Dieter's The iPhone 5 forecast: A rebuttal

I was thinking about critiquing Dieter's flawed article myself and I ended up doing so. But this article from a gamer's perspective on the annual (well biannual, soon to be triannual) complaining fest is good enough and shorter too, so read it instead if 2075 words scare you.

iPhone 5: "Disappointment" that'll sell millions

Moreover, compared to the other smartphones, Apple's small adjustment in screen size still leaves its smartphone at the bottom end of the spectrum.

How is this a bad thing? It seems that Dieter has decided to take the assumption that bigger is indeed better, regardless of whether or not any regular iPhone users agree with him.

But let's say that the original iPhone's screen was too small. Let's convince ourselves that hundreds of millions of people have bought iOS devices in spite of the touchscreen and not because of it, even though the touchscreen was the major feature. Let's join Dietee, shall we?

If the complaints of Android and Lumia fans that 3.5 inches is too small for a touchscreen are legitimate, then why aren't the complaints of Apple fans that 4.5+ inches is too big aren't legitimate? And if both complaints have some legitimacy to them, then why wouldn't 4 inches be the best of both worlds' size for a touchscreen mobile phone?

Apple wasn't pursuing a bold, new design, it decided to take a safer approach. Scott Wilson, founder of Chicago-based studio MINIMAL - who's had a hand in the design of the Xbox 360, Dell Venue Pro, Microsoft Courier, and the TikTok and LunaTIK iPod nano watches - characterized Apple as "masters of refinement." He puts a positive spin on Apple's conservative design decisions, saying that "you have to respect the restraint that the company has." The design of the iPhone 5 is thoughtful, beautiful, and a wonder of modern engineering - but it is not radical.

The language used here is disconcerting. First, it judges Scott Wilson's words as a 'positive spin', while giving us absolutely no reason to assume that Mr. Wilson would want to put a positive spin on the iPhone. Does he work for Apple? Has he worked for them? Is he an Apple fan? Did he criticize the iPhone to Dieter off the record? Does he hate Microsoft and Google?

You would think that we would be given some information as to Wilson's position if Dieter is going to say he, someone who has worked on a variety of devices not made by Apple, was spinning Apple's decision. Why isn't Scott Wilson, from the little we know of him from this, simply a designer who likes the iPhone 5 and respects Apple's design philosophy?

In other words, why is it 'spin' and not Wilson's honest belief?

If software is the main design element on modern smartphones — and it is — then we should be seeing Apple sweating each and every pixel just as it sweated each and every micron. Just try to close a dozen notifications on the iPhone and ask yourself if Apple is sweating the details.

Dieter seems to have forgotten something here in his attempt to portray Apple as not sweating about the details. What he has forgotten is that the notification center was added because the previous method was bad.

So how is this supposed to be proof that they also won't sweat the details when it comes to updating the notification center in the future? And why should we expect Apple's newest software to be perfect? Or has iPhone hardware since the first generation been perfect, with no flaws whatsoever? If so, why all the iPhone versions after the first one?

When you create a new solution to fix problems or provide new features, sometimes the solution, while being much better than before, still doesn't reach its full potential. This is the nature of software and hardware development. This is why we upgrade.

In other words, Apple looked at the annoying notification popups of yesteryear, and fixed them. They went for something better. And it's foolish to assume they're done.

Apple may be a company that loves its hyperbole, but it has never called any of their whole products perfect. Magical, Resolutionary, but never Perfect. Correct me on this if I am wrong.

You can count the major UI changes that Apple has made to iOS on one hand: Folders, dock-based multitasking, universal search, the notification drop down, and Siri.

And you can count the UI changes in Android that weren't made to simply catch up with iOS or to correct a flaw (hardware touch navigation buttons) with one hand too. Widgets (Universal search included), Multitasking thumbnail, and Notification bar. Remove those and you have iOS with difference icons.

In its five year history, iOS has seen smartphone competitors take radically different tacks on the core UI — webOS's multitasking cards, Android's widgets and stacked multitasking thumbnails, Windows Phone's active tiles, and even the upcoming BlackBerry 10's "flow" UI. Through it all, the iPhone’s UI basics have never changed; they invariably consist of a dock of 4 icons, a grid of icons above that, and lots of added features on the periphery.

Of all those, I would only call Windows Phone's Metro interface radical. WebOS cards were not different in practice than coverflow and were only a bit better than using Android's multitasking thumbnails. Which is more useful than iOS's recent app view, but hardly radical. It's simply a better way of switching between apps. But the point of doing that is to use good apps. And iOS has more of them than any other mobile OS.

And of course there's the obvious question. If Dieter makes the assumption, as he did through his editorial, that radical is better, then why did WebOS fail? Why will BlackBerry fail?

The only other successful operating system out there looks a lot more like iOS, minus the widgets and virtual navigation bar, than something radical like Metro. You could almost think that the desktop metaphor that over a billion people have learned over the last 25 years is a bit more useful than being radical.

