the first company in the world to announce and ship a Bluetooth 5 smartphone that was co-developed with all-new Apple and Beats-branded Bluetooth 5 headphones and earbuds.

On stage, they'll show off their new custom-made chip and extol the benefits of Bluetooth 5. They'll claim that their wireless headphones are more reliable, have better battery life, and sound better (with high-fidelity audio) than any other headphones available today. The new devices will still work with your old smartphones and laptops (it's Bluetooth, after all), but the battery life and reliability when paired with the new iPhone will be unparalleled.

Apple and Beats will also announce Hi-Res Audio streaming for Apple Music, allowing owners of the new Apple and Beats-branded headphones to listen to their music at a higher-than-ever fidelity. This will set off yet another discussion within geek circles about whether or not the difference is noticeable, but that won't matter to Beats' audience. Beats' brand value will continue to climb.

The press will put the new headphones through their paces and likely be impressed, both with the audio quality (real or not) and the reliability of Bluetooth 5. The battery life of the Bragi-style wireless AirPods will only beat existing alternatives by an hour or maybe two, but reviewers will still recommend them because of Bluetooth 5's benefits and the lack of other options at the time of the iPhone's launch. They'll be good enough (yet expensive enough) to become a fashionable status symbol leading up to the Holidays. Apple Watch runners, in particular, will really enjoy them.

Speaking of the Watch, the new iteration will include Bluetooth 5 as well (further improving its battery life), and so will every Mac that Apple refreshes later this year. The newfound mesh networking capability of these devices will position Apple well to sell new, compelling, home-focused, and high-margin HomeKit accessories early next year.

Let's see what happens on Wednesday.

'Listen to me. Listen to me.'

I'd like to present two bits of food for thought, without a lot of discussion.

The first is a brief clip from the 1957 film, 12 Angry Men. The whole film is absolutely worth watching if you've never seen it, but for this clip you only need to know that a roomful of jurors are starting to have reasonable doubts about the evidence presented during an 18-year-old boy's murder trial.

After a loud, anger-fueled tirade, the other jurors start to turn their backs, and the disruptive man's rant turns into a simple plea:

Juror 10: "Listen to me. Listen to me."

Juror 4: "I am. Now sit down and don't open your mouth again."

The second bit is this Endless Origami comic from earlier this year, in which the opposite happens.

A theory connecting the dropped headphone jack, Mac hardware, HomeKit, and Bluetooth 5

Apple's hardware lineup is in a bit of a weird state at the moment. Nearly every Mac is due for a refresh, and the most notable rumor about the next iPhone is that it's going to drop the headphone jack, which doesn't sound like an improvement.

Jason Snell of Six Colors wrote a good takedown piece describing why none of the potential reasons for the headphone jack's removal are good enough, and says this about wireless headphones:

Wireless is the future! Bluetooth is great! I own a set of Bluetooth headphones, and they’re fine. Wireless headphones have to be charged, which is a complication wired headphones don’t suffer from. Bluetooth is problematic. It’s complex to pair, connect, and disconnect headphones. And even now, I have weird audio issues with Bluetooth connections both on my headphones and in my car, where the sound drops out or has a strange clicking or ticking noise until I turn my iPhone’s Bluetooth off and on.

Among many other podcasts and articles, Episode 159 of The Talk Show echoes this sentiment (around 1:00:19), with John Gruber wondering aloud why Apple is choosing to make the transition this year rather than next year when the iPhone gets a new physical design.

There's one potential reason that I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere which could explain both the timing of the headphone jack's removal and the current Mac hardware lull. It's a bit presumptive and reminds me of my days complaining about AirPlay Direct, but there could be something to it.

I think the next iPhone may be the first smartphone to include Bluetooth 5, with a compelling selection of reliable wireless earbuds and Beats headphones ready to purchase at launch. New Bluetooth 5 mesh networking features would allow those headphones and other devices to more easily switch between Mac/iOS devices (like Handoff) while laying the groundwork for new Internet of Things (IoT) products to strengthen Apple's HomeKit ecosystem going into 2017.

The next iPhone could be the first smartphone to include Bluetooth 5

There's some precedent for this to happen. Bluetooth 4.0 was completed in early 2010, and the iPhone 4S was the first smartphone to include it in October 2011, with Android devices (and Macs) catching up in early 2012. Accessory-makers took a while to make anything that was Bluetooth 4.0-compatible, however, so the iPhone's inclusion of it felt a bit premature.

The Verge, December 2011:

We're told that Apple wants to see a new wave of app-based accessories using the new Bluetooth Low Energy profile in Bluetooth 4.0, with a particular focus on next-generation health and fitness gadgets like the FitBit Ultra and Jawbone Up....

Unfortunately we don't have a timeline for any of this stuff, but we get the feeling it'll be a while before it comes to fruition: the iPhone 4S is currently Apple's only iOS product with Bluetooth 4.0, and vendors are just getting protocol information on some of these new features now.

