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Interest in the iPhone is stalling because it’s so damn boring

by Brandon Russell | January 29, 2016January 29, 2016 11:00 am PDT

Apple this week revealed its Q1 2016 earnings, reporting record profits and an insane number of active devices. But one figure in particular stood out: 74.8 million iPhones sold.

That figure is an improvement over the number of iPhones Apple sold this time last year—by about 300,000. Normally that would be cause for celebration, but there’s just one problem: the iPhone’s growth is finally coming to a halt, and Apple acknowledged as much on its earnings call. In fact, the company gave a grim forecast for Q2.

While discussing its sales figures, Apple said iPhone supplies were severely constrained at launch—enough that it couldn’t fill all of its orders. It was bad for consumers, but good for Apple and its shareholders. That didn’t happen this quarter; supplies weren’t constrained at all, and even with the massive Chinese market at its disposal, iPhone sales only went up a tiny bit—a sneeze compared to past performances.

To be fair, Apple still sells millions more of a single phone than any other competitor on the market. But the company hasn’t seen iPhone growth this slow since the device launched in 2007.

I’m not going to explore the possible reasons behind the iPhone’s stalled growth. There will be plenty of reflections about the state of mobile, its saturation, and how Android is becoming an unstoppable force. I’m not going to predict the apocalypse if Apple doesn’t act; that would be naive and foolish. We all know Apple will be fine. It has a billion users sucking from the teat of its App Store, and Google can’t stop giving it money.

What I do want to say, as a longtime iPhone user, is this: Apple needs to stop horsing around. Do something, anything, everything. Don’t hold back. The iPhone 7 shouldn’t just be the next iPhone with some new feature people never use. Make it something every iPhone owner—nay, smartphone owner—desires. It’s time for Apple to actually release a device that’s exciting. I’m talking really, truly, hair-raisingly good, to the point where die-hard Android fans re-think their allegiance (which Apple says a lot of Android fans are already doing).

For as long as the iPhone has been around, Apple has stuck to a tick-tock release cycle, an approach that has allowed the company to carefully introduce features when executives deem them ready. But many generations on, and this approach has become stale and less exciting with every new release. It’s been difficult to muster more than a yawn since the iPhone 4 hit back in 2010—nearly six years ago!

Although Apple sold more iPhones this quarter than ever before, the company still finds itself at an existential crossroads: continue to issue marginal updates, or go all out.

What’s become increasingly clear over the past several months is that the Cupertino company appears out of touch with its audience—2015 sure was a strange year—while some of its biggest Android competitors continue to show that smartphones don’t have to be boring.

When the iPhone 7 comes out, give fans what they want. Give them a phone that’s not scarred by antenna bands. Give them all-day battery. Give them wireless charging, OLED display technology. Make iOS more flexible. And please, please introduce something similar to Google Now; iOS 9’s Proactive feature is pathetic.

There’s still plenty to like about the iPhone; it’s fast, and the iOS ecosystem is unrivaled. The iPhone also continues to offer one of the best mobile camera experiences on the market—these things have never been an issue. But despite the iPhone’s sustained excellence, it’s starting to feel way behind, lacking technologies that many Android competitors possess.

Apple has a knack for releasing cool new features—Siri, Touch ID, 3D Touch. But many of its biggest ideas—and products!—never feel fully complete until a few years after they’re introduced. 3D Touch is a great concept, but it doesn’t deliver a must-have experience; I never, ever use Siri; Maps is just now getting good. iOS has been boring for years; Android, meanwhile, continues to push the envelope. And the next wave of Android competition is going to be good.

Mind you, these are just rumors, but the Galaxy S7, LG G5, and HTC One M10 all sound like they’re going to be major contenders. The S7 is rumored to pack an improved camera with f/1.7 aperture and AF capabilities that verge on DSLR levels; the device is also expected to sport a more premium design, microSD support, a 5.1-inch Quad HD pressure sensitive display, wireless charging, Android Marshmallow, and more.

The LG G5, meanwhile, will reportedly sport a completely new design and “Magic Slot” for attaching extra accessories, along with a Quad HD display, Snapdragon 820 chip, and a host of other upgrades—maybe even a secondary display similar to what we saw with the V10, which was implemented brilliantly.

Not to mention the mid-range Android market is getting more affordable and better with every passing month.

I own an iPhone, and have for the last few years. But I’m tempted to stray. The more Android phones I review, the more difficult it is to observe as devices like the LG V10 and Galaxy S6 Edge have all the fun. (Of course, the optimization and endurance of an iPhone is hard to beat.)

Most consumers probably don’t care about Apple’s iterative approach; it’s been a successful system for years, and it will continue to work from now until eternity. We’re hyper-sensitive about the subject because we talk about Apple and its competitors everyday, and we’re never satisfied.

But it’s clear there will come a point when the iPhone reaches a plateau—maybe now. Will Apple evolve its approach, or let sales level out, and maybe even slump? When everyone already has an iPhone, how do you get them to upgrade? The market has matured to a point where it’s hard to find that killer new feature, but Apple is often there to deliver the next big thing. Can it do so with the iPhone this fall?

The iPhone 7 will be well received regardless of what Apple does, because it will feature a new design, iOS 10 and probably a few other things. I just hope it creates that sense of excitement that’s been missing from previous releases. Make it feel like something from the future, and not like it’s simply keeping pace. So far rumors claim it will sport updates like a higher resolution display, wireless charging, improved camera, and new design, which is great. But these are the kind of features Android devices have had for years.

What else is Apple willing to do to bring the magic back to its most successful device? Hopefully this won’t be another release where fans say, “Maybe next year…”

At the very least, ditch the 16GB model.


Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...

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