The day of the “Let’s Talk iPhone” conference was wild. I have never seen so many live blogs taken down by a single event, so much uncaged anticipation hinging the release of a single product. Unfortunately for Apple, the day that began with a roar ended with a whimper. After waiting past the cycle for something new and fresh, we were instead greeted by something that felt eerily similar to the launch of a new Android phone.
I think everyone was anticipating, or at least hoping, for the announcement of the iPhone 5. The conditions seemed right. Apple was coming off of a long layover, and Android phones had been making considerable gains on the hardware front. The moment was ripe for Apple to once again charge headlong into the future and re-secure its dominance atop the phone-heap. I’m disappointed. I’m sure we all are. But strangely enough, the feeling that most strikes me is one of déjà vu. I’m less concerned about the disappointment of the iPhone 4S and more worried about the direction it intimates Apple is taking.
Apple has never relied on muscle to sell its iPhone. For Apple, their iPhone has always been less about power and more about design and experience. Unfortunately, that duality, however beautiful it may have initially been, has grown stale. At this point, Apple was expected to breathe fresh air into the line and rejuvenate the look and feel of the device.
This is markedly different than the strategy employed by most Android manufacturers. Often, the design is neglected, and the guts expected. Processing power and memory are treasured, and screen real-estate might as well be measured in diamonds. As superficial as these elements may be, they provided a tangible comparison to Apple’s device.
Since the debut of the iPhone 4, Android has fought tooth and nail to produce a phone as desired as the iPhone. As a platform, Android has performed more than admirably, but on a phone to phone basis, Android flagships have been struggling to compete with a phone that has half the cores and half the RAM. The reason for this is simple, that while Android phones were cannibalizing each other as they boasted about their power, Apple refused to take part in that struggle. The iPhone was able to mitigate its glaring deficiencies by shifting the conversation to the experience as a whole: The buttery-smooth stability of its platform, great design and a great screen. For a long time this was enough. However, even the most well-curated experience can grow stale. What Apple needed to do was update its design in order to ignite conversation and renew interest. Instead, it played right into Android’s mitts.
Instead of continuing the conversation with a redesigned iPhone, they have instead chosen to take part in the cannibalistic arms race that Android started. And what is worse, they are doing it in a very mediocre way. With the advent of quad-core phones just around the Christmas bend, dual-core will be nothing more than ordinary. The Retina Display, one of the best in the industry for over a year, will soon be eclipsed by the new 720p AMOLED display by Samsung, and LG’s new 720p IPS display.
The iPhone has long relied on its experience to sell units, but now that the experience has grown stale, they’ve joined a race that they’re not equipped to run. They will not be able to keep market pace. Apple is shouting “Dual-core!” and “Better Camera!” when it should be talking about a new experience and a new phone for a new way of doing things. Instead, it joined the mob, relying on speed and power to carry it until the next iteration.
I am not saying that the future is dismal for Apple. Siri has promise, and iCloud and iOS 5 will introduce much needed functionality. This isn’t a story of failure, but rather one of missed opportunity. With the launch of Ice Cream Sandwich just around the corner, and the announcement of the Nexus Prime looming in the ether, Apple needed a strong new entry to generate excitement and drive sales against an increasingly stronger Android offering.
I know that this was not Apple’s plan. It couldn’t have been, but that doesn’t make it excusable. When you have over a year to get something right, you have to nail it. Instead, on the night Apple was supposed to be Apple, it was Android.