The iPhone 5S is not the revolutionary smartphone people expected. And that's ok.
In a 1998 interview with BusinessWeek, Steve Jobs dropped one of his most famous and telltale gems regarding the way Apple developed new products. The iMac, the translucent all-in-one desktop computer that would go on to help excavate Apple from dire straits, had just been released and the world was wondering how Jobs managed to deliver another runaway hit. How did he and his team know that consumers would lust over a slightly overpriced, friendly desktop built for the Internet age while eschewing legacy computer bits like the floppy drive? Did they use consumer testing and focus groups? “No,” Jobs said. “We watch industry trends pretty carefully. But in the end, for something this complicated, it's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.”
From then on, through the release of a number of market-shifting products, Apple fans and new converts alike sat back and waited for Jobs and his crew to tell them what they not only wanted, but what they needed. But yesterday at Apple’s highly anticipated and highly ballyhooed press event for the new iPhone 5C and iPhone 5S, it seemed people knew exactly what they wanted: Something new. Not just new in the way a 2014 BMW 3 Series is newer than the 2013 model—slight nips and tucks, a little more power, a little less weight. No, if Twitter and various Mac website forums are any indication, people expected more than a faster processor, new security tech, and a better camera. They wanted to see the future.
Only six years into iPhone’s life cycle, it seems a bit ridiculous to expect Apple to completely reinvent the market, again.
So did Wall Street. According to The Verge, analysts at UBS, JP Morgan, Credit Suisse, and Bank of America all downgraded their ratings on Apple stock. The major hang up is reportedly the fact that the iPhone 5C, a recasting of the current iPhone 5, this time with colorful plastic shells instead of aluminum, would be too expensive for consumers outside of America, particularly in China.
But, only six years into iPhone’s life cycle, it seems a bit ridiculous to expect Apple to completely reinvent the market, again. People expect massive change because every company now also manufactures a rectangular smartphone with a 4 to 5-inch touch screen display. So, thinking goes: surely Apple must have something up its sleeves to one-up the rest of the industry, to show everyone else what’s possible. But what if, at least for the moment, this is all that's possible?
We’ve reached a point where smartphones have become fast enough to do just about everything people need them to do. Sure, the new 64-bit chip in the iPhone 5S is reportedly much, much faster than the current iPhone 5. And the fingerprint scanner built into the home button is undoubtedly a look to a more secure future where smartphones, our most personal of devices, are harder to crack and passwords become a thing of the past, making for a more streamlined user experience.
If you own an iPhone 5 or an iPhone 4S, you’re good. Unless you absolutely need to be on the cutting edge and sport new wares every year, you can rock on without feeling like you’re missing out. That’s a good thing. You can still tweet, post to Instagram, stream music, and play games on your phone. And that’s a great thing. It means phones purchased now will have a longer shelf life than before. Instead of having to run out and upgrade your hardware to run the latest software, you can chill and keep some paper in your pocket.
The New Yorker’s Matt Buchanan hit it square when he wrote, “for the next few years, advances in smartphones and tablets will continue to be subtle and iterative, driven by the twin processes of simplification and connection.” And he’s not just talking about Apple. He’s talking about all of its competitors, too. Look across the board at the other major smartphone companies. All they’re doing is nipping and tucking. Samsung’s Galaxy S4, while introducing a great bevy of new software features that allow you to do things like control videos without touching the handset, is basically a faster S3. Same with the new Motorola Moto X: cool customization features aside, the best part about the phone are the notification features and the fact that you can talk to your phone as naturally as you do your roommate.
Is that boring? Sure, but, really, what else do you want? Do you even know?