As a fully paid-up acolyte of the Cult of Apple I sat at home with my iPad (of course) last night watching the launch of the iPhone 5. I’d seen the leaked information on the Internet so I had some idea of what new features to expect, but what I didn’t expect was my response to the launch. Which was: “Meh.”.
Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, was a true innovator and a marketing genius, whose philosophy was to come up with an awesome product idea that the consumer didn’t even know they wanted, and then convince them that they couldn’t possibly live without it. And he did that incredibly well. Somehow we managed just fine without iPods, personal computers, laser printers and smartphones, and it wasn’t that difficult to navigate a computer without a mouse. But Steve Jobs pioneered or popularised of all of these things and now it’s hard to imagine how we ever managed without them.
In explaining Apple’s core values he said that in order to promote a great brand like Apple, it is important not to talk about technical features such as bits and megahertz as the consumer doesn’t actually care about such details. What the consumer really wants to know is how the product can enhance their life. I believe he is correct and that this is true for most products, not just consumer electronics.
Speaking in 1997, Jobs explained: “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it… And as we have tried to come up with a strategy and a vision for Apple, it started with ‘What incredible benefits can we give to the customer?’ Where can we take the customer?’ Not starting with ‘let’s sit down with the engineers and figure out what awesome technology we have and then how we’re going to market that’.”
Whilst the design and technology have been tweaked over the years, every model of the iPhone has had the same basic user experience: phone calls, Wi-Fi, the App Store & iTunes Store, and web browsing. And they’re great experiences too. The iPhone 3GS added FaceTime for video conferencing… but other than that, each version of the iPhone has basically taken the customer to the same place, only slightly faster or better than before by offering faster Wi-Fi, better cameras, faster processing. So better gubbins under the hood, in a snazzier case.
And what does the newly launched iPhone 5 bring to the table?
So is the larger screen a ‘killer app’ that’ll make me want to spend money on a new phone? Nah, the current one is fine for mobile computing, and if I want to see something larger I’ll just use a computer or iPad. There just isn’t enough benefit from an extra half an inch of display to make me want to camp outside an Apple Store.
Apple fans tend to invest emotionally in their purchases, so why did I feel so indifferent about the iPhone 5? It does feature some good technological improvements on the previous model, but the problem is that I don’t believe the user experience has improved – and that is what we expect from Apple. Touchscreen phones have been on the market for around 10 years, and I believe the iPhone 3GS (and the odd Android phone) represents the pinnacle of touchscreen phone design. The next evolution in mobile phones needs to be a major innovation in user experience – not just more-of-the-same-but-faster. And what would that be? I don’t know; but Steve Jobs would, and he’d be planning to convince me that I can’t live without it.
Until then, I’m afraid I might find Smartphone launches disappointing. Which isn’t fair really, because the iPhone 5 is still a cracking piece of technology with a great user experience… but even I don’t care that much about the extra bits and megahertz.