“An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone… are you getting it? These are NOT three separate devices. This is one device. And we are calling it iPhone. Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone.”
With those iconic words, Apple CEO Steve Jobs ushered in the era of perhaps the most successful gadget of the millennium — the iPhone — on January 9, 2007. Many considered Jobs’ presentation wizardries to have played a major role in the iPhone becoming the rage it was. Whether that was so or not is open to debate, but what cannot be denied is that, over the years, iPhone launches have become the tech equivalent of turning up at Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters to board the Hogwarts Express for a magical journey. Say what you will, there’s something magical about the iPhone — something that went well beyond just the specifications of the device.
Apple, to its credit, was able to sustain the mystique of the iPhone for quite a while. But the past few years have seen some of that magic dust around the iPhone turn into plain simple spec sand. It is not as if Apple has turned to specs in the way some other brands do, it is just that it has begun to increasingly lean on them while talking of a phone that is seen as being magical.
This happened at the recent ‘Far Out’ event too, when it almost seemed that Apple had run out of things to say about the iPhone and was now resigned to making the once “Godphone” an all-too-mortal gadget.
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“Best iPhone yet” = An improved iPhone
Every year at the iPhone launch we hear, this is the “best iPhone yet”. This very same line has been used over and over with the launch of every new iPhone. And while the statement has not been untrue in any sense of the sentence, the word “best” has somehow lost its essence in the last few years of the iPhone.
Over the past few years, especially since the launch of the iPhone 11 series, it seems like Apple has been delivering an improved version of the iPhone 11 and not a brand-new smartphone. Yes, the processors are more powerful, the display is getting brighter, the cameras are getting more capable and yet…nothing seems to be quite outstanding.
With each new iPhone that launches, we know that Apple will be delivering a better, more consistently performing iPhone than ever before but that’s the bare minimum one can expect from a new version of any device, let alone something as high-profile as the iPhone.
Losing the X-factor after the X?
Since Apple released the iPhone X with the notch and a bezel-less display, the brand has not introduced anything quite as revolutionary in the phone department. And that does not seem to have changed this year either.
Yes, the iPhone 14 Pro models come with a new kind of notch, promoted by Apple as the Dynamic Island, which has much more functionality and is definitely a major step up from the basic notch but it still is not as path-breaking as changing the anatomy of the phone or how we use it.
We have seen flatter sides and different shades of the iPhone and perhaps a slightly different camera arrangement since the iPhone 11, but other than that, Apple has not shown signs of the design vision it once used to have when it comes to the iPhone. Even in the case of the iPhone SE, Apple seemed to prefer diving into its past and basically brought back the iPhone 8 with new innards and tagged it as SE.
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In the past, even these out-of-number-line phones used to exhibit design innovation. Remember the iPhone 5C which dared to experiment with a hard-coated carbonated body and a metal frame, and came in vibrant colour options?
It is not just about design. The Cupertino tech giant has been regularly making improvements and adding features to the iPhone but in recent years, it seems as if Apple has been content with merely only bettering the existing features on the iPhone.
Take the camera for instance. Since the introduction of Portrait Mode in 2016, there has been no feature that has taken the tech world by storm to the point of becoming a standard feature on most phones (even lower mid-segment phones today now come with Portrait Mode, such has been its impact).
New features that seem to be ‘us too’ rather than trendsetters
We are not saying Apple has not added new features to its iPhone line up but these have not been able to create the sort of impact that Portrait Mode did. Since then, it seems all we are getting are improvements.
Stage lights, filters, or night mode have been added to the camera app but they have not been the sort of market disruptors that previous iPhone features were. There is no “Apple did this, so we must get it on other phones” rush happening, as occurred with even something that was as heavily initially criticised as the notch.
In fact, sometimes it feels almost as if the world has been turned on its head, and Apple is following its competitors rather than the other way around — take its decision to go with a 48-megapixel sensor, for instance, or to go with higher refresh rate displays.
Interestingly, Apple had introduced high refresh rate displays on the iPad before they arrived on any major phone, but the brand did not bring them to the iPhone until well after the competition had done so.
This lack of design and feature luster is reflected in Apple’s iPhone launch events as well. In the last few events, Apple executives on stage have kept talking about how they have improved already existing features and technology.
The processor runs faster, the battery lasts longer, and the cameras perform better but there is hardly any talk of radically new features or even specs. Remember, this is the brand that used to add words to our tech lexicon — retina display, chamfers, pixel density, and so on. This time, we did not even get to see a new processor on the base iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus.
The two phones run on an improved A15 Bionic chipset which was earlier featured on the iPhone 13 Pro series and do not get the new A16 Bionic processor, something we have seldom seen in new iPhones.
In fact, we seem to be getting more iPhone models now than iPhone innovations — in 2012, just a single iPhone was launched at an iPhone event. Ten years down the line, there were four.
From having a lot to talk about a single phone, we suddenly seem to have moved to have a lot of phones to talk about. It is not quite the same.
TIme to think really different again?
It would be convenient to blame this on the demise of Jobs and the departure of Jony Ive, but that would be way too simplistic — we think there’s more to iPhone development than just a couple of individuals.
We understand that revolutionary innovation is not a walk in the park. Most products do reach a certain level after which it becomes difficult, even for brands like Apple, to break away from a set template.
But then, this is Apple we are talking of — a company that literally created the touchscreen phone and tablet segments. It might still be running up record sales and getting massive market shares, but when it comes to phones, it does not seem to be thinking as differently as its legendary motto claims.
A better phone, a better camera, a better display…we get it, Apple. We do want so much more.