September 12th, 2012: The Day the iPhone Changed… Nothing

Published on Author Eli Fennell


Discuss on Google+

The yearly mating display Apple puts on when it launches the iPhone is over, and all that’s left now is for the dust to settle.  A few times in a generation, Apple launches a product that sends shockwaves through the technology market, pitting rivals old and new in a race for their very survival, a race to remain relevant.

Yesterday was not such a day.  And although there are the usual media clatterings about how breathtaking, groundbreaking, revolutionary, and intuitive the iPhone 5 is, there’s a more than usual pushback, a collective yawn amongst many previous enthusiasts.

The Macintosh reinvented the personal computing market.  iPod reinvented the portable multimedia player market.  iPhone reinvented the smartphone market.  iPad reinvented the tablet (or slate) PC market.  It’s little wonder they usually lead in market share for the first few years after such a launch: opponents far and wide are scrambling to catch up.

The iPhone 5, however, was a catchup device, the kind of device Apple starts making when their market share tanks.  Since Apple only makes one iPhone per year, and is the wealthiest company in the world, there is an expectation that they will do better than iterative improvements.  And a new feature like the Retina display loses its magic when it’s been done twice already.

As for Siri… well, that poor girl takes enough abuse without me adding, I’m just saying she’s Apple’s 21st Century version of the handwriting feature of the Apple Newton: an attempted revolution that failed so badly that it took Google to breathe new life into the concept of a virtual assistant with Android 4.1.  If they hadn’t, the market might well have soured on the whole idea, no matter how many Samuel L. Jackson commercials Apple ran.

So, the iPhone 5 has a Retina display… well, obviously.  Not that Retina actually means much, it’s more a marketing buzzword than a product description.  It has Siri, with iterative improvements… again, we knew this, it had to have that since the last one had her, and they had to at least claim to have improved her (“Gentlemen, we can rebuild her…”).

It’s got a faster processor, but not necessarily the best.  It’s a bit thinner, but not (contrary to their claims) the slimmest smartphone ever.  It’s taller for an extra row of apps and better screen aspect ratio.  But not wider.  It has a more metallic back, as opposed to the glassy back feel, which reviewers are praising with a short memory to the fact that many of them equally praised the glassy back in its time.  Most people will put it in a case, anyways, so what does that really matter?  It’s got LTE… but if it didn’t have that, Apple was dead in the water and they knew it.

Unfortunately, we also knew everything about it, all the details, before it launched.  No iPhone 4S surprises here, the name, shape, and specs were all known ahead of time.  For a brand boasting its hardware prowess such leaks can be valuable, but Apple isn’t one to engage effectively in a spec war, at least not long-term.  Revealing a new iPhone should be like reveaing a popular artist’s new work: if they’ve seen it before it launched, the launch loses some of its climactic effect.

Of course, the iPhone 5 will sell well.  It will probably outsell previous iPhones.  It will have tougher competition this time, however, from the Galaxy S III.  The non-LTE iPhone 4S, meanwhile, is slipping on the market against similarly priced or more affordable LTE Androids.  And eventually the iPhone 5 will peak and new Androids will start to outsell it again.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

So, make no mistake, Apple stands to make truckloads of dough from this rather stale and iterative update.  There’s no doubt about that, no doubt whatsoever.  But it changed nothing.  iPhones are still stale and dated, and Android fans like myself still feel that if fools and their money wish to part company with each other they could do better than to buy into the overpriced, walled garden Apple ecosystem of glacial evolution, but we know millions will anyways, and that’s how a free market should work.

Android’s growth will continue to accelerate, until by next year, or the year after that at the latest, Android will have over 90% share of the mobile market globally, Apple under 10%, and Microsoft still desperately trying to be noticed with probably 2-5% market share.  And Android will reach into nearly every other technology market as well: tablets, appliances, televisions, cars, glasses, and more.

iOS will be cautiously licensed out to other markets, like automobiles, but will eventually find itself once again a luxury computing brand, a luxury too few people can either afford, or even see the point in using.  Windows will hold on in the enterprise world for a while at least, but probably struggle to find fresh footing with consumers.

BlackBerry will fail.  Nokia will fail.  Facebook will do everything it can to remain relevant in the mobile world but will never repeat their success on desktop.  And Google will struggle to properly monetize Android, but like YouTube will eventually turn it into a new cash cow.

History teaches that all these things shall come to pass barring a miraculous or horrendous change in the underlying business models of the companies involved or some disruptive upstart entering the market.  This cycle will likely repeat in perpetuity, with Android drawing nearer and nearer to 100% market share, until some new disruptive technology comes along that disrupts the smartphone market.

Project Glass might be such a disruptive product, but let’s say we’re not likely to see a disruption of the smartphone market for at least a few more years.  And it may or may not be Apple that gets there first.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go enjoy the next 12-months before Apple once again reivents reinvention by reinventing nothing at all.

I love technology and how it changes our lives. There’s something almost spiritual about how new technologies connect and empower us. And it’s really cool, too.