iPhone 5 – a reality check

Apple just finished the highly anticipated iPhone 5 event and rest assured, the Comic Book Guys have been on the Internet within minutes to register their disgust throughout the world.

One well-known Finnish technology writer was quick to dismiss iPhone 5 with sharp analysis:

“”The most advanced operating system in any mobile device.” with old-fashioned, static icons? LOL”

Apparently it’s the icons that define how advanced an operating system is.

I would have expected less teenager lolling and more in terms of actual analysis from him, but the reaction wasn’t unexpected, let alone the only one of its kind. Before the event I said that it’s become almost impossible for Apple to meet the expectations of the market, let alone the fanboys – and obviously nothing Apple releases can ever be met with approval by those who for whatever reasons just hate Apple and everything it stands for.

Of course, the real reason why the market may be disappointed with the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 is that the jury is still out on what kind of a company post-Jobs Apple is, and whether Apple can still shake the markets and awe us with products and services that almost feel like they’ve come from the future.

Apple is smart enough not to jump onto that bandwagon, but to steadily execute on their strategy, and quite honestly it surprises me that the markets aren’t intelligent enough to understand how this is A Good Thing. Time will tell when or if Apple will truly wow the market again, but my bet is that they will. When the time is right, and everything is dialed in.

The situation isn’t new. When Nokia was the king of the hill in mobile phones, it reached a similar situation where it became almost impossible for them to release anything that would impress the market or the hard-core users. Nothing was good enough. Now, for different reasons, ironically Nokia finds itself again in a somewhat similar predicament. Lumia 920 seems brilliant, yet even that wasn’t enough for the market. Of course it wasn’t. Technological prowess, not even beautiful design isn’t enough for Nokia at this point. They need to build trust and show that their strategy carries in the long term, and to make the entire ecosystem as polished and attractive as their latest phone. It’s about technology and liberal arts, bringing together advanced transformative technologies, consistent, polished usability, and services that make a difference to people. Nokia may get there yet, but they have some ways to go to build an ecosystem that consistently delivers, not just on one area. I wish them luck, sincerely.

Now, back to Apple: valid criticism towards products and services is valuable and stubbornly defending a position that deserves criticism is na├»ve. Hard core Apple fans are as guilty of that as others, yet the knee jerk reactions to iPhone 5 are strange. When you look at what was announced, it’s hard to see how it’s a let-down. Apple delivered an evolution on a product that was already extremely well polished, and made it even better. There wasn’t a need for a revolution. Not yet.

Apple didn’t have a faulty or a broken product they needed to fix before the release of iPhone 5 and iOS 6, quite the opposite. The whole package, the hardware, the operating system, the App Store, integration with the Apple product family all worked smoothly – not quite without a hitch, but very smoothly.

Apple chooses the technologies it introduces carefully, and even more carefully those that it leaves out either for good (like optical drives) or until the market and the ecosystem exists to make them viable. And if such an ecosystem doesn’t exist yet, Apple has the resources, the track record and the leverage to bring it about as has been demonstrated before. It all has to come together. For Apple it’s never about the technology alone, but transforming a market and a user experience enabled by technology.

Expectations of iPhone 5 features ranged from NFC to fingerprint recognition, and after Nokia’s Lumia 920 announcement also wireless charging and PureView-challenging optics were speculated. NFC will find its way to a next iPhone, when Apple considers the market penetration and service offerings have reached a level of maturity they’re comfortable with. Apple didn’t leave NFC out of the iPhone 5 because they couldn’t technologically deliver it, but because they chose not to. And Apple always has good reasons for choosing not to include something in their products.

But my point isn’t to go into platform and ecosystem comparison. So let’s do a reality check, and see what Apple delivered with iPhone 5.

A better, faster, thinner version of an already incredibly polished product and ecosystem. More screen estate without sacrificing usability (you can still access the whole screen with your thumb). iOS 6, building on an extremely smooth user experience of iOS 5, delivering new features and functionality. Improved services with iTunes, social media integration, maps and navigation, et cetera.

Better hardware, better software, better services, and a continued, consistent user experience without disruptions.

It’s not a let-down. It’s exactly what I expected Apple to deliver. A great looking product, solidly building on an established market, evolving a product when the time doesn’t yet call for a revolution.