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Those Wacky Responses to the iPhone 5

Implicit in some of the criticisms of the iPhone 5 is the realization that it will be a smashing success. Apple’s success certainly is bad news for the competition, but it’s also true that some media pundits feel that Apple is somehow fooling people to buy their products. Once they come to their senses, the “real” tech companies will benefit. How could it be otherwise?

For the past few days, I’ve been going through some of the concerns about the iPhone 5. You can argue in many ways about the features it lacks, such as being able to talk and surf the Internet on the Sprint and Verizon Wireless networks, or whether Apple made a huge mistake in creating yet another proprietary connection scheme.

But some of the theories are just plain wacky, such as someone suggesting that the iPhone 5 isn’t really backordered. The story goes that Apple has more than enough of them on hand, but is holding them back to, by dint of its unavailability, make it seem more attractive to potential customers. Aside from the absurdity of the theory, since some sales are apt to be lost if a customer can’t get instant satisfaction, you have to consider the impact to Apple’s bottom line. Fewer sales mean less revenue, lower profits. Why would Apple risk that, especially at the end of a fiscal quarter?

The other wacky theory has it that Apple is no longer the innovative company under the management of Tim Cook. Instead, it’s all about sales and profits. Considering that Apple, under Steve Jobs, also regularly reported revenue records, it hardly makes sense to expect anything different from a team that is following in his footsteps. Also, doesn’t building the best product improve the possibilities for sales success? Is it really fair to suggest that the iPhone 5 is not enough of an improvement to honor the memory of Steve Jobs?

You might want to look at an article from Macworld, “Steve Jobs’s seven key decisions,” which describes some elements of the strategy that made Apple what it is today. It’s very much about turning Apple into a leaner, meaner, profit-making machine. Jobs began to make many of those changes 15 years ago, long before there was an iPod, an iPhone and an iPad. If you examine the history, you’ll see the building blocks of Apple’s march to the top of the tech industry.

Sure, there have been some blips along the way, and certainly the Power Mac G4 Cube is one notable example. But Apple may be trend-setting in one respect, and cautious in another. New product lines are only rarely added, and I have little doubt that many fascinating concepts are routinely scrapped, even if they would have been given the green light by other companies.

So we have the contradiction of the iPhone 5 perceived as being a conservative refresh, because Apple didn’t add all the features you find in competitors products. But that’s what they said last year when the iPhone 4s was announced, since it looked the same as the previous model. At the time, the critics believed Apple should have introduced an iPhone 5, a model that looked decidedly different, because that was the expected behavior. They forgot, of course, that Apple doesn’t necessarily remake the exteriors of products every single year, so why did they expect something different?

Also, the critics have a hard time explaining what else might have been done differently in the iPhone 5, aside from the vague wish for a radical change. But there are design fundamentals you expect in a smartphone, such as making telephone calls. How much can Apple change the look and the feel of an iPhone before it becomes an absurd parody of itself?

When it comes to whether Apple is losing the creative mojo with Jobs no longer in control, that’s debatable. The same design and engineering team is still in place, and has been, in large part, for years. Tim Cook came to Apple in 1998, and has clearly absorbed the company DNA. Although some corporate approaches have been altered, it’s not as if Apple’s vision is different.

Some suggest that Apple has lost control of the message, because there were so many product leaks ahead of the iPhone 5’s arrival. I suppose, with so much interest in Apple gear, it is to be expected that third-party vendors will occasionally leak critical information, deliberately or otherwise. It is even possible that individual employees for these companies are quietly serving as informants to the media or individual bloggers, even though their jobs might be at stake if they are exposed.

I also think that Apple may be partly responsible for the media frenzy that surrounds their products, which reached a fever pitch ahead of the iPhone 5 launch event. Carefully selected reporters can be given briefings on background, so sources aren’t named. That gives Apple the right of plausible deniability. They don’t comment on unreleased products, and have nothing more to say, except they already said what they need to say.

Indeed, amidst the furor of the iPhone 5, the media events to roll out the new Amazon Kindle tablets, and the Google Nexus 7, were very much drowned out by Apple. Even if the media talks about those tablets yet again, there’s always the rumored iPad mini (or iPad Air) in the wings.