Rebuttal: Why the iPhone is NOT Falling Behind

| Editorial

On May 4th, Mike Elgan wrote "Why the iPhone is Falling Behind." Mr. Elgan started by examining Google Now, Facebook Home and Google Glass as important and disruptive technologies not developed by Apple. However, in the end, he said, "It’s not about Now, Home and Glass. It’s about proactive and knowing artificial intelligence assistants, social media smartphone layers and wearable technology. These are the giant shifts that Apple users will be watching from the sidelines."

I won't steer you away from his reasoning, and the link to his article is provided above.

Before I present a rebuttal, I should mention that I admire the work of Mike Elgan. I follow him on Twitter and we've exchanged a few emails. I am especially fond of his writing about Apple and television; they're similar to my own. And so, with gentlemanly courtesy, I'll simply submit that, in my opinion, Mr. Elgan has missed the mark here.

You be the judge.

It's the Vision, not the Technology

Technology websites publish daily. There are so many software projects ongoing that a new, important one can be discussed weekly, if not more often. However, the time between iPhone releases is measured in a healthy fraction of a year.

This is a Good Thing.

What we often tend to forget is that Apple has, for all of its existence as a company, stood for a very specific vision about how technology should serve the users. There are fundamental human values that stand between us and the brute force of hardware. Through out Apple's history, men of stature and vision like Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive, have brought to bear fundamental human notions of how we should interact with technology to bring out the best in us.

Steve Jobs Introduces the iPhone

That vision doesn't change quickly and is not particularly amenable to quick change artistry. It is with care and vison that Apple introduces us to each new iPhone iteration making sure that it doesn't abuse us, steal our humanity or detract from our dignity. If that requires a tightly controlled product development concept, so be it.

Counter Attack

One way for Apple's competitors to attack that stability and inertia is to pepper us with tantalizing technology that lures us into a fitful state of geekdom, hubris, and technical anxiety. A cute video concept for, say Google Glass, can surface some fundamental new ideas for how to live a technical life, but the underlying technologies come with a price. Facebook Home mesmerizes us with trivia, distracting us from accomplishing something important. Google Glass and Now come to learn much more about our private actions, for the benefit of the developer, than we might realize.

The technology seems cool, until we think seriously about the underlying agenda. By getting journalists excited about the frontside of the technology with videos, demos, and invitations to conferences, it can certainly seem as if Apple is falling behind. But an analysis of the backside reveals a certain agenda and shallowness when it comes to fulfilling a noble vision and respect for humanity.

We have seen how Android is reaching market saturation. Could it be that Android purchasers are feeling a bit empty nowadays? Like empty riches, a surfeit of features and gadgets can only satisfy one for so long. Inevitably, a restless void seeps into one's life when the gadget doesn't seem to fulfill any basic human need.

Like Mike Elgan, I'm not saying that the key drivers are the specific technologies he cited: Facebook Home, Google Now and Google Glass. They will all have their uses and proponents. But like Mr. Elgan, I shall also use then as placeholders to argue for a larger view of things.

Apple builds the iPhone and iPads with specific vision in mind. When technologies are ready to reliably serve, like LTE, they're rolled out. When they're still half-baked and don't serve us well, like NFC or wearable computing or AI agents, then more work remains to be done.

We shouldn't fall into the trap of thinking that because Apple doesn't engage in a technology arms race du jour that the company is falling behind. More than three hundred million of iPhone customers have already expressed their view that the way Apple designs the iPhone serves them, fulfills their lives, helps them to share and communicate -- all with respect for their privacy and security.

Apple's competitors, lacking the legacy of such a long-term vision -- exactly how it is we should navigate into the future -- would like us to forget all that and have us anxiously stare at feature lists, grumble about Apple's backwardness, then take our money as we, in turn, live a life of emptiness and geek narcissism.

That's not Apple's way. The odd thing is, many keep forgetting that on a daily basis.

_________________

Credits:

Mashable: "How You Really Look Wearing Google Glass."

Running man teaser:  Shutterstock

 

Comments

geoduck

Well said. I’m not worried about Apple falling behind on the technology front. I’m not worried because so far, wearable technology is just not ready for prime time. My reaction to the Google Glasses video was along the lines of: “That looks incredibly annoying, distracting, potentially dangerous, and an invasion of privacy. Mostly it looks like something that would appeal only to the obsessively self absorbed.”

Sunnbike

Congratulations on an excellent rebuttal. 

Constable Odo

Tech-heads have always claimed Apple products were nothing special when it came to cutting-edge tech.  Now everyone is saying that iOS is outdated and old-fashioned compared to Android’s latest OS.  Tech-heads just positively love features and stuff they can tinker with.  But I really wonder how the common low-tech consumers feels about all that tech-y stuff.

Even though I like high-tech, I’d still rather see Apple build simple OSes and go easy on trying to add hundreds of features into every product they make.  I think the ordinary guy and gal should enjoy using Apple products.  Same with young kids and oldsters.  I know that the Samsung Galaxy S4 has some whiz-bang features that dazzle the tech-heads, but is that what most consumers want or need.  I don’t really think so.  I just want a few solid features that work really well and I’m satisfied.  Apple needs to stick to the basics.  Solid engineering, high-quality components, good customer support.  Even if that doesn’t get Apple iPhone sales huge gains, I think that’s what Apple should stay with if those are the company’s goals.