It was a nice forward-looking inclusion, but Apple and others didn't capitalize on Bluetooth 4.0's benefits until much later with new low-energy fitness devices and the Apple Watch (which didn't even end up supporting the iPhone 4S).

In November of last year we started hearing that the next generation of Bluetooth would have 4 times the range, twice the speed, and support mesh networking to eliminate the need for a central IoT "hub". Bluetooth 5 (the most marketable name the spec has had in a while) was formally announced on June 16th and slated for late-2016 to early-2017 with a heavy emphasis on its IoT benefits, including this interesting line:

With the major boost in broadcast messaging capacity, the data being transferred will be richer, more intelligent. This will redefine the way Bluetooth devices transmit information, moving away from the app-paired-to-device model to a connectionless IoT where there is less need to download an app or connect the app to a device.

Although the timetable for Bluetooth 5 to be included in the next iPhone is seemingly much shorter than Bluetooth 4.0, as a member of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) I suspect Apple has had access to the new tech for a while now. Reading the description above, iOS 10's inclusion of a new all-in-one Home app and Control Center widget along with HomeKit updates seem to be particularly well-timed with Bluetooth 5's release, and the mesh networking capabilities and extended range of Bluetooth 5 could explain why it would be beneficial to synchronize the iPhone's release with updated Mac hardware - particularly if Apple is planning to release some kind of Amazon Echo competitor in the near future.

Beats-branded Bluetooth 5 headphones and earbuds could be ready to ship, and actually be decent

Although Bluetooth 5's announcement doesn't explicitly state that connections are more reliable, the quadrupled range and halved latency lead me to think that's the case. Imagine for a moment that this is finally the year that Bluetooth becomes frictionless, due in part to Apple's close shepherding of its development since Bluetooth 4.0. To avoid another false start and capitalize on being the first to introduce the new tech, they acquired Beats in 2014 not only to bolster Apple Music, but also to ensure that they would have a compelling line of high-margin Bluetooth 5 headphones and earbuds to sell at the launch of 2016's iPhone and Macs. The rumored new EarPods and completely wireless "AirPods" could be the result of that strategic decision to align with Bluetooth 5's launch.

If that's what Apple is planning to do, their recent summertime Back to School special offers also make sense. Apple used to bundle iPods before they were refreshed in September to help clear stock, and I suspect they may be doing the same with Beats' headphones. Last summer Apple offered a pair of wired Beats headphones with the purchase of a new Mac, and then culled Beats' wired headphones a few months later in January. This summer their promotion is a bit better; offering wireless headphones with the purchase of a new Mac and wireless earbuds with the purchase of a new iPhone or iPad Pro. If Apple/Beats is planning to introduce significantly better wireless headphones soon, this latest special offer seems like a good way of making shelf space.

A theoretical best-case scenario

From Jason Snell's headphone jack piece again:

Is it the right time to ditch the headphone jack? It doesn’t feel like that to me, but it’s arguable. The replacements—Lightning via an adapter or Bluetooth—don’t seem like clearly better options that solve problems in the current technology that’s making consumers restless and uneasy.

There's no question that Apple's going to get flak for dropping the headphone jack in the next iPhone, but if this pet theory is correct and Bluetooth 5 is finally good enough, this year may actually be the best time to transition people to wireless. By the time next year's all-new iPhone comes out, people will already have Bluetooth 5 accessories and lightning-connected headphones ready to go, with no headphone jack controversy tainting the iPhone 7's launch.

During Apple's iPhone keynote I would expect the IoT and HomeKit benefits of Bluetooth 5's mesh network capabilities to be explained quite a bit, emphasizing that the iPhone is the first device to include the new technology. At some point they'll have to explain the lack of a headphone jack, and assuming Bluetooth 5 is more reliable, I expect them to introduce new Bluetooth 5-based Beats and Apple-branded wireless headphones that "just work" the way we always hoped they would. Switching between devices would behave like Handoff and be doable within Control Center, and the connection wouldn't drop through walls as easily thanks to the new mesh capability and improved range. Pairing or switching the new headphones could also be done quickly by tapping them to the NFC area of the iPhone, like Apple Pay. The "Bluetooth 5" branding (which I wouldn't be surprised if Apple suggested) would be pushed heavily during the keynote as the next big thing to look for in wireless headphones, and new Apple/Beats hardware would be ready to purchase on day 1.

I suspect that Lighting-connected EarPods - not wireless - will be included in the next iPhone's box. For seemingly the vast majority of people, those earbuds with a built-in mic and controls are good enough and are typically only used with the iPhone anyway. An adapter won't be included, but will be available for people who want to continue using their own earbuds/headphones without "upgrading" to Bluetooth 5 accessories from Apple or Beats.


From what I can quickly google, Broadcom - Apple's supplier for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth chips - hasn't announced any hardware that supports Bluetooth 5 yet. Before Bluetooth 4.0 was included in the iPhone 4S in October of 2011, Broadcom had already written press releases in February and May for new chips that were compatible. The lack of hardware is a bit surprising considering Bluetooth 5's press release says to expect compatible devices this year, so I'd expect Broadcom to make an announcement pretty soon if they're going to meet that schedule (unless Apple is keeping them quiet for now).

