There was a lot riding on Wednesday’s iPhone 5 announcement and like many others, I was anticipating something to restore my faith in Apple’s ability to wow people. I don’t think Apple will see a fall in sales any time soon, but I do believe the gap between Apple and everyone else is narrowing…
Apple delayed the launch of the 4S until October 2011 (it was expected by most in June). That delay raised expectations that the 4S wasn’t just going to be an incremental improvement, it would be a complete revamp. When the 4S was launched, it was a bitter disappointment to most people. The only major difference was Siri…
The iPhone 4 was my first iPhone and at the time (summer 2010), didn’t have any real competition. None worth talking about in my mind. It was an easy decision for me. Today, i feel not a whole lot has changed. If you’re an iPhone user now, the overall experience eclipses that of an Android / Samsung or Nokia / Windows. But it doesn’t eclipse them by the same margin it did in 2010. And that’s coming from me, an iPhone owner who should really be slightly biased towards Apple stuff.
Failing to exceed expectations
Firstly, it’s easy to deflect criticism with sales figures & growth stats. That’s the defence Apple fans turn to when faced with criticism. You can pick and choose stats at will to suit whatever picture you’re trying to create but they never explain the full story. Looking beyond sales figures, i’m wondering about Apple’s might as a brand and their ability to produce better products than competition. Have we reached a tipping point? Will the iPhone 5 destroy Apple?
In short, no. I don’t think we have reached a tipping point, but I also think we’re not far away and the iPhone 5 will be the first iPhone that gives the competition a real opportunity to catch up and possibly overtake. The last major innovative product that came from Apple was the iPad (original one). That was a big gamble that paid off handsomely.
The iPhone 4 was also a huge step up from the 3G / 3GS. Since then (summer 2010 on), all we’ve seen have been software improvements, minor upgrades to cameras and generally faster products which is great but not really noteworthy – there’d be something seriously wrong in the IT world if people stopped trying to make things faster and more efficient. It’s something you can (but shouldn’t really) take for granted… Moore’s Law.
On Wednesday, the iPhone 5 was announced. It’s fast, slimmer and longer than previous models. That prompts a “so what” response from me… as someone on twitter put it (sarcastically) “I was just thinking yesterday that I needed an 18% slimmer iPhone”. You see gone are the days when this stuff draws oohs and ahhhs…. we expect stuff to be slimmer and better as time passes. Apple have trained us to expect it. It’s become such a ritual that it’s no longer worth talking about. Would Apple ever say they intend to build a fatter, heavier phone? Of course they’re gonna highlight any potential improvements over an earlier version but for me there was far too much emphasis placed on them, as if Apple expected those improvements alone would be enough to make people upgrade or buy the new iPhone 5. I’d rather have a completely new, useful feature than an 18% lighter phone.
The reality is Apple have failed to add anything significant to the iPhone 5. It’s simply a leaner, slimmer, quicker version of the iPhone 4 which is a two and half year old device.
Early Christmas Present for Network Providers
LTE or 4G capability was also announced in the iPhone 5. No big deal, this was expected. It’ll be commonplace from now on and some manufacturers have already included it. It’s not so much a feature as a technology ‘movement’… like Bluetooth, USB 3.0 etc… had the iPhone 5 NOT included LTE, Apple would’ve had to wait another year watching a whole bunch of competitive devices rolling out that would have an immediate advantage. In Ireland, we’ll probably see LTE by the end of the decade. Outside of urban areas, most places don’t even have 3G coverage yet.
Back in 2010 when i got my iPhone 4, all network providers provided 2GB data in their cheapest pay monthly package. It’s now about 200mb and you pay for add-on packages if you want them. LTE will be hell for customers as it will become much easier / quicker to download & view videos, music or maps on the move. When in Vegas recently I’d have been charged €10.07 PER MEGABYTE had I availed of any web based services so this is where LTE is gonna cause lots of trouble once you roam or go beyond your package limits (which will be much easier to do due to faster connection speeds).
If you’ve plenty of data available though in your package, LTE will spoil you. It’ll probably be faster than what you get at home. Faster is always welcome.