Paul Goodwin

Nice rebuttal. Serving the user is king. Technology in any business can be a waste without the vision of what the user can usefully accomplish with the technology. Too many technology departments just play in the sandbox, and bring little to production readiness. Apple has a good history with technology as is stated in this article. Hopefully, leadership there steers the boat.

I once had a colleague that once years ago commented to me about the technical progress we were making where I worked (a large conglomerate). “We’ve got one oar in the water, and the rudder’s broken”. I certainly hope Apple continues along the path they’ve been on. For a product, the whole package is important. A little whiz bang part on a kludgey device is worthless to me.

Paul Goodwin

“It’s not about Now, Home and Glass. It’s about proactive and knowing artificial intelligence assistants, social media smartphone layers and wearable technology. These are the giant shifts that Apple users will be watching from the sidelines.”

Jeez. If Apple misses out on those, won’t THAT just be the end of the world? As hosed up as Facebook is on mobile devices, I can’t even imagine how screwed up it would be with another layer. Now and Home? if Google Plus is any indicator of the quality of their product for iOS, you can be glad if we’re left out. They get to data-mine our info for what benefit, I truly don’t yet understand.

Paul Goodwin

And all I need to see is some bozo walking around the grocery store talking to his Google Glasses. The phone tappers are bad enough. The pictures above are a riot, but the lower one should look more Wal-Martian.

Paul Goodwin

Phone yappers….it was supposed to say

wab95

Very well said, sir.

Apple plays the long game. Time and again, critics forget this.

Consider a marathon. If you understand the art of distance running (or any endurance sport), you begin to pick out which contestants are comfortable, which are not, and which are actually straining to keep up. Then you have the paid pacers who are simply trying to help their teammates by bleeding off that reserve kick from the elite competition.

During the competition, and well into the race, the apparent and temporary lead may switch any number of times. No one who follows the sport will assume that, whomever is momentarily in the lead, barring the exceptional, is either setting the pace or winning the race. It’s a long game that will be decided by strategy, mental and physical conditioning, and native capacity. It’s on display from the opening gun and throughout the race, but the real leader and winner is truly revealed at the closing stretch in a naked display of brilliance wrapped in raw talent and power.

That’s a similitude of not only Apple vs the competitions’ product releases but in those technological leaps forward in which, time and again, we hear how Apple is just a middling player or at the end of the pack and either doomed, dying, or as good as dead; and time and again, the competition and critics alike are left speechless when Apple streaks past the mediocre and the pretender to a finish so brilliant, that the only play left is denial, applause or imitation. And this is achieved by providing an elegant and consistent solution to a real problem across the user base.

This is what history says, and there is nothing in Apple’s current behaviour to indicate a deviation from that modus operandi.

Jim

John, there’s a hilarious article that came out today that the iPhone is winning with Japanese women despite its mundane technology. Too many tech writers are buying into this lame view that if it isn’t cranking out new whiz-bang features on a regular basis, Apple is falling behind. Meanwhile, Japanese ladies and 300 million other users will continue to enjoy their elegant little handheld each time they use it.

John Dingler, artist

Hi John,
Based on your analysis, I guess I am on safe ground to say that Apple can be likened to Shakespeare who, we have now learned, was also an aggressive businessman while Android’s many variants, and their reliance on questionable features, can be likened to the features of the many Kardashian sisters.

mhikl

John, I’d rather party with the dude in red and blue. Plenty of laughs and a bull on the dance floor.

The sharp shooter is easiest to spot, once everyone has given it their best and you are definitely the sharp shooter.

Apple ain’t dead yet, not ready for the refuse heap and its all due to the idea of iteration, patience and long range planning. To be a fly on the wall of Tim & Jon’s offices would be a delight but that would take all the fun out of the rollout.

ibuck

I wonder about the people who express such disappointment in Apple. Have they just recently awakened to all the great products Apple has made, and then think they are slowing down? Ambushed by their own lack of awareness?

Excellent article & comments, as noted below.

Martellaro:  Apple…doesn’t abuse us, steal our humanity or detract from our dignity. . . all with respect for [our] privacy and security.
  [Android] geek narcissism.

Geoduck: Google Glasses ... incredibly annoying, distracting, potentially dangerous, and an invasion of privacy, ...something that would appeal only to the obsessively self absorbed.”

Odo:  I just want a few solid features that work really well and I’m satisfied.
Goodwin: A little whiz bang part on a kludgey device is worthless to me.
wab95: Apple plays the long game. Time and again, critics forget this…. and time and again, the competition and critics alike are left speechless when Apple streaks past the mediocre and the pretender to a finish so brilliant, that the only play left is denial, applause or imitation.

Geoadm

Good article. The thing about Apple is they don’t hype products prior to release. We’ve been hearing about glass for 12-18 month and they’ve just come out and said they wont be released to the masses for another 12 months… ?? Android will remain popular as long as there’s apps for it. If you look at any torrent site you’ll see that developers will begin to lose interest shortly. All they need to do is buy the app, copy the file, get a refund and hack it. Free apps are also having ads hacked out of them.

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