By Stephen Schenck | September 18, 2012 10:02 AM
I remember last year, when Apple announced the iPhone 4S, how disappointed many of the reactions were, from both Apple fans and naysayers alike. We had been holding out hope that we’d see something remarkable, something worth the name iPhone 5, and what we got instead seemed to many of you like an afterthought – a little new window dressing on the same old thing. This year, all the hardware leaks made it a little clearer that we would, indeed, see some more significant changes coming to the series, and even after Apple confirmed the new, larger display upon its announcement of the iPhone 5, there was still a pronounced backlash; “That’s it?“, our Adam Z Lein asked. That got me wondering if we’re ever going to get to a place where the next iPhone could really meet everyone’s expectations, or if we’re destined to repeat this cycle of being somewhat let down each time a new model comes around.
For what it’s worth, the iPhone 5 really delivered in a lot of the key ways I was hoping for: obviously, there’s that larger display, but we also got to see the new A6 SoC, and LTE’s a big deal for heavy data consumers. On the other hand, though, the A6 still isn’t the quad-core monster some were expecting, and Apple seems to be refusing to get on-board with NFC in a way that’s starting to evoke shades of Flash Player.
The hardware’s the obvious place to find fault, but doing so doesn’t always seem fair. Sure, with things like NFC, it’s easy to criticize Apple for not adopting a readily-available technology, but sometimes that’s not even enough. What if the A6 was a quad-core, A15-based chip, really pushing the limits of everything we expect from smartphone processors? Would Apple get a pass then, or would we end up wondering why Apple didn’t take the time to innovate with some next-gen fabrication system we can barely begin to even comprehend? When a company gets a reputation for bleeding-edge kit, it can be exceedingly difficult to meet customer expectations, as they’ll have a way of always being one step ahead of you.
I’ve got to hand it to Apple for some of the ways it introduces new software features to iOS, alongside the revelation of new hardware like the iPhone 5. It’s easy to fault Apple for not delivering the same new features to all of its devices, whether that’s new 3D maps or last year’s Siri, and I’m not going to pretend those complaints don’t sometimes have quite a bit of merit to them. What this system accomplishes, though, is helping to make the new hardware seem more special, and can offset some of those hardware expectations that fell short. What if Apple brought Siri to the iPhone 4 last year? Wouldn’t that make the 4S even more disappointing in comparison?
In the future, I’ve got a feeling we’re going to see less and less in the way of jaw-dropping overhauls to the iPhone line (in the way the Retina display changed what we expected from screen resolution), and more things like this new Lightning connector, that may offer numerous benefits but seem more like a re-tooling of an existing design than something new and worth getting excited over; this is one arena where Apple really needs to focus if it hopes to satisfy customer expectations. The Lightning connector seems almost like a missed opportunity, and instead of convincing users how great a change this will be for them, it felt almost like Apple was making the switch in spite of customer wishes. Apple’s always been great at hype, so I know it’s got this in it, if only it’s able to channel that enthusiasm and have it carry-over to those users.
I really want to believe that Apple can come out with a new iPhone that simultaneously fills us with wonder and desire, just like we remember from the old days. Sure, expectations have gotten a lot more complicated, and you can never hope to please everyone all of the time, but we’ve seen Apple evolve time and time before, and I’ve got faith it can keep up with a more cynical, more demanding smartphone consumer.