Why I won’t be getting an iPhone 5
Thousands of people will be “the first” to get the new iPhone 5 today. I won’t be among them. I’ve had every model of Apple’s revolutionary handset since it was first unveiled five years ago — upgrading even if my phone contract hadn’t expired yet — and, like the first-time parent of a toddler in a public place, am in a state of panic the moment I don’t know where my iPhone 4S is.
But I am skipping this upgrade. And while Apple is already setting sales records (again) with this launch, I’m seeing this milestone as the beginning of the end of the smartphone as the dominant mobile device in our daily lives.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not abandoning the iPhone, or any smartphone — at least not yet. I’m not even saying my iPhone 4S will be my last Apple handset, or that the smartphone won’t endure, even if only as a commoditized device.
Mine isn’t so much iPhone fatigue as it is ennui. And through the haze of that boredom there’s the gallop of a new horseman.
The iPhone has become such an appendage it is easy to forget that much — if not most — of the iPhone euphoria is because of the software, which also gets a (free) upgrade today and is compatible with iPhones made for the last three years. The 4S is plenty fast, takes a great picture, has a nice display and was the apple of Apple’s eye one short year ago. It introduced Siri (improvements in part of that free upgrade), arguably now the last real innovation for the iPhone and the first really important one since the retina display.
The bigger screen on the iPhone 5 is nice enough (check out any one of a number of Android phones already on the market to see if 4 inches diagonally is that much wicked better than 3.5 inches). It might as well be 4G LTE-compatible, even if that data speed standard is still spotty, even in the densely populated areas it is targeted for.
But regardless of whether the iPhone’s upgrades were drastic or marginal, the early-adopter instinct to upgrade to the newest device every year no longer applies. There’s an abundance of powerful phones already out there now, and it’s tablets — not phones — that are really innovating.
Seven-inch tablets are the ones that’ll end the smartphone’s dominance for our hearts and minds. The first models that aren’t dead on arrival have begun to appear, giving Apple’s iPad its first real competition and consumers their first real alternatives. Smaller tablets are just as functional, and more portable — by definition, of course. They are actually pocket-size, unlike the iPad, but not small enough to be not-better-enough than a phone. The Nexus 7 I’ve been using lately makes the iPad I still own feel heavy and clunky. And if those iPad Mini rumors hold up, Apple itself will be downsizing. I predict sales of that model will overtake the 10-inch iPad in fairly short order as consumers get used to its advantages over smartphones as well as larger tablets.
That is the way of machines. They get smaller without compromise by also getting more powerful and more efficient. Desktops are now specialized devices, a purchase you feel compelled to explain because notebooks are powerful and more flexible and cost about the same.
We are still at the very leading edge of this curve, but powerful, light tablets will become an even more omnipresent device. It will prompt many to wonder, Why do I need a phone that does a million things and a tablet that does a million things? And why do I need to buy a new phone once a year?
And the conclusion, for many, will increasingly be that the phone is just an app, but the tablet is a platform. Smartphones could be a lot dumber, and in a small-tablet world, we wouldn’t suffer.
Smartphones — the iPhone in particular — have become iterative not only because of a natural innovative lull (big ideas are rare) but also because sometimes it makes sense not to go too far too fast. (Apple’s profit motive also has something to do with it, and of course, there are more potential converts than upgraders.)
Disruption theory has taught us that the greatest danger facing a company is making a product better than it needs to be. There are numerous incentives for making products better but few incentives to re-directing improvements away from the prevailing basis of competition.
I’m not entirely ready to downgrade my phone for something that just makes and receive calls, sends quick texts, gets that picture that would otherwise get away. But I am even more sure of where things are going than two years ago, at the dawn of the tablet era.
I’m taking one small step, not exactly backwards, but sideways. I’m not taking a pass because the iPhone 5 isn’t innovative enough, but because what passes for innovation in the phone department is small potatoes compared with what’s happening in tablets.
And that’s why there will be no new iPhone for me.
PHOTO: John C. Abell