The Worst Thing About The iPhone 5 Is Also The Most Brilliant

The iPhone 5 is many things: It's a pinnacle of product design. It's a mild annoyance for iOS app developers. It's likely to be the next phone you buy. And it's also, by broad consensus of the people who follow these things, totally boring.

Of course it is. Anything else at this point would be insane.

It Ain't Broke

It's easy to forget, with as much emphasis as Apple puts on its biannual show-and-tell extravaganzas, that its primary objective isn't to entertain us. It's to sell iPhones. Millions and millions and millions of iPhones.

The iPhone 5 will be on shelves on September 21, which is one week before Apple's fiscal year ends and the holiday quarter begins. How important are those three months to Apple's bottom line? Last year during the same period, the iPhone 4S drove Apple's smartphone sales to 37 million units, and an overall profit of $US13 billion. To put that in context, that's more money than Google made in all of 2011.

Those numbers aren't just impressive — they're unprecedented. The iPhone is the most valuable asset of one of the most valuable companies in history. So the question we should be asking isn't why didn't Apple make it more exciting. The question is — other than the standard spec and feature bumps — why would Apple change the iPhone at all? There's a reason Coca-Cola's used the same formula for one hundred years.

That's why, when we say the iPhone 5 is boring, we really mean the iPhone 5 is safe. It's familiar. It's the same phone in slightly different packaging. And, most importantly, it's still very recognisably the most popular smartphone in the world. If you've won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, you don't suddenly trade in your thoroughbred for a one-eyed pony because it's more interesting to look at.

Playing It Smart

Not being boring requires taking risks, and risk is not something Apple does. Not anymore. Why would it? It can skip out on 4G for more than a year after its competitors have it and no one blinks an eye. NFC? Wireless charging? Pass, thanks. And Apple will keep playing it safe until iPhone sales decline. That might be boring, but it's also just good business.

And it's always been like this. The original iPhone didn't have 3G. The iPad didn't have a front-facing camera. USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt both came after PCS had embraced high-speed standards. Apple doesn't make products for early adopters. It makes products for the billions of people who buy things they can easily access and understand.

The worst part? In a vacuum, the iPhone 5 is actually really exciting. For whatever half-baked features it skips out on, it's still a technological marvel and may well prove to be the best smartphone you can buy. If the worst thing about it is that it's not different enough from a phone that tens of millions of people a month spend hundreds of dollars to buy, well, that's fine.

The Boring Future

If you think the iPhone 5 is boring, I've got bad news for you. The iPhone 6 will be too. And the iPhone 7, and every iPhone after that. Minor aesthetic variations on the same well-loved theme. They'll also, in all likelihood, be fantastic.

The only thing that will change the iPhone's design is a dramatic decline in iPhone market share, but that doesn't seem in the offing. Not any time soon, anyway. It takes years to slow down a juggernaut.

So get comfortable with your boring iPhone and your boring iPad and your boring MacBook Air. They're that way because they have to be. Because we want them to be. Because it's the only way that makes sense.


Comments

    "It’s likely to be the next phone you buy." You should not speak for others, ever! I don't own an iPhone and I never will. And yes, I am prejudiced against Apple; because their products are never as innovative as they are believed to be and they are always too expensive. I have owned Nokia phones, HTC phones and others in the past but my next phone will be a Windows 8 one, based on my very good experience with Windows Phone 7.5.

      I disagree that its the pinnacle of product design. Sure lots of people might like it but that doesn't automatically mean the design is great. I think the design is, at best, good. And no it won't be my next phone.

      They are now designed the way they are, because Steve Jobs is gone and the shareholders, who are now in control, can't understand anything better/different.

      A company needs a vision and someone to guide it towards that vision. If your vision is maintaining market share, as I think Apple's vision now is, then you're in trouble.

        I agree with you. The design, to me at least, makes me think of some sort of 90's vision of what the future will be like. It feels like this particular version of the iphone will be dated very quickly, much like the iphone 3 was. I like the design of the iphone 4/4s (they're the same), but the way they've implemented the black metal here doesn't seem as elegant as it should.

