Apple is in danger of being boring

Apple is in danger of being boring

Summary: Have the latest versions of Apple's iPhone, iPad and MacBooks really wowed you? The iPhone 5 will be a chance to see what fresh new ideas around hardware the company has

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Right, let's get this out the way up front: I don't personally own a single Apple device. I use them a fair bit at work, but I've never actually handed over any cash for one. I've been tempted, but have never been able to put form over function for the amount of money an iPhone, iPad or MacBook costs.

While Apple says it has hardware to beat all-comers, I'd argue it doesn't: it has beautifully designed devices with close to, but not quite, top-of-the-range specs. It's true, though, that this has been good enough for it to maintain excellent margins on massive volumes of sales and to keep people eager for more.

iPad
Is Apple in danger of becoming boring?

But to my mind, Apple is in danger of becoming boring.

We're about a month or so away from the expected announcement of the iPhone 5 (or — if the company sticks to its frustratingly dull naming convention — 'the new iPhone'). The tech world will undoubtedly go into a state somewhere between fever pitch and meltdown.

I won't be getting excited. The iPad and the iPhone are now essentially the default choice for many people with ready cash. And since when has the default choice been interesting?

Think about the newest generations of Apple's products — let's even throw the MacBooks in the mix — have any of them really wowed you? I mean, so you go, 'I didn't see that coming', the way the first iPhone did?

Apple's latest refresh

Let's look at what the most recent refresh of the line-ups brought in.

The new iPad got a higher-resolution display (there's only so far you can take that, guys). It also got more megapixels for the camera, a slightly better graphics chip and 4G (which makes no difference right now in the UK).

Oh, Apple also talked about how it managed to do all this and retain the same battery life. Surprisingly, it didn't dwell on the fact that the tablet was also putting on a little weight in its middle age.

Think about the newest generations of Apple's products — have any of them really wowed you?

Road warriors and dedicated techies might be impressed that battery life stayed the same, but as a standard consumer that might stroll in off the street, I wouldn't be — I'd expect nothing less. To be honest, I'd expect it to have improved a little.

Salesforce's chief executive, Marc Benioff, took to Twitter to say the launch event itself was dull as ditchwater (partly because Steve Jobs wasn't there). Even if he was just angling for attention, that doesn't make him wrong.

Maybe looking just at the iPad is unfair. So what revolutionary new features did the iPhone 4S bring?

Voice dictation with Siri, a better screen, better camera, an iterative bump in its processor, and of course, better reception. That last one is a killer: I'm all for phones working well as phones, but it's a bit rich to call out something you broke last time and fixed this time around as a feature. And Siri was available in the App Store long before Apple bought the company that made it.

As for Apple's refresh of its laptop hardware so far this year: it added a Retina display and a bump in processor, but precious little else of interest.

iPhone 5 rumours

So what are the current rumours for features in the iPhone 5, when it arrives? A slightly larger screen, a better camera, a thinner body with a smaller bezel and a redesigned rear section. It's a familiar recipe — one that's sure to see Apple sell millions of the handset, whatever it ends up being called.

Perhaps Apple will finally bring near-field communication into the fold too — though it could have done that with the iPhone 4S. Reliable as the features in the list are, it's hardly the most inspiring of revamps.

For me, the arrival of iPhone 5 will be the chance to see what Apple has been working on — what new design or features it's pinning its hopes on this time around.

I say 'hopes' — but it's no secret that Apple has been outselling other tablet vendors by a large margin since it launched the original iPad. And while it's not number one in market share with the iPhone — Samsung and Nokia are ahead, according to Gartner — the handset is certainly what all the cool kids have or aspire to having.

Surprise

I really hope Apple brings a totally redesigned iPhone to the party. Ultimately, I love technology and will always be excited to see how one company's innovation can shift entire markets.

But more than hoping Apple does surprise us with the new iPhone, I think it needs to do so — before real fatigue sets in. The smartphone world now is a very different place to 2007, when it launched the first iPhone and sparked the touchscreen boom.

Apple undoubtedly has some of the world's most talented product designers (as well as some sharp people in marketing). The question is whether any company can continually re-invent the wheel, rather than just put a new type of spoke on it. Considering how litigation-happy Apple has become in recent times, it's an open question as to whether it is up to the challenge.

To me, it seems Apple is focusing its energies elsewhere. There's no doubt in my mind that it is tirelessly looking into the best way to deliver wearable tech, akin to Google Goggles. There's certainly a patent filing that suggests it's going in this direction.

