Editor's Letter: The secret is out

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Editor's Letter: The secret is out

In each issue of Distro, Executive Editor Marc Perton publishes a wrap-up of the week in news.

This week's Distro includes our first hands-on looks at Apple's new iPhones, the 5c and 5s. And you should read them -- and check out our hands-on videos. But I'm not going to be spoiling anything by saying that we didn't find anything about the new phones very surprising. After months of speculation, leaks and rumors, Apple's iPhone event this Tuesday was something of a letdown. From the "champagne" iPhone 5s, to the phone's fingerprint reader, to the "budget" 5c series, virtually everything that was announced on Tuesday was public knowledge -- or at least well-circulated on the rumor mill -- well in advance. Unlike earlier Apple announcements, there was no "one more thing" lurking under the covers. The launch of the iPhone 5c and 5s was a by-the-numbers Apple event that could have been assembled from an Apple launch kit. Tight guest list and carefully orchestrated media buzz? Check. Black-shirted CEO? Check. Brief performance by an aging pop star? Check. Excitement and surprises? Sorry, not this time.

Gallery: Apple iPhone 5c hands-on | 35 Photos


Gallery: Apple iPhone 5s hands-on | 30 Photos


Part of this, of course, isn't Apple's fault. The iPhone is now a mature product, and its updates are inevitably going to be more incremental improvements than revolutionary changes. And without any surprises, like an iPad refresh or smartwatch, it was inevitable that Tuesday's launch event would seem a bit anticlimactic. But there's no question that Apple's once-vaunted ability to keep a tight lid on rumors and leaks has taken a hit in the Tim Cook era, which means that even features that might have caused some excitement on Tuesday, like the 5s' fingerprint reader, seemed like old news. For any other company, that might not seem like a big deal; most of the features of Samsung's recently announced Galaxy Note 3 were well-known prior to last week's press conference, and we don't expect any surprises when the Nokia 1520 eventually becomes official. But Apple has long positioned itself as a different kind of company, and Tuesday's event left a lot of people longing for a bit of that Steve Jobs magic -- or at least one insanely great feature we didn't already take for granted.

While Apple didn't tease the long-rumored iWatch, other companies, from Samsung to Google to Fitbit, continue to push wearable technology in new directions. In this week's Distro, we take a long look back at Edward Thorp, a pioneer of wearable tech, whose first devices were cumbersome computers designed to give gamblers an edge in games like roulette. Thorp's 1961 roulette computer worked well enough that such gadgets are now routinely banned from casinos, and Thorp himself moved from building devices to give gamblers an edge to applying the tools of statistical analysis to the stock market. "When you're betting millions," he says, "betting hundreds of thousands doesn't seem meaningful." It's hard to argue with that logic, or with Thorp's modest assertion that he "was just interested in solving a problem and seeing if I could do it. The fact that it was a wearable computer was just part of solving the problem." That's the kind of thinking that leads to insanely great innovations, and it's as true now as it was 50 years ago.

This piece originally appeared in Distro #107.

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