Just because Apple leads doesn't mean everyone is following

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Just because Apple leads doesn't mean everyone is following
We are very big proponents of giving credit where it is due, but that also means that we like to set the record straight when a company gets credit for more than it deserves. It's a very tricky line to walk, but one that we find most can't walk properly with Apple more often than any other company. We know that preaching objectivity in the tech world, especially when it comes to Apple, is something of a fool's game, but we can't help trying. 

Ever since Apple announced the new iPad, and especially the Retina Display of the new iPad, there have been the two standard camps that have set up on either side of the issue. There are those who want to praise Apple for the innovation, and often use that praise to attack other companies for not "being good enough" to make that technological leap first; and, there are those who want to claim that Apple didn't really innovate anything, and is merely using a component designed and manufactured by other companies. As is usually the case in these times, both sides are actually right. The key is to remember that just because one company is leading doesn't mean that the others are following.

Requirements of innovation 

Yes, Apple has pushed forward displays in consumer devices, and has been the first to do so at times. Many Apple supporters always like to make the claim that the technology has been possible, and Apple was the first to push it out, which is true. It's the point that often follows that doesn't really hold water. Often, the argument follows that other companies couldn't or wouldn't push this technology without Apple having done it first, but that's an extremely reductive view. Let's take the case of the Retina Display that Apple loves to market for the new iPad. 

Sure, the technology for higher pixel density on screens was possible 10 years ago, but we have to remember that something being technologically possible is actually a very small piece of the puzzle that we call innovation. It has been technologically possible to have electric cars for over a century now. Back in 1900, 28% of all cars on the roads in the US were electric. Given how that has played out, technological possibilities are quite obviously not the main factor in popular uptake. 

As far as high PPI displays, sure the technology has been possible for a while, but the need wasn't there. HD video wasn't pervasive until very recently, and the TV was still the focal point for visual media consumption, so naturally HDTVs got the push instead of computers. Additionally, before the wide variations in screen size which has come from mobile, there was no need to even talk about PPI, let alone make that a distinguishing factor of a device. The vast majority of computer screens fell within a range of about 12-15" on laptops, 19-27" on desktops, and 27-50" on TVs, and all of those devices were essentially used from a fixed perspective. Now, we've also added in the lower sizes of 4-10" between smartphones and tablets, which are completely mobile, and in our hands at all times. So, PPI is a more important metric, and one that has been especially important for Apple. 

Focus 

That's not to say that PPI hasn't been important for other manufacturers. No one was "waiting for the Apple green light" to begin using the technology, rather, no other companies have been as focused on visuals nearly as much as Apple. Apple is a design company, so it wants the best visuals at all times. That means not only having well designed hardware, but having well designed software as well. With everything moving towards HD, the display and graphics processing is far more important than anything else on devices, and so, that's where we've seen Apple focusing its efforts and leading the way. Maybe Apple didn't design or build the display panels for the new iPad, but like it or not, Apple was the first to put a display of that quality into a popular consumer device, and that counts for quite a lot, even if that kind of push comes with problems as far as manufacturing

We already know that Apple is willing to slow down processes within iOS to give preference to UI interactions in order to give it that extra visual smoothness. And, we also know that the company ethos of Apple is to be incredibly focused on certain aspects in order to get them right, and possibly ignore other areas. So, it shouldn't really be any surprise that Apple would spend all of its efforts in updating all of the graphics of iOS, not to mention pushing the graphics processing ahead of data processing in order to be able to point at its visuals as the best available. 

On the other side, Android manufacturers are more concerned with making adaptable devices, so we've seen things like the PadFone, or laptop docks, or more work with a new generation of styluses (styli?). As with all technology, high PPI screens will make it around to everyone eventually, as they have with smartphones. Sure, Apple led the way with the iPhone's Retina display, but other devices have since easily eclipsed that with new 720p screens, and even before that qHD screens were able to get pretty close to the iPhone's display quality on many occasions. 

