Here we are again. A few days ago, Apple used a rather cosy venue on their own campus to unveil the latest iteration of the iPhone, the iPhone 4S. Stepping back from all the hype surrounding this release, the iPhone 4S is a predicable incremental, or ‘evolutionary’ upgrade to the iPhone product line. They’ve obviously looked at the already very successful iPhone 4, and crammed a few extra goodies inside. All the usual upgrade features are on the list: It’s faster, it has a better camera, it has a better battery life (factoring in the increased speed); and it packs a few exclusive features – the most notable of of which is the ‘Siri’ voice assistant.
All in all, a reasonable attempt at an upgrade to an existing product. Well done Apple. You’ve ticked a few boxes, and shipped a ‘new’ product.
However, there were two problems with this product launch:
The first problem, I feel, completely overshadowed the launch. Even before Apple announced that they were holding this event, the interweb and mainstream media was rife with rumours about the iPhone 5. Each day brought new rumours that seemed to contradict the previous rumours:
It’s going to have a bigger screen … no wait, it’s going to have a smaller screen … no wait, the screen is slightly bigger, and get this: It’s got a bevelled back! Oh, no wait … it doesn’t have a bevelled back – but it’s going to have a Pentium II processor! No, really! It is … this dude in Japan or Korea or Ohio or some place said so!
… and on it goes. The media hype around this launch was no different that numerous other Apple launches. Sometimes the guesses or tip-offs turn true, but many of them don’t. But it serves a greater purpose, which is to get everyone excited and optimistic about a new product launch. Apple isn’t unique in it’s approach to product launches: Many other companies aim to keep their development work secret, and their product launches mysterious and surprising. After all, it’s good business practice as it not only creates anticipation for the consumers, but it also keeps their competitors in the dark.
Where Apple excel at this fine art is in the theatrics. Their new product launches are carefully orchestrated dramas, usually in three acts (Apple are a company obsessed with doing things in threes!). Act 1 is the relatively boring statistics section … the ‘here’s why we’re great’ section … the warm up act. Now that everyone is in the mood, they move onto Act 2: the ‘Lets reintroduce a product you knew was coming, and remind you how great it is’ section. I this case, iOS 5 – the new iPhone operating system. Then finally, Act 3: The bit everyone is really there for – the surprise. The new product. The iPhone Fi … oh, no wait … the iPhone FOUR … oh, and they’ve stuck an ‘S’ on the end. Erm….
And this is where the trouble started.
The hype had gotten so carried away that pretty much everyone – the rumour sites, bloggers and even main stream media – were convinced they were going to announce a radical, revolutionary iPhone ‘5’. Sure, the name ‘iPhone 4S’ kept cropping up in their sources – but by the end many of them had just dismissed that as some kind of cheap, cut down version of the iPhone – and not as important as the iPhone 5.
So Act 3 of this drama began with a little disappointment, until everyone began nodding in that knowing way. Yes, it’s obvious – Apple are extending their traditional Three-Act play with an encore. Steve Job’s infamous ‘One More Thing …’ – a trick used to amazing effect in the past as the late former-CEO Steve Jobs seemingly ‘forgets’ all about their amazing new product, and adds it at the end as an after thought. Everyone watching the launch anxiously waits – patiently listening to Tim and Phil talking about some unimportant iPhone 4GTS with go-faster stripes. We all wait for the BIG moment.
And we wait.
And we begin to think, ‘Wow. They’re really milking this.’
The audience – desperate to applaud something find themselves spontaneously clapping at the phrase, ‘We even have Koi swimming in the pond’.
And then it begins to dawn on us. The momentum of the presentation begins to ebb. They begin to wrap up and summarise. Things are not looking good.
And then, with the wave of Tim’s hand, it’s over.
But what exactly is over? Why is everyone so disappointed? Apple just announced three new products. Sure, they’re all incremental updates – but they all value to the product line. It seems that most people had forgotten about the iOS 5 release date by the end of the presentation – an upgrade to existing iOS devices that really does add a lot a value. I should know – I’ve been using it for the last few months!
It seems that everyone is disappointed and some even angry at Apple for not releasing the product that Apple themselves have never even mentioned. Apple, it seems, is guilty of not releasing a product worthy of the excessive hype … which seems a little unfair doesn’t it?
The Upgrade Dilemma
Which brings me onto the second problem: Who is the iPhone 4S aimed at? Granted, the iPhone 4S is undoubtedly a better phone than the iPhone 4. But many will feel that the new features don’t justify upgrading and committing to a new 2-year contract. I had the same problem with the iPad, as only six months after I purchased my iPad (1), Apple brings out the iPad 2 … yet a year later I’m still happily using my original iPad. There just isn’t a big enough difference between the two products to justify the upgrade, and I fear this is the same for the iPhone 4S.
Undoubtedly the ‘killer’ feature of the 4S is Siri, the voice assistant technology. But if you were take that feature away, there really isn’t that much more to get excited about … at least from an upgrading perspective.
I imagine a lot of folks, no doubt still coasting on the recent hype, are thinking they’ll skip this update and hang on until next year when that elusive iPhone 5 will make an appearance. I’m certainly in that camp, as I’m tied into my iPhone contract for about another 9 months. I guess my mobile carrier is forcing me to wait for a better phone :)
Then again, there will always be a better phone. There will always be something that’s just around the corner. There will always be people dispensing helpful advice like ‘Oh, you’ve not just bought an iPhone 4 have you? They’re brining out the iPhone 5 like – next week … or next year … or some time soon anyways’. Yes, that is true. But those of us who’ve owned Apple hardware for many years now know that you’re guaranteed to become jealous of some minor or even major update to the product you bought within six months. That’s what makes Apple so successful.
So, in wrapping up, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the iPhone 4S to anyone looking to buy a new phone, or upgrade their existing iPhone. However if – like me – you’re stuck in a contract for a little longer, then just brush away any thoughts of owning the 4S, and lets see what 2012 brings.
A little note
I wrote the final paragraph of this article the moment the sad news about Steve Jobs started streaming in, so I held off posting this. In many ways, I think the news of his death, and the fact that Apple were very aware of his worsening condition this week goes a long way to explaining the subdued atmosphere at the 4S product launch. I’m sure the iPhone 4S will prove very popular, particularly as many perceive it to be the last iPhone that Steve was physically involved with. All eyes will be on Apple in 2012 to see what direction the company takes without it’s spiritual leader watching over them. I have no doubt they will succeed.