Viewpoint: Apple's iPhone launches no longer excite


Apple unveils the latest version of its iPhone this Wednesday. It will be the first since the death of Steve Jobs.

To mark the occasion the BBC asked Dan Lyons, Newsweek magazine's technology editor and creator of the satirical blog, The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, to pen an article about the firm's progress over past year.

This is his provocative view.

Man uses iPhone in front of Apple logo

Somewhere up there, I can hear Steve screaming.

Back in 2006 I launched a blog where I pretended to be Apple CEO Steve Jobs. My alter ego, "Fake Steve," had a good run, but I shut it down in January 2011 when it became apparent that Jobs was in poor health. Nevertheless, even now, I'm constantly wondering what Steve would think about whatever Apple is doing.

This week it's the iPhone 5. Everyone pretty much accepts that Apple will introduce it, and there have been so many leaks that everybody pretty much seems to know what it's going to be. Word is it will look a lot like the last two versions of the iPhone, except a bit thinner and a bit taller, with upgraded guts and a refreshed operating system.

iPhone and Galaxy S3 being held Samsung's Galaxy S3 is outselling the iPhone 4S in some countries

If that's correct, I imagine Steve is not happy. First of all, he'd be furious about the leaks. Steve liked surprising people.

More important, is this really the best we can expect from an outfit that claims to be the most innovative company in the world? This is the sixth version of the iPhone, and the user interface still looks almost exactly like the original iPhone in 2007.

The hardware on the iPhone has been the same for two years, since the iPhone 4 and 4S were virtually identical.

Now, having had two years to plot and scheme, Apple's renowned designer Jonathan Ive has replaced the tiny 3.5in (8.9cm) screen with a slightly-less-tiny 4in (10.2cm) screen? Wow. Knock me over with a feather. What do you do with the rest of your time, Jony?

This is what happens when a company is too cheap to invest in research and development. Did you know that Apple spends far less on R&D than any of its rivals - a paltry 2% of revenues, versus 14% for Google and Microsoft?

No wonder the Android platform, where new models appear every week, now represents 68% of the smartphone market, up from 47% a year ago, while Apple slid to 17% over the same period.

In case you're bad at maths, let me work that out for you: Android's market share is now four times that of Apple. Four times!

Worse, despite all its bluster about innovation, Apple has become a copycat, and not even a good one. Why is Apple making the iPhone bigger? To keep up with the top Android phones.

Tim Cook launching the iPhone 4S Apple's stock has hit new heights under chief executive Tim Cook

(Phones that, mind you, Apple fanboys ridiculed at first.)

The problem is that the new iPhone won't really give you much more screen real estate than the old one. Worse, it looks ridiculous.

Apple also has become a copycat in tablets. Jobs once said the iPad's 9.7in screen was the perfect size, and smaller tablets made no sense. Then the Android camp had success with 7in tablets like Amazon's Kindle Fire and Google's Nexus 7, and now Apple supposedly will announce its own smaller iPad in October. Talk about thinking different!

What else is there to complain about?

Um, Siri still doesn't work. The oft-rumoured Apple TV doesn't exist yet, presumably because media companies won't let Apple take over their business.

The latest batch of Apple ads were such embarrassing garbage that Apple had to take them down from YouTube. Apple's new guy in charge of retail launched a plan to lay off workers and boost profits, then had to walk it back when people pointed out that this was stupid.

The big $1bn (£650m) patent "victory" over Samsung made Apple look like a bully, and also raised awareness of how good Samsung's latest products are.

Last month, Samsung's Galaxy S3, with its huge 4.8in screen, outsold the iPhone 4S in the United States, the first time any smartphone has outsold the iPhone in the States.

Apple got where it was by taking bold risks. Now it has become a company that copies others and plays it safe.

A company that once was run by a product visionary now is run by a number-cruncher - chief executive Tim Cook, whose claim to fame involves running an efficient supply chain and beating ever lower prices out of Asian subcontractors and component suppliers.

To use a car analogy, six years ago the iPhone was like a sexy new flagship model from BMW or Porsche. Today it's a Toyota Camry. Safe, reliable, boring. The car your mom drives. The car that's so popular that its maker doesn't dare mess with the formula.

Person takes photo of Steve Jobs portrait Steve Jobs co-founded Apple in 1976. He stepped down as chief executive in August, 2011.

Apple seems less interested in blowing people away than it is in milking profit out of the existing lineup. At this Cook is doing marvellously well.

Sales are booming and will top $150bn this year, with net profit margins of nearly 30%. That's incredible in any business, but qualifies as a miracle when you're selling consumer electronics hardware.

Apple has more than $100bn in cash. Its market value of $632bn makes it the biggest company in the world, bigger than any company in US history.

That's great for Apple's shareholders. But for customers, who cares? In terms of products, Apple has become the one thing it should never be. Apple has become boring.

Somewhere up there, I can hear Steve screaming.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    Iphone? Yawn, biggest load of over hyped hardware. My cheaper 3yr HTC does all that the Iphone can do.....and more, I'm not tied to one company. Apple is like a lot of companies, living on past success. My next phone won't be a Iphone either. A far superior, so called copy cat company will be getting my cash. And one reason I don't have an Iphone, their screen don't like my big fingers!