Conclusion

Every company wants to be the leader in something. Every company has a core focus. Google wants to be the fastest way to organize and find data, and wants to be malleable with open data and customization. Facebook wants to be the best at knowing what you want. RIM has traditionally wanted to be the most secure option for enterprise. And, Apple wants to create the most beautiful products around in a tightly controlled ecosystem. 

And, in those efforts, each company may ignore other aspects in order to reach its focus. Google has traditionally ignored design in favor of speed, and maybe has put too much faith in users rather than building better security from the start. Facebook has sometimes ignored user comfort in order to build a more complete database of interests and behavior. RIM forgot that there were consumer users and was left behind in that market, despite still excelling on security. And, Apple has ignored customization options in favor of presenting its design vision. 

Each company has its focus and its flaws, and we have to try to align our personal values with those company aims, not the other way around. Apple may lead in visuals, but that doesn't automatically make other companies followers. It simply means that other companies have different aims, and may look to innovate in other ways before pushing for the innovations that Apple makes. Similarly, eventually it goes the other way and Apple will adopt innovations that other companies thought were more important, like the notification tray. Every company leads at some point, and every company follows. That's just the beautiful circle of innovation. 

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143 Comments

126. Nithence

Posts: 4; Member since: Apr 18, 2012

Dear the_s2 I agree with you at some point that we as a mobile fan should have a fair look into each brand of product. But i do not agree with ur opinion about over pricing product. From real example: we all know that the price of iphone is far more expensive than other brands but most people still love and buy iphone. From my point of view, Apple has done their best to catch the interest of majority of people. They also understand very well that most people think about quality before the price. So we are as a mobile fan should just pick what we love and live with it. No need to complaint with s.th that we never fully understand about it. For your information: i am using Sony Xperia, kind of falling in love with it. thanks

125. cellphonejunky

Posts: 14; Member since: Mar 21, 2012

I'll probably get thumbed down out the a$$ for this, but great article. And BTW one of the most UNbiased articles I've read from anybody who writes about their favorite platforms, to keep equallity in credit between all platforms while having an article about one specific one requires some really carefull wording. And lastly Michael, don't respond to trolls all you're doing with that is giving fuel to the troll fire, fighting hatred is the same thing as fighting the human condition, the only way to reduce it is either by moderation or ignoring it, like talking to an obnoxious child, which by the way, alot of trolls are under 18. Again great article.

120. jackhammeR

Posts: 1548; Member since: Oct 17, 2011

to all of you...writter too. enjoy the videos. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMiY1kSTHZw&feature=youtu.be

122. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

I saw that yesterday, but it's kind of pointless. First off, the guy doesn't mention anywhere that Android 4.0 (which is at the heart of many of his points) hasn't been pushed out to most devices yet. Secondly, a solid 75% of his points can all be filed under the same "customization" heading. Yes, we know that Android is fully customizable and iOS is not, but at some point he really needs to use more examples. There are some good points in the video, but there are far better explanations out there.

128. jackhammeR

Posts: 1548; Member since: Oct 17, 2011

just for fun:) I'm not keen on neither android nor ios

115. yazlikvillam

Posts: 13; Member since: Apr 24, 2012

thank you very good article

111. strikercho

Posts: 156; Member since: Mar 20, 2012

Dear Phonearena, as I previously advised you, please stop trying to do some analysis, comments and basically everything connected with expert thinking. Phonearena is a site, good for checking phone specs and direct, I repeat, direct comparisons and of course news. No offence, but in the companies that manufacture phones work far more educated people, both engineers and economists. It is pointless for a site like this to try to do some overstrained brain efforts. Nobody expects this from you. This is not BBC or CNN after all. :)

114. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Thanks for letting us know that no matter what we do, we will never be able to change. It's comforting to know that it's all pointless...

106. eyephone

Posts: 69; Member since: Apr 05, 2012

Taco u lost again and again!