        "because their products are never as innovative as they are believed to be and they are always too expensive"...

        But. You've never owned one, so you wouldn't know.

          Doesn't own one... does NOT mean the person never uses it by any other means (say... testing it from friends'.. product display at Apple store... ) , so he/she would know... just saying.

        I believe the comment about it being the pinnacle of design is more about how they have managed to package so much into a smaller form factor than pretty much everyone else, rather than how it looks.

      "You should not speak for others, ever". But it's okay to tell others what to do.

      Well good for you Sir. Your life must be so difficult if this artical upset you so easily. The author was speaking in generality as he simply can't tailor every artical to every reader.

      An iPhone may not be good enough for some, but the sales numbers do suggest it is good enough for the majority.

        Sales Numbers? Well market iPhone only has 26% market share. So the majority don't think it is.

      Calm down, its just a phone. First world problems kiddies.

      I have to lol. Windows and positive in same statement. So again I LOL.

      He wasn't speaking on your behalf. Statistically speaking the iPhone is the most likely purchase for any random smartphone customer, I'm not sure if it tops the entire phone market yet.. But it will.. So he was absolutely correct to say that you (the general public) will likely purchase one next.

        That's not how it works. If iPhone had more than 50% of the market, then he would be right but the latest Q2 figures show iPhone has only a 16.9% market share, down from 18.8% a year earlier, so only about one in six will buy an iPhone. i.e. It is 6 times less likely that any one individual's next phone will be an iPhone than another phone. OTOH, Android had 46.6% share last quarter, so you could say that the most likely purchase will be a phone running Android.

      Looking forward to a Windows 8 phone based on your experience with Windows Phone 7.5... interesting theory...

    So this article is saying that the College Humor video from yesterday already happened and will continue to happen every iPhone Launch day.

    Wow, do you write the material for the guy that does the "shit apple users say" skits ?

    ok speaking as someone whos not completely insane, I jumped on the iphone bandwagon when 3GS came out - best phone at the time, did 99% of what i needed. now i use an iphone 4, and a htc one V - for playing around with only. android is def gunna be my next phone - not because the 5 looks bad, but because in the next few months something more innovative will come out. and windows 8, no thanks, no development on that front.

    I have to agree with this - whether it's games consoles, cars or construction a business will continue doing what works (i.e., what makes it money) until it doesn't work.

    Nintendo had to innovate itself out of a rut, and did so with Wii. Nokia found itself on a burning platform and has gone to unprecedented lengths to jump to a new one. MS is an interesting case: it has a dominant position but sees the rise of portable touch-based computing. So it's innovating with Metro and unified code across WP8, Win8 and WinRT while at the same time "doing what works" by keeping Desktop and 100% x86 compatibility, all the while adding expected incremental advances.

    iP5 will be great, it will sell well. It's not the phone for me, but Apple is just doing what works and they'll keep doing it until it doesn't.

    Why are you hating on a phone you've never owned. Muppet. And no I'm not an apple fanboy I've got an S3.

      for 99% of the people, its far easier to hate something you have no idea about than to open your mind and accept something new

        First women, then the blacks, then the gays, now iphones.. I'm pretty sure Mutants had the same problem at some point too.

    The trick is to skip iterations... Going from a 3GS to an iPhone 5 would be exciting. Besides, anyone on a contract and not in total love with Apple should be doing this anyway...

      try going from the iPhone 3 to iPhone 5..as a result i've become a fanboy overnight that's how excited i am, i couldn't give care less about some fancy crap apple isn't offering that the others might already offer..i'm just sick & tired of simple apps like Twitter crashing! Just about ready to smash this ancient piece of technology on the ground..bring on the iPhone 5! And i just can't afford to upgrade every year so my next phone after this probably will either be the iPhone 6S or the iPhone 7!

    It needs NFC, but other than that I can't see any hardware it is missing. It would have been nice to see a more significant software update though. The larger screen would have been a perfect excuse to gave space on the home screen to for live widgets (weather, email etc like android).

