Apple’s latest product announcement has left many journalists predictably unimpressed. The iPhone 5 is boring, they say. Or it’s not revolutionary enough. Some have even accused Apple of playing it safe and avoiding risks.
But why must a device take us by surprise and beat us over the head with its novelty? Sure, the first iPhone did those things, but since when is that the recipe for longevity?
The world’s most successful and enduring products aren’t taken back to formula with each new generation. Rather, they’re gradually and deliberately refined. Take Porsche’s 911, for instance, or any Aston Martin or BMW. Or even Rolex’s watches. None has undergone radical changes overnight. Instead, they’ve been improved in subtle but significant ways over time, and they’ve prospered because of it.
And the same goes for Apple’s iconic iPhone, whose evolution brings to mind the history of BMW’s 5 series. Like those companies, Apple is striving for timelessness and familiarity, and that means avoiding the spontaneity and impulsivity that define lesser companies whose products are quickly forgotten.
Not that Apple has given up on innovation. Consider, for example, the feat of simultaneously expanding a device and cutting its weight. That’s what Apple’s accomplished here. The iPhone 5 is taller and has a bigger screen than its predecessors, but it’s also significantly thinner (7.6 mm vs. 9.3 mm) and lighter (3.95 oz vs. 4.9 oz). That’s rare, and you’d better believe it wasn’t easy to pull off.
Just ask Nokia. The phone maker’s Lumia 920 has a slightly larger screen than the device it replaces (4.5” vs. 4.3”), but it weighs 13.5 percent more, too (6.53 oz vs. 5.65 oz).
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the iPhone 5 is perfect, and there are things I wish Apple had paid more attention to. iOS 6, for one. But the idea that the company’s lost its touch or that the iPhone 5’s hardly different is absurd.
Like a watchmaker whose timepieces never go out of style, or a car company whose cars end up in collections, Apple has carefully and methodically improved the iPhone. But make no mistake, the iPhone has been improved.