87. AppleConspiracy

Posts: 637; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

Michael H., when you have 80+ comments in 7 hours that means you have provoked the holly war. That means everyone IS following. Don't you get it? Like I said, everything is aestheticized, that is, everything is turned into sign, it's not a technology and innovation issue anymore. It's about social identification. I could prove that you are wrong in this article, however this is not appropriate medium for such a substantial text. BTW I'm honored to be your inspiration :-.)

113. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Writing an article like this and putting it out here doesn't really prove all that much, because as with your arguments that led to this article, there are outside factors. Everyone here is following, because everyone here is dialed in and super passionate about technology. This is an echo chamber. All I would have to do is write one line, "Apple is good, but not great" and the swarms would come. The point is that just because readers here are passionate and engaged and have immovable viewpoints doesn't mean that's how the actual ecosystem works. Yes, when you talk about fanboys, it is about social identification, but as much as we may want to view it differently in our echo chamber, the vast majority of consumers are not fanboys. I mean come on, the point of the article is that yes, Apple may be leading as far as displays, but other companies have other priorities. Consumers have other priorities. And, because of all the external factors, "leading" is more an outcome of opportunity and focus rather than any real company level genius. But still, I get called biased towards Apple. Fanboys read what they want to read, and buy what they want to buy in an effort to make themselves happy by reinforcing their own world view. I don't delude myself into thinking I can change that for the most die-hard, but there are always a few who understand what I'm trying to do, and I find solace in those voices.

119. AppleConspiracy

Posts: 637; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

I totally agree with you when you say that the vast majority of people are NOT fanboys. As a matter of fact, fanboys, especially iFanboys, are NOT the reason why Apple is globally followed. The REAL following is among ordinary, disinterested consumers who don't have much or any knowledge about consumer technology, and certainly don't belong to some brand camp. However, this is why situation is even worse: they are completely integrated in the aesthetical and technological paradigm, everything operates at unconcious level. They just KNOW that there is iPhone and iPad to buy. They have no critical dimension and they are unaware of everything that constitutes the criteria for choice. Not because they don't have information - but because they don't want to deal with it. As you said yourself: this is not their main priority in life. So the question of choice is a little too bit too problematic: there is no actual choice among ordinary consumers - they just absorb the paradigm and behave in that manner. I will try to illustrate this on a known problem: there are religious fanatics, whether they are Christian, Muslim or whatever else - they passionately and litterally explore the Word of God in Bible, Qu'Ran and so on, and they know everything about religion, without critical reflection. Their faith is based on antagonism of the two most powerful religious camps - their faith is stronger when they hate another camp! Can you see the similarity with Apple/Goggle (Samsung) camps? Everytime you mention this antagonism, swarms come in... Of course, this is dedicated a medium for them - we talk about the Word of God on this site - but we know that majority of people out there are not fanatics! So, who are those "other milions (even bilions) of people"? Well, they are the "ordinary believers", that is, a passive practitioners of faith that are just absorbed into the system - they don't study Bible and Quran passionately, nor they have all the knowledge of faith with the obsessive dimension in which they find their identification. However, they go to church every sunday, they Christen they children, they confess, they pray - it pretty much automatized life in the manner of where we were born and raised, we just know that those are our values that we should respect. And of course - the same phenomenon is among the ordinary consumers - they practice the religion of Apple, becuse this is in fact the only religion. It's the way of life, not jus one of the products. Every other product actually emerged in its concept from Apple, and in product, graphic and multimedia design and global aesthetic - everything is calibrated to Apple. When everybody talk about Retina and PPI, that's a value we gained from Apple - it's not something spontaneous, and certainly not because we achieved this tech just now...

121. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

So your entire point can be boiled down to: humans will be human? (forgive me, but I love brevity and clarity.) People are lazy and want things to be easy. Regardless of if other companies offer an easier solution, Apple has branded itself as the company that makes products that are easy to use, especially if you don't like technology all that much. It's a genius strategy really. It's a wonder that other companies don't get it. Everyone wants to prove that their product can do the most, or has all of these features, but Apple always markets its products as easy first and capable second.

