iPhone

Apple's battle for relevance

Find out why Patrick Gray believes Apple's recent iPhone 5C is either genius or a cry for relevance. Do you agree?

iPhone 5C

Earlier this month Apple announced two new iPhones, along with general availability of its latest mobile operating system, iOS 7. Like most recent Apple announcements, many of the details about the event were known in advance: a feature upgrade to the flagship iPhone 5, in the guise of the iPhone 5S, and a new iPhone 5C. Pundits predicted most of the new features of the 5S, including the fingerprint scanner and improved processor. The 5C, however, was a bit more mysterious, with the “C” representing perhaps a cheaper iPhone to capture the low-end market -- or China, as a bit to capture market share in the world’s fastest growing smartphone market. What Apple unveiled was a bit different, either an astute move on behalf of the company or a cry for relevance as the innovator faces growing skepticism.

The power of plastic

Rather than a dramatically different lower-end phone, the 5C is essentially last year’s iPhone 5 hardware wrapped in a plastic case. Apple’s usual hyperbole made it sound as if this were the world’s first plastic phone with an internal metal frame, but we’ve been seeing this type of construction for years. In essence, Apple has taken last year’s phone, employed a cheaper manufacturing method, and kept the price largely unchanged from last year’s model.

If you’re a supply chain person, you can’t help but see the genius behind the 5C. You’re recycling an older design and using components that have become less costly than a year ago, employing a lower-cost manufacturing method, wrapping it all up in some colorful plastic, and delivering last year’s phone at an even higher margin. This is not an unfamiliar tactic, with Apple having recycled various iPod designs with little more than new colors to great success.

Genius or cry for relevance?

What’s different now is that Apple is no longer dominating the market. With the iPod, Apple was the only game in town for a high-capacity, well-integrated music player. New colors sated a market that knew no superior alternative. In the current smartphone market, however, Android presents a world of devices in different form factors and styles. Even Apple’s collection of funky colors looks a bit dated in the context of devices like the Moto X from Motorola, where consumers can design custom parts for the phone, including a wooden shell for the device.

Once the innovator and “cool” device, staid executives now pull out iPhones instead of BlackBerries, and the muted industrial design has lost some of its luster with the fashionable and trendsetting crowd. Apple’s color gambit with the 5C may restore some of the “hip” to the product without introducing a fundamentally new device.

Even on the software side, Apple’s latest iOS 7 adds window dressing, some feature parity with competitors, and a Pandora-like music service. Nice additions to be sure, but nothing to set the world alight.

What's next?

Whether the 5C is genius or merely buying time for a major update to iOS hardware, a company once renowned for innovation seems to be losing its magic. On the flip side, a mature and reliable product that’s grown increasingly enterprise-friendly makes for a compelling platform for enterprise users. However, in an increasingly consumer-driven world, a solid and unchanging platform may not be the best strategy. Just ask BlackBerry.


About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

10 comments
sbarman
sbarman

"What’s different now is that Apple is no longer dominating the market." WHAT AN IDIOT!

Let me ask you a question, which of these allegedly better smartphone manufacturers are making more money than Apple? Whose profits are so big that they are hoarding cash causing investors like Carl Icahn asking Apple to buy back stock or issue bigger dividends? 

So Apple does not "dominate the market." They dominate in making the best phone, the phone that everyone else tries to copy, and the one with the best ecosystem where third-party software developers are more successful than on the "open" and fractured Android environment.

I really hope that the alleged "global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company" reads the utter claptrap you are writing and maybe reconsider your ability to provide proper consultation--unless your job is to disparage Apple so that you and your company can sell competing services in which you are being disingenuous in your analysis!

Randy Myers
Randy Myers

An unorthadox and unethical way of controlling supply and demand to pad bottom line--Shame Shame on Apple.

Matt Davis
Matt Davis

Apple is repeating all the same mistakes that lost them the desktop market in the late 90's early 2000, and there is no Steve Jobs to bail them out this time

Henry 3 Dogg
Henry 3 Dogg

For several years, the worlds second best selling phone has been last years iPhone.This time, last years model has been remodelled to appeal more to its likely audience, and to balance the cost of the case with the cost of the components.

Gisabun
Gisabun

Apple lost its innovation when Cook took over permanently. The iPad mini chewed into the regular iPad sales [thus less revenue]. The recent iPhones have taken baby step increases [this is what happened to BlackBerry ands look where they are]. The iPhone 5S still doesn't have features that the recent Android phones [such as the Galaxy S4] have. Between the marketing and the fanbois and fangurls who seem to be brainwashed, they will still survive.

adornoe
adornoe

There's no "genius" in lackluster, and there is no "innovation" in what Apple has done this month, and in fact, there is no genius and no innovation in anything Apple has done in the last 6 years since the introduction of the iPhone.  What is "genius" about the iPhone and the iPads, is the Apple marketing and hype that keep those devices selling as if they do represent genius ideas and innovation. 

Henry 3 Dogg
Henry 3 Dogg

Apple has just been declared the worlds most innovative company again for 2013.

So drop the mantra and think of something meaningful to say.

Randy Burgess
Randy Burgess

@adornoeI bought an Android tablet, the Nexus 7. I really like the tablet and the price but the battery life of this thing is a joke. I thought friends were lying to me when I couldn't get a hold of them at times. I couldn't believe that a phone battery could be dead that often. Turns out they weren't lying to me. Android devices (apparently) universally have incredibly bad battery life. This thing drives me crazy. I use it as a book reader and if I leave it sitting for more than a day the battery is dead. My 3 year old iPad 2 can sit for a month and still have at least 25% battery and I don't have to turn off wi-fi.


I find the comparisons of Windows/Android to Apple/iOS Devices to be accurate in one respect. If you will put up with an absolutely horrible, always has a problem OS then you will put up with Windows. In my experience Android is the same. In the future I will stick with what works reliably and that isn't Windows or Android.

Henry 3 Dogg
Henry 3 Dogg

The iPhone 5s has given us...The first camera of ANY type, with a variable colour temperature flash to match flash infill to ambient light.

The first workable fingerprint sensor giving one touch ID and activation.

The first 64 bit processor in a phone giving by far the fastest phone on the market AND great battery life.

The last five years of innovation from Samsung had given us phones with a barometer and a thing for getting stones out of horses hooves.

FTAdmin
FTAdmin

@Henry 3 Dogg

"... and a thing for getting stones out of horses hooves."

Nice burn. Not that I dislike Samsung, but nice burn all the same. xD