The iPhone 5 and Tim Cook's genius at setting expectations
Every year since it was first announced, the annual iPhone event has been either a huge amazing success, or a catastrophic disappointment. Often, the iPhone event would be both at the same time, depending on who you asked. But, this year, it was nearly impossible to have an extreme reaction one way or the other, because we knew what was coming. We can't help but wonder if this is the influence of Tim Cook, a much more even hand than Steve Jobs who was not only prone to extremes himself, but liked to provoke extremes in others.
In the days of Steve Jobs, Apple was a company that kept secrets better than most. Apple would even build multiple prototypes of anticipated devices in order to throw off the media and make sure that each unveiling had the element of surprise to it. Of course, that also had the side-effect of causing the rumor mill to go crazy. Pundits, analysts, and fans alike would speculate to no end as to what the next iPhone would have in it. Without fail, this led to completely unreasonable expectations from many, and the much higher likelihood that no matter what Apple announced, it would be viewed as something of a disappointment to those who pay attention to these things. That was exactly our reaction to last year's iPhone 4S announcement, but this year was different.
The Tim Cook way
This year, either by accident, or by design, Apple was not as locked down on its secrets as it has been in the past. In fact, there were almost no surprises in today's announcement. We saw leak after leak of iPhone components, cases, and even full builds of the new handset. We knew as far back as last year that the device would have a single chip for the worldwide 4G/LTE. We have known since June that the announcement and release would come in September. We knew everything from the details of the display, the size of the new USB connector cable, and even the look of the new EarPods.
he managed our expectations perfectly, and we all knew what was coming. If you liked it or didn't, you already made that judgement a long time ago, so today's announcement wasn't going to cause a big stir one way or the other. And, we're willing to bet that was exactly what Tim Cook wanted. Keep in mind that last year, the rumors got so out of hand, and the overall sentiment was so disappointed after the iPhone 4S reveal that Apple's stock took a plunge. Tim Cook didn't want a repeat of that, and he knows that the sales of the iPhone alone should be enough to lift the stock, so he kept control of the rumor mill this time around. As a result, Apple's stock stayed relatively steady before jumping up over 9 points to close the day today.
As you may have noticed, many of the "leaks" that turned out to be true came from Steve Jobs' favorite partner, The Wall Street Journal. We've mentioned it before, but WSJ has always been the go-to for Apple's thinly veiled press releases. It's a mutually beneficial arrangement of course, WSJ gets a scoop, and Apple gets its name in the news whenever it wants. Many times, we've seen a "leak" come out just as a competitor has a big announcement, but beyond that Cook has been using it not just to generate buzz, and undermine competitors, but to control the rumor mill.
We've known for a long time that Tim Cook is a more level-headed leader than Steve Jobs, and it seems that Cook may want to extend that out. This year's iPhone rumor mill didn't have too much crazy speculation. We knew early on that the more dynamic designs weren't in the cards for the iPhone 5. We knew not to expect NFC. We saw iOS 6 months ago, so we knew what software improvements existed and those that didn't.
There will always be people who want more and expect more, but at the end of the day Apple has announced the device that we expected. It's bigger, faster, thinner, and lighter, and it has some new software features. It's no more revolutionary than the yearly iterations from any other company, and we shouldn't have expected anything more.
The most widely parroted complaint about this year's iPhone is that it is "what Apple should have released last year". But, that argument is more of a backhanded compliment, and more of a dig at the iPhone 4S than it is at the iPhone 5. The iPhone 5 is expected to be "up to 2x faster" than the iPhone 4S, which is a solid upgrade. If you're obsessed with spec numbers, Apple has never really marketed towards you anyway, and has always kept their talk to how the device performs relative to the last model. If you didn't like the iPhone before, the iPhone 5 isn't going to do anything to change your mind, but if you like the iPhone, this is a solid upgrade to keep you happy. And, it's all thanks to Tim Cook managing expectations rather than allowing speculation to rule the day.