The launch of the new iPhone 5 was met with high levels of anticipation by the technology, investing, and consumer communities. The reaction to the launch has been mixed; with some saying it is a disappointment and others a major success. This makes it an obvious choice for another round of Innovative or Not.
Innovative: The iPhone 5 is thinner, lighter, and faster. Does this make it innovative? Since it largely gives the same experience as the iPhone 4S, it’s just more of the same, thus not innovative. This argument is easy, right? Not exactly. The “easy” argument only speaks to disruptive innovation, but what about incremental innovation? With the iPhone 5, Apple designers made dozens of changes, some of them incontrovertibly innovative.
Changes include a new display technology, integrated LTE voice/data on 1 chip, a smaller, faster processor, a smaller connector, better call quality with new noise cancellation technology, and vastly improved earbuds. In the OS, we also see new features like Passbook, which ingeniously integrates all tickets, reservations, and store cards in one place.
Of course, some of the individual new features aren’t innovative, but just smart design. However, smart design decisions become innovation when integrated with novel technology, like the display/touch screen. Previously two parts, the new ‘in-cell’ screen technology integrates them into one. This has never been seen in a phone before. Like it or not, this is innovation. It not only makes the screen thinner, but also optically superior.
Combining many smart decisions to achieve a design goal (thinner, lighter, faster) results in an incrementally better product. When those decisions require innovative technology, you get incremental innovation. Incremental innovation may only be incremental, but it’s still innovation.
Not Innovative: The long awaited release of the iPhone 5 has come. But does it have the awe inspiring innovation that we expect from Apple? To answer let’s first look at the definition of innovative: using or showing new methods or ideas. Does the iPhone 5 do this? As a current owner of the iPhone 4 I struggle to find what the new idea or method in the iPhone 5 is. Yes it is longer, has an extra row of icons, a new accessory jack (which does not allow you to use your current apple devises without a special adaptor), a new camera, and is 4G LTE, but do these things make the phone “innovative”? Most likely not as most of the competition (Android and Windows) already have these features. Yes the iPhone 5 is the longest on the market (in which currently multiple apps do not work correctly with), but making it longer does not constitute the phone to be innovative. The critics seem to agree. Wired called the iPhone 5 “utterly boring”. The BBC ran a review stating that “Apple’s iPhone launches no longer excite.” Instead of giving a new look to the iphone, or updated apps, it seems Apple just wanted to out perform their competition without having to think outside the box. All in all, the iPhone 5 is an improvement, but lacks on the awe inspiring apple innovative which was expected.
Judgement: Not every round of Innovative or Not has a clear winner or a loser, and in taking on the iPhone 5 this is certainly the case. The merits of both cases are strong: yes, the product utilizes a number of new to the industry technologies, boldly deploying them along with a stunningly fast and efficient roll-out. This is impressive. At the same time, few features will excite the average user and some seem destined to annoy: new cables, connection, and size rendering the phone incompatible with most current accessories, and few new to the world ‘features’ since many competitors already carry the feature improvements that seem to headline the product. But, an answer must be found and, as the first writer argues, the iPhone 5 is the picture of incremental innovation. It represents the next step in the evolution of smart phone technology. Perhaps this is a sign that smart phones as well know them are ready to be surpassed by some new technology or format, starting a new race of innovation and growth in the industry.