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Two hidden messages behind iPhone 13 launch

Apple iPhone 13

Apple may launch new iPhone models every year, but the product cycle is, in effect, two years.

In year one Apple unveils a major design update. In year two it refines the design, then gives it a coat of paint and a brush up.

The September 2021 iPhone launch falls into the second category. Yes, the iPhone 13 models are better than iPhone 12 models, but the difference is incremental.

Upgraders

Only the most die-hard fan would spend money upgrading from iPhone 12 to 13. Not much changes. Owners of earlier iPhone models would see a significant improvement.

You wouldn’t be alone if you feel the leap from iPhone 12 to 13 is less of a step than previous leaps.

This brings us to the first hidden message in the September 2021 iPhone 13 launch event.

Incremental

Conventional modern phone designs have gone about as far as they can. For now.

The unconventional folding phones from Samsung represent a fork in the path, but it is the road less taken. Folding phones account for less than one percent of all phones sold in the last year.

We are not talking about a motorway junction here. The folding phone is more a scenic route or a diversion1.

Away from folding, for the last four or five years, the most noticeable change from one year’s model to the next has been in camera technology.

The room for improvement in that department has now slowed. The extra photography features and capability in each upgrade appeal to smaller and smaller groups of users.

It’s a fair bet to say half of all iPhone 12 users could not tell you what changed from 11 to 12 without looking things up.

Evolutionary

Apple can continue to introduce better phone models every year, but the current smartphone format has reached an evolutionary cul-de-sac.

The second hidden message is harder to spot if you are not intimate with the Apple world. Apple doesn’t have much competition any more.

This sounds odd given Apple doesn’t sell as many phones worldwide as Samsung or BBK, the Chinese phone maker behind the Oppo and OnePlus brands.

In the US Apple accounts for almost two out of every three phones sold. Worldwide that figure is closer to one in five phones. Yet Apple continues to collect the lion’s share of phone making profits.

Competition

You can argue all you like that Android phones have this feature or that feature. It doesn’t matter. The closest competition to the iPhone 13 is the iPhone 12.

It is possible to make a case there is more innovation in the Android space. Most of that ‘innovation’ is vapid, unimportant change for the sake of change.

Often the phone makers drop that feature one or two product cycles later2.

There’s a reason Android phone makers toy with new ideas more than Apple does. They throw ideas out there because they are competing with other Android makers for the same market.

Few iPhone users would switch to Android because they want a bigger zoom or a phone that has ‘beauty mode’. The main reason people step away from Apple is to do with price. Many who switch from iPhone to Android to save money later switch back to Apple.

None of this is saying that Samsung or Nokia don’t make great phones. They both do. Yet they are not in direct competition with Apple in any meaningful way. The two worlds barely intersect.

No doubt people reading this will disagree with this point of view. That’s why I’ve reinstated comments below. Feel free to chime in with your view.


  1. That’s not to say folding phones are without merit. It’s that, for now, we can’t take them too seriously. ↩︎
  2. Apple does similar with Macs. It never made a second model of the confusingly named 2016 MacBook and it looks like it has quietly dropped the unpopular Touch Bar. ↩︎

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7 thoughts on “Two hidden messages behind iPhone 13 launch

  1. Totally agree with you Bill.

    It’s hard to innovate often. The original iPhone is a breakthrough and the specs got better over time.

    I don’t know what the next breakthrough would look like in phones but it’s definitely not folding phones.

  2. I think the ‘innovate/refine’ cycle began with the 4S, a decade ago. 5/S, 6/S, 7/8. Maybe it was interrupted by the X, but things are back to normal, now.

    The SE is a perfectly servicable new iPhone for ‘pretty cheap’. Refurbished iPhones are even cheaper. Anyone going for an Oppo or whatever must have their reasons to do so.

    Anyway the 1st generation SE is getting iOS 15 so that’s me sorted for another year.

  3. What evidence is there that they have dropped the touch bar when its still in the latest M1 MacBook Pro?

  4. You are quite right. I was getting ahead of myself. The analysts who follow Apple say it will be dropped in this year’s MacBook Pro, but that doesn’t make it a fact.

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