Of course, it's not a problem restricted to Apple: other manufacturers need to constantly keep their products fresh too and often do so with iterative 'safe' updates. But it's a more pressing issue for Apple: you can buy an Android Phone or a Windows Phone in different form factors, at different price points, in different markets, with different features; but if you want Apple, you can't. All you can do is buy this year's or last year's iPhone, with slightly different specs.

Clearly, Apple isn't in any kind of a tight spot right now. It has an overflowing war chest, which it can happily plough into lawyers' fees, for instance. But if it cannot regain its momentum in hardware, it's only a matter of time before someone, somewhere, comes up with a more interesting proposition.

Topics: Apple, iPad, Mobility, Smartphones, Tablets

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

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175 comments
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  • I checked my calendar, and sure

    enough, we're overdue for an APPLE IS DOOOOOOOOMED!!!!! story.
    baggins_z
    • I don't think he's saying Apple is doomed

      but I do see where he's coming from - it seems that jounalist are expected to write between fever pitch and meltdown, while looking at the product itself, it's not much of an improvement over what other do every year, or what they put out the year before. It's almost as though the hype is more about the hype then the products themselves anymore.

      Sort of like "if you don't get excited over the smaller connector on the iPhone5, then obviouslly you really just don't understand technology, and what Apple is accomplishing, at all".
      William Farrel
      • Journalists are expected to do much,

        but while customers are being groomed and conditioned to salivate over the smaller connector, the technical details and the underlying reasons for the shift are being quietly covered. While it's otherwise a waste to throw away a $30 cable because of a new phone version, the new phone requiring a $50 cable whose chip needing to be officially licensed will ensure Apple need never go out of business... or the customer from getting a $2 cable elsewhere, and that is why there will be no adapter going from old-style to new-style connector either... still, who said a company has to be environmentally conscious? Even if Al Gore happens to be on its board and has been since, what was it, 2003...
        HypnoToad72
      • I only wish ...

        ... that he would tell us about more popular things that he personally finds underwhelming. It make him seem like he's smart and has good taste. Plus, spending twenty paragraphs talking about something that is supposedly boring doesn't make him seem like a hypocritical douchebag at all!
        RationalGuy
        • and I only wish...

          you could see past your bias to the point he is making: Apple has become Underwhelming. I slow but nonetheless seismic change has happened. And to answer your obvious response, I'm not talking about underwhelming sales. Apple has huge sales, it's popular, everywhere, mainstream even. It's just not pushing boundaries anymore, not leading the way, it's spending time rabidly protecting what it HAS, not creating something it has not. Kicking out GoogleMaps and making your own is not invention, it's protecting your revenue - upping the percentage return. And yes I can name several examples of other's leading, producing better tech., faster, smoother tech. So go ahead and call me a d'bag or some other sadly obvious slightly desperate attack at someone who doesn't agree with you. It won't change reality - Apple: Expect to be Underwhelmed.
          nowend
        • Lemming alert

          Seriously, I don't know what's more comical, your out of control and totally unnecessary allegiance to Apple or the irony of your username, because you are anything but rational calling a guy a D-bag for merely having an opinion. He's right. Apple IS becoming boring. And this isn't coming from an Apple hater as Apple fanatics feel all who dare speak ill of the bitten fruit company are. This is coming from an Apple consumer who likely owns more Apple products than the typical crazed Apple fanboy/girl (three iPads, three iPhones, six iPods, one iMac and one retina macbook pro in our household). So I think I have a right to speak any way I darn well please about Apple. The author is right, they ARE becoming boring. I said it with both the iPhone 4S and the new iPad. I've had my rMBP for a few weeks now and while I appreciate the crisp display, that's really all there is. So what if it's thin and pretty. That helps my computing needs how exactly? Heck, the darn thing can't even fire up with both bluetooth and wifi on at the same time. If I try, the wifi won't connect. I have to disable and re-enable wifi to get it to work. Good thing Apple made all their peripherals bluetooth and not regular RF like everyone else. D'oh! This is exactly what I'm talking about. Stuff like that is unacceptable, especially from a company that holds its nose so high in the air in superiority like Apple. I'm sorry if you've drank so much Kool-Aid that you can no longer form your own opinion about Apple nor hold them accountable in any way. But for the rest of us being asked by Apple to cough up $300 for MP3 players, $300-400 for iPhones (32 or 64GB), $500-800 for tablets, and over $2,000 for a retina macbook, we can, should, and will demand that Apple continue to innovate. I have a (some would say naive belief) that there are still a lot of folks out there with more sense than dollars.
          mooseboulders
    • You're right, Apple isn't doomed.

      Because it will always have that certain customer that will buy it's product no matter what. That certain customer that will always defend it, come rain and high water, to the point where that customer will be the very thing that puts others off from buying it.

