More Fear-Mongering About Apple Innovation

February 24th, 2017

Do you remember what they said about the iPhone 7? It would be a boring upgrade, mostly because it would look the same as the iPhone 6s. So how could it offer anything significant? But it’s not that a rectangle with circular corners comprises all the functionality of a smartphone, obviously. Apple could have, I suppose, made some big changes in the look of the new model, put nothing different inside, and gotten great reviews.

But what about making it water-resistant? What about the improved camera, faster performance and all the other changes? Minor? Compared to any previous iPhone?

Supposedly the “real” changes will happen with the rumored 10th anniversary iPhone 8 this fall. It will receive all softs of changes that would make it the biggest update ever. So if you don’t need a new smartphone, I suppose, perhaps hold on for another year and buy a more expensive iPhone with great new features.

That was then, this is now.

Apple’s critics are now suggesting that the rumored changes for the next iPhone are nothing special either. An edge-to-edge OLED display? Wireless charging, 3D sensors? These are some of the rumored enhancements, along with using more glass rather than aluminum? Isn’t that going to be the upgrade to die for?

Well, maybe not, because the critics are now reminding us of the obvious. Other smartphones already feature edge-to-edge OLED screens, wireless charging, 3D, etc. Such features have been around for a while, so if Apple adds them too, they would be late to the party. It’s not innovation to copy what Samsung and other companies are doing.

Of course, there are a few assumptions implicit in the skepticism. Some point to the claim that the OLED displays would be “high resolution,” which has little meaning since existing iPhone displays are “Retina” capable. After a certain number of pixels, you can’t separate them at a normal viewing distance, even though a number of Android handsets have even more pixels for bragging rights.

Forgotten is that you need a more powerful graphics processor to move the extra pixels you cannot see, which can slow down performance. Sure enough, many Android handsets, even those boasting specs beyond that of an iPhone, do not match Apple’s gadget in the real world.

But they may indeed seem sharper because Android evidently handles text in a fashion closer to the Windows ClearType scheme, meaning sharper edges. This was an argument voiced long ago against the Mac, since Apple uses a smoothing technology that makes text more readable, even if it seems less sharp under high magnification. So reviewers of Android gear, who aren’t paying attention, will mention the impression of a sharper image as if it is the result of having more pixels. It’s  not.

The real OLED advantages may include a wider viewing angle, deeper blacks and no doubt more power efficiencies. These are differences you can see, and Apple is expected to deliver a product with more accurate color. Existing gear from Samsung and others offer artificially rich color in addition to the too-sharp text.

But what about the wireless charging? Apple has patented some methods, but that doesn’t guarantee that any of them will appear soon in a retail product. As it is, existing wireless charging technology — which is definitely nothing new with any smartphone maker — involves placing the device on top of a charging plate of some sort. Is this is more efficient than just plugging it into something with a cable? After all, the charging plate or strip itself has to be connected to something via a cable, so where’s the benefit?

Now if Apple could perfect a true wireless charging technology where the iPhone doesn’t have to touch anything, without unfortunate side effects, that might be something worth touting. While some will disagree, I could care less about the sort of wireless charging that’s already being used.

Rather than debate unannounced features in an unannounced product, isn’t it interesting to see how some elements of the media are contradicting themselves. First they attack the changes in the iPhone 7, most of which they knew nothing about until Apple announced them, while touting the alleged advantages of the next year’s model.

But now that the rumors of the 2017 iPhone have gained more intensity, it’s being denigrated as being saddled with features that other handset makers have had for years. Apple just can’t win.

If the iPhone 8 is what they say it is, nothing Apple can do will satisfy the critics. The OLED display may be far and away better than anyone else’s, and it won’t matter. They had OLED first. The possible use of wireless charging won’t matter, because other companies have done that too. It won’t matter if Apple finds a better way.

Now those who have followed Apple for any length of time will realize it’s not always first with a new feature. It’s more about taking that feature, making sure it’s perfected, and then putting an Apple slant on it. That is something not easily explained to the “specs first” crowd.

But now you see how an inkling of how the next iPhone will be regarded. So wait for an iPhone 8s or iPhone 9 instead. You can keep waiting and some people will never be satisfied.

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3 Responses to “More Fear-Mongering About Apple Innovation”

  1. dfs says:

    Apple could try a radically new approach to innovation regarding the iPhone and all its other products as well: ask consumers what features they would like to see.

  2. dfs says:

    Mostly they get feedback to the questions they choose to ask, which means they get to control the conversation. If they broad-guage questions like “what changes would you like to see in the Finder?”, “what do you think of our policies in curating the App Store?” or even “what products would you like to see Apple bringing out?”, then at the cost of losing that control they might learn some stuff worth knowing. And if they pre-tested their products with focus groups that would probably prevent them from laying some of their most memorable eggs (the notorious hockey puck mouse would never have seen the light of day). Case in point: after General Motors acquired Hughes Aircraft it was fascinated with the heads-up display technology Hughes had developed for fighter aircraft. They were eager to adapt it for cars, but focus groups uniformly hated it so GM quietly dropped the idea. Surely the focus group approach could be adopted for consumer electronics.

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