Yet another smartphone
Has smartphone innovation — along with our interest in these digital heroin dispensers — peaked?
As expected ... I began writing about this month’s iphone Xs launch and realised that phrase summed up the past few years of Apple product launches. The Steve Jobs years were marked not only by his showmanship but by his iron-clad insistence on secrecy. No supplier would dare leak details about upcoming product launches. When an iphone was mistakenly left in a bar one year, it was thought to be a guerrilla marketing ploy because there was no way Jobs would ever have tolerated such an indiscretion.
By the time the 2018 models were unveiled almost all the specs, colours, screen sizes and other pertinent information was known to Apple rumourmongers.
What does it mean? Has Apple peaked? Has smartphone innovation peaked, or are we over it?
Perhaps, for some, those years of the “hype cycle”, as analysts Gartner call the trajectory of new technology and its uptake by society, have made people weary. The rate of innovation has slowed, not least because the early years were so frenetic and came off such a low base.
Also, the laws of physics limit how far things (especially batteries) can be miniaturised. For years smartphone makers from Apple to Samsung to Huawei boasted about the thinness of their devices. Or how many megapixels the cameras had. Or bigger screens (led by Samsung’s Galaxy range). Last year, they boasted about the death of the bezel (that black edge around the screen) which meant the Galaxy S8 and the iphone X could have remarkably large screens in a smaller frame.
It’s somewhat unfair to blame the manufacturers for our malaise. Last year Apple was sharply criticised for the $1,000 price tag of its top iphone X. But demand for the device last quarter pushed Apple’s market valuation over $1-trillion last month.
Smartphones are the default devices we use in this modern mobile age of superfast wireless broadband. They’re also symbols of fashion, status and, well, desire. They are not just our onramp to the information superhighway but our sports cars for the journey. Everyone wants a Lamborghini, don’t they?
The major themes this year are slightly different, though. Smartphone makers and Google, which makes Android, are crowing about how they will help us with our digital addictions — ironic considering it’s their devices that got us hooked in the first place.
Noteworthy at this year’s iphone launch is the new interface. Jobs shocked the world in 2007 by having a single button, which the iphone X dropped last year. The new way of navigating around the phone is superb, intuitive and a bold new step. Face ID, as Apple calls it, isn’t problem-free but it is moving ahead. Samsung’s facerecognition is, frankly, better.
Happily, SA is now in an earlier release schedule, so we get the new iphones tomorrow, like many top-tier countries.
Perhaps the hype cycle of new tech has made us weary, or is it that innovation has slowed?