I'm Sorry But The Revolution In Smartphones Is Long Over

September 13, 2012

I am going to buy an iPhone 5 and turn in my iPhone 4. Reading many of comments on various sites (particularly AnandTech) were crazy in how all the people acted as if Apple had just announced a new phone from the 1990's.

Give me a break, the real invention in cellphone technology is long over, it happened in 2007. Making yellow phones, or a slightly better camera, or NFC which no one is using yet in most of the world, or wireless charging (which you still have to plug in), or making a screen too small to be a tablet and too big to fit most people's hands is not innovation. The original iPhone was innovation, everything afterwards is improvement. There is nothing in a smartphone that will ever recapture that moment in 2007, unless someone finds a way to plug the damn thing into our brains.

Why would I convert to an Android phone, or a Microsoft phone? Throw all my apps away? Lose all my music? Abandon the technology that provides me with a fun job and money to buy stuff like a phone? And pray tell what phone should I buy? There are 5000 different models that change every few days, how do I pick one? Which OS version do I get? What phone company crap do I wind up with? Will I ever get any upgrades or will it be abandoned? Will the company making it even survive?

People loved to bash Apple when it was down and sucked (I worked there in 1994-1995 and it did). Now that Apple has had nothing but success for 14 years in a row people enjoy bashing it for being successful. Color me a fanboy, I don't mind, I bought an Apple ][+ in 1979 and have owned them ever since, even when it was boring and crappy.

I'm sorry the iPhone is too Apple for some people. Perhaps having too many lawyers makes it easy for people to want to hate them (I hate their lawyers too). Suing people is pointless. Building products that people want is what Apple does best. Not for everyone of course. That's the beauty of competition. You aren't stuck buying an iPhone after all. But 250,000,000 people probably will; call them stupid, call them whatever you like but most people want something that works well, feels great, does the job and lets them have the apps they want.

Simple is boring. Yet the same people who now deride the iPhone probably thought the original iPod was terrible, the iPhone 1.0 was terrible, the iPad was terrible; anything Apple ever did was terrible. But a company doesn't go from being worthless refuse to being the most valuable company in the world in a little more than a decade by making stuff no one wants. No company makes products that everyone wants. You have a choice, some of the other phones seem cool enough, but all they are is alternatives with no truly magical innovations because the revolution is long gone. What matters now is improvements and that is what Apple did.

Still, people seem to like their non-Apple phones and don't want an iPhone and there's nothing wrong with that. Without the revolution in 2007 though your phone would be small, cramped and have a purple Facebook button. Real innovation is rare, difficult to do, and making it simple enough for people to use without a fat manual is really hard. Today it's just copying the revolution and trying to be a little different (to avoid the irritating legal stupidity) to capture your model's small percentage of the market.

Will there ever be a real innovation in the smartphone market anytime soon? I doubt it. Maybe plugging into my brain directly (a scary concept) but I can't see anything remaining that would be a real game changer. Bigger and smaller phones are limited by biology. Thinner phones are very hard to make much thinner since you wind up limited by physics. Maybe flexible phones might be cool. Or foldable phones you can stick in your wallet. But making things too small runs into the issue of being easy to lose or break. So what's left? Windows 8 has an interesting take on UI but I'm not sure it's better, just different. If you try to take your UI too far away from the basic design in place (finger friendly) you might lose too many customers. Android, while partially open, can't move too far way in its UI or risk irritating customers. Simple is a tough thing to improve.

So am I angry that Apple didn't make a mind meld interface for the iPhone 5? No, I didn't expect it to. Revolutions in technology don't happen on a regular schedule. Technology is always about starting with a revolution or an original idea and then constantly improving on it until the next one comes along. Can you build a country with a new revolution every year? No, and you can't blow people away with one in a single market every year either. Revolutions are by nature unpredictable and not anticipated. Maybe I will live to see another in smartphones and maybe not.

In the meantime I'm warming up my fingers to order myself a new iPhone.