The most extraordinary thing about Apple’s latest announcement this week, given the hysteria surrounding it, is its total and utter lack of innovation in terms of brand new, newsworthy technologies.
Before you write a 100 word missive in the comments section, just consider for a moment what the reaction would have been if literally any other company had made the announcement.
Just imagine for a moment a parallel universe where, for example, HTC had held on doggedly to making smartphones with outdated 4-inch displays, without near-field communications (NFC) chips in them.
In that set of circumstances, just imagine if it had been HTC that finally announced its first flagship smartphone with a screen larger than 4-inches across diagonally, its first phablet, or its first devices with an NFC chip.
At best, on pure technological merit, such an announcement would have been a complete non-story. At worst, there would have been editorials pointing out how woefully behind the rest of the industry they are.
Because it’s not just the Android giants, like Samsung, LG, Sony and Motorola, that have long been making devices with screens larger than 4-inches across diagonally with NFC chips. Those features are now a standard on even low-end Nokia/Microsoft Lumia smartphones such as the Lumia 635, which sells for just $279 outright. Even the BlackBerry Z30, a BlackBerry 10 touchscreen smartphone with no keyboard released almost a year ago, includes both a 5-inch screen and NFC.
Yes, that’s right folks, the big technological innovations in Apple’s announcement means it is finally catching up with a year-old device from BlackBerry. Ouch.
Generally speaking, it takes somewhere around 18 months to get a new mobile phone from first conception through to the first products arriving in stores. This includes product development, tooling factories to mass produce them, carrier testing, passing all the regulatory red tape in every market it’s being sold in, and getting enough units into the sales channel. This is assuming no new technologies or operating system rewrites are involved, which can blow out the 18-month timeframe dramatically (just ask BlackBerry, Nokia or Palm).
Keeping this in mind, it suggests Apple probably panicked when it saw Samsung and others overtake it in market share with its larger, NFC-enabled Galaxy S and Galaxy Note devices about a year and a half ago.
It’s also telling that a year ago Apple was willing to launch the 5c and 5s, with 4-inch screens and no NFC, knowing they had larger NFC-enabled devices in their own product pipeline because they realised internally just how badly they were already falling behind the competition technologically.
Giving Apple credit where credit is due, Apple Pay is a nice implementation of an NFC-based payments system. But the problem has been that almost every other smartphone in the market over the past couple of years has already included NFC support, and the real sticking point for widespread industry-wide adoption of NFC-based mobile payments has been that Apple. So far from Apple being the ones “leading the charge” on a new era of mobile payments, they have been the ones holding back technological progress for everyone else.
But what, then, of the Apple Watch?
Ask yourself this: If Apple already has smartwatches in large-scale mass production with the finished products filling up warehouses in China, why doesn’t it ship them in time for the big Christmas rush? Especially given the announcement was made at its big September pre-Christmas keynote?
The answer is simple: Because while Apple at this point has working prototypes, it’s obviously still in the process of putting them into large-scale mass production.
So both LG with its G Watch Round and Motorola with its Google-era Moto 360 have smartwatches with round clockfaces and swappable wristbands, and both are in production now. Meanwhile, not only does Apple’s version feature a square face, but it won’t be arriving in stores for at least another quarter.
In other words, Apple’s strategy for announcing its smartwatch now is to take momentum away from really existing products with the promise of something potentially better at some point in the future. Consumers in the lead up to Christmas will be left to compare a tangible product with something that is yet to be released, assuming it isn’t delayed.
Now, you might read this and say I’m being unduly unfair to Apple. Well, their announcement has had a great run in most of the media, and I owe nothing to either Apple or its public relations department.
The truth is that most of the features announced for iOS8 at Apple’s WWDC (WorldWide Developer Conference) were merely catching up with Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry, and in its latest announcement, Apple has done the same again.
So in terms of the big news from Apple’s keynote, if anything, it’s this: Had HTC or any other company made the same announcement, on purely technical grounds, it would have been a complete non-story. Make no mistake: This is a victory of hype over substance.