Yesterday at its campus in Cupertino, Apple revealed two (three if you include the 8 Plus) iPhones. The more hotly anticipated of the two was the iPhone X which, confirming expectations, became the company’s first $1,000+ smartphone. (The RRP is $999, but sales taxes ranging from 1.69 per cent in Alaska to 10.25 per cent in Chicago ramps the price up further.) The iPhone 8, while being a worthy step up from last year’s model, was something of an afterthought to most. But despite the hubub surrounding the new iPhones, they exemplify a worrying trend for Apple that has been lingering pretty much since the passing of Steve Jobs.
If you cast your mind back to 2007, as we were encouraged to do during the two hour press conference yesterday, the iPhone changed everything. Yes smartphones were already around, and phones with faster internet speeds and better cameras, but the original iPhone fundamentally changed the market.
The original iPhone was one of the first purely touscreen-driven consumer device that a lot of people were able to own. It had a big bright screen that was great for web browsing, email and viewing videos, all things that most phones before had struggled with. iPhone kicked off the wave of what we see as smartphones today and it’s nigh-on impossible to imagine a world in which the iPhone never existed.
Likewise in 2010 with the launch of the first iPad. It was a bit of a joke to begin with, but sure enough the iPad did for tablets what the iPhone did for smartphones. Hell, it’s not spoken about so much today, but the cultural impact that the iPod had was arguably even greater than that of any product that a tech vendor has produced in the 21st century. In all three instances Apple saw a gap in the market and filled it, and therein lies the problem with the company today.
It’s been said for a while that Apple has changed from being a proactive company to being a reactive one. By which I mean it is no longer taking the huge risks that it did in creating the iPhone, iPod and iPad, and is instead seeing what its competition is doing and mirroring them in its own image. The iPhone X may have innovations and technologies that make it a revolutionary iPhone, but it’s not a revolutionary smartphone, despite what its price tag and marketing may suggest.
All the new features touted by the flagship phone – a bezel-less screen, face recognition, wireless and fast charging – all exist elsewhere on devices that cost less money.
Sure, it’s a gorgeous glossy package that will neatly fit into any Apple device owner’s ecosystem, but as an avid Mac and iPhone owner myself I was hoping for the iPhone X (which had almost ascended to mythical status over the past year with development stories and feature leaks) to properly rock the boat and introduce something that none of us were expecting. Instead what we got was a device that is, more or less, the same as what Samsung, Huawei and LG are offering.
Of course, in a market as populated as smartphones it is difficult to innovate. And vendors who have tried to innovate in the space have, by and large, created product which failed to permeate the stranglehold that the bigger names have on the market.
Ultimately though in spite of my complaints, Apple doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel to sell. The iPhone X is as radical a departure from the original as we have seen in the 10 years that the device has been around and it’ll sell bucket loads, regardless of the fact that it costs an arm and a leg and isn’t drastically different from other products on the market.
And that is the belief shared by Andre Baden-Semper, Europe vice president at tech publishing group Purch – owners of Tom’s Hardware. "The phone will likely sell out, no matter how cutting-edge its features are (or aren’t) or how big its price tag happens to be."
The culture that Apple has created around itself and its brand means that people will buy pretty much anything it puts out, purely because it’s an Apple product. But innovation, at one point the very essence of Apple products, has seemingly taken a backseat of late and it remains to be seen whether the company has another game changing moment in it.