If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
No LTE for Swedish users – at least not from start – and no support for Near Field Communication, NFC: These were the main new features we had been hoping – but not counting on – Apple would be presenting as it released the iPhone 5 yesterday. Lacking Apple’s support for Swedish LTE could mean operators may choose to roll out LTE in the 1,800 MHz band, a band that is indeed supported by Apple. New licensing rules coming into effect in January 2013 make this possible, as Swedish trade newsletter Telekom Online underlined today. As for Apple’s not supporting NFC, it may well impact the take-up of NFC itself, rather than damage Apple, at least in the short run.
No local language support for Siri in additional markets and hence no new local language content and search is another area in which we were hoping – not expecting – Apple would make an effort. Sweden is a small country but this did not prevent Google from deploying Voice Search in Swedish a few weeks ago after all, putting some hard work taking into account 51 regional dialects.
An additional set of features Apple presented had a catch-up, not to say me-too, feel: chrome-like improvements to web browsing, a wider screen – aren’t large screens Samsung’s trademark by the way? – And if we choose to be mean, new colourful iPods looking pretty much like Nokia’s Lumia line, and Spotify-like iTunes features.
This is the third time in a row that Apple fails to live up to the – somehow unrealistic –expectations of delivering something really ground-breaking, as revolutionary as the first iPhone or the first iPad. But two major paradigm-changing products in six years and a total of 400 million iOS devices sold is not a bad performance after all.
To sum it up: major ground-breaking innovation, not so much. But technical and design improvements sufficient for Apple to repeat its earlier commercial successes? Most probably yes. Here are some of the features that could do the trick: a slightly different-looking phone, thinner and lighter with a larger and nicer screen, better noise cancellation, a better camera with interesting features such as panorama view and picture taking during video recording, LTE support in additional countries, Facetime over wireless (will operators let this happen?) and faster wifi.
Then there is the eco-system lock-in of course. Although iPhone owners typically spend more money on app purchase than Android users, the lock-in mechanism is similar; a user that spends time and money pimping its phone with applications is de facto making an investment and therefore less likely to move to another operative system where it will have to not only start afresh, but will face problems with porting some of their content. On that point, placing iCloud at the heart of iOS devices, is yet another powerful way for Apple to keep device owners in a closed Apple loop. Some would argue lock-in is a bad thing, but to manufacturers, telcos, app developers and not least consumers, it provides some pertinent benefits in the shape of device and application upgrades, loyalty, mobile plan renewals, and a sense of safety – Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is still relevant after all.
Then there is the most overlooked yet central “feature” Apple did deliver yesterday, in line with expectations: a definite release date and a price. This is were Apple – and for that matter Samsung too – is superior to its competitors, in particular Nokia and RIM. They present products that are ready to be mass produced and sold when the customer’s attention is at its highest. Nevermind how great other handsets are and there are plenty of great handsets on the market – Nokia’s Windows Phone 7 devices fitting into that category – if they fail to hit the shelves, at the right time and at the right price, with support from distribution channels, it will not matter.
In the long run, Samsung – and possibly Nokia if the vendor gets distribution right for its WP8 Lumia line – may benefit from Apple’s coming short of market expectations. But in the short run, it will most probably not hamper the iPhone 5’s chances of becoming a top selling handset. Apple’s next device will however have to bring more innovation and possibly a new design to the table to ensure the vendor stays relevant. Meeting sky-high expectations is getting tougher and tougher though, as competitors are now done with catching up with Apple and instead pack their handsets with consumer-appealing innovation and design. Surfing highest on the Android wave, Samsung also got the marketing and distribution right. The expectations it must meet may also be easier to manage: keep doing what you are doing because it is working.