      What is with people needing to see the weather every time they look at ther phone? Look out the window and take an educated guess.

        as a motorcyclist who's life depends on understanding the conditions I am about to risk my life and potentially my passengers or a hapless pedestrian, I think knowing the weather in a quick precise way is a priceless service, just because you cannot see beyond your own nose doesn't mean the entire world is as closed off as you

          Well said, sir.

          I gues what Tatiana is also saying is: why buy a different phone that might meet your needs better, when you can just buy an iPhone.

            What I'm saying is that the weather is not life and death to the extent where it is shown in updates on all types of media constantly. So if you need to look at your phone to decide if you can ride a motorcycle that day do it. But if you can't ride in imperfect conditions you aren't much of a rider and should not be on the road. My comment was only lighthearted. The weather widget is shown in almost every bit of advertising for phones and it is a bit ridiculous. I would mention the massive clocks they show too, but you probably need to be on time to the nearest nanosecond while you check out the weeks forecast. You baby.

          +1

            +1 to your +1

              +1 to your +1 of his/her +1

        lol, I agree to a certain extent. But there are those of us who would like to know the days' forecast to help decide whether to take the car somewhere or ride a bike. A lot of the time it's clear in the morning with no indication of rain only to piss down with rain in the afternoon. Riding in the rain is quite miserable.

          Your riding is weather dependant? Princess.

      "It needs NFC"

      Even though the standards are fragmented, and not a lot of services use NFC anyway? It's a bit like wishing for a pony, but having nowhere to ride it.

      And yes, iPhones with NFC would help drive greater use of other NFC devices yada yada yada zzzzzzzz.

      Sd card? Removable battery? Standardized micro USB port?
      These things should be standard by now.

    The first paragraph "The iPhone 5 is many things: It’s a pinnacle of product design. It’s a mild annoyance for iOS app developers. It’s likely to be the next phone you buy..."

    It is the pinnacle? What facts do you have to back this up? It's far from being "the pinnacle" and no, it won't be the next phone that people will buy. A lot of people are saying no and moving to Win8 or Android because the iPhone is a fail.

    The iPhone is now at least a year behind the others. Sad but I believe it's true.

      He said it's "A" pinnacle, not "the" pinnacle.

      They have gone for a particular design on their product that they like and have just slightly refined it as time has passed.

    He specifically meant you, MoC. You are going to be forced to buy an iPhone. That's what he meant. Not as a generalising statement, based on single-model sales figures or market conjecture - you. He's going to come to your house, place it in your hand, and then forcibly take your money.

      I lol at your statement. 100 Internets to you good sir

    I disagree. I too owned innovative HTC and Nokia phones and held out on buying an iPhone until it surpassed the innovation of those phones. It did, but unless it continues to do so, I will not keep buying them. For example, being able to control my incoming phone calls (using Google Voice) on an iPhone is a must, but still a chore and it shouldn't be. I won't attach a separate device for wireless charging, but Qi chips are virtually a standard now. I'm not sure about the usefulness of NFC yet, but if it is, Apple should be ahead of the curve rather than resting on its laurels.

    wow how inspirational! the future is boring! Is it a coincidence that now Steve Jobs is gone everything will be boring? how truly pathetic this article is.

    looks like my prediction for the iphone5 was right. tech blogs will endless excuse and justify Apple for everything. even if it's a big fat 0.

      You sir are modern day Nostradamus. What an insightful prediction that must have been.

    I can see there was no bias when this was written......

    Pedistal's for apple are high here at gizmodo

    I understand what you are saying about iPhones being boring because they change at a glacial speed, but what do people want? In the end aren't all smartphones going to be edgeless, paper thin screens before they evolve into glasses or whatever? So really it will come down to reliability and slight software innovation. Apple, in my experience, are reliable and sometimes innovative but people expecting a phone to change the world are a bit sad really.

