The iPhone 5S and 5C: Yes, Apple is Losing It

Is anyone at Apple still trying at all? You can’t lead the industry with non-announcements like this one.

I've held off for a few days to let this one stew a bit - I really want to be fair to Apple here, and I really think the following is nothing but fair. I wasn't really that disappointed with the iPhone 5S/5C announcements, because my expectations were pretty low already. This is, after all, an off-year announcement, a small refresh, and we should be used to the minor nature of such by now. But Apple needs to do way more than these conservative little tweaks; sure, iOS 7 is a big deal, but it's mostly being put in place to give the newer devices a fresher look, so even it is conservative. Still, I still do not understand gratuitous users interface changes, as they only serve to confuse long-time users, making them less productive and their actions more error-prone. One should never have to learn to do something one can already do all over again just because a user interface designer or software developer is trying to hold on to their job. But such is consumer electronics - change for changes sake is often, sadly, par for the course. And, yes, I did point out some time ago that the iPhone was looking a bit dated, so let's move on.

The big deal in the 5S announcement was the expected fingerprint scanner; yes, this is a good idea, but hardly earth-shattering. I like biometrics in general, but fingers do tend to get sticky and the scanners do tend to get dirty. With some reasonable maintenance of both, though, all should be well here. Other than that, a new processor and an improved camera, but no 802.11ac - really shocking. iYawn.

The low-priced 5C, on the other hand, is likely to help Apple in emerging markets and with those consumers simply looking to get into an iPhone at minimal cost. The big deal here is five different colors for the plastics, but I'm not getting this. That's five SKUs, each of which will (or should, anyway) be wrapped in a case after purchase. Why not sell just one model of handset and lots of colorful, overpriced, high-margin cases?

Bottom line: has innovation gone to sleep at Apple? Who is making all of these bad decisions? Who is settling in a land where Steve Jobs would have skewered anyone who might even think such thoughts? Do we really still need to ask if the company is losing it? I remain optimistic that the firm will get its act together, but little evidence to support such a conclusion exists at present. But that is losing, not lost. Apple is not Microsoft, at least not yet.

I think Apple knows that Apple customers are loyal - Microsoft isn't, for example, going to get too many takers for their iPad trade-in promotion (although I've got an iPad 1 that's not being used for much anymore, so, if they ever want that one, it's theirs). But the sharp fall-off in Apple's share price in the past week indicates that investors aren't really expecting Apple to start burning up the track in terms of sales. This is bad news, and Apple has only themselves to blame. Lame announcements like this one should cause heads to roll in the marketing department, and light a fire under everyone else. No, it's not a disaster, but it is yet another indication that Apple may indeed be losing it.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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