On Boredom in the Apple Land
Boredom has come. It was inevitable. After a rush of four years we are now not stunned anymore. Those holding that “wow” for one year will have to keep it for future events. “Apple is not innovating anymore”. “Skeuomorphism? I don’t like it”. Twitter is full of this messages.
My intention is far from defending Apple. They have a big marketing machine and many lawyers, so they don’t need my defense. What I’d like to do is to provide a bit of perspective about the not so subtle boredom spreading around.
The smartphone problem is solved
Yes, it is. Five years ago we had crappy Nokia phones and to select a link in a list you had to scroll each item one by one to focus on the one you wanted and then click another button to actually select it. Apple improved that painful experience by introducing touch screens on the phone, coupled with a great browser and a great user experience. No more stress in browsing the web. Developing mobile applications required to be in touch with carriers for distribution. Something impossible for indie developers. Now we have an SDK, rules and a store that saves the hassle to manage transactions. New applications blossom every day and the ecosystem maintains itself. What else would you add? For sure, there are details to tune, small features to add, but the core is there and others (Android, Windows, RIM) are heavily taking inspiration from it. Right, you can add NFC, a better camera, more disk space but the essence is already there: there is a box, you interact using your finger (or voice), personalize it, buy apps, use them. Do you see anything missing in the core? I don’t. Hence the stagnating situation.
The taller screen is the wow factor
This is my theory. Without the taller screen, Apple didn’t have anything significantly different with respect to the 4S. There’s iOS6, new maps, Siri enhanced, but that’s all software. Geeks perceive them as big differences but others don’t. They want the wow thing, they want the phone itself to look different without turning it on. They want a prominent difference in the hardware. There was a bit of disappointment when the 4S was announced. Again, there was no big wow, but you could hide behind the name: from 4 to 4S it’s a minor upgrade. Here we are now in front of the iPhone5, new generation, number after the name has changed, hence big news have to be there. There are: LTE, Siri, etc., but what do people notice? The taller screen, of course. Nonetheless somebody says: “it’s the same, just with a taller screen.” And here, the mind who thought “let’s use the taller screen as wow factor” feels depressed. So are developers and designer. Unlike with iPhone4, where most of the work had to be done by designers to regenerate all the graphics, this time developers too have to dig into their code and change it. Have you hardcoded 480 or 960? I am sorry for you man!
Maybe people were expecting a triangle shaped phone, or something transparent, glowing or spitting fireworks. The point is: there is no space left for big wows in this field. If you are looking for something stunning maybe you can have a look at other things, like Project Glass, but not smartphones and not even tablets. In these fields now the options are very limited: some add a new chip, some other work on bringing down the price, but big wows have already happened.
Boredom depends on expectation
We have been well used to the Apple way of doing things: each year, something groundbreaking is announced. Like other recurrent events, you start building your expectations and hope they are matched. To some extent it’s like waiting to discover what’s for you under the Christmas tree. Well, this time Apple didn’t put what we expected. Moreover, it put something that complicates the life of designer and developers. I reserve to review my opinion when I’ll hold one in my hand but I feel the world did not need a taller iPhone. Some people, using just the right hand, can barely reach the button at the top left in the iPhone4. For them the iPhone 5 will require two hands. Not good.
Weren’t you Apple to focus on the less, on the essence? Weren’t you to propose a mouse with one button, because it’s simpler? Phil Schiller has said “more” many times during his presentation. Something has changed, radically. Please, don’t try to tell me that Steve Jobs would have approved a taller iPhone.
This is the first iPhone that I’ll buy because I have to test apps on that, and not because I simply want it. So far my vision matched pretty good the one of Apple. Maybe I am changing, and so is Apple, but I start feeling our visions are diverging. That’s fine, though in my guts I like Microsoft or some others to succeed, so we go back to the old times, when there were two/three big players balancing each other, creating some sane competition and preventing each other to relax.
Maybe Apple will move to something new: a watch, a car, a house. I don’t know. At the moment I am busy stretching by backgrounds and upgrading my code. But I am sure wow stuff won’t come anymore from the smartphone/tablet field.