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    This article is just trolling

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    @cowie [#111] Yes Android phones outsell iPhones - there's nothing new about or surprising considering the number of manufacturers that make devices using some variant of Android or another.

    The point that the author is making is that for the first time ever a single Android device, the Samsung Galaxy S3, outsold the iPhone in the US.

    However, that was only in the month of its launch.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    I dont know how the BBC has managed to publish this article. A news article is not supposed to be a biased rant based on the author's thoughts but an informative, objective and unbiased article whose sole purpose is to inform the public instead of fostering arguments which can be seen filling the comments section below.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    It amazes me how polarising discussions are about - in particular - smartphones, mainly Apple/IOS vs. Android.

    I have an iPhone. I like it and it is reliable and I use it for lots of things. Obviously NOT a status symbol (there are LOTS about). iTunes is a pain (Windows). I know plenty of happy Android users - and why not - they have perfectly good phones too.

    No big deal!

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    I agree Dan iPhones are the conservative choice of millions now and iPads are for girls (they fit just right in a handbag). I remember the surprise I caused at work with the first iPod anyone there had ever seen.... The magic box was its nickname. What has Apple done to surprise or delight you today? Nothing unless you have some shares.....
    RIP Steve, RIP risk taking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    Why do news outlets like the BBC insist on giving Apple free press?

    Nokia and Samsung are #1 & #2 in the world, yet reading BBC you'd think they don't exist! There's a lot more to technology than Apple and Google!

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    Apple is just one company who make products. They are good products that, and work well.

    They are nicely designed, and nice for the consumer to use.

    Without Apple we would have MP3, but not as sexy. We would have PC, with the god awful Windows. We would not gave Tablet because without the iPad noone else would have done it.

    When I bought my iPad I compared it, it beat Android hands down!

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    Apple still offer great customer service - a dead screen on an iphone was resolved by a walk in walk out of their store with a new handset (which actually fits in a jeans pocket unlike some rivals). I'm a late convert to Apple on the computing front having always had pcs (and never believing apple bores) - my imac just put all those pcs I've had at home and in the office to shame, love it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    What a terrible article. It is no use quoting R&D as a % of revenue, when you don't quote the revenue, which in Apple's case is significant more than the others. What were the actual R&D figures in real $s? I also suspect you are wrong about Steve, he will have been instrumental in the design of both the iPhone 5 and iPad Mini as both would have been well underway before his demise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    @Lee You get me wrong. I'm talking about Apple as a company who, in a time when country's are in debt, people are struggling for jobs and food prices are higher then ever, Apple can sue another phone company for 1.05bn because of a shape of a phone, lay off workers to make a bigger profit, and force Chinese students to work on a assembly line. I could go into alot more but I'll leave it there

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    Steve Jobs *was* Apple, and the 'cult' I hear talk of is driven as much by peoples reverence of Jobs as by Apples products. Jobs sadly passed away after a long illness. Is Apple going to follow it's creator?

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    The whole mobile phone thing is coming to an end anyway. Mine is now switched off because of all the texts and calls trying to get me to claim compensation for one thing or another. It was a handy device while it lasted, but life without it is really just fine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    When everyone calms down they will be aware of a drawer full of very expensive and short lived gadgets. It's a phone with pretty pictures and the pad thing is just a skinny laptop.

    Whilst I admire the design the products are overblown hype.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Trouble is, companies that used to make Damn Good Phones ie Nokia, are now switching to 'pocket gadgets'.
    Ask your average smart-phone user (apple,samsung, htc whatever) what the voice call quality is like. And if you don't believe me google a name of a phone and "poor voice call issues"
    Some of us just want a PHONE that that you can call people on!

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    I have an iPhone 4S and an iPad v2, unless I break them it is unlikely I will replace them as I can see nothing on the market to beat what they do within my 'workflow'. Personally, I would love to see them release a new phone, one that switches off at the end of my working day, on when I start, no gimmicks, gadgets, e-mail, messaging etc - isn't that what a phone is for?

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    I wonder how long it'll be now till it becomes the fashion not to carry a phone. People will wax lyrical about the peacefulness, nay tranquility, of not carrying a slave master around them. The result of 300 million years of evolution! Just wish Douglas Adams was still here to make a comment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    >133. AcademicLawyer

    >This is about innovation. Apple has made, imho, five great innovations
    >a very good OS
    BSD Unix, plus shininess.

    Not 'great'.

    >iPod (changed the way music is listened to)
    White 'ear-buds'?

    Copy-tech, plus hype.


  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    Apple can't even make a phone that you can use with fingernails, or with gloves on in the cold weather. And this is supposed to be progress? Perhaps it's designed for men only, which is a bit short sighted as half the population are women.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    Sorry, Dan: whenever I see the word "fanboy" in an article critical of Apple, that tells me that it's time to stop reading. It's an unforgivably lazy cliche and drains away all hope that the rest of the piece will contain any worthwhile insights.


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