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Mac Planet: iPhone - where to now?

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Smartphones are still on the rise, but Apple's position at the top of the market has changed radically.

The current shape of the market was totally defined by the release of Apple's first iPhone six years ago, but six years is an aeon in the tech market.

The latest Gartner figures show that smartphones achieved 51.8 per cent of worldwide phone sales in the second quarter of this year.

Asia/Pacific, Latin America and Eastern Europe exhibited the highest smartphone growth rates of 74.1 per cent, 55.7 per cent and 31.6 per cent respectively, but smartphone sales grew in all regions.

But Apple's part in all this has changed a lot - its year-on-year marketshare has dropped more than four points to 14.2 percent.

That figure puts Apple in second place to Samsung, but it's hardly a close second - Samsung has 31.7 per cent of the world's smartphone market. In real terms, it's thought there are now about 775m-800m 'official' Android devices in use, versus perhaps 415m iOS devices (these figures include tablets from both platforms).

The widely speculated-upon successor to the iPhone 5 might be two models - a cheaper iPhone and a deluxe gold one. When you look at the markets, it's clear Apple will have China and India firmly in its sites for a cheaper model - for example, many people these days spring for an iPhone 4S over a 5 since it's cheaper, yet nearly as good as a 5, plus slightly shorter.

Speculation has largely settled on a top end iPhone '5S' and a 'cheap' (this term is always relative when applied to Apple) iPhone '5C'.

Of course, nothing's announced but any news is expected 10th September. On the S, the rumours are currently saying it will be a gold-coloured unit with a thumbprint sensor.

As for a 'cheap' iPhone, you can easily work out the marketing idea behind this. The Asia-Pacific region is still a growth market for Apple but Samsung has well and truly taken the lead. Apple might still have the cachet but Samsung's smartphones have more more features - and they're often cheaper, and far more open to discounting.

People sometimes thrust a Galaxy at me and announce 'this is better than an iPhone'. I always say the same thing: 'good for you. However, my iPhone syncs and talks to all my Apple devices ... so I'm not interested.'

I suspect it's those without Macs most tempted by non-Apple smartphones, or those who simply value more raw features over less.

Apple is undoubtedly increasing its focus on China: over 200 mostly senior job openings have appeared on LinkedIn, reports the Wall Street Journal. Some of these were added in the past three weeks, and many just in the last few days. The positions include a number of Supplier Responsibility roles and an Environmental Affairs Program Manager ... for good reason (read on).

Meanwhile Digitimes reported Apple is also seeking senior engineers for Taiwan.

Apple has a strange relationship with China (actually, doesn't everyone?). Apart from China being very protective of its own manufacturers, earlier in the year Apple came under attack from Chinese State-run media over warranty policies. There was little substance to the allegations: the worrying thing was it looked like it was becoming state policy to gun for Apple.

The importance of the market was underlined by Apple CEO Tim Cook deciding it was prudent to make a public apology. Which seems to have done the trick.

There have also been high-profile stories about alleged dangerous faults with iPhone chargers. It seems the charger in question, which killed a woman who used her phone while it was powering up, was not an Apple charger, and as a result Apple has run out a third-party charger replacement program in 31 countries including, today, New Zealand. In the program, you exchange your third party charger for a certified Apple product at a cut price.

Apple has consistently come under fire for working conditions and pollution claims regarding its key suppliers in China, and more criticism has arisen recently - of course, HP and many other's products are manufactured in the same factories under the same conditions, but high-profile Apple seems to have to carry the can on this. I'm not condoning the conditions, by the way - I think it's utterly reprehensible that factories can't treat workers with respect. And to me, it's a serious taint to the products.

As for the potential of a cheaper iPhone for sale in China, Tim Cook has recently met both China Telecom and China Mobile for ... we don't know, yet. But the rollout of a cheaper iPhone seems a likely candidate.

But there are other huge markets that would take well to cheaper iPhones, and not just India: Brazil and Russia, for example. In tandem with a new iPhone is the widely expected release of iOS 7, Apple's next iDevice operating system.

iOS 7 is definitely making progress through development. iOS 7 beta 6 just appeared: the 13.5MB update fixes issues with iTunes in the Cloud (which also just had an update for Mac).

A lot of iOS 7's new features are discussed at TUAW.

When the first iPhone appeared, it was roundly criticised as not being 'enterprise friendly'. Apple has made huge strides to satisfy business users since, and iOS 7 will improve the situation significantly. Enterprise Single Sign-on increases security in the enterprise and makes it much easier for users to access corporate data assets. AirDrop Sharing for Apps is a way to use real-time document and content sharing for more efficient use of sales, presentation and collaboration tools.

Apple's version of Low Energy Bluetooth, 'iBeacon', will enable indoor navigation across large buildings and campuses and has device presence awareness and the ability to have locations trigger workflow tracking.

Apple has over 575 million iTunes customers on file, most of whom link credit cards to those accounts. Should the company be able to integrate mobile payment into Passbook and connect to those credit cards thanks to a 'scan to acquire Passbook passes' feature, iOS-based mobile commerce could take off.

Solstice Mobile CEO J Schwan thinks the UI changes in iOS 7 put content over aesthetics, giving developers the opportunity to make it possible for users to focus on critical tasks instead of device navigation.

So, all hold for September 10th.

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