123. AppleConspiracy

Posts: 637; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

Well, as a professional product designer, I know that most of European design schools and studios know very well what makes a good product, and the greatest mystery is who the hell are those designers employed in large tech companies? They obviously don't know anything about it. And even worse, we learned to design "the Apple way" long before first iMac was presented in 1998. All those rules: simplicity, functionality, user experience, smoothness, intutivity - it's all in the texbooks of design for the last 50 or so years (from the advent of post-war modernism). As a matter of fact, when was in college, we usually conceptualized devices very similar to Apple's products, both in form and in functional concept. And now, it seems that only Steve Jobs allowed this approach in his company. Of course he succeded, it's a no brainer. We know how to design product well. We just needed the money and opportunities that Steve Jobs had. And now SJ is suddenly a genius, together with Johnathan Ive and whole Apple. And everyone else is not, there are almost stupid on purpose. In fact, this strange fact is too perfect for me to believe it - and that's why I decided to create an Apple Conspiracy project. Because it really looks like a conspiracy.

83. anywherehome

Posts: 971; Member since: Dec 13, 2011

iOS still don't know what innovations are:http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=NMiY1kSTHZw so it is a pity there is no competition for Android :(

77. ilia1986 unregistered

Excellent article, Michael! However, to quote you: "Similarly, eventually it goes the other way and Apple will adopt innovations that other companies thought were more important, like the notification tray." The problem is that Apple - unlike other companies I know of - is deliberately holding back software and hardware features when releasing a new product, in order to push those to a slightly newer version of that product the next year. They can do this because of this closed ecosystem. This can't be done on Android. Even if Google decides to do something which is unique to the Galaxy Nexus, the millions of users will pick up the source code, tinker with it and make it available to other devices as well. Another problem with Apple, is that unlike other companies - it is willing to shove it's philosophies way way too deep onto it's users' throats. Design is important, and making beautiful products is nice and all, but should this really come at the expense of functionality? Especially if for some users that functionality is dreadily missing? No. It shouldn't. Jut like you - a regular person - won't buy a microwave which can only cook up to 2 minutes, but is beautifully designed instead of a regular microwave which might be a little less pretty - so shouldn't a regular user buy an iPhone instead of an Android phone, an iPad instead of an Android tablet, and a Mac instead of a PC. They do this because.. Apple's third problem - insane brand loyalty. Everyone knows that a significant portion of Apple's consumers buy Apple products just because they are Apple products, and as such they automatically percieve them as high quality top-of-the-line ones. Brand loyalty should be justified only when there is a reason to justify it. Otherwise it just gets in the way. Blind brand loyalty is even more pathetic, since consumer electronic devices among any other consumer product - require a *thorough* research prior purchasing. You CAN'T automatically trust any single company to deliver any single product which will always have all the features that you might want in it. The exception to this is of course Android, but even then you must carefully study the market, anticipate what is to come, and when, and buy the right hardware at the right time. In conclusion: for a company which sacrifices time and time and time and time again throughout history (read the bio on Steve Jobs) function over form and design - Apple got WAY WAY WAY too much going for it, way too much cash and way too much brand loyalty and market share.

85. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

1) Every company holds back features. Google does it less than most because it is more willing to release half-baked features, but every company holds things back in order to focus on other things. Apple does like to cultivate an air of having a higher standard though, so it seems like it holds back a bit longer. It's a character choice. 2) Every company forces its philosophy on the customer, it's just that you don't seem to agree with Apple's philosophy so you find fault with that. Google tends to release a lot of unfinished ideas, and only recently decided that design was a worthwhile focus. Some people don't like that, and prefer the more matured experience of Apple or Windows Phone, even if it is lacking in some functionality. 3) Insane brand loyalty is actually a huge plus, and something that every company wishes it could have. People don't want to have to do work before buying something, so as long as they know that the device will be good enough, that's all that matters. Apple products may not be perfect all the time, but they are always good enough and rarely have major problems.

