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[OPINION] Apple: Continued Innovator or Innovative Has-Been?

 

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It’s been several hours since Apple’s event introducing the new iPhone 5 and new iPod models, and already the pundits are taking their shots at Apple for a perceived failure to innovate (CBS News) (Betanews).   “It’s just a bigger version of the iPhone 4S”, “another incremental release”, and “the company’s pace of major innovation seems to be slowing” seem to be the impression of these articles. 

Let’s examine this for a moment. 

First, what would constitute innovation in a smartphone?   It’s not an easy question to answer, is it?   Mostly, that’s because the smartphone is the innovation, and it’s very hard to “re-innovate” anything.   By the logic applied in these articles to Apple, we can very easily indict any number of companies for “failure to innovate”.   Most companies make the same old products, with few refinements – most intended just to freshen things up and make a “new and improved” product rather than an “innovative” product.   Apple, on the other hand, seems to be expected to totally reinvent the wheel once per year, like clockwork, for each of its products – and is thrashed in the media when it fails to meet that absurdly high standard.   What’s the difference between the 2011 and 2012 Toyota Corolla?  Not much.

To be sure, Apple may have painted itself into this corner by – of all things – innovating more than most companies and by taking extreme measures to ensure that its innovations are legally protected (read: suing anyone who appears to be trying to profit from Apple’s work).   However, this impossible-to-reach bar – to produce hugely disruptive innovations with every product launch – flies in the face of both logic and common sense.   No other company, tech or otherwise, is held to such a standard.   

Does Apple innovate?  To be sure.   The iPod, iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Air would all certainly qualify as innovations.  Does each successive model qualify as an innovation?  Of course not.   There are improvements and some innovative new features from time to time, but largely, Apple gives you the tried-and-true product that you love with what it considers to be the more requested and achievable feature improvements.    What causes a lot of angst amongst Apple fans and the journalists that cover the company, I believe, is that Apple is mind-numbingly tight-lipped about new products until they are released, and in the absence of information, the rumor mill goes wild.   When the product release doesn’t match the idealistic rumor-designed phone, Apple is trashed for “lacking innovation”. 

Let’s take a look at a few thing that Apple did improve in the iPhone 5:

 

Thinner, lighter, and faster – but with the same battery life, and with 8 hours of LTE browsing.

How can this not be called an innovation?   I have had 2 LTE hotspots, which connect to LTE and provide a WiFi AP.   They don’t have 4” screens, nor do they run power-demanding applications.  How did Apple manage to double the 4 hours of battery life that my hotspot gets while powering 3G and Bluetooth as well, and running everything at 2x the speed of the iPhone 4S?  It’s not like they could add a substantially larger battery, after all.

 

Three microphones, each optimized for a specific task (front video camera use, rear video camera use, phone calls) which are also used for improved noise cancellation (including filtering out local noise from the sound YOU hear in your earpiece) and improved voice recognition.

If there’s another phone that provides noise cancellation for both the caller AND the person called, I’ve never heard of it.   And three microphones?   Makes perfect sense, when you think about it.  It’s almost… Innovative.   The microphones intelligently adapt using beamforming, which could (depending on how Apple has implemented it) to both select the strongest audio source during, say, a video capture; allowing your voice to be captured with the front mic while you are speaking while suppressing sounds captured with the bottom and front mics and vice-versa when the person being filmed speaks.   This would essentially replicate a directional microphone without having to move it from source to source.   That, my friends, is innovative.

 

The better battery life with better connectivity and better audio/phone sound quality – even dismissing everything else that was added — are very impressive.    Are they as earth-shattering as the introduction of Apps, or Siri, or Facetime?   Not unless you read between the sound bites and see what was really delivered – innovations on the PHONE itself.   Isn’t that the sort of thing we should be applauding?

 

Apple may not rock the pundits’ world with every product release, but to say that they are no longer innovating is ridiculous on its face and reeks of intellectual dishonesty.

