I wrote part of this article ahead of the September 14th media event where Apple introduced the iPhone [lucky] 13 and the Apple Watch 7. Although the former, days from shipping, garnered the usual favorable reviews, some were not so impressed. To them, the changes were largely “incremental” compared to the iPhone 12. It has a beefier battery, better camera performance, a slightly smaller notch and a little faster performance. It looks nearly the same, but will require a different case because it’s a tad thicker and has a larger camera bump.
Except for battery life, I rather doubt most of you would notice much of a difference, and it’s likely people upgrading will be switching from Android or replacing a much older iPhone. Otherwise, paying more for some models may not make a whole lot of sense with discounts to be had on the iPhone 12.
Some might suggest that this is an example of Apple losing its competitive edge. But it’s more about the fact that such a high level of performance has been achieved that it becomes harder and harder to improve things. Compared to all the expected possibilities, the complete elimination of the still-controversial notch would be the most effective move. Apple could sell an iPhone without one and it would probably succeed as much or more than most any other improvement.
Not that better battery life is a bad thing, of course. Indeed, Apple has been urged to add larger batteries for years. Maybe they just ran out of other significant things to improve.
Now it may well be that the new iPhones cost more because the chip shortage has increased prices. Apple has, however, apparently been able to ship the products on time. Not so for the next Apple Watch. A shipping date was not announced during the September 14th media event. It’s still listed as “later this fall.”
These days, I rarely watch an Apple reality show, or if I do, it’s a few excerpts. They have become exceedingly boring without compelling presentations. The usual flashy presentations of new technology have become boring and, in fact, are hardly necessary to move product. You can watch the ads, read the bill of particulars and check the reviews for the specifics. If Apple failed in its new gear, you’d know about it pretty quickly because the media has long had its knives out.
I remember, for example, when I wrote feature articles and reviews for CNET. They often told me to push the negatives, even if I had to stretch the truth. Indeed, I ran afoul of one of their editors when I complained about changes made to one of my articles about macOS (when it was Mac OS X), because she added extra negatives that were highly exaggerated, or just plain wrong. She soured on me and wanted me gone because I wouldn’t sacrifice what I thought were ethical standards, but I managed to stay on as a writer for a while until new owners made other choices about freelancers in a bid to cut costs.
It’s not that I want to say Apple is the victim of media bias. It is a symptom of the tendency to try to seem fair and balanced by giving emphasis to alleged cons that were ill-considered or absolutely false.
As most of you probably know, for many years, Apple has been regarded as little more than a Silicon Valley startup that got lucky. When it ran into sales and financial troubles in those days, it was inevitable that its luck had run out. It was time to return to reality. How could it be otherwise?
That meme was especially prominent in the 1990s, when Apple really did seem as if it didn’t have long for this world, even when it never quite reached the end of the line. I suppose one can blame it all on failed leadership from a procession of incompetent executives, or Steve Jobs’ magic touch in taking over as CEO and essentially rescuing the company with sharp moves that, ultimately, delivered sharp profits.
I can remember when I first started to observe the company’s activities.
I was first exposed to Apple gear in the late 1970s, some years before there was even such a thing as a Mac. At the time I was working at a prepress studio managing phototypesetting computers. Using a more traditional version of an early PC, I even learned a smattering of Basic before I commenced to wonder why I was wasting my time on such pursuits. Wasn’t there a more efficient way?
Yet another employer bought one of the first Macs and put it to the test. When it became possible to print a document on a Mac app, such as QuarkXPress, to a high-resolution CompuGraphic phototypesetting computer as easily as a laser printer, an industry was overhauled. While my employer resisted having to many of its production people learn the Mac, I resisted back, and for that I was grateful. I even became an early work-at-home person when I bought my first Mac and took assignments home. My office visits were more and more confined to bringing in floppy disks with my projects and waiting for the output to finish before picking up additional assignments.
It wasn’t long before I never left home. I also got caught up in the Mac-related chatter on AOL, and my comments soon attracted the attention of someone at Macworld magazine. Would I be interested in writing for them? A couple of years later, I also received my first book assignment in the same fashion. So the so-called “kindergarten of the Internet” gave me a new career, and that’s why you’re reading this column.
While I realize that I have not been near as prolific as I used to be when it comes to tech commentaries, that’s largely because the churn of events has not had as much of an impact. Macs and PCs are good enough, fast enough, usually reliable enough. Hundreds of millions of people rely on smartphones as much as, years ago, we relied on table radios and landline telephones. But the improvements largely focus on features most people don’t even need or care about.
Apple itself has become a powerhouse company that remains at or near the top when it comes to market cap. You can hardly regard it as a still-lucky startup when it is so mainstream. Yet the same complaints continue to appear, that Apple can’t possibly continue busting sales records and putting hundreds of millions of iPhones into the hands of eager customers each year. Just about everyone who wants a smartphone has one, and what about all the competition from Android?
Yet even though iPhone sales decreased for a few years, a worldwide pandemic changed buyer preferences. That more and more people are working at home — and will continue to work at home — boosted sales of mobile gear. Once the pandemic-related alterations to the economy settle down — assuming the situation does settle down — wouldn’t smartphone sales decrease? What about sales of Macs and PCs and tablets, for that matter?
The main problem is that Apple continues to be regarded as a one-product company. So if fewer iPhones are sold, what then? What about products that might replace smartphones in the years to come? Besides, so long as Apple continues to earn substantial profits from its gear, the ebb and flow of sales shouldn’t put the company in danger of folding. Consider the larger players in the auto industry — except for the Big Three in the U.S. that received government bailouts. Sales go up and down, but how many of you are suggesting such firms as Honda, Toyota and VW are endangered? If more people decide to buy EV’s, so be it. They’ll build more.
If fewer people need iPhones, Apple is sure to create products and services that will, at least in part, replace them.
THE FINAL WORD
Gene Steinberg’s Mac Radio Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible.
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