This iPhone launch feels a bit muddled, a bit leaky, a bit, well, unApple.
Some think that spells the end of its dominance – but it could ensure its survival.
Alongside the next iteration of the iPhone, the iPhone 8 (because this is the eighth generation), we’re getting an iPhone X to mark 10 years of the smartphone.
We’ve abandoned ‘nine’, apparently, and with it the neat logic that had named iPhones to date. Other handset makers like Samsung offered a charcuterie of devices with different names; Apple was, until now, always cleaner.
Even worse, we were told pretty much everything about the iPhone X ahead of launch thanks to internal leaks – galling for one of the most instinctively secretive technology companies around.
Then there’s the phone itself. It’s got facial recognition, a very big screen and perhaps wireless charging. And animated emojis. Features that have been seen elsewhere, thrown at a wall in a Cupertino meeting room and packaged into a glass slab that it is rumoured will cost you more than $1000 (£753).
Thus the lament: where’s the innovation? Where is the single-minded focus and discipline that characterised Apple under Steve Jobs?
Jobs was the visionary who gave people something they didn’t know they wanted – a supercomputer in their pocket.
He was often compared to Henry Ford and he encouraged the comparison.
Ford was supposed to have said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
Jobs’ version was this: “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Steve Jobs was a lot more like Henry Ford than Tim Cook is. But that’s a good thing for Apple now.
Ford was hugely innovative and hugely successful as a result. In 1908, Ford Motor Company made 10,000 Model T cars. Ten years later, it was nearly a million (Ford didn’t call it a Model X, though).
At that point, though, Ford started losing ground. Its focus on the assembly-line and mass manufacture ‘froze’ its automobile design, according to Patrick Vlaskovits, the author of The Lean Entrepreneur.
General Motors, under CEO Alfred Sloan, took a different approach, offering lots of different models. Their phrase was “a car for every purse and purpose” – rather different from Ford’s “any colour, so long as it’s black”.
Ford went from selling 2/3 of all US-built cars in 1921 to just 15% in 1927.
We’re at a similar inflection point for smartphones.
Jobs created the mass-smartphone market, as Ford did for cars. But technological improvements 10 years on are merely incremental. People are holding onto phones longer as a result.
With the X, Apple will offer eight phones in three different form factors (the X, the 7 and 6s if they keep it, and the SE). $1000 is expensive but people will certainly pay (and why shouldn’t they – how many other possessions do you use every hour of every day?). That’s a phone for every purse and purpose.
Tim Cook is more like Alfred Sloan, and so Apple is becoming more like GM. Managing the transition is undoubtedly tricky but it will mean a new era of dominance for Apple. Maybe even another 10 years.