Viewpoint: iPhone 5 proves Apple is still innovating - in its own way


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.

Apple iPhone 5 Apple's iPhone division accounts for more than half of the firm's revenues

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."

David Grohl and Tim Cook Foo Fighters singer David Grohl was among the first to try out the revamped iPhone

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.

'Builds seamlessly'

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.

iPhone 5 The new handset's extra length means it can show an extra row of apps

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.

Steve Ballmer and Stephen Elop at Nokia launch The iPhone lacks NFC and wireless charging features found on Nokia's latest Windows Phone handset

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.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    How revolutionary can a phone get?! I think it's quite easy for some people to ridicule Apple; The haters really need to get a life.

    No one is forcing you to buy it, and if a load of "sheep" do rush out to get it on day of release. Then hurrah for a failing economy.

    Will I get it? Yes. Will it change my life? Nope.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    12. Exactly, it is this kind of delusion that surrounds apple. I had a touchscreen HTC in 2006 which had many of the features that people now tout as being "apple inventions". They might have popularised, but they did not invent. When supposedly respected journalists make statements which are so boldly false I think it becomes clear just how deluded apple users are about the companies actions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    I love how people are now just saying Apple are innovating by taking it slowly.

    That's a load of rubbish. Matter of fact is Apple are just playing catch up. The CPU has had an upgrade? The 4S was an upgrade from the 4. Slimmest start phone? Stop taking what Apple say and research. Huawei Ascend P1 and OPPO Finder are both thinner than the iPhone 5.

    The iPhone 5 simply has nothing new.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.


    Nobody's trolling Apple, merely pointing out that the idea of calling the iPhone 5 the product of and demonstration of "innovation" is laughable at best.

    What makes people like me angry is that their brand forces the word innovation into the mouths of consumers who aren't tech savy and believe them, consequently parting with hundreds of pounds for no reason.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.


    Next question.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    All the Apple haters on here make me sick. They have probably never owned an iPhone and just hate Apple for its success. Just because a HP 15" laptop closed looks much the same as one from 15 years ago does not mean that there is not innovation inside. So what if it looks substantially the same - that was point of the article. Apple does what it does extremely well and millions of customers agree.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Did Apple launch something?
    HTC One-X for me!

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Development of the Pagerank search algorithm is innovation;
    Development of the original mobile cell phone is innovation
    Development of the automated Gene Sequencer is innovation
    Development of the Apple 2 is innovation
    Development of the Mac, iphone and ipod is taking other people's ideas and making them incrementally better. It's perfectly acceptable but its not innovation - it's marketing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Picture on your desk the whole range of apple products at one end & the cash paid for those at the other.

    Which would you choose ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    No, Apple aren't boring merely tedious with their constant refrain of "You stole my stuff." and bringing in the heavy artillery to stifle what they perceive to be the main threat to their gravy-train. Android. Please, Apple, give it a rest, and try to see if by being a bit more adventurous you might be able to persuade people to give your products a try.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Apple has never really been an innovator.

    What they've been good at is making a device easy and stress free to use. They didn't invent the MP3 player, they made a shiny version that charged via firewire and had a decent UI.

    It's like that with a lot of their products. They come late to the party but release a version with a few upgrades and lessons learned from the mistakes of the trailblazers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    "...compelled to write drivel as to how the new iphone is just the same as the old one."
    Drivel in YOUR opinion - and how is it drivel if it's true? Is Apple innovating? No. Does all the sheeple buying this in massive numbers prove Apple IS innovating? Of course not, it just shows you can slap the apple logo on a turd and idiots will buy it.

    "Android OS upgrades on older phones?"

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    So now it's trolling to express an opinion on something is it Fred? I suggest you need to look up the term as you don't know what it means, ask Siri perhaps?

    Oh and as for older phone upgrades. My Nexus S is nearly 2 years old and it's running 4.1.1 Jellybean as an OTA update straight from Google.

    I noticed iPhone 4 users didn't even get siri? You had to buy a whole new phone for that right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    The US is hoping that the new iphone will help boost their economy, looking at whats on offer I think NOT

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    "iPhone 5 will sell even faster than the previous models whose astonishing sales figures Cook recited tonight"

    Well thats because users of iPhone (me included) have invested a lot in Apple's restrictive ecosystem of apps and music and will find it difficult to switch to other, better platforms.

    iPhone's hardware and software is now outmatched by rivals such as Lumia 920 and Galaxy S3.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I see the android trolls are so 'disinterested'- don't they mean uninterested?- that they feel compelled to write a lot of drivel as to how the new iphone is just the same as the old one. Well let us see what the consumer has to say about that with their wallets. And those of us with old iphones get most of the OS upgrades, sustaining their value and utility. Android OS upgrades on older phones?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Apple products are defined in 2 ways: 1. Heavily marketed, it is very much about the packaging and the marketing of aspirational lifestyles (macs being for designers/musicians, for example) and 2. Tying the user into always paying apple for any media, software or hardware they purchase through proprietary connections, OS, media store.

    If Apple genuinely cared about customers they would use USB.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Give Apple their due - they do have the best marketting deptpartment in the world!

    But without the flummery their products are no more or less exciting then their competitors'......

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    You got to admit the new Iphone 5 is a slightly upgraded 4s
    I nearly fell over with laughter when I read the Specs, and I know people will rush out and buy it????
    Apple should be redefined in the dictionary as JOKE!
    I know I'm going to laugh when I see an Iphone user.
    Keep up the good work Apple, we all can do with a good laugh :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Without question Apple have again failed to lead and produced nothing more than a larger all be it slimmer iPhone 4s. Playing it safe is understandable BUT this is Apple once leaders in design and revolutionary ideas all I see more evolutionary rather than revolutionary.


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