Apple Goes for Shiny and New, but What About the Basics?

Apple, arguably, had its most important launch event in years yesterday. Beyond putting its smartphones back in play with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, competing on specs with LG and Samsung, not to mention Motorola (Motorola? When did they come back from the dead?), it launched in 2 new categories:

  • Apple Pay – mobile payments, for which a follow-up article will be launched this week
  • Apple Watch – a more convenient extension to your phone on your wrist

Apple Pay has enormous potential, but depends entirely upon Apple’s iPhone business.

There is no doubt that Apple had to catch up. Despite having created the business in 2007 – it seems like a very long time ago, but it has only been 7 years – followed by the entire category of mobile apps and the App Store, it has fallen behind every major competitor on screen size, specs, processors, cameras, etc. It had to catch up and regain its “flash”, its “cachet”.

However, I find it troubling that Apple did not address the basics. Yes, Apple has a new processor, and cool games to show off, but day-to-day usage is, for the most part, not about ultra-high-power games.

Most smartphone users have 3 simple complaints and challenges when dealing with their phones. They either cause problems directly or cause people to be concerned about those problems.

  1. Battery Life
  2. Fragility
  3. Water sensitivity

Let’s look at each in turn.

Battery Life

Every smartphone user complains about battery life. To their credit – and Samsung’s, and Motorola’s, and Google’s, etc. – every one of them has spent significant resource in placing better batteries with a few percentage points of longer life; improving hardware to work more efficiently; reengineering its software to perform the same tasks with less energy.

But in the end, until some of the major physics and chemistry breakthroughs are sufficiently commercialized, everyone is playing on the margins. This means that how you charge your phone becomes at least as important as how your phone maintains its charge.

To compete, companies have adopted different solutions:

  • Most smartphone makers (other than Apple) use a micro-USB port, increasing the chances that you will find someone else to lend you a cord.
  • Some manufacturers support wireless or inductive charging, so you don’t even need a cord.
  • Motorola’s latest flagship Moto X has a form of “rapid charge,” that can give you 70% charge in 5 mins.

While all of this innovation is short-term stopgaps, these will matter greatly for the next 5 years. Since Apple’s mantra is that their stuff “just works,” it is surprising that Apple did not address it at all.

Anyone except the most dedicated brand die-hard (Apple or Android) will switch brands if they can get a materially similar device with 50% more battery life or, conversely, a really quick and easy way to recharge.

Fragility

Everyone has dropped their phone at least once, and said, “I probably just shattered the glass and will have to pay $50-100 and a day without it to repair it!” Whether or not it actually shattered, awareness of the fragility of the phones changes how we all operate.

Apple does claim to have “ion-hardened” (whatever that means) its screens on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, but those are just words. A video did leak a few weeks back showing someone bending a supposed iPhone 6 screen, as well as trying unsuccessfully to crack it with a hammer. However, if that was it, Apple did not promote it yesterday, suggesting the video was not genuine.

Water Sensitivity

Ever bring an iPhone/iPod/iPad in for repair? The first thing they do is look in the microphone jack for the little sticker that changes colour when exposed to water. Apple is spending significant sums buying special microscopes, adding the stickers to the manufacturing process, training their employees, and having them spend salaried time to examine for these little stickers.

As a result, everyone who has a phone hides it from the rain, runs back to pick it up off the kitchen counter, scrambles to grab it away from the spill on the table… and worries about their warranty.

It is entirely possible to waterproof it; just look at the Samsung Galaxy S5, or even Apple’s own Watch.

Putting Them Together

Imagine if you had a reasonably modern smartphone that:

  • You didn’t worry about water
  • You didn’t worry about dropping it
  • You didn’t worry about it running out of battery (or at least felt comfortable you only needed a few minutes to recharge it)

If this smartphone ran a modern operating system with modern specs – like the Samsung S5, LG G3, iPhone 6 or Moto X – how many would buy it in a heartbeat?

Apple is adding new sexiness to its iPhone, and entering new categories… but there is a whole world to (re)capture in its core smartphone category – redefining how you just use your smartphone. It requires “back to basics,” but would be a must-have across the board.

Pity.

About Avi Deitcher

Avi Deitcher is a technology business consultant who lives to dramatically improve fast-moving and fast-growing companies. He writes regularly on this blog, and can be reached via Facebook, Twitter and avi@atomicinc.com.
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