A Post-Jobs Apple – Meandering Directions

There’s nothing much to write about the iPhone 5. Every rumor was correct and there were no surprises. It is hard to find anything that the iPhone 5 can do that current phones can’t. What is more interesting is how Apple chose to present its new flagship.

The iPhone 5 launch turned into an iPhone + iPod event

The iPhone 5 launch turned into an iPhone + iPod event

 

iPhone+iPod: A Combined Event

The iPhone presentation went by really fast. In fact, I was still waiting for a one more thing for the iPhone right up to the end of the iPod presentation. Maybe it was affected by the amount of rumors that turned out to be right leaving the actual presentation to add nothing to what is already known. But I think everyone expected at least a minor surprise. There were none. The iPhone’s presentation was probably half as long as it usually was.

Or maybe, it was down to the lack of content that they decided to push the launch of the iPod refresh together with the iPhone. In fact, there were more interesting things regarding their music players than their phone – especially the nano redesign (the only real redesign). It may not have been by choice that they push the iPod out with the iPhone.

 

For the first time in 6 iPhone launches, Apple decided to allow the iPod encroach on iPhone’s press slot.

 

It is strange to see the a complete iPod refresh being done next to a supposed ‘big change’ in the iPhone. For the first time in 6 iPhone launches, Apple decided to allow the iPod encroach on iPhone’s press slot. Whichever way you read it, it’s either the lack of content in the iPhone refresh or a poor marketing decision that will have never been sanctioned by Jobs.

 

Repetitions, Repetitions, Repetitions

The 4S was launched on Job’s final day alive. There was an empty chair in the press room respectfully reserved for him. You could say the 4S was the last presentation (not phone) that Jobs was involved in. A year later, that missing spot is even greater.

The word 'amazing' was reused over 20 times.

The word ‘amazing’ was reused over 20 times.

What we saw this year were repetitions after repetitions of the same thing. A new feature would be repeated by 2 people followed by another repeat on Ive’s video. It is pretty uncanny that the exact same repetive formula was stuck to for both iPhone and iPod launches. Introduce new features, repeat new features, get Ive on video to do the same.

If you were to break it down, even the vocabulary used was repetitive. Who wrote their scripts? The magic of Steve Jobs was gone.

The Jobs shine is well and truly gone. I miss his masterful stage performances.

 

Jobs would never repeat himself so many times. He was a master at the reality distortion field and that field never did take off yesterday. You could see it in the manner journalists were covering it. Mind you, most of these journalist are pro-Apple supporters yet the excitement and enthusiasm quickly died after the event started. Apple has not replaced their brilliant stage performer. Jobs isn’t replaceable but surely marketing standards in the press conference should not have fallen by such an extent.

 

Secrecy & Glitches

Jobs was brutally anal on secrecy and that set to look to stay the same as Cook announced a few months back that Apple’s focus was to double down on secrecy. Yet, this is the first time the rumor mill hit a 100% record in announcements from the phone to the refreshed earphones. This clearly hurt marketing efforts especially for fans who were keeping up with rumors while expecting to be surprised on the final day.

Even Apple’s own website leaked the new phone’s name and its LTE capabilities hours before launch. It is just strange to see a launch that has been punctured by security leaks in every way possible. This, of course, is in comparison with Apple’s previous security track record.

 

iPhone 5 – Iterative & Unimaginative

Everyone on stage tried very hard (mainly by repeating) to impress that this was a brand new design. Their point of view is that they took a different engineering effort to produce this. That’s fair. The iPhone 5 is an engineering marvel but the consumer doesn’t care what happened in the background.

The iPhone 5 is basically an elongated iPhone 4S that has shaved off millimeters and got a lighter. System internals got upgraded and that is about it. Slightly better camera, slightly better CPU, slightly better microphone and speakers. I am guessing that the next iPhone will be the 5S. This means that Apple is keeping the same design for 4 years. 4 years in the phone market is a insanely long time to be hanging onto similar blueprints.

4 years in the phone market is a insanely long time to be hanging onto similar blueprints.