I'm also not very confident that Bluetooth 5 will be as great as the press release says it'll be. As John Gruber notes, reliable Bluetooth has long-been something that's just around the corner but never ends up meeting expectations. Bluetooth 5's mesh networking sounds interesting and will theoretically herald a new generation of IoT devices, but so far Apple's HomeKit has been primarily Wi-Fi based, which has always seemed to be more stable than Bluetooth.

Even if Bluetooth 5 is great and all of the pairing and connection issues are figured out, there's still the annoyance of charging accessories. The AirPods rumor mentioned a chargeable carrying case, but listening to music while charging would still be difficult or impossible. Extended range wireless charging is a sci-fi-sounding possibility that might be included in the 2017 iPhone and other accessories, but that still wouldn't help when you're on a bus or outside the range of a transmitter.

We'll see how things actually play out in September, but if Bluetooth 5 ends up happening and Apple/Beats is ready to sell nice-looking, highly-reliable Bluetooth headphones on day 1, I think the sting of the headphone jack's removal could be dulled a bit. If not, things will be pretty painful for a while.

WWDC 2016 iOS 10 wish list

Before iOS 10 is revealed at the WWDC keynote later today, here's a brief list of things that I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere (although, I'm admittedly a bit behind on my reading). This comprehensive MacStories post and Macrumors pre-event summary cover the bigger things people are hoping for. My fingers are definitely crossed for a dark theme.

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Surface Pro 4 vs iPad mini 2 scrolling smoothness

Here's an example of a little detail you'd hardly ever find mentioned in a traditional product review.

The device on the left is a Surface Pro 4 with this website open in the Edge browser. On the right is an iPad mini 2 with the same page in Safari. My fingers are off camera, but I'm slowly sliding up on each display as if I were reading the article casually.

Notice the jitter on the Surface Pro 4. My guess is that either Microsoft's touch driver is wonky (not surprising) or maybe the digitizer itself is less precise, but the 2-year-old iPad mini is perfectly smooth by comparison. It's still possible to read while slowly scrolling on the Surface of course, but the experience is just... suckier.

This slight suck is something that many people would just adapt their behavior to, probably unconsciously. They'd just scroll faster and less frequently, or scroll in large chunks. The difference isn't as obvious as Android vs iOS a few years ago, but it's still an unnecessary quirk that makes using the Surface as a tablet less pleasant.

I never ended up publishing my review of the Surface Pro 4, but even putting the terrible driver issues and lack of apps aside, there are so many similar annoyances (like stylus lag) that I'd be hard-pressed to recommend it to anyone looking to replace an iPad. Microsoft might fix Windows' bigger issues within the next year or two, but I have a feeling that little details like these will continue to suck for much longer.

My Typing Speed

In 2011 I was surprised to find out that my typing speed on a flat touchscreen wasn't much slower than my speed on a traditional keyboard. For science's sake, I've been recording my typing speed on various devices ever since.

My 2011-2014 tests were conducted using the TapTyping iOS app. Everything since then has been done with the popular AOEU typing speed test website (which also has a great histogram of typing speed data). TapTyping's inclusion of words like "thou" and weird character names from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea often tripped up iOS' autocorrect, so I switched.

My method is pretty consistent - comfortable position, no distractions, not tired, and no do-overs unless errors start to snowball.

I'll continue to update this article roughly once a year with whatever devices I'm using at the time.

2011 (October)

57 wpm - iPhone 4
60 wpm - iPad 2
71 wpm - Apple Wireless Keyboard

2012 (April)

63 wpm - iPhone 5
75 wpm - iPad 2
82 wpm - Apple Wireless Keyboard

2013 (April)

63 wpm - iPhone 5

2014 (November)

72 wpm - iPhone 5

2015 (September)

73 wpm - iPhone 6 Plus
80 wpm - iPad 2
91 wpm - Apple Wireless Keyboard

2016 (April)

72 wpm - iPhone 6 Plus
80 wpm - iPad mini 2
79 wpm - Surface Pro 4
93 wpm - Apple Magic Keyboard

VR headset launch trailers

Here's the launch trailer for the Oculus Rift (careful of the volume):

Loud music paired with a deluge of brief game clips from a first-person perspective. To the layperson who's only barely familiar with VR, it's inscrutable. It doesn't convey what VR actually feels like, and it over-emphasizes the headset (and dinosaur cliché).

Now here's SteamVR / HTC Vive's launch video:

It's longer, sure, but it's far more enjoyable to watch and explains everything from the setup process to the safety grid while gradually building up excitement.

Using a green screen was extremely smart, and so was using realistic groups of relatable people. The experience and fun of VR is emphasized instead of the goofy-looking hardware, and it concludes with people enjoying their new headsets at home. I can easily see segments of this video become ads on TV, and blow peoples' minds.

This is how you sell VR.