Apple is in danger of being boring

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
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

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.

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.


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.

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