Apple at the cross roads

The iconic keynote when Steve Jobs unveiled the ‘3-in-1’ device – the iPhone to us was 10 years ago. Steve was prone to hyperbole, but when he said that the iPhone unveiling was a ‘once in a lifetime’ kind of deal, it was truer than we anticipated at that moment. The smartphone as we come to know of it was defined.

The competitors were caught napping (Nokia, Blackberry, Palm, and Microsoft to be precise). Over the next few years, we had many ‘me-toos’ from them trying hard to catch up to the gaping technological chasm that the iPhone had over the suddenly ancient looking phones.

Years later, even though Android phones had beaten Apple in marketshare, the iPhone could still claim to be technological superior in *every* way – the OS, Security, Apps, Camera, and an ecosystem that further enable the capabilities of the phone.

But Google and its partners were not standing still. Android was iterating at a rapid pace, and its hardware partners like Samsung and Xiaomi kept pushing build qualities closer to that of the iPhone. And as for Apple, without the vision of Steve Jobs, they were happy with their routine iterations on the iPhone.  And it’s not like the market was rejecting them – Apple continues to sell record number of iPhones and make record profits.  But meanwhile the iPad has seen declining sales every quarter, and the Apple watch is relegated to a niche and has not been a mainstream success.

That Apple is now a company that follows trends rather than set them was more evident than ever during the September iPhone X  event.  Don’t agree? Let’s take a look at Apple’s product portfolio shall we?

iPhone – An excellent phone from the Jobs era but clearly looking aged since its design is now 3 years old.

iPhone + – Clearly a response to Samsung’s success with large screened phones.

iPad – A leader in a declining market. Again a Steve Jobs launch.

iPad Pro – Clearly a Microsoft Surface ripoff.

Apple watch – Launched a couple of years after Android wear – it is the market leader, but in usability and choice of hardware (watches must be round), Android is more innovative.

Even in laptops, the Windows side offers 2-in-1 designs and ultra thin form factors. There is very little space where Apple can still claim to be leading with technology and design.

For technology enthusiasts like me this isn’t good news. Though I was never in the Apple ecosystem, I always looked forward to Apple’s innovations. Apple introducing something new (like fingerprint readers or dual cameras) meant that it would be available mainstream in other phones (read Android) very soon and for a much lower price. Even if the features were already available in Android or Windows, it was Apple that made it mainstream by showing the world how it was ‘supposed to work’.

Coming back to the event held this week, the one thing we can all agree on is that it had no surprises thanks to the numerous leaks. Apple seriously needs to relook at improving security on their product design lifecycle. Let’s look at what was announced.

  1. iPhone 8 and iPhone 8+ – This was supposed to be an ‘s year’ – and though Apple didn’t call these the iPhone 7s, let’s all agree that is what these phones are.  Can I point out again that the design is now 4 years old (iPhone 6, 6s, 7 and now 8).
  2. Apple TV – Gets 4k and HDR. Hilariously the Apple execs explained to us what 4k was and why it was a good thing to have.  But this announcement had the only genuine surprise – that Apple would be upgrading all iTunes HD movie  purchases to 4k for free. This is really good folks. Hope others replicate this.
  3. Apple watch – A round display would have been a bigger upgrade – but LTE is a good upgrade. Am sure Apple would make the interoperability between the iPhone and watch seamless.
  4. iPhone X – The ‘one more thing’ , and probably the only thing people will talk about from the event.

The iPhone X would have been a trend setter if two things were different.

a) If it had the fingerprint sensor under the screen – like we all know the next year’s phones would probably have.

b) If it had launched last year – before the market was flooded with ‘edge to edge’ display phones.

The iPhone X will probably set record sales, and the lackluster iPhone 8 and 8+ would probably sell great too. And next quarter, Tim Cook might announce to the world that Apple again recorded a whopping profit. But for the tech enthusiast, a ‘mee too’ Apple is not what we need.  Microsoft already became the new IBM, we cannot afford to have Apple become a boring Microsoft.

 

 

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