Because Apple is sticking with its basic UI design, users are missing out in genuinely helpful and innovative ideas that can improve a smartphone experience.

Do most people want or care about those 'improvements'? Or is this another assumption. It seems to be so, since iPhone owners are still the most satisfied group.

Once again, where is Dieter's explanation on how radical is better. Not just assumptions that it is and that his readers should take it as obvious.

When Microsoft was at the height of its Windows dominance, it found itself caught in a cycle of sameness with Windows. The need to keep backwards compatibility and the fear that big changes would upset its user base led Microsoft to keep Windows looking the same and behaving the same. It packed on feature after feature, ultimately resulting in a confusing mess of mixed UI metaphors and arcane functionality. The trend culminated in Vista, where Microsoft tried to square the circle of innovating on UI while keeping app functionality the same. It didn't work, and because of the problems in Vista the OS was widely rejected.

This is the biggest flaw in Dieter's argument in my view. The implication that Windows no longer holds the stature it once had because it has the same UI and behaves the same.


The reality of the situation is that with Apple (or another unknown possibility) entering the smartphone and tablet industry and turning those products into something that the mainstream wants to use, the Desktop metaphor as the center of someone's digital life began to make less sense.

A third and fourth device growing exponentially will inevitably push the first two down in terms of mainstream computing marketshare, and mindshare.

Traditional Windows PCs no longer competes with just the Mac and Linux, both of which it will continue to dominate for years in the desktop and laptop space regardless of how well the PC market does. And so many people are using these devices more than their traditional computers. These devices are with them all the time. They can do most of what they use to do on PCs with these devices. And these devices aren't running Windows, so Microsoft is of course hurting.

But Microsoft isn't hurting because Windows 7 needed to become Windows 8 as we know it today on the desktop or laptop.

Microsoft chose not to cannibalize its products last decade. Apple has always chosen to cannibalize its products, at least according to public knowledge.

That's the difference between the Microsoft of the past and the Apple of today. That's why Microsoft is trying to go radical with Metro everywhere. That's also why Microsoft isn't willing to let go of the desktop metaphor even on tablets.

It's not rocket science. If there was never any competition to the desktop and laptop, then Microsoft would still be the number one major force in technology. They could have used Windows 7 for the next eight years and no one outside the tech community would have blinked an eye.

Microsoft's mistake was that it did not come up with the Lumia or Surface 5 years, 2 months, and 14 days ago. Not that it didn't come up with Metro for the desktop sooner.

Another flaw in this idea is that because Apple is no longer pushing for 'innovation', as Dieter considers it, in the iPhone that the iPhone's business may one day slow and that Apple will have to spends years trying to rekindle it in an attempt most likely to fail.

The problem with that line of thinking?

Of course the iPhone's business will one day slow. So will every other smartphone maker's smartphone business.

The key is that Apple has shown no fear of cannibilzing their previous products. Mac OS 9 was cannibalized by OS X. Power PC was cannabilized by the switch to Intel. The iPod Mini was cannibalized by the Nano. The iPod was cannibalized by the iPhone. And in a couple of months the iPad will probably be cannibalized by the iPad Mini.

This is Apple's bread and butter. This is Apple's core. They innovate, perfect, then cannibalize.

"If you don't cannibalize your business, someone else will." - Steve Jobs.

When Apple or another company cannibalizes the iPhone, it won't be done with another touchscreen 4-6 inch smartphone. And anyone who expects that has no recollection or understanding of Apple's history.

I understand Dieter's main point. Which is that Apple shouldn't be afraid to add new ideas into iOS because of how it may change the simplicity of iOS.

But he did not provide proof that this was Apple settling into a Microsoft role of complacency. And he certainly doesn't explain how Airplay, iCloud, iTunes, the App Store, and brand recognition aren't enough to fend off multitasking cards, Android's widgets and stacked multitasking thumbnails, Windows Phone's active tiles, and even the upcoming BlackBerry 10's "flow" UI.

Success and innovation are not the same thing, and once a company stops driving for continuous innovation, it can be a difficult trait to rekindle should business ever slow. Just ask Microsoft, which has spent years rebooting Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.

Success and innovation are not the same thing indeed. Which is why the Lumia, Pre, and Blackberries have not sold so well. But I will also add that there are two types of innovation. Major innovation and Minor innovation.

Major innovation? Windows. iPhone. iPad. Facebook. Twitter. Products that cannot easily be copied because they lock in their users, either by the use of standards or mindshare or both. Think Office or App Store or Googling as a verb.

Minor innovation? NFC, Pureview, new touch OS UI designs, tablet keyboard docks, whatever feature Google+ has added that Facebook has already copied, and other unique, but weak features that people like to round off.

You can copy NFC, but you can't copy mindshare. You can make a better camera, but you can't download that app.

Oh and it's foolish to even hint at a suggestion that the time for the iPhone is near the end since smartphones do not yet make up 50% of the cellphones being sold in the world. How about we wait until Apple actually starts to falter, which as Dieter admitted, they haven't, before we start predicting the specifics of their inevitable fall from greatness.