Has Apple Lost its Edge?

Columbia UP keeps promoting our book, Moving Data. The iPhone and the Future of Media. Apparently it has sold pretty well – and as long as Apple makes the news (and the company of course does constantly), the book will be of some relevance. The launch of the new iPhone 5 is naturally also a way of promoting our book, and today the Columbia UP blog published a post I wrote.

Many have argued that the iPhone 5 launch was the most important product announcement for Apple since the first iPhone arrived back in 2007. Previous new models and versions have, in effect, been minor upgrades, so it was finally time for Apple to face the increased competition and secure its cutting edge smart phone profile. It’s now been five years since Apple entered the smart phone market—and literally altered and redesigned it. The iPhone rapidly became the prototype of the constantly connected gadget, blending media consumption, mobility, and social media. No other mobile phone—before or after—has even come close to the iPhone’s sociocultural impact, or demonstrated the extent to which mobile technology shapes new media culture. The very term mobile media in fact means something completely different after the iPhone. However, with the release of the iPhone 5, the promise back in 2007 of the iPhone becoming an ever expanding mobile media machine might have come to a halt. At least temporarily.

The question still remains regarding what kind of technology a smart phone actually is—and has become. Is it primarily a piece of shiny hardware, a mobile platform for innovative code distribution, or a gadget targeting new forms of media consumption? What about the blurred boundaries between smart phones and tablets; are they different gadgets or essentially the same devices (only with screens in various formats)? Being mobile and connected as well as handling various forms of media—be they music, films, books or web based content—are important features that nearly all these new devices share. If the laptop or stationary computer once was our default machine, this is not the case any more. Today, mobile devices are our primary communication tools for voice, text, image, video, sound and gaming. The iPhone didn’t start this development—but it increased the speed of technological change dramatically.

Pre-orders and sales have apparently been strong for the iPhone 5—as usual with new Apple products. Jony Ive, Apple’s chief designer claims that the iPhone 5 has been “completely redesigned” and many have already praised the new phone’s beauty. Daring design remains Apple’s trademark, and some have even, perhaps with a touch of hyperbole, suggested that the iPhone5 ”glass-and-aluminum body carries the design cues of a Stealth bomber.” Marketed by Apple as an object of high tech desire the new smart phone is definitively fetishized as a true technological sublime.

But, in most other ways, the new iPhone 5 is essentially the same as before. It will definitively not have the same impact on spurring technological development as the first (and earlier versions) have. The iPhone 5 is longer—and that, more or less, seems to be it. One more row of glowing icons; will that actually be enough to keep market shares and leave competitors behind? Maybe the apple has, after all, become a bit soft. The original iPhone was revolutionary with its touch screen and its inherent and emerging app culture. This is not the case anymore. Apple has not lost its edge; the company has more money than God but no firm can be revolutionary all the time. The iMother of 2007 remains the same. Older and wiser, perhaps—but will she continue to attract users?

Smartphones launched this Fall (before Apple) by competitors like Samsung have been more daring: new, radical ways of wireless charging, longer battery life, more advanced camera solutions, etc. A copy cat that infringes on original patents might of course be regarded as a weak rival and unworthy competitor—but everything Samsung does is not second-rate. Digital development does not only stem from the brain of a genius; it can take many forms. And while the iPhone 5 seems to be a nice product, it’s hardly a life-changing object.

Finally, here is the original posting – With the iPhone 5, Has Apple Lost Its Edge?.