88. ilia1986 unregistered

1. But why should they decide what the standard is? The industry decides what the standard is. 2. No company other than Apple in the consumer electronics business says to it's customer "You don't know anything. WE know what you want. And you'l only do as WE say." Not even Microsoft. That's less of a philosophy and more of a dictatorship. In addition - I really fail to see how a platform which lacks a lot of features compared to it's competitors whilst still having almost the same problems (iOS lags\crashes as well. It's a fact.) can be called matured. 3. "People don't want to have to do work before buying something, so as long as they know that the device will be good enough, that's all that matters." Good enough? Good enough for what? I can't know what's good enough for me. NOBODY - including Apple can't know or determine what's good enough for them. What if in a week I'll discover some wicked video on YouTube showing me a completely new and insanely useful tweak, that can be implemented on Android? What then? I already bought an iPhone because I thought it was 'good enough' for me. It doesn't work. When it comes to computers (mobile, desktop, tablets, whatever) - you HAVE to make a market research, because if you decide that something is 'good enough' for you, and that something cannot be changed and tweaked afterwards, and something new, cool and useful comes up like it always does - you're screwed. Like I am.

91. AppleConspiracy

Posts: 637; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

The first rule of consumerism is: people don't know what they want. They only want you to tell them what they want. Most manufaturers are getting it wrong - they want to find what masses want, and they find themselves following the one who decides to be the leader. That's why Apple's dictatorship is so succesful. Masses allways need a leader. Of course today this is morally and ethically unacceptable, because we should imperatively live in a liberal-democratic world, so there are frustrated people like Michael Heller who deny that leadership fact through relativisation and atomisation. They find their cure in statistics and technicalities, ignoring the obvious. However they still feel the urge to make things "right".

95. ilia1986 unregistered

Oh well how unfortunate is that, according to Apple, that we live in an age of YouTube and the Internet, then, since by imposing this closed sealed-off ecosystem onto it's consumers, Apple not only controls what they (the consumers want), but also what they can ever get. Those who do care to get out of the iBubble and go to YouTube, or in fact any site covering Android features will find so much stuff that is available on Android, and not available to the iPhone, that it's really mind boggling. No company should decide for it's consumers what they (the consumers) want. At most it should offer a guiding hand and prodivde distinct suggestions, but nothing beyond that. And that's precisely what Android does. It gives you a good UI to work with, but should you desire to change anything - you can do that. Because there is no reason why you shouldn't be able to! This isn't just about morality and etchics. It's about what you get for your money. A device which only does X, and will continue to do X until Apple says otherwise, or a device which can do so much more than X from the beginning, and even if Y comes out, and this device is not "officially supported", there will be people who will port Y to this device to make it work anyway. Why? Open Source, that's why. And what if Apple decides not to implement Y regardless? And you won't even know about that because hey - Apple never tells you which features will it implement and when, if at all. And what happens if you really love this Y feature? Your device - your hardware is perfectly capable of running it in theory, but because Apple says 'No' - you're stuck with just X!

102. mrochester unregistered

You buy a device that allows you to do Y? Not every device has to do every single thing; this is the whole point of the article! Apple focuses on giving customers WX & Y whereas Google focuses on giving customers XY & Z. There is some overlap, but there's no one product that does WXY & Z.

107. ilia1986 unregistered

Precisely! Not every device has to do every single thing! But when you have an Open Sourse OS - like Android for example - your device can do virtually anything! So in your terms - Android does do X, Y, Z AND W - and if it doesn't at the moment - there are a million people with programming skills making sure that Android can do W as well. Open source. It's important.

117. mrochester unregistered

That's my point though; Android currently doesn't do W, X, Y & Z, which is no different from Apple also currently not doing W, X, Y & Z. Being open source hasn't changed that over the last 3.5 years. For all we know, Apple could release a device that does W, X, Y & Z long before any Android device is capable! How long do I have to wait for Android to do W? Open source is all very well and good in theory, but if no one is actually making W, what does it matter whether something is open source or not? Who do I ask to make W for Android?

112. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

1) Who is deciding standards? What standards are we even talking about? Standards shift all the time. Apple's standard is to have displays where you can't see individual pixels. Android manufacturers have been aiming for a standard of 720p on handsets and now 1080p on tablets. Google wants NFC, software buttons, and LED notification lights to be standard, but not all manufacturers agree. Google has wanted the cloud to be standard for years now. Trying to claim that Apple is setting standards just feeds into the misconception that Apple is the industry leader, when it isn't for most things. 2) It's not a dictatorship if the people choose to live under it. You don't like Apple's ways, that's fine, but there are people out there who like to have the trains run on time, even if the trains aren't as modern as the competition. 3) Just stop man. You have high standards, and you are willing to put in work to find the right device for you. I do the same thing, but just look around at your friends and family. How many of those people really bother to do the same work? You can help them as much as you want, but you aren't going to change their nature. Some people just don't care as much about tech, and don't really understand the value, just like with everything else. I don't care about doing the research about what type of milk is the best. I just buy what I know because I know it and it's good enough. Most people are the same way with tech. As tech becomes more a part of people's lives, that will slowly change, but you raging against one company isn't helping anything.

94. mrochester unregistered

Firstly, great article Michael. It does a good job of highlighting how all companies innovate in some way or another, and how these ideas are cross-polinated. 1) Agreed. And it's not necessarilly a case of holding back features 'just because', there's often a technical or cost limitation to doing so. As you said, we probably could have had high PPI screens 10 years ago, but their cost and space requirements would probably have been so huge that they wouldn't have been practical (or affordable!). 2) Bingo. All products from all companies are influenced by that company's values and objectives. The beauty of having competition means we can pick a product that most closely matches our own values and objectives. 3) This is so true. Having customers who love your products and trust your brand is a massive boon. This is the ultimate goal of all companies. And you usually achieve it by making good products at a good price, backed up with excellent service. If you don't have the trust of the customer, you are failing at one or more of the above.

75. dmn666

Posts: 244; Member since: Oct 19, 2011

It's kinda funny how the term 'PPI' became mainstream after iphone 4 release. I remember owing an Xperia X1 in 2008 (with more than 300 ppi) and also an iphone 3G at the same time (with horrible ppi). Whether other tech companies are following their lead or not, most of the journalists are surely following apple's lead (nothing against you Michael)- lol.

97. AppleConspiracy

Posts: 637; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

Here lies the answer to this issue. It's not really about technology, but signification, the purely social dimension that reflects the Zeitgeist and strong beliefs in the "prophet".

74. hutty24

Posts: 84; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

What about Google fonders say android wasent s**t to them till they seen the apple making bank and realy making the world moble off there s**tty phone store moives iTunes,then the make there s**tty phone play store and all the play apps to try and make as much money out of it as they can and soon they will be just as bad as apple next on that line is windows phone which wants that too after seeing that bank and what way the world is pulling but will all ways be dead last then Google will change there policies all together an apple google will eat up all the rest making the top smartphones and then there will be two when there can be only one when it comes to money and companys funny my nexus new that last word when I hit the c button

73. corporateJP

Posts: 2458; Member since: Nov 28, 2009

For my piece of subjective journalism today, I am writting a story on how somebody should have broke every bone in Alex Rodriguez' body the day before he passed Ken Griffey, Jr. on the all-time home run list. Feel free to thumb this down, but if you do, you support lames and steroid use. Plus, you're probably reading this on your iPad 3 (because that's what it is, em0).

70. cellphonator

Posts: 298; Member since: Oct 29, 2011

I enjoyed your article Michael, honestly I don't know where all this disapproval is coming from. It's plain disrespect for no (or not enough) reasons. I prefer Android but I can't see a TRULY biased article at the point of insulting you. Not acceptable.

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