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.