The iPhone 5 has been released, and has been the trend since the original iPhone unveiling, there’s been plenty of vocality about how it lacks the wow factor we’ve come to expect from Apple product announcements. People have mainly been unimpressed by the fact that the only major change seems to be a taller screen, or that it lacks some of the new technologies that people expect in a cutting-edge phone, such as NFC or wireless charging.
Here are a few thoughts that I think should be considered before leaping to these conclusions.
Innovation, then iteration
There is a very good reason why the iPhone 5 isn’t a completely different size and shape, and it comes down to Apple’s strict adherence to a long-term vision and product roadmap. The innovation that we have all come to know and love about Apple is demosntrated only in very specific circumstances, and this is when Apple enters a market. In the case of the iPhone, Apple introduced a completely revolutionary mobile phone (seriously, do not underestimate the significance of the iPhone), a category they had previously not competed in. Likewise, with the iPad, Apple entered the tablet market with such a groundbreaking device that it reshaped the nature of the market overnight, instantly making obsolete the existing Windows tablets that were available. The list goes on – the iPod revolutionised personal audio players, and let’s not forget the original Macintosh, that brought a graphics-based display and inteface to personal computing for the first time.
Now here’s the thing. Once Apple enter a market, usually with one of these revolutionary devices, they then shift into “phase 2″: iteration. Each subsequent release of their products is a carefully calculated, refined version of the one before it. It is intended to improve on the areas that need improving in line with a long-term goal of creating the best possible device for consumers. The familiarity that grows with each device is an extremely powerful sales tool and means that people grow a level of attachment to the entire product line that competitors can only dream of.
The problem is that people expect innovation from Apple at every release. While this is fair to a degree, it slightly misses the point. Apple doesn’t need to innovate every year – they need to create a market-leading device and their strategy is to slowly build a compelling, strong, recognisable interplay of hardware and software (“the ecosystem”) that people love to use. In fact, their iterations are innovations, but just a different sort. The level of craftsmanship and engineering prowess that has gone into the iPhone 5 in order to reduce size and weight while providing a larger screen is incredible.
Leading, not following
The other aspect is to do with the actual ‘tech specs’ of each device. Every year, someone moans that Apple has excluded a particular feature. This year, it is NFC and wireless charging, because some competitors have these features. Apple’s products do indeed often lag behind the competition when it comes to like-for-like comparisons of technical specifications. This is because, in Apple’s vision, tech specs alone do not make a phone; the overall experience does. This is where Apple leads the way. They don’t just add a feature into a phone willy-nilly, because the competition have them; if it doesn’t fit in with their overall strategy, they are happy to omit it in order to preserve a consistent and reliable user experience. They will only add a feature when they are happy that it integrates seamlessly into the ecosystem. This strict adherence to a wider vision creates an undeniably strong and compelling user experience that the other manufacturers who lack such a vision can only dream of.
Now I’m not saying they do this perfectly, 100% of the time. Siri was a bit of a damp squib at launch (although I feel it absolutely has set the vision for the future of mobile voice control), and the implementation of multi-device Notification Centre alerts has been an on-going bug-bear of mine. However, in all cases, Apple treads its own path and does not make design and feature decisions based on the competition (in fact the reality is entirely the opposite, as the courts have recently confirmed).
Can you think of any other company currently active in the mobile space that has been setting and following its own strategy without any influence from Apple? No, because such a thing does not exist. Their strategies are inherently influenced by the mere existence of the iPhone.