      And then, they can have their very own nirvana, that electronic utopia where only those with the biggest egos (bearing in mind a big ego != talent to go with it) have what they see as the bestest phones in the world!!11!! lololol. Because, just like the author says, at the moment, iPhones are common as muck.

      Do I want the same phone as some snotty nose obnoxious chav declaring at the top of his pimply voice on the tube "yeah, it's the new iPhone init, I'm gonna blast some top tunes out on it, yeah, coz I'm a chav like". No, I do not.

      You wouldn't understand. Because education passed you by.
      Bozzer
    • Ya, Apple is doomed, Microsoft is done, Googles going down the drain...

      Intel is on the verge of collapse and the whole tech industry is about to fold.

      It used to be we got the vast majority of that nonsense from idiot fanboy posters who wouldnt give credit to a single fiber of tech that didnt come from their manufacturer of choice.

      I have to admit that there used to be a bit of thrill to venting at some idiot who was declaring that Microsoft was about to collapse because a vulnerability had been found in the Chinese version of XL. But that’s gotten tiring. Its gotten too easy spotting the lying morons who claim they are IT experts but Windows is so horrible they just cannot seem to secure a Windows computer when my little sister can do it.

      There seems to me to be little point in bashing Apple. Its pointless. It get nobody noplace. People have been using Macs for years and they love them. It dosnt matter if a Mac is not for you, or for me, there are a pile of people that Macs are for and they work just fine.

      Its hardly worth the effort of bashing Google for being Google. In the end, unless they do something that honestly is genuinely stupid or out rightly dishonest, Google is simply one more company in the IT business offering up various products that many people feel are great products and simple lack of perfection is hardly worth the anger some people have for Google.

      But now we seem to have a few of the actual writers here at ZDNet that seem to almost be trying to get another stupid flame war started. And you would almost hope they could do it in a little more subtle or clever way, but it seems like they are relying on their "voice of an authority" to put across points that are sometimes as big a pile of nonsense as some of the most ludicrous posts by readers.

      ZDNet needs to really rein in some of these people and tell them to check their platform or manufacturer bias at the door when they are writing tech based articles. Everyone likes a reasoned opinion, at least every reasonable person. What gets more than a little sick after awhile are stories that are nothing more than predictions, sometimes based on rather wild assumptions and without any real merit.

      For example, if a writer says RIM could be on their way out, it makes sense, they can point to numerous statistics and market shifts along with a variety of other indicaters well known in companies and market places where a company starts to run into serious trouble. Its fair because it makes sense and there is something real beyond personal tastes and hopes driving the prediction.

      Saying a product sucks and its not innovative dosnt cut it for fodder for doomsday predictions. Even if posters here dont understand that, the writers here should.
      Cayble
  • Apple is in danger of being boring

    I wouldn't say boring but it doesn't keep the interest. A new Mac with a higher speed processor, whoopee. Siri - doesn't work as expected. Prices, too much compared to competitors. The iPhone 5 better bring more than just an updated Siri to the table.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • Doesn't mommy keep you away from the telephone?

      CaviarBlack
      • Your mommy keeps him away from the telephone alright

        ;)
        CaviarBlack‍
        • My mommy's dead

          Unless you know something I don't.

          ;)
          CaviarBlack
          • Why am I talking to myself?

            CaviarBlack2
          • Because you're a troll shithead

            That's why.
            CaviarBlack
    • but of course not

      we all know what's interesting to you is ms having it's own stores and ms going all walled garden and ms doing it's own hardware and, as ballmer said, ms following apple wherever apple goes. now that's just interesting stuff.
      oneleft
      • Microsoft isn't the issue here

        Microsoft was never mentioned in the article nor by me. Seems you have some envy issues and are trying to deflect the issues with Apple.
        Loverock Davidson-
        • Since mommy doesn't let you use the telephone

          Then how do you know the iPhone 5 had better bring more than just an updated Siri to the table?
          CaviarBlack
    • I'd expect YOU to be critical of Apple

      But I would not say that the iPhone "Prices, too much compared to competitors." as there is an iPhone model at 3 different price points from free to $299 subsidized... just like it's Android counterparts. The rest of your post is subjective.
      athynz
      • No

        Its the same phone with 3 different sets of specs. Its just the older tech, its not at all the same as buying Android phones. Not only do they come in all shapes and sizes, but buying a $100 Android phone doesn't mean you are automatically getting oldschool tech. Its just a variation of what is available. Maybe a lower res screen or a slower CPU or whatever it might be. But its not 2 years ago's model.
        Jimster480
    • Thing is

      Apple products will always sell like hotcakes. For no good reason at all.
      15israellai