iPhone 6: We might have a problem

So Apple releases the iPhone 5. For a few fleeting moments I worry. Will this phone be such a big revolution the likes of which the world has never seen? Will everyone run out and buy a new iPhone and the freedom of our content, and software be lost forever?

well...

ITS TALLER! THATS FOR FRIGGIN SURE!

That is sadly about it. I really hoped for more than that. Not that I will ever buy an iPhone, but I still like to see innovation in general. So why no revolution?

Apples got a POLA up the A.

Apple, for better or worse, have chosen to reinvent the smartphone and then to stick doggedly to their new design. This is called POLA, or the principle of least astonishment. iPhone users get to understand the interface pretty much from the moment they buy the phone, because the interface has not really changed. Microsoft has tried the opposite, and we will see how it goes, but radical revolutionary redesign now would probably amount to suicide.

POLA on the other hand causes a slow agonizing death. Engineers are forced to hold on to old ideas and they eventually evacuate, because they are no longer able to invent and think outside of the box. They essentially become filing clerks. I can't think of the UI designers of the iPhone 5 being particularly happy at this point. Maybe they are robots who don't care much, but I would.

In comparison Android has taken a metered approach, slowly upgrading the UI to include new elements and adding ones where necessary. This involves design changes along the way as well to fit into the fashion of current UI design. New android devices have fat simple monotone UI designs, compared to the copious amounts of bevels, shadows, glows and reflections of yesteryear... Sounds a bit like the iPhone doesn't it? The iPhone UI is getting dated. It's not happening super fast, but its creeping up on them.

The problem comes not by implementing POLA in this dogmatic fashion. The problem comes when you realise that your product is suddenly severely outdated, everyone has moved on, and you need to take action.

Nokia had this problem. Look where it is now. 

Apple will be forced to bet big on a massive redesign of the UI plus some extra sweet UI candy that makes use of innovation in this field. What you then get is something that is radically different, and users who are angry and confused.

On the other hand this can be a huge success, resulting in revolution and all new adoration and worship. We will see I guess.

The market is just flooded with competitors.

One reason the iPhone was such a huge initial success was because Nokia was sitting on their laurels, and it seemed ridiculous that anyone would pay the same amount of money for a phone than they would for a good PC. Apple created the market it flourished in, and that made it look like all competitors were left in the dust. The fact was that there really was no competition in the first place.

Then an Android came along.

Android was kinda tacky. I can picture Steve Jobs laughing at it. And the first devices were kinda crappy too compared to the iPhone. I have a Galaxy S and can honestly say that Samsung didn't really know what the hell they were doing. I experience many slowdowns and worse, sometimes crashes.

The problem was that Android became a huge a collaboration. It was an autonomic reflex to the sheer shock to the system that the iPhone caused. Android continued to take second place to iPhone until it's second generation of devices started showing up. The Galaxy S2 and others were showing some real panache. Apple fans were still deriding them for their plastickiness, but more people started to enjoy Android.

One of the coolest things was that you could choose a device based on your needs, instead of being forced to buy just one shape with one kind of mission. There are even android phones that are built to withstand being weathered and bashed. Cool huh?

Apple was forced to do something they are not so good at. They had to compete. Why do I say Apple is not good at competing? Because they like to create special markets in which they are the only real competitor. The Mac phenomena is an example of this. It is a well put together computer that insulates the user from the slings and arrows of different hardware mixed up in infinite combinations. It can be tested, optimized and perfected for its own hardware. That sure is nice, but it doesn't compete in the same market as Windows PCs do. The only competitor there, Ubuntu, is fighting its ass off.

Apple reminds me of Germany in the second world war. They are way too ambitious. A lawsuit against Samsung was a big mistake. They are not just competing with Sammy, they are competing against:
  • Google
  • LG
  • HTC
  • Huawei
  • Lenovo -> Its coming I think!
  • Motorola
  • Sony
  • Microsoft (ok maybe not so much)

Talk about a war on all fronts.  I don't think that Apple will become completely irrelevant in this market, but I must say that it seems unlikely for them to hold on to such a disproportionate share of the market considering who they are up against. Apple can go back to catering to graphics designers and techno-elitists, and hold on to that market that nobody else cares that much about.

The market is growing, but it's also shrinking. 

As the final dumb-phone users switch to smartphones, the only way to compete from that point on will be for competitors to cannibalise each other. The companies who become complacent will be consumed first. The fact that Apple spends so little on R&D compared to competitors is a bad sign( please correct me if I am wrong here, I read this on a site that I considered a good source ). This smells of complacency, and we know where that gets you. Once the next killer feature lands on a non-iphone device, bad times may be a comin'.

For example Google Glass. I am not saying that Google Glass will succeed, I am merely using it as an if-then example. If it does then an iPhone will be stupid. It doesn't work with your Google Glass device, your Android phone DOES!

Google creates a new market in which iPhones are irrelevant and the world moves on. Apple is left behind.

Price is also a strong motivator. I am not saying that iPhones are too expensive, in fact they are about on par with the top end phones of other companies, but people with less money have a good motivation to go Android or even MS phone. When they grow up and start earning big bucks I doubt that they will migrate to iPhones. If I had teenage kids I wouldn't get each of them an iPhone. Hell naww... I'd save me some money and get them mid range Android phones.

This is also the reason for the Android and Blackberry booms in developing economies. People just feel kind of ripped off by iPhones.

In summation:

The iPhone 6 will either bet big on big changes, or be the same thing and bore users. Apple has missed out on developing economies and youngsters, because it has always seen overly groomed metrosexual graphic designers as its target market. The competition is getting tighter, and other companies are spending more on R&D: which could mean more prohibitive patents held by others, effectively cornering Apple,  or just a general lack of new features from new iPhones, prompting people to move to other phones with more of a WOW factor.

I don't like Apple, so please be aware of my bias here. I am developer (and a stingy one at that) and I'll be damned if I have to pay Apple to write applications for them. I mean they should be paying me? They should be priveleged that I can make their platform richer with new applications. I'm not going to grovel at their stinky feet for an entry into their walled garden. Personal rant aside,

I do appreciate the changes Apple has brought on in the smart phone market. There was shit and they stirred it and good on them, but I can't see the Apple wunderkind ruling the smartphone world for much longer. There are problems with their competitors too, but that is a different story. The sum of the competition outweighs Apple many times, and kudos to them for fighting so valiantly for so long, but their time is running out.