iPhone 7: It's time for innovation and reinvention, not gimmicks

Apple is capable of innovation, but the huge success that the iPhone has enjoyed has meant that it could afford to drip-feed that advancement over time. Now that sales appeared to be slowing down, it's time for some real innovation again.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

When the iPhone first debuted back in 2007, it was both an innovative and disruptive product. Here was a smartphone that had no physical keyboard, but instead was built from the ground up to be driven by a finger. It featured a design that would be copied, ripped off, and emulated by all the players in the smartphone market.

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But the iPhone is also a classic example of how a market leader can afford to take its time when it comes to releasing new features. The history of the iPhone is one of gradual improvements punctuated by short bursts of innovation and reinvention.

Whether you're a fan of Apple or not, it's impossible to deny the fact that Apple's innovations have dramatically shaped the smartphone industry, giving us touchscreen devices, multitouch displays, FaceTime, Siri, app stores, apps, retina displays, an expectation of regular updates, and fingerprint scanners that transformed the way we secure our devices.

We've also seen some reinvention, specifically relating to the user interface, software, and display size. The march of progress has at times been glacially slow (remember how long it took for Apple to bring cut/copy/paste to the iPhone?), but it has been sustained.

But it's also impossible to deny that Apple has also peddled a lot of lame gimmicks over the years. It's taken its obsession with making products thinner and lighter to crazy extremes (to the detriment of other, more useful features such as increased battery life and durability). Plus different colors (specifically the iPhone 5c), and features such as 3D Touch and Live Photos are little more than consumer eye candy.

Apple has also played the yearly "performance improvements" card, flaunting the benefits of Moore's law about like it's something new. But "faster" is an old card, and one that stopped working for the PC industry well over a decade ago, and one that's of little interest to smartphone buyers.

While the iPhone was going through a period of robust growth, Apple could afford to keep the pace of innovation steady. It didn't need to come out with an "ultimate" iPhone; all it needed to do was stay one step ahead of the competition. And that's something that Apple has been very successful in doing (partly that's been down to the fact that the competition have been more interested in copying Apple than innovating - just take a look at what Samsung's upcoming Galaxy S7 will offer if you don't believe me).

But now Apple is facing a challenge that it's not previously faced with the iPhone, and that is that sales have plateaued. While this is by no means a problem that's unique to Apple, the Cupertino giant is in a unique - and particularly vulnerable - position because two-thirds of the company's revenue is generated by the iPhone.

Bottom line, this means that Apple needs to work at making the iPhone more compelling, and that means more innovation and more reinvention, because it is this that gets people queuing up to be the first to buy a new iPhone. Apple thrust smartphones into the mainstream by making people realize that they could be useful in a myriad of different and divergent ways. It achieved something with a portable gadget that hadn't happened since the wristwatch - it made the smartphone indispensable.

Ten years ago did you think that you could unlock your front door, turn on the lights, control your thermostat, order pizza, keep an eye on how many steps you take, plan your route to somewhere you've never been, and have a video conversation with a friend or loved one all using a handheld device? Apple's job now is to lay the groundwork for amazing things you'll be doing in ten years that you now can't even dream of.

Think there's not much left that Apple could do? Think again! Here are just a few ideas off the top of my head:

  • Waterproof iPhone
  • More durable iPhone
  • VR integration
  • New battery technology
  • Built-in health sensors
  • Gesture control

There's plenty Apple can be getting on with. The point is that it's not the ideas themselves, but the new markets and opportunities that they open up, especially when they are put into the hands of app developers.

Notice how I didn't call things such as wireless charging or removal of the headphone jack innovative. They're not. Instead, they're examples of incremental betterment based on technological change. And let's be honest, few people are going to rush out and buy a new iPhone because it doesn't have a 3.5mm headphone jack.

I think that a cooling down of iPhone sales will ultimately be a good thing, both for Apple and consumers of technology because it will lead to more innovation and better products and services.

See also:

'Must-have' accessories for your MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro (February 2016 edition)

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