Rebuttal: Why the iPhone is NOT Falling Behind

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.



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

Running man teaser:  Shutterstock