Wednesday, September 11, 2013

New iPhone big on colour but short on innovation


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Apple's iPhone makeover

Apple's newest iPhones look different on the outside but the changes inside could be what really counts, with the premium 5s model selling for $199 in the US.

PT2M7S 620 349 September 11, 2013

There was one key element missing from Apple's annual iPhone unveiling this week: the "one more thing" closing line that the late Steve Jobs used to dramatic effect when he wanted to highlight a new product or amazing feature.

It was theatrical, but it worked. The crowd went wild and the coverage reflected the excitement of the moment.

That is one of the reasons why these Apple keynote speeches came to be known as "Stevenotes". Only Jobs could pull one off and he rarely failed to deliver from his return to Apple in 1998 until 2011.


Almost two years after his death, Apple is still seen through the prism of Jobs' ability to unveil an innovation that surprises and excites.

And based on the reaction of the sharemarket and the tech press, the launch of the new iPhone 5c and 5s was tame and in some cases even lame.

<em>Illustraion: Cathy Wilcox </em>

Illustration: Cathy Wilcox

After one of the longest new product hiatuses in Apple's modern history, there was much pent-up demand for some amazing technological leap.

But the lower priced iPhone 5c turns out to be effectively the now superseded iPhone 5 clad in a plastic body with a choice of colours. And in Australia, the price is only $60 cheaper than its predecessor.

It is difficult to see how a $739 smartphone is suddenly going to super-charge iPhone sales when you can buy a similarly equipped smartphone with Google's latest Android operating system for $300.

iPhone 5S.

The iPhone 5S. Photo: Bloomberg

Even on contract, it is uncertain that minimal price cut will make much of a dent in consumers' choices.

Apple tried a similar trick in 2004 when it launched the iPod mini, a cheaper version of the iPod which came in a variety of colours. It worked then, but Apple didn't have as much competition in the music player device category.

Today's smartphone market is a much tougher proposition, one in which Apple is caught in a pincer movement by cheaper models on one front and feature-packed state-of-the-art models at the other end.

Another one of Jobs' tactics was to put down the opposition by mocking the use of sub-standard parts and features.

That is much harder to do these days. Samsung, Apple's main competitor at the top end of the market, has captured some of Apple's mojo. In the eyes of many status conscious consumers, the Samsung's flagship Galaxy S4 is every bit as desirable as the latest iPhone.

While there were some new features in the more expensive iPhone 5s version, they look to be incremental advances that are a standard part of the technological leap-frogging that have become the norm. Fingerprint scanning and the "motion co-processor" which can detect and measure a user's movements (designed to appeal to those who track and measure physical exercise) are interesting but do not constitute a quantum leap in innovation.

It could be that there just isn't much more you can do to jazz up a smartphone. In which case, we've reached "peak smartphone".

Or it could be the case that Apple's competitors have caught up in the innovation stakes. In which case we've hit peak Apple.

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Poll: Will you get an iPhone 5S or 5C? Yes - I want an iPhone 5S


Yes - I want an iPhone 5C


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