Apple’s brand of unrelenting progress

So Apple has this thing about not releasing a product or product feature until it’s awesome. For example, iPhone didn’t have 3G connectivity until it was ready (it was a battery killer); there wasn’t a half ass cut and paste solution put in the original iPhone, until they figured it out and now cut and paste and selecting text is unchanged since it was released. And so every iPhone from original to 4S was just like the previous iPhone, except unarguably better. As a a result, 1) nothing is ever half-ass, or 2) every product feels unrelentingly improved and refined with each new version.

It feels like the company is actually trying to figure out THE solution, rather than just tweaking things for the sake of change (moving button placements, inflating screen sizes, yes I’m talking to you Samsung galaxy note). This might seems like an obvious thing for a tech company to do, but apparently not. Look at every point and shoot camera ever made. Every company has a million diffusion lines, e.g., canon sd110, s100, sd1100x, but can we say with any certainty that the new version hasn’t fucked up something from the previous version? Camera companies will constantly up the mega pixel count but that does nothing to image quality. Or in another example, a car model may vary wildly between years, e.g.,The 2009 Honda Civic was amazing, but then they decided to redesign in 2011 and now nothing is the same or even better. Call me crazy, but tech products should not feel like wine vintages, e.g., “ah yes, 2005 was a great year for Bordeaux and LG cell phones.”

Back to Apple. Whats interesting is what this feeling of constant refinement does to Apple’s branding and to customer’s expectations. I can’t tell you how many times someone turned me last winter and said “I can’t wait to get the iPad 3”, then an unreleased product. People just assume its going to be there and it’s going to be better than the iPad 2, which they already like, and somehow they have done the math, and the iPad 3 projects to cross some purchasing threshold for them.

There’s a weird side to these kind of expectations, as evidenced by the iPhone released in fall 2011. according to many accounts, this was the month that Apple “did not release the iPhone 5.” What does that even mean?? A product called the iPhone 5 does not exist, yet people have an idea in their mind already of what that product is, and were disappointed when Apple released a product called “4S” instead.

If you look at the new iPad ads and info, you’ll notice they don’t call it the iPad 3. Apple just refers to it as the “the new iPad”, perhaps to move away from version numbers and the discrete expectations they inspire in people. I wouldn’t be surprised if the future “iPhone 5”, if it exists, follows suit.

Leave a Reply