What Everyone Missed at Apple’s 'Boring' iPhone Launch


I sat through Apple’s launch event on Wednesday. That’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back. Aw, who am I kidding; I had it on in the background while working on other stuff. I barely noticed Tim Cook’s southern drawl droning on and on and on.

It’s official. Apple launch events have become boring. The magic is gone. Nothing is new. Everything is just better. Yawn.

What number iPhone are we on again? Oh yeah, 7. Right. Let’s see. It has a better camera. Better performance. Better display. Better iOS. Better home button. Better audio: now in wireless stereo, except you’ve got to fork over $159 for funny looking AirPods. It’s now splash proof, so you can get it wet, but not too wet. What else? More memory. Apple Pay in Japan. It comes in a new color, jet black. Woopy.

Apple Watch is better too. It’s not Apple Watch 2, mind you, but Apple Watch Series 2. Leave it to those crazy marketers to get creative on naming. The watch looks the same, but it’s faster and brighter with better battery life. It’s not just splash proof, but swim proof, too. And with built-in GPS you can hunt for Pokémon Go creatures without your phone. It also reminds you to breathe, in case you forget.

That’s it, folks. The party’s over. Time to get back to work. At least we’ve got cool new stuff coming out of Google, Facebook and Amazon to get excited about.

I keep hearing analysts whine about Apple’s inability to come up with a hot new product to take the place of the iPhone’s breakout success. And investors are indeed punishing the stock (NASDAQ:AAPL) today. The pundits say the tech giant has lost its innovative mojo. They say Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs. All that’s left is to milk services and the ecosystem. Apple’s best days are behind it, and all that.

Nonsense. We think we want new gadgets, but we don’t. Apple’s breakout success has never been about making new things, but about making things better. Somewhere along the line, we’ve forgotten what Apple does ... and doesn’t do.

The iPod was a better music player and iTunes, a better music service. The iPhone was a better smartphone. The iPad was a better tablet. Apple Pay is a better mobile payment system. And Apple Watch is a better smartwatch. Third-party apps have been around for PCs forever. The App Store just made third-party apps better.

Apple doesn’t do new. Apple does better. It does better better than any tech company on Earth. All those categories existed long before Apple made its products and services better than those that came before. That’s how it makes category killers. It takes what people want and makes them better than anyone else.

Talking about how Apple comes up with the next big thing, Jobs said they created iTunes and iPod because they wanted to make “the best jukebox” and carry it around with them. He quoted Henry Ford’s famous line, “If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me ‘A faster horse.’”

Ford actually never said that, but that’s beside the point.

Jobs was right about being their own focus group, but the analogy is a bit flawed. If previous music players, smartphones and tablets were horses, then Apple made better horses. Granted, there’s a lot of innovation involved. The iPhone’s multi-touch display was a big breakthrough. But still, the first iPhone was just a better horse.

As for the unprecedented revenue and profit generating capability of Apple’s iconic smartphone, that’s something nobody inside or outside Apple ever could have predicted, and that goes for Jobs, too. Nobody saw that coming. Some very smart pundits thought getting into the dog-eat-dog cellphone business would be a disaster.

Don’t get me wrong. Apple has some issues to overcome. Apple TV is a step in the right direction, but a category-killing TV experience it’s not. Eddie Cue is reportedly trying to negotiate content licensing deals as if Apple has all the leverage, which it does not. This isn’t iTunes pulling the wool over the music industry’s eyes, part deux. Media and cable giants like Disney and Comcast are too savvy for that. 

Nevertheless, opportunities abound for category killers in all sorts of consumer applications. Besides the much talked-about streaming TV service, the driverless electric car and artificial intelligence, augmented reality has the potential to be bigger than smartphones. Technology that can make all our displays disappear so we can interface with the virtual world as effortlessly as the real one has incalculable value.

Apple’s launch events may be boring, but that doesn’t mean the magic is gone. Apple doesn’t have to make new things; it just has to keep making things better.