Taller is better
What about the screen size? Did they change anything there? They sure did… they made it taller but not wider which kind of makes sense. It means less scrolling, more viewing. If you’re an app developer or Apple themselves, it also means more room to play around with ads. The ‘retina’ display can’t really get any better – there’s not much point in cramming in more pixels because we won’t notice them. Instead, Apple have focused on colours and they tell us the iPhone 5 has 44% more colour saturation.
Buy me, I’m an iPhone…
Here’s a run down of all improvements:
- longer screen
- faster processor
- better colour saturation
- new, smaller, reversible connector
- more microphones
- better front facing camera
- slightly better battery life
Everything else is really just software improvements. Does that list ‘wow’ you? For me, it’s underwhelming and it confirms in my mind that Apple are running out of ideas and losing their competitive edge. That or they think that new apps & software upgrades are enough to wow people. This is the 2nd iPhone launch that has failed to live up to expectations. There’s always hype around them but the previous two have been particularly disappointing in my eyes.
They have the market share and i think this iPhone 5 will do just fine, but come the next iteration or two of the iPhone, Apple will have to start pushing the boat out further.
Other devices (out already) include wireless charging & NFC… two technologies you can bank on that will become commonplace in the future. Probably not as we know them today but variations of them. I feel Apple needed to include those types of features (or something else) to bring back the ‘wow’ factor. Other rumored / fantasy features were responsive ‘raised’ buttons and fingerprint scanning to unlock / verify stuff. All of that is a ‘shut up and take my money’ kind of cool that leaves competition scratching their heads and playing catch-up yet again.
We’ll no doubt see it all one day, but i’d have expected some of it on Wednesday from Apple… I don’t think the likes of Samsung or Nokia are going to be scared by the iPhone 5. By sales figures, maybe, but not by the device itself. It lacks the knock out punch a lot of it’s predecessors had. As a consumer, you look around and see similar / better hardware, not too shabby rival operating systems and the decision to stick with Apple is probably now only swayed by two things; familiarity and marketing. It’s hassle to switch to a Samsung / Android or dare i say it Nokia / Windows. It would require something very special from either of those combinations for me to do that. But i believe that ‘something special’ is now within grasp, whereas just a couple of years ago, it wasn’t.
The problem now is that as consumers, we’re spoilt for choice, competitors are getting faster & smarter at producing rival products and it’s very quickly boiling down to a software-only battle. Or app store battle. Having done away with native YouTube and Google Maps apps, it’s clear Apple are trying to freeze Google out which in my opinion could go either way. In Apple’s defense, both apps were pretty rubbish and i’m sure Apple themselves could have done a better job designing them in house. But this could leave Apple in a situation where they’ve got inferior apps just because they wanted to take control over them. They can’t reverse that position so if they get it wrong, it could end up badly (people switching platforms because native Apple apps can’t match native Google apps on Android).
The Mobile Commerce Battle
I would’ve thought Apple would be desperate to replace people’s wallets before anyone else and introduced NFC in a bid to open up a whole new market but they seem content to stick to what they have and take smaller steps forward, testing the waters with what is a sort of ‘virtual’ NFC app in ‘Passbook’. It basically stores & organises receipts & vouchers or anything with a bar code on them from certain partners. So in theory you could have a balance on your McDonalds account, walk in and buy a burger, then scan a bar code located within the Passbook app which would deduct money from your account.
Pretty cool, if merchants will use it but i’m not convinced it’s the future of mobile commerce… it just seems a little ‘stop gap’ for my liking. Really, the same thing could be done by email or in a browser, PassBook is just a neat way of organising bar codes. Having said that, PassBook is easier & cheaper to deploy and update than new NFC hardware plus it buys them a little more time to plan something a bit more ‘revolutionary’ if indeed they’re going to plan it at all…
I’ll be upgrading to an iPhone 5 and i predict most iPhone 4 users will (if they’re looking to upgrade at all). The iPhone 5 will probably smash 4S records but Samsung’s next move (less than a year from now) will be very, very interesting. In 12 months time, if Apple launch an iPhone 5S and maintain their minor improvements policy, they may well start to experience a decline in interest & enthusiasm for the iPhone which to me is far more damaging long term than a decline in sales.