This week, Apple announced not one, but two new iPhones, in a yearly announcement that used to make people want to rush out and spend on the latest thing. But that didn’t happen this time, and now it appears as if Apple isn’t doing as much of what innovators do best: innovating.
Upon first glance, the new iPhones are exactly what people want, and what have been rumoured for some time. They’re sleek, stylish, and feature that finesse in design that only Apple can give to its products. The operating system that’s heading to iPhones has been worked on and now looks more modern and better than ever, and for all intents and purposes, these are iPhones that have evolved from where Steve Jobs and his creative crew first started the idea in 2007.
That was an important move, too. The 2007 iPhone was unique because there were other smartphones in the market, but none of them really made the world go “wow, I have to get myself one of those.”
The iPhone did it, and it kept doing it in such a way that it challenged other manufacturers to work harder, creating devices that were better and took the fight directly to Apple.
Google’s Android operating system has helped that, and because of its price – free – it’s now one of the most used operating systems around the world. In terms of market share, Android dominates, and there have been over one billion devices running Android that have been activated.
Devices are getting better too, and it’s now about the hardware, with companies like HTC, Samsung, Sony, and LG, to name but a few, all creating products that are about more than just the OS they run, but are about the experience, customising the look and feel of Android, while pushing the hardware to new levels.
And it’s here we find ourselves at Apple, and why people are down on the brand.
You see, before the world caught up, Apple had something awesome to show at its iPhone briefings.
The speakers would invite the world, make a quip here and there about the competition, and then leave every jaw open at the sort of ways technology could be used in consumer devices. Console gaming power in your hands. A video chat system that not only worked, but one you’d want to use. A screen that was so good, it surpassed what the human eye could see and made text and images jump off the page.
But not this year.
No, this year Apple feels like it has stalled, and while the rest of the world has not only started catching up and has even begun to move on, Apple feels stuck.
One of these reasons is the lack of choice.
If you’re looking for a smartphone at the moment, you are spoiled for choice. There is just so much to pick from, and most of it, based on the reviews we’re doing, is pretty damn good.
Devices come in all shapes and sizes, from 3 inches to 6 inches and even beyond, and basically mean you can choose the size of the world you can take with you.
Remember that a phone is no longer “just a phone,” and now is about taking photos, talking to friends on social networks, and seeing and exploring the worldwide web.
That means a bigger screen can make for a better experience, and that’s where Apple falls short at the moment, because you really only get two screen choices, and they’re not much different from each other. Whether you go with the budget 3.5 inch iPhone 4S or the newer 4 inch iPhone 5S or 5C, you’re really getting the same option, and that is Apple’s view on the size a smartphone should be.
There’s nothing wrong with this, either, but if the world wants a bigger phone, there are plenty of manufacturers who will be keen to provide it, and is why Samsung is doing so well with the Note series of devices.
Price is also a huge factor, and one the world hoped Apple would correct with a budget iPhone.
For a long time, the rumours pointed to an iPhone 5C, where there “c” would mean a plastic body and a budget price tag, as a sort of attack at the budget to mid-range smartphone market, which has Android phones ranging from $40 to $499. That’s a big spectrum, but you can find great devices all throughout this set of prices.
But when Apple announced the iPhone 5C this week, it was all about “colour” and not “cost.” It was, essentially, last year’s tech inside a bigger plastic case, so you could understand why some people would view this device as being close to a budget device, but when Apple revealed the pricing, that idea was lost. Starting at $739, this is a phone that carries a price similar to flagship devices from other brands, and yet obviously isn’t.
Hardware is another issue that seems to plague this recent revision of Apple products.
People like the option of upgradeable memory, and while some devices in both the Android and Windows Phone camp lack this, others let you expand the memory until the cows come home, settle on your SD card, and jam with the music left there.
There’s the omission of Near Field Communication, a wireless hand shaking protocol that allows devices to talk to each other quickly. Already, speakers, headphones, and computers are using it to initiate easy setup modes to make connections just that more seamless. Hotel card keys are beginning to use NFC technology too, and even Commonwealth’s contact-less payment system was forced to add it to Apple’s phone by way of an accessory.
Obviously there’s demand, but Apple just doesn’t agree.
Infrared is another one of those hardware features missing in action.
Regardless of whether your watch TV much, the option to turn your smartphone into a remote control is one many people love, and is why HTC and Samsung now have it in devices, with LG getting it soon in the G2.
And how about high speed wireless?
802.11ac is all but entirely confirmed, at least as far as standards go, and yet the new iPhones, which were led to believe should last at least a year won’t even be able to use a draft variant of the equally new high speed technology.
But we have a new processor, new camera, new flash, new fingerprint scanner, and three new coats of paint in the iPhone 5S, so that obviously counts for something.
Even the camera will have troubles standing on its own feet.