 

Only Apple can get by doing nearly the same thing for so many years and still sell out. They have loyal fans for a reason – brilliant marketing. But as written above, I find those marketing standards changing.

Don’t get me wrong, the iPhone 5 will sell really well but as The Verge has pointed out – for how long more? The current design (both hardware and software) looks really tired on its last legs. Would people get as excited as they were before?

Similar Design Language:  iPhone 4, 4S & 5

Similar Design Language: iPhone 4, 4S & 5

The thing about phones is that people expect something fresh to handle. This is unlike PCs and other workhorse equipment. The phone is a personal companion that must captivate the attention of the user. For most smartphone owners, a phone is a device you must want to use. This is unlike a PC where in most situations it is a device that you have to, rather than want to. Thus, the design has to be fresh.

The predictability and repetitive iterations are wiping off that gloss that brought me – a non Apple fan – to want the iPhone 4. The 4S made me walk away from iOS. The 5 confirmed that decision to be right.

The iPhone 1 to 3GS obviously featured huge revisions as every new piece of technology should. The iPhone 4 was the tipping point that made me buy one – it’s high resolution ‘Retina’ display was a major selling point that outstripped the market. The 4S brought Siri. Even though it was a gimmick that never really worked too well, it was still a clear feature of differentiation.

The iPhone 5 brought nothing that made the phone stand out from the crowd. I was waiting for a one more thing to be a great selling point. There simply wasn’t one.

 

iPod Nano – An Actual Redesign

The iPod Touch is basically a iPhone without a phone radio and because of that thinner than the iPhone. It follows the same update path as the iPhone. Thinner, lighter and 4″. Nothing much to write about here.

The iPod Nano was upsized back to its former generations. It now sports a new colour scheme and design that really looks like Nokia’s Lumia phones.

Redesigned Nano & Nokia's Lumia with their screens blanked out

Redesigned Nano & Nokia’s Lumia with their screens blanked out

I don’t knock anyone for copying. Samsung (Apple), HTC (Nokia) and many other manufacturers copy left and right. But it is rather uncanny that the day I write that Nokia has been technology’s only source of original product design that Apple chooses to use their colour scheme and design language the very next day.

Also I mention this because Apple has been the only manufacturer that calls out on others for copying and takes them by the scruff of their necks to court. This must be a case of a pot calling the kettle black.

I think the new form factor is better than the 6th Generation iPod Nano as a personal media player (PMP). The shape and size is perfect. But the colour scheme and software UI is terrible. Apple has for the first time, dropped consistency across its products.

Apple has for the first time, dropped consistency across its products. The Nano’s software looks completely un-Apple like.

 

Round icons on a square background is a designer’s nightmare. Unless you have significant space it won’t look good because of the all the weirdly shaped gaps. Yet, they decided to push that through.

The Nano features a new UI design direction

The Nano features a new UI design direction

Lumia colours are beautiful but they never go against a white base. Yet, Apple did that as well. I find the new colour schemes jarring. I wonder why they needed to change the colour schemes. The old colours were bolder and fitted their design philosophy better.

Nevertheless, I’m happy to see something different from the same old boring stuff. Maybe this is an indication of a change in design direction. Maybe all new iDevices will bear circular icons. Who knows? At this point, any change from Apple is appreciated. 5-6 years of seeing the same thing is getting tiring.

 

Cook vs. Jobs – Better or Worse?

Post Jobs, Apple has made changes to its marketing and redesign decisions. But nothing has changed on the technology front. Everything was bumped up but nothing was new. For the first time in its history, there was no must have feature that others lacked – not even gimmicks.

Everything was bumped up but nothing was new. For the first time in its history, there was no must-have feature that others lacked – not even gimmicks.

 

The design front has some hope. Maybe the Nano’s design language will be the new UI for Apple. I’m not convinced by circular icons but Apple has the tools and talent to make designs fit right over time. Marketing wise, there is no replacing Jobs.

The tech industry lost a great stage performer and even in the heart of Infinity Loop – there are no true successors.

 



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