I responded to a blog post mentioning the iPhone 5S release as unimpressive, to which the response post was an explanation of why the mobile market is matured and why this is expected. In his post, Rahul (also an avid movie fan as I) uses the quote from The Godfather “Leave the gun, take the cannoli” to explain the similarities between the maturities (hint: killing became a routine task but bringing the cannoli home was still important).
I appreciate and can relate to his conclusion and I strongly believe that the technological advances with the 64-bit chip, the multipath TCP networking and fingerprint recognition technology are technically top-notch. And yet, I still feel the announcement was rather unimpressive, even from a product management perspective. Here is a another quote from the same movie.
Michael: “My father is no different than any other powerful man — any man who’s responsible for other people, like a senator or president.”
Kay: “You know how naive you sound…senators and presidents don’t have men killed.”
Michael: “Oh, who’s being naive, Kay?”
Apple is regarded as the senator/president by the Apple loyalists i.e. “they don’t have features copied”. Disregarding the entire legal wranglings and love-hate relationship between the two, they are both in a way, two sides of the same coin – each has “taken” the best features from the other. The “new” Notification Center and IOS7 look? Look at Android and WP. The “new colorful unapologetic plastic casing”? Look at Nokia/WP.
However, given the definition of innovation says nothing about copying features, let’s give the benefit of doubt to iPhone 5S (it does have Touch ID) and and explore other aspects I found unimpressive.
When did the platform become about the technology?
Rahul suggests that with the maturing market, the focus shifts to the platform. I fully agree with that from a product management perspective, where we have the luxury to analyze market segmentation with a 20/20 vision. But this is not what Jobs cared about when he brought true innovation with earlier iPhone releases.
In fact, for Apple, the “platform” was never the technology – it was always about the ecosystem. The technologies from a specifications perspective were never really cutting edge. It’s the marriage of the technology with the ecosystem (apps, partners) is what blew the competition away.
Case in point: I gave up on iCloud Photostream syncing with Windows7, after many months of trying every possible fix mentioned in the forums. It still doesn’t sync photos consistently. But when it does work sporadically, it is the best way to see my photos on the big screen TV between my iPhone, iPad and Apple TV. Another example is Apple TV: the overly restrictive, closed device that does way less than my $35 Raspberry Pi XBMC, but it is still my primary entertainment device due to its ease of use, Airplay with iPhone/iPad and the native Netflix/YouTube apps.
It is the ecosystem that keeps me hooked – not the technology platform. So while I accept that with a maturing segment Apple shifts focus to the platform, that should have been with the ecosystem platform rather than the technology platform they focused on with the iPhone 5S.
Where will the new innovation come from?
I still hear my die-hard Apple friends defending incremental releases with “how much can you innovate – isn’t this innovation enough”. This is classic “anchoring” i.e. defining the boundaries of innovation based on the what the vendors would have the consumers believe – not just Apple with the iPhone 5S, but even Samsung with the similarly “incremental” Galaxy S4. Let’s go back a few years to see how the innovation came along….
- Apple gave us devices we didn’t know we needed with iPhone and iPad.
- Samsung did the same with the Galaxy Note – a device that was as ridiculed as the iPad – but became a resounding success and mushroomed an entire “phablet” category.
- The mini-tablets – which Apple criticized – but later was also forced to join, defined a consumer need.
- iTunes and iBooks changed the business models for entire industries.
The iPhone 5S release did none of that – it simply showed us a faster, thinner, lighter phone, with a potential of touch technology. Jobs would have rather showed us what we needed, not why 64-bit was the best technology due to the number of transistors in it, or the size of the sapphire crystal. Look at the iPhone tag lines as Rahul points this out in his excellent blog article:
“The Internet In Your Pocket” – for the first iPhone
“Apple reinvents the phone” – for the first iPhone
“The first iPhone to beat the iPhone” – for iPhone 3G
“25,000 apps and counting” – for iPhone 3G
“There’s an app for that. Solving life’s dilemmas one app at a time” – starting with iPhone 3G
“Over 200,000 ways to make iPhone even better” – for the AppStore
Each one provided either a value for the consumer in terms of technology or business model. What about iPhone 5S and 5C?
“For the colorful” – for the iPhone 5C
“Forward thinking” – for the iPhone 5S
- What happened to opening up Apple TV for apps?
- What happened to the eagerly awaited Apple TV?
- What about new wearable gear?
- What about larger screen sizes?
- What about introduction of multiple users/profile support for families sharing tablets?
- A phone is by far the most personal electronic device we have (except for those with pace makers I guess), and there are so many segments that have not even been tapped e.g. What about health monitoring? Just think of the obesity and diabetes/stress management possibilities.
- Innovations in education with many classrooms adopting iPads?
- Innovation in enabling child safety with kids having iPhones i.e. Track my Child and alert me if a geo-fenced boundary (home-school) is crossed.
The iPhone 5S announcement was by far the least “secretive” release. Almost everything was already known before the announcement, including the fingerprint technology as well as the champagne/gold color. So the collective disappointment from the street as well as analysts show that it wasn’t the technology that was the cause, but the lack of innovation shown at the announcement (lowered price point for iPhone 5C to take on emerging markets being one of them).
Keeping aside traditional product management quadrants, and looking at the past combined innovation brought out by Apple, Samsung and Nokia to date, the incremental iPhone 5 to 5S AND Galaxy S3 to S4 still relatively stand out as unimpressive. But maybe that is to be expected as many say and maybe the only way for consumers to continue to be impressed with innovation is by swapping platforms i.e. moving from iPhone 5 to Nexus 5, or Samsung S3 to iPhone 5S. For those who are steeped in the Apple ecosystem though, the current innovation is a faster, lighter, thinner, flashy gold/champagne color with fingerprint unlocking.
Disclaimer: I own shares in AAPL, two iPhones, an iPad and Apple TV.