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What Apple Did Wrong: Some Learning Lessons

by Adriana Lee | October 4, 2011October 4, 2011 6:30 pm PDT

Apple has a reputation for big splashy media events that wow attendees and impress critics (whether rightfully so, depends on your point of view). But today was, in a word, weird. Not only did the company uncharacteristically put on a small affair — held on its campus in its town hall meeting room — but it basically made most tech nerds cringe when it kicked things off with a greeting card app.

Are you kidding? That just didn’t seem to bode well for the rest of the presentation. What followed then was probably the worst-case scenario for many an iPhone 5 (yes “5”) hopeful.

At this point, you know the specs, watched a live blog (or three) for the details, and formed your own opinions of what went down. Here are a few of mine detailing the major areas where I think Apple went wrong.

The 4S Name: This is full of fail. Calling this new handset a “4S” when everyone was transfixed on the “5” moniker is dangerous. Does it matter that there’s a new dual-core A5 processor in there? That it supports both GSM and CDMA networks? A better 8MP camera and faster performance? Apparently not. Way to undercut the improvements in this model, Apple. People are still sore over the minor step-up from iPhone 3G to 3GS, and now you’re evoking that yet again? Eeshk.

Stagnant Form Factor: It is indisputable that last year, a lot of people wanted the iPhone 4 just for the looks alone. No doubt, it’s a beautiful phone. Still, many held off, waiting for the white version that seemed to take forever to come out. Then the Verizon version of this same phone emerged. So basically, the public has had to sit through three different launches of practically identical-looking form factors. Seriously? Not saying the new iPhone absolutely had to have a 4-inch screen or a paper-thin chassis, as some would argue. But come on, Apple — couldn’t you have tweaked this design just a tiny bit?

No Surprises in iOS 5: This one’s debatable, granted, but don’t you think it would’ve served the company and its public better if there had been more restraint at WWDC? (You do know how to keep a secret, right Apple? Er, maybe not.) Frankly, if we could hit a reset button and rejigger the announcements, it might have been better if the new notifications and iTunes Match were unveiled today instead, with the rest of iCloud — docs, photo stream, iTunes in the cloud — being a sufficient enough announcement for June. (After all, without new hardware to unveil, there was no way the WWDC keynote was going to be a colossal hit anyway.) As it was, the iOS 5 part of today’s presser felt kind of boring.

Siri’s Narrow Device Compatibility: What a sexy new feature this is. Honestly, I can’t wait to get my hands on it. And unfortunately, though being one of the most exciting new things to hit this platform, it will be off-limits to a huge portion of the iOS user base (i.e., everyone who doesn’t have an iPhone 4S). It’s understood that Siri probably requires the heft of a dual-core A5 to make it work, but still — this disappointed a lot of people today. It would be different if public perception cast the new handset as a droolworthy, must-have device. But right now, it seems the only way to get Siri is for users to resign themselves to a device they don’t see as a must-have.

Disservice to Steve Jobs’ Legacy?: Believe it or not, there are some who are downright angry that Steve’s exit was “tainted with this debacle.” If there was ever a time to disappoint fans, this certainly wasn’t it — especially since Tim Cook really needs to inspire confidence in his new role. Of course, the wheels were in motion long before Cook took the helm, but if this somehow tanks, he could be the one in the hot seat for it.

The “EPIC’est” FAIL OF ALL — The Long, Long Wait For … Mediocre?: Chances are, the disappointment felt today would’ve been minimized if the iPhone 4S had come out in June. Maybe there were some very good reasons for the delay, but that doesn’t matter to all the people feeling really let down today. The fact that it happened after so much time waiting, anticipating, and delaying upgrades just for this announcement… well, it only adds to insult to injury.

That’s not to say that everything was a failure today. Like I said, there are some decent things in this new iPhone. The bump in processor, camera and dual-mode radios are all terrific things. The fact that there’s another iPhone carrier — one who still has an unlimited plan (Sprint) — is exciting. That it will boast the incredibly useful-looking, comprehensively integrated and downright sexy voice-command called Siri is awesome. However…

…where are the revolutionary changes? Some of these features and specs have been on people’s wish lists for ages. Some eventually went and got them even before this, but by going to a different platform. And that’s the thing — forget topping the competition, was today’s event merely about catching up to them? Or did Cupertino really think that Siri, Sprint and a few spec bumps would be enough to satisfy the masses?

Frankly, while I agree with Emily in that the iPhone 4S is a good update, it’s just not great. And that’s what the expectations were, especially considering this was a new CEO’s defining moment and that it came after a longer-than-normal waiting period. (Just what the heck was Cupertino doing for 16 months?) The iPhone 4S may not be a total failure, but Apple didn’t really set it up for its greatest chance at success either.

This set of events was so strange, so unexplained, that there’s really only one thing left to mull over at this point: What do you think the company has up its sleeve next?

What’s your take on the iPhone 4S? There’s clearly a lot of disappointment, but what were you most upset about? No change in screen size? No new form factor? Other? Or are you happy with the announcements? The comments section is below. You know what to do.


Adriana Lee

Adriana is the resident writer-slash-culture vulture who has written about everything from smartphones, tablets, apps, accessories, and small biz...

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