We’re sure it will be excellent, but when 13 megapixel was the new standard in 2013, and we’re now seeing 20 and 41 megapixel sensors in new smartphones, 8 megapixel is harder for consumers to swallow.
Regardless of the fact that there’s more to a camera sensor than megapixels alone, people still look at the number and wonder why a top of the line phone is so low in size.
About the only area that doesn’t need an update is the screen, which supports at least 326 pixels per inch and is still greater than what the human eye can manage.
Don’t let the other manufacturers fool you, while a larger ppi value does mean the screen is more clear, scientist reckon that our eyes can’t really discern the difference beyond 300 pixels per inch, so Apple’s Retina screen still holds up on the iPhone 4S/5/5C/5S, even if every other manufacturer is now well and truly surpassing that value, packing in more pixels per inch than Apple.
Ultimately, the problem Apple has here is a lack of innovation, or at least perceived innovation. We’ve built up this idea in our heads about how the phone can evolve, and should evolve, and about where phones will be pushed to next.
Remember that moment where you used to hear about the new Apple phone and your jaw would drop?
That’s missing here, and the upgrades are barely evolutions on the last generation, not so dissimilar from the minor upgrades that a lot of phones will no doubt have in the near future.
That said, this journalist is actually surprised we didn’t hear Phil Schiller, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing act this scenario out, where a little bit of the future comes to life and keeps people hoping:
“One more thing,” he says, the words big on the screen behind him, the audience holding their breath and hoping it will be a big Apple TV, or a new computer, or some new device that the world hasn’t seen coming and never will, bringing Apple back to the glorious status it has held for so long.
“The world is beginning to catch up to us,” Schiller says, “but–” he raises his hands, “the Apple you know is always one step ahead.
“And this year, we’re not just one step: we’re five.”
A hush goes over the room, the room goes dark, and the audience – made up of journalists eager to report, enthusiasts eager to cheer, and analysts eager to criticise – stops typing, except for the few live bloggers who have just written ‘Phil says Apple is five steps ahead. Lol.’ on their websites.
The lights come back up and Phil is holding a device no one has seen before. It looks like an iPhone, but yet it’s thinner, with a larger screen, and there’s no physical button.
“This is the iPhone X,” says Schiller, and the screen behind him changes to a slide showing what he’s now holding up, with the words, ‘The future today’ printed on it.
“We went back to thinking different,” Apple’s lead man says. “We’re thinking of the future.”
He pauses for a second to let that sink in, and then continues.
“The iPhone X is thinner than any smartphone that has come before it, at 5mm thin,” he says, holding the attention of everyone in the room. “To get it this thin, we’ve had to do something no other manufacturer would do: we removed the headphone jack.
“Now if you’ve grown up in a world that Apple helped create, you already exist on Bluetooth headphones, so we’ve taken away the very thing that stopped us from shrinking the phone to be even slimmer.
“Near-Field Communication is in this device too, for easy headphone pairing with devices that support it, and if you need to desperately add the 3.5mm headset, say your headphones are out of power or you want to plug into wired speakers, we’ll be releasing a Lightning to 3.5mm headset adaptor.”
Frantic typing is heard in the room, but not a single person coughs, letting Phil say how the world will begin to see smartphones differently.
“The screen is bigger at 4.5 inches, and for the first time in Apple’s history, the button is gone,” he continues. “Rather, a touch button is always roughly where the button is at the very bottom of the screen, just where the bezel is.
“This means that more of the screen can be viewed, and the few times you need to hit the button, it’s still there, but we have more gestures for getting around the device that pro users can rely on.”
Phil looks around the room, and jaws have dropped, which is exactly what he wants, and this is exactly what the world wants from Apple.
“There’s more in this device, such as the evolution of the iPhone 5 processor, reduced to 12 nanometres, storage choices of 64 and 128GB only, a 12 megapixel camera with the TrueTone flash resized to match the tiny size, and a battery capable of offering a day of life on Category 4 LTE connections, but we think the size and shape of the future will be what impresses you most, because the iPhone X is about feeling the future in your shirt or jeans pocket, and realising that it’s effortless.”
And the scenario ends, as the world sees a vision that Apple has created, a benchmark that pushes itself ahead of everyone. Even if an iPhone X had cost more – twice or three times as much – there are people that would have purchased it.
Not just the fanboys, but those keen to get a taste of the future ahead of everyone else.
It’s a fiction, because Apple did no such this thing year, bringing in updates that most users won’t see as worthy to upgrade to, and may even push them the other direction, to another manufacturer and another operating system.
But imagine if Apple had. Imagine if Apple had reinvented itself by trying something no one saw coming.
If Apple had reinvented the iPhone, people would be less down on Apple.
Screen grabs pulled from Apple’s podcast on the iPhone announcement.