On iPhone And Unrealistic Expectations

Every year apple releases a new iPhone, and every year it gets labeled boring, disappointing, (and a whole array of other dismissive adjectives) by tech writers and the general public alike. This release last month however was particularily noteworthy, since despite a complete re-architecturing of the entire phone, vastly better battery life (even with LTE), lighter and slimmer deign and that ofter wanted larger screen - the reactions were the same (if not more intense) as last year. I started to question why this is the case - is it simply ‘apple haters’ spewing their typical nonsense? Or is it something more than that?

Writing for The Verge, I believe Dieter Bohn pretty well sums the root of most of this negativity (emphasis added):

The hardware is without a doubt impressive from a technical and engineering standpoint, but iterative on previous designs. The software is as competent as we’ve come to expect from Apple. Together they make for a product that’s not surprising — and therefore a little boring.

Mr Bohn explains that the iterative approach that Apple takes in designing the iPhone 5 means that it’s not surprising - even boring him. For people who hold this opinion, the device doesn’t shock them like that groundbreaking keynote where Steve Jobs introduced the original iPhone. People like Mr Bohn want to be surprised by every new iPhone - they want to relive the feelings they felt with the original announcement. They want to be blown away, and (most importantly), they want Apple to radically shake up the iPhone - like they did to the entire smartphone industry with the original in ‘07.

Unfortunately, they fail to realize that not only is this unfeasible, but it goes against the very product development lifecyle that the phone is tied to. This business school 101 idea can be loosely translated to the tech industry, the iPhone of course being in it’s “Maturity” stage of its lifecylce - after 5 years on the market. By now, Apple has settled on an overall design they like and a set of core features the device should be able to accomplish. From now, and for a long time, the device will only be iterated upon - it’s simply ridiculous to expect anything more than refinements and improvements.

This product development ideology exists with all of Apple’s other hardware lines - for example, have a look at the trusty Mac hardware line. Here you’ll find each product being refreshed every year (or every couple), and while there are exceptions, rumor sites don’t go crazy over every new refresh, and people have come to accept that new releases will simply be incremental upgrades from the previous generation. This mindset hasn’t been translated to the mobile space (yet), and people still predict that new iPhones will revolutionize the mobile industry - creating expectations that Apple has simply no chance of living up to.

Following along this idea, another common sentiment I’ve seen repeated in discussions is one summed up by David Woods in a post over at Manolith:

The phone we saw today was the same phone that leaked weeks ago and it’s likely that fact played a big role in why today’s event was such a dud. It’s a beautiful design, for sure, but there’s nothing surprising or interesting about it

Many unscrupulous organisations and individuals have realised that there is the potential for huge amounts of money and page views dealing in the iphone leaks business. People crave iPhone rumors and insider knowledge - getting access to a pre-release model draws in millions of views.

This is all fine, but we see how these same people who so obsessively read rumor sites, are then disappointed when the device is ultimately unveiled and the rumors are exposed to be true. This then usually leads them react angrily to Tim Cook and Apple, annoyed that they ‘failed’ to ‘double down on secrecy’. But what people don’t realize however, is that controlling rumors and keeping everything secret is simply not impossible in todays climate, where millions of devices must be produced and many thousands of different workers are involved in the production process.

I understand that the Apple rumor mill will always be churning, and a blog post won’t do anything to suppress people’s natural curiosity - but I hope that one day everyone will get sick of this crap and we can start simply judging each product on its merits.

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