Viewpoint: iPhone 5 proves Apple is still innovating - in its own way
- 12 September 2012
- From the section Technology
Ahead of Tuesday's iPhone announcement, Dan Lyons - creator of the satirical blog, The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs - wrote a viewpoint in which he suggested the new iPhone would show Apple to be a leak-prone copycat that had become boring.
We now know what the iPhone 5 has to offer: a taller,slimmer handset that runs on 4G networks, but lacks NFC (near field communications) for touchless payments, wireless charging and other features found on some of its rivals.
So did the former "Fake Steve" have a point? The BBC asked the editor-in-chief of the UK's MacUser magazine to pen a response now that we know what Apple had up its sleeve.
Closing tonight's launch event for the iPhone 5, Apple CEO Tim Cook told his invited audience: "I hope you're as excited as we are!"
But are we? Ever since Cook took over from the late co-founder Steve Jobs a little more than a year ago, it's de rigueur to suggest the world's most successful tech company just can't be the same any more.
Yet the facts disagree.
Writing on this site on Tuesday, Dan Lyons, a Newsweek journalist and former author of the Fake Steve Jobs blog, felt the iPhone 5's incremental improvements could only be a let-down.
"Word is it will look a lot like the last two versions of the iPhone," he wrote. "Except a bit thinner and a bit taller, with upgraded guts and a refreshed operating system. If that's correct, I imagine Steve is not happy."
Well, that's exactly what the iPhone 5 turned out to be. And if Lyons (like the rest of us) had a pretty good idea about that well in advance, why does he think Jobs didn't?
Apple isn't a company that flails around for new ideas and rushes them to market. It conceives products before the technology exists to make them. Then it refines them for as long as it takes to get them right.
The iPad, for example, was based on an idea dating back to 1968, and in prototype by 2002, but didn't appear until 2010.
In short, if Jobs had been disappointed with Apple's plans for September 2012, he'd have had plenty of chance to change them before he bowed out of the company a year earlier.
But what he understood, and Lyons seems to miss, is that innovation doesn't always mean radical change.
The "upgraded guts" of the iPhone 4S included a CPU chip twice as fast as its predecessor, powered by a battery redesigned to keep it going for the same amount of time per charge, shoehorned into a case that was still the world's slimmest, since no other smartphone maker had been able to match it.
Today's iPhone 5 doubles the processor performance again, stretches the astonishing Retina display to provide even more pixels, and shaves nearly another 20% off the case thickness to create a device that's unlike any other, yet builds seamlessly on previous generations.
By moving to a larger screen, reckons Lyons, Apple is merely being a "copycat", since makers of rival devices based on the Android platform have already moved to larger screens.
But those makers - including Samsung, the copycat that faces paying Apple $1.05bn (£665m) in patent damages - have given app developers a nightmare by proliferating the number of screen shapes and sizes they have to support.
The iPhone 5 runs existing apps just as well as any previous model, while offering extra space that's relatively simple for developers to take advantage of; and playing widescreen movies beautifully; and slipping into a pocket just as easily.
That isn't copycatting. That's thinking.
'Screaming at tech pundits'
So it's hard to take seriously Lyons' cavil that "this is what happens when a company is too cheap to invest in research and development." It's a matter of record that Apple spends less on R&D than rivals like Google. But anyone who's taken a look at what Google has actually produced in recent years will wonder if Apple might simply be spending its money more wisely.
As Lyons says, the iPhone hasn't departed radically from its original format. Nor have any of the other smartphones that followed it. Why should they? The clamshell laptop was patented more than 30 years ago by the British industrial designer Bill Moggridge, who died this week - and we're still using clamshell laptops.
Maybe that means every laptop manufacturer "ran out of ideas" in 1982. Or maybe it's a good idea that we're sticking with because it works - just like the touchscreen phone that Apple invented in 2007.
"Somewhere up there," wrote Lyons, "I can hear Steve screaming." Quite possibly, but he's not screaming at his successors to throw away a decade of rigorous development and make an iPhone that tries to be whatever everyone else's phone isn't.
He's screaming at tech pundits to judge products not on some misplaced urge for "wow factor", but on how they feel to use.
After all, that's what matters to the people who pay hard cash for them. Which probably explains why analysts are already predicting that the iPhone 5 will sell even faster than the previous models whose astonishing sales figures Cook recited tonight - whether or not Dan Lyons is excited.