Apple's Reputation Depends on the iPhone 5S
by Mike Schuster, Minyanville staff writer
If Web forums and comment sections had their say, there would be a fine line between zealotry and insatiability.
Be it an iPhone (NASDAQ: AAPL) user touting the uniformity between apps or an Android (NASDAQ: GOOG) user heralding the variety of form factors, a satisfied smartphone user is no stranger to being labeled a "fanboy" or a mindless drone within a sea of brand-loyal sycophants.
Conversely, should any mobile consumer find fault with a release -- say, the device lacks LTE compatibility or the PenTile display shows notable pixel grain -- then he or she is branded a malcontent, unable to find a shred of joy in an otherwise notable release.
When it comes to technological critiques, especially in the mobile sector, there is no gray area: You're either a fanboy or a hater. And it's that lack of middle ground that has contributed to a mindset that has allowed Apple to lag behind the innovation curve.
Take Apple's most important product: the iPhone. Sleek, consistent, and -- given the extensive development from Android -- outdated. While iOS has undergone six full iterations, users are still greeted with the same user interface and the same grid of icons (albeit an extra row since the iPhone 5 expanded its screen to four inches). All the while, Android and Windows (NASDAQ: MSFT) Phone keep testing and developing wholly different ways -- some more successful than others -- in which users can interact with their devices. Even BlackBerry (NASDAQ: BBRY) CEO Thorsten Heins, a man who's very familiar with accusations of complacency, derided the iPhone line as boring and based off ideas that are now five years old.
Two years ago, thanks to the zealotry mindset, the man would've been eviscerated. Heins would've been shackled to an online pillory and pelted with features like Retina Displays and Siri.
But now in 2013 with 20/20 hindsight, the guy's got a point.
While innocent, astute, and constructive criticism of the iPhone's "conservative" updates were met with knee-jerk offense, iPhone users were shielded within a protective shell -- a "walled garden," if you will -- that deflected even the slightest negative assessment of their device and maintained a blissful coexistence that largely ignored competitors' aggressive development. And although there's nothing wrong with a happy customer, it's that very zealotry that contributed to Apple's staid and stale mobile experience with incremental updates. After all, if the fans are happy and sales are high, why mess with a good thing?
Unfortunately, that leaves iPhone users nowhere but behind.
Last year's iPhone 5 debuted with a larger screen and 4G LTE support, features that would have been met with overwhelming zeal had they been introduced two years prior. Released instead within an arena already teeming with equally speedy devices with screens far north of four inches, it was old hat. (I mean, when Apple designers are on stage in 2012 touting panoramic photos as bleeding edge technology, something is wrong.) What was once considered to be the de facto leader in mobile innovation was reduced to simply a very qualified also-ran. Worse yet, even some of its biggest fans have conceded that fact.
For a company like Apple, that is a monumental fall.
So now, more than any other year, fans, analysts, and investors are eagerly anticipating the release of the next iPhone -- expected to be dubbed the iPhone 5S -- with bated breath. Although the device falls in the odd "S" year where new features are categorized as "evolutionary" rather than "revolutionary," many are hoping that Apple steps up, evokes the wonderment of Steve Jobs-era showmanship, and blows us all away.
Besides a faster quad-core processor, longer-lasting battery, and maybe an improvement to its camera, the next iPhone desperately needs progressive features to stay relevant. The rumored "fingerprint sensor" is a start, NFC payments would be good, and wireless charging would be fantastic.
But you know what would really impress us and harken back to when Jobs introduced each version of the iPhone? Apple needs to introduce something we never even knew we needed. Something fresh and essential. Something that wasn't already implemented in a competitor's device like LTE, panoramas, or a notification window. Otherwise, Apple becomes something it hasn't been since before the release of the iPod.
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