    Wow...state of denial. Giving all sorts of excuses to cover the disappointment

    I think you guys are giving way too much credit to Steve Jobs - almost all the innovation at Apple has not been due to Steve jobs - he is the one who signs of on the projects, but many other people are involved in the design and ideas for Apple products.

    While sometimes I wish the current iPhone design had a rounded back so it didn't stick out so much when in my jeans pocket, other than that, it's a pretty great looking phone. I'm sure we'll see a full redesign eventually, but Apple seem to like to stick with what works for a while once they've found it.

    Rather than hardware, I'd like to see the software getting a dramatic facelift. It works for the masses, but iOS is looking a bit long in the tooth, and lags behind the other OSes in some areas. I find it hard to use now without jailbreaking to add a few vital tweaks, and there are still areas that jailbreaking won't fix (deeper integration for third party apps, widgets). But I'll probably be waiting a while for that too.

    I understand the whole idea of keeping with what is safe to make money etc but for me, because it is the same and "boring" and all that, it means i'm not going to get it. I went from a HTC Touch HD to the iPhone 3GS because it was new and different and better, then I got a SGS2 because it was new and different and better. Now I'm probably going to get a Lumia 920 because it is new and different and better.

    In case you missed it, I'm after something that is new and different and better. I'm not going to go spend my hard earned cash on something that is boring and safe. That's my view on it, which according apples sales figures doesn't seem to be the normal view.

      But not everyone likes change. And moving between OS's is a radical one. I can already imagine my parents screaming "You told me to do it this way yesterday and now it's different!"

        People say this, but I don't think its the case. They phones work principally the same, to the point where able was able to successfully sue Samsung for it.

    Cant wait to get mine! Sold my plastic S3, poor android.. such great specs yet it's really not that great. I think I actually preferred my One X apart from the battery life and how

    " It’s likely to be the next phone you buy. "
    Million bucks says no it won't.
    This reads more like an in-house article for "Apple Magazine"

    This article is spot on. I don't know why people discount the build quality / design and the user experience when comparing phones. It's a great update, people just have stupid expectations.

    In terms of aesthetic design and engineering caliber the iPhone is almost inarguably the best smartphone; however in saying that the S3 can also be said to have the greatest performance. Both phones essentially entice different people for different reasons. The debate between which phone is better is being is argued as if it's a religious war it's comical. Almost everybody haven't even used the new iPhone so how is anyone in a position to comment whether it's better or not anyway ?

      "In terms of aesthetic design"
      No, you can leave that part out. It can't be inarguable because it's subjective, but also because in a large part it's based on fashion and this style is now 3 years old, besides being based on early 90's styles anyway, so there's a much better case for the aesthetics not being "the best". Putting it nicely. :)

      They do have great engineering though.

        Totally agree, so many narrow minded know it all, who actually know nothing. It all comes down to personal preference , lifestyle and budget . People who post hateful comments about the iPhones obviously have behaveral problems . Go and talk to a shrink .

    The article is pure butthurt fanboisim. But that doesn't mean the latest model of this phone isn't a good, solid iteration. Sure it's a cowardly safe-play, but it addresses some long standing hardware design problems they they were in denial about for so long, like the silly glass back and finally matching other phones with a longer screen, and goes further like with the improved cable, the much better battery, and the much improved connectivity options.
    It's specs like that that'd be great right now on any phone.

    While the tired, unimaginative design puts me to sleep, I do admire those improvements.
    But the article takes things too far and makes too much of an effort to defend and justify the phone. No company or device deserves that sort of sycophantic loyalty. Can't things about the iphones approach them like they do any other brand of smpartphone?

    The writer obviously believes RIM are the most brilliant phone company on Earth. Obviously playing safe when you've got a hugely successful product is exactly the way to go. Hey, you could also ask Nokia!

    Or ask General Motors how well it worked to keep pumping out old fashioned gas guzzlers instead of trying to innovate.

    Or ask Kodak how their film business is doing.

    Failure to innovate while on top is what kills companies, not what helps them stay on top.

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