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  • paul alibone

    Apple has fallen short. I’ve been waiting for the IP5 before deciding on where to upgrade my Note to a Note2. Apple have made my mind up – this isn’t innovation. Its a mild update and maybe they should have called it the IP4+ so as not to disappoint so many.
    Apple should concentrate on winning battles in shops than court.
    Even Windows Phones appear to be kicking their butt.

  • The Whirly22

    Nothing is innovative about this phone. Yes its Thinner, lighter, and faster but the Motorola Razer Maxx has 21 hours of talk time is just as thin and has twice the RAM of the Iphone 5. This phone was outdated months before its release. I would expect more from a company who only puts out one phone every year or two. Motorola puts out multiple devices and has still surpassed Apple. If Apple would quit trying to Sue every company that they have stolen technology from and concentrate on innovation maybe they would be ahead of the game.And i know that the trolls will follow this with saying that android is not superior to IOS but i never mentioned that i was simply talking about SPECS…!

  • idroid

    This new iPhone is nice, but innovative I think not.
    Apple has done it too themselves by attacking everyone and setting the standard so high for themeslves…I don’t condone the stealing of anyone’s intellectual property nor do I call releasing copies of the iPhone innovative, but I mean come on Apple…you hit everyone saying releasing “copies” will stop innovation and then all you do is release a half inch bigger version with technology that’s been around for at least a year and call it innovative…
    Yes the new iPhone has new features, it has kool new bits like the microphone and battery life, but when the 4S came out everyone complained about the battery life even after Apple said it was great…I know that this article is just opinion and the above is mine…I just don’t feel Apple has the right to be called innovative anymore…

  • Marvin Nakajima

    To start off I will assume you actually have access to and have used the iPhone5 for a couple days to back up all the statements you have made. Until the larger public and media has access to the phone and gives their reviews it will not be known how the iPhone5 does in the ‘wild’. You have also asked how Apple was able to double the 4hr battery life of your LTE hotspots. There could be a number of reasons including differing battery technologies and capacities, antennae power levels, etc. If your hotspots use the same battery as the iPhone5, I would have to agree it is quite impressive.

    It is quite true that Apple is held to a high standard and is expected to bring out great innovations. I think a large part of that expectation is created when people involved make statements like “The iPhone5 will be revolutionary” (Foxconn President). With Apple’s recent past of great innovations the current pace of changes made between successive iPhones has been dismal when compared to what other companies have been developing between successive versions of their own products. The premium pricing also creates an impression of Apple being a ‘leader’ implying taking greater risks and thus worthy of larger rewards. Unfortunately the iPhone5 does not meet up with the reputation Apple has built up and I believe this difference between the ideal and the reality is at the core of what is causing so much disappointment in the larger tech public.

  • Neutrino23

    I agree. One of the best things about an iPhone is the fit and finish. Apple engineers go to great lengths to build their phones to exacting tolerances. We’ve got four iPhones, all different generations. My youngest child is still using the original iPhone. The battery is still holding up fine.

  • Jason Kam

    Seems a lot of people consider innovation as throwing as many features in as possible, no mater if they work well or make sense.

  • Darren Oakey

    the difference is that, up until and including the iphone 4 release – Apple had something that was ahead of its competitors – each release there was a “wow” I need to have that [and each time, including the 4s, I _have_]

    With this release, you look at just about every feature… and think… yeah it’s great, yeah it’s an upgrade _but it’s not as good as the competitor_. To my mind the galaxy note II has it beaten on not just one or two specs, but _every_ specification I care about.

    That’s why, as someone who’s bought _many_ iphones, more than six ipads, several mac laptops, imacs, ipods, been an IOS developer since the program started and has eleven current apps in the app store… I _won’t_ be buying the iphone 5. I did the fanboy thing once, buying the 4S even though really, it was functionally equivalent to the 4 [and I was using Siri literally years before the 4S came out]. The 5 is not so much apple losing their innovation, as Apple losing their competitive edge. Phones from Samsung and HTC are just… better. It’s a little sad, but its also undeniable.