There have always been nay-sayers - last year after the iPhone 4S was announced many pundits were disappointed that there wasn’t a redesigned iPhone 5. But any predictions of doom and gloom for sales were quickly set aside when Apple shattered previous sales records with “their most magical iPhone yet”. Anyone predicting less than stellar sales for the iPhone 5 is just as likely to be wrong, and for those who love the current iPhone the new one will surely will be the best phone on the market. And yet, watching the event unfold this year felt incredibly anticlimactic – the device was slathered in superlatives yet it felt oddly…ordinary.
Perhaps part of this is due to the unprecedented number of leaks we’ve seen from the iPhone 5 – the basics of the phone were correctly outlined back in January, and we’ve been seeing parts and mock-ups of the device for months. So in that sense the iPhone 5 design was bound to not be surprising, but it seems like the issue may be deeper. The device really does carry on the same design notes as the previous couple of years, and the vast majority of the presentation was spent explaining that the device was incrementally better: It’s 18% thinner! 20% lighter! The screen is 44% more saturated!
Of course the iPhone 4S was already a top-notch piece of kit, and improving on it is certainly nice, but the reality of what was presented doesn’t quite mesh up with the sky-high praise that executives were lavishing on it. Below are a few examples:
"This is unlike anything we or anyone else in our industry has made before." - Phil Schiller
"I don't think the level of invention has been matched by anything we've ever done." - Bob Mansfield
"This is the biggest thing to happen to iPhone since the iPhone." - Tim Cook
Panoramic imaging, LTE, and a faster CPU are unlike anything else done in the mobile industry? We’re sure that Apple’s implementations of these technologies will be top notch, but there doesn’t seem to be any game-changers here on par with the industrial design and high resolution display of the iPhone 4, or even the promise of Siri in the iPhone 4S. The new handset will surely be excellent, but it just doesn’t seem to have the same wow factor as those on stage suggested.
Apple-bashers will say this sort of thing the company has been doing for years, but there may be a new dynamic at work – it may well be the reality of maturing mobile computing technology. Faster processors are nice, but without new use cases it’s similar to buying a new PC – it’s faster, but it still does most of the same things your previous computer did. The iPhone 5 has a redesigned camera, but a lot of that engineering seems to have been to allow them to shrink it into a smaller device. The images will probably be objectively better, but the camera on the iPhone 4S was already superb.
In other words, like in any other maturing technology it may be that the low-hanging fruit have mostly been picked already, and many of the upgrades we’ll be seeing in the future will be more incremental than ground-breaking. And if that’s the case it will probably affect the all phone makers, not just Apple. But if so Apple may need to tone down the arm-waving just a hair; it’s ok to claim you make the best products (and many users would happily agree with Apple), but if you claim every year that you’ve made the biggest jump forward yet and fail to deliver, eventually even the most ardent of supporters will tire of the disconnect.
After all, if something is already “magical” what does it mean to be 14% more magical?