Sunday, 6 October 2013

Are we witnessing the downfall of Apple?

Image: Maypalo
As Android users, we absolutely love poking fun at Apple. After the unveiling of the iPhone 5s and 5c, the Android community I'm a member of on Google+ was full of images and posts making fun of Apple. We were making fun of how the 5c looks like a children's toy, how iOS 7 looks like Android, and how the 64-bit A7 chip was nothing more than a gimmick to show how "advanced" the 5s is. All joking aside though, I honestly do think that Apple's best days are behind it. The iPhone 5s and the final version of iOS 7 have been out for about 2 weeks now, and reports of problems with both the hardware and the software are becoming more and more frequent. This is not something that we normally associate with Apple. The iPhone and iOS are supposed to "just work". There shouldn't be a laundry list of bugs, inconsistencies and hardware problems just days after the launch. The fact that Apple are already working on iOS 7.0.3, the third patch in less than a month proves how unprepared iOS 7 was for public consumption. Are Apple in trouble of becoming the next Nokia or BlackBerry? Absolutely not. They have a huge following of loyal and passionate supporters who will continue to queue for weeks just to buy the latest iPhone. But Apple is having serious problems, and only the most loyal of Apple fans will deny that.

Apple didn't need to reinvent the wheel, just improve it
The iPhone and iOS have remained largely the same ever since the original back in 2007. There were of course updates and upgrades along the way, but they were always minor from year to year, nothing radically different. The thinking was "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Apple probably thought that they didn't need to reinvent the wheel and truth be told, they didn't. But what Apple did need to do was improve it. Make it better. Android and Android phones have improved drastically in 5 years. Compare any of the latest flagships to the first Android phone - the G1 - and you'll see a huge difference both in software and hardware. Compare the 5s to the original iPhone, and you won't see the same degree of change. In a sense, Apple are doing what BlackBerry (then RIM) did - they are sticking to the same formula, afraid to deviate from what they know. 
The last 4 phones have all had a 326 ppi display.
No improvement at all. Image: App Advice
The largest update to iOS is also the most problematic
iOS was in dire need of a refresh. After 6 years, it was an understatement to say that iOS was stale. Unfortunately, while the seventh iteration of iOS was indeed the refresh it so desperately needed, it's also the most bug-ridden release to date. Design inconsistencies, overlapping elements, jerky animations, security vulnerabilities, all things you rarely associate with iOS. iOS 7 was supposed to be Apple's saving grace. We all knew the iPhone 5s would be exactly the same as the iPhone 5 design-wise, so everyone was expecting Apple to deliver a killer blow with iOS. Everyone wanted iOS to be different. And it was, kinda. I'm not gonna elaborate too much but in a nutshell, iOS 7 is more a cosmetic update than a functional update. You still can't set third-party apps as defaults, you still can't share freely between apps, and you still need iTunes to do pretty much anything using your computer. At least iOS 7 looks different though. That counts. Right? No? 
One of the many bugs in iOS 7. Image: Phone Arena
Apple's 5 year head-start is over
When Steve Jobs unveiled the original iPhone back in 2007, he boldly claimed it was 5 years ahead of the competition. To his credit, he may actually be right. We are now 6 years post-iPhone, and only now are we seeing Android devices that are being held at the same level - some even higher - than the iPhone. It took Google a few years to get Android right, which they did with ICS. It took Android OEMs several years to get the hardware right. When you have different companies working on hardware and software, this is what may happen - it takes some time for both to come together cohesively to create an outstanding product. Apple never had this problem as they were in-charge of both the hardware and software of the iPhone. But now that Apple's head-start is over, and Android phones have caught up surpassed the iPhone, what's next? Apple's biggest attempt at recreating iOS was a botch job and the iPhone has remained roughly the same for the past few years. Can Apple shake up the market again? It might be a little difficult considering my next point.
Your 5-year lead is over Apple. Image: Splat F

A closed ecosystem is hard to expand
One of the great things about Android, possibly the greatest, is that you always have choice. In terms of software, you have stock Android straight from Google, then you also have skins from manufacturers like Samsung's TouchWiz, Sense from HTC, and the Sony and LG skins as well. You have even more choice when it comes to hardware. You want a phone with a removable battery? Get any of the many Galaxy devices from Samsung. You want a phone with front-facing speakers? Get the HTC One. You want a slim phone made of glass? Get the Xperia Z1. You have so many choices, and they are all still Android. On a level closer to the user, you can also change your device's icons, themes, launchers, default apps and keyboards. You don't get that with iOS. Any changes to the system must come from Apple, and only Apple. Despite the benefits of a closed ecosystem, that's a severe limitation right there if you ask me. 
iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s. Three distinct choices,
or merely variations of the same device? Image: Digital Spy
Like I said in my intro, I don't expect Apple to do a BlackBerry. In fact, Apple is no where near BlackBerry's current predicament. But you can judge a company by more than just sales figures. Apple may not be too worried about losing marketshare, but they should be worried about losing mindshare. The iPhone is no longer the only phone people think of when they think of a smartphone. iOS is no longer the only mobile operating system capable of providing a fluid user experience. The App Store is no longer the only place to get quality apps. Apple had a huge lead over the competition back in '07, but times have changed and if Apple doesn't realise that, 2014 will be an even tougher year.


"This is no longer the undisputed industry champion. This is no longer the best smartphone on the market." - Aaron Baker, PhoneDog

"I've had Android devices work and operate more smoothly than I have this state-of-the-art phone, and I think it's iOS 7 that's holding the hardware back." - Chris Pirillo

"So, the iPhone 5S went back to the store last night. I really just wasn't impressed with the overall experience. It's important to me that the experience is both enjoyable and reliable. The iPhone 5S was neither for me." - Russel Holly, Geek.com