The iPhone XS: An in­no­va­tion dilemma

Does the iPhone XS sig­nify a slow­down in smart­phone in­no­va­tion? Dan Moren re­ports

iPad&iPhone user - - CONTENTS -

In a fi­nan­cial con­fer­ence call dur­ing the last year, Ap­ple CEO Tim Cook de­scribed the iPhone X as set­ting up the next ten years of smart­phones. It’s easy to see now what Cook meant by that: last month, the com­pany up­dated all of its new iPhones to fol­low the de­sign ex­am­ple set by the iPhone X.

But even as it un­veiled the iPhone XS Max and the iPhone XR, the com­pany ran into a strug­gle when it

came to the iPhone X’s suc­ces­sor, the iPhone XS. How do you take what was formerly your most ad­vanced iPhone and dis­tin­guish it from the rest of your now equally ad­vanced line-up?

That’s one rea­son why dur­ing Ap­ple’s event, about halfway through Ap­ple’s de­scrip­tion of the iPhone XS, I started to get a bit antsy and, much as I hate to ad­mit it, a lit­tle bored. The more the com­pany leaned on the im­pres­sive specs in the iPhone XS’s A12 Bionic chip, the more I started to sus­pect that it was be­cause the bulk of the im­prove­ments in this new phone were in the kind of speed and ca­pac­ity in­creases that aren’t nec­es­sar­ily ob­vi­ous to most users.

There’s noth­ing new there. Ap­ple’s ‘S’ series years tend to fo­cus largely on in­ter­nal im­prove­ments, though they’re of­ten not with­out some kind of hard­ware improve­ment, of­ten bol­stered by new soft­ware fea­tures. The com­pany has to date al­ways man­aged to weave a com­pelling story about those fea­tures, though, whether it be the new se­cu­rity en­abled by Touch ID on the

iPhone 5s or the ex­tra di­men­sion of in­ter­ac­tion that 3D Touch en­abled on the iPhone 6s. Not so with the iPhone XS: I’d be hard pressed to come away with a con­crete ex­am­ple of why the XS out­paces the X or what, for that mat­ter, the head­line fea­ture of the XS even is.

Ap­ple was one of the first com­pa­nies to shy away from a re­liance on speeds and feeds, the bandy­ing of ever-higher fig­ures and specs that were the hall­mark of the heady days of the late 1990s and early 2000s. But at the event we were re­galed with stats on float­ing point op­er­a­tions, pro­ces­sor cores, and even the amount of stor­age the phone could ad­dress. All im­pres­sive feats, to be sure, but per­haps a lit­tle more down in the weeds than Ap­ple tra­di­tion­ally gets.

The fun­da­men­tal prob­lem with launch­ing a de­vice so far ahead of its time, as Ap­ple did last year with the iPhone X, is that it makes it that much harder to top it the next time around. It’s kind of like Olympic ath­letes strug­gling to out­pace their ri­vals – or even them­selves – by shav­ing an­other frac­tion of a sec­ond off their time.

It’s been clear for some time that the pace of smart­phone ad­vance­ment has been slow­ing. That’s in large part be­cause the first decade of de­vel­op­ment on the de­vices was about fill­ing in the gaps, bring­ing the util­ity of a smart­phone to the point where it matched that of the PCs we’d all re­lied on. But 11 years af­ter the iPhone’s de­but, most of those gaps in func­tion­al­ity have been filled; there are plenty of peo­ple who use the smart­phone as their main or only de­vice, and there are lots of things we do ev­ery day that are bet­ter or eas­ier on the phone than they ever were on our lap­tops and desk­tops.

Ap­ple’s ‘s’ series years tend to fo­cus largely on in­ter­nal im­prove­ments

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