The company that invented the original iPhone no longer exists.
Apple Inc. unveiled the latest edition of the world’s best known smartphone on Wednesday. Even as the iPhone 5 pleased millions of consumers with its improved battery life, larger screen and myriad other upgrades, it also made clear that the days of “revolutionary” Apple devices – those that create entire new product categories and come with massive risk for the company, as the original iPhone did – are over.
Five years after the launch of the first iPhone, Apple is the world’s most valuable company. The formula that late CEO Steve Jobs bet on in 2007 – refine and reimagine an existing product, create a new consumer category and then market it as a breakthrough – has transformed the company from niche player to a leader in consumer electronics and media.
Apple executives were sure to highlight the new phone’s many improvements – using the same superlatives as past launches, even though the changes were comparatively minor.
“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the hardware and software engineering that has gone into this product is unlike we’ve ever undertaken before,” said Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice-president of marketing, and the man who introduced the new phone. “The challenge is to make it better and smaller.”
That rhetoric is at odds with the actual incremental upgrades of the iPhone 5 – that will provide ammunition to those who claim Apple has peaked, but won’t matter much to most consumers, Forrester analyst Charles Golvin said following Wednesday’s announcement.
“Given that the iPhone 5 is unlikely to solve the European debt crisis or bring peace to the Middle East, it won’t be surprising if we hear a resounding ‘meh’ from Apple’s critics, with them dinging the company for a paucity of innovation,” he said.
But Mr. Golvin said the company still has the best “entire package” of industrial design, imaging, audio, and connectivity, plus the capabilities of the new operating system. “Apple will sell a boatload of iPhones.”
Many of the primary upgrades to the new iPhone were clearly aimed at beating back increased competition from rivals in the smartphone market – chiefly, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., which has become the world’s biggest smartphone vendor.
The iPhone 5 is longer, lighter and thinner that its predecessor, addressing a criticism Apple faced last year when it introduced the iPhone 4S – a phone that looked exactly the same as the previous iteration. However, hoping to avoid complaints from other smartphone users who found larger devices too cumbersome to operate with one hand, Apple has made no changes to the width of the phone.
Apple claims the new iPhone is the thinnest smartphone in the world, at 7.6 millimetres. The phone is also about 20 per cent lighter than its predecessor, at 112 grams.
The phone is slightly longer than the iPhone 4S – long enough to make room for a fifth row of icons on the home screen.
Kevin Restivo, a mobile device analyst with research firm IDC, says the iPhone 5 announcement was not revolutionary, but nevertheless fit firmly in the company’s recent tradition of making incremental improvements to its existing product lines – adding a smoother user interface, faster processing power and bundling more features into something that’s demonstrably better than the device that came before it.
“It will disappoint many fan-boys who wanted a huge technological leap, but it will delight the masses,” Mr. Restivo said. “Each iteration, each product launch, isn’t really anything unexpected. It’s an extension of the earlier product, but even more successful than the earlier version. There’s no reason why that won’t be the same for this particular iPhone.”
Apple will likely employ the same strategy later this year, when it is expected to announce a smaller-screen version of the popular iPad tablet. In addition to the new phone and tablet, Apple is also slashing prices on previous versions of the iPhone, as it seeks to dominate the lower end of the market.
Kaan Yigit, founder of the Toronto-based Solutions Research Group analytics firm, pointed out that the iPhone 5 is launching in time for the holiday shopping season – which, this year, may be the “mother of all smartphone seasons.” His firm’s data show that 30 per cent of current smartphone users want to upgrade their devices shortly – and that, of those with smartphones, nearly half want to upgrade to a new iPhone, despite the popularity of Google Inc.’s Android platform.
“The big picture for me is not the product, per se, but the range of options they are locking into the market going into the most important quarter of the year,” Mr. Yigit said. “They will break records again.”