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A Slightly Improved iPhone May Not Mute Apple's Critics

A Slightly Improved iPhone May Not Mute Apple's Critics

Does the next iPhone have to be a home run, or will a solid double be enough to woo back critics and investors? The latest speculation involves what is being called the iPhone 5S, which may have a better processor and camera but nothing else in the way of groundbreaking design or functions. Then again, a predicted third quarter launch gives Apple enough time to pull a rabbit out of the innovation hat.

By John P. Mello Jr. MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
03/22/13 5:00 AM PT

Although the iPhone 5 is less than a year old, speculation is already rampant about the next version of Apple's iconic handset. That guessing game was fueled Thursday by a report from DigiTimes that suggested the next iPhone won't break any new ground in features or design.

Much like the iPhone 4S evolved from the iPhone 4 -- the 4S featured the Siri voice assistant -- the new handset will reportedly have a more powerful processor and better digital camera.

The publication also predicted the new iPhone, dubbed the 5S, will launch in the third quarter. Apple raised the curtain on the iPhone 5 last September, so a third quarter release for the 5S seems plausible.

Ammunition For the Critics?

Incremental improvements to the iPhone make historic sense based on past performance by the company. However, it may not be greeted favorably given the tenor of the time and questions raised about Apple losing its innovative edge.

"They will get slammed if the next iPhone is an evolutionary product, but it doesn't mean Apple will be making the wrong decision," Michael Morgan, a mobile devices analyst with ABI Research, told MacNewsWorld.

"If Apple doesn't wow the analysts, it will get dinged for it," he said. "But Apple isn't trying to wow the analysts. Apple's iterative technology improvements are increasingly targeted at adding stuff in only the things that it believes will be the most meaningful to customers."

That can create a perception gap, he admitted.

"Samsung is pulling out all the stops adding amazing new bells and whistles, which has garnered them a lot of positive attention and device sales," Morgan said. "Is everything Samsung doing great? No, but it does create the perception that it's doing something."

Competitors Getting Better

To some extent, Apple's current problems are because it has created great products for so many years, said Gartner Vice President Michael McGuire.

If the next iPhone is an evolutionary product, it could be knocked by pundits and technology elitists, he noted, but most iPhone buyers aren't as concerned with never-before-seen-tech as Apple's critics.

"Consumers are looking for functionality and value, not the latest and greatest components," McGuire told MacNewsWorld.

"I don't think most consumers buy something because it's the first implementation of a new technnology," he said. "That might get their attention, but that's not what the mass of consumers are looking for."

Nevertheless, it has become harder and harder for Apple to conjure the magic that has brought it so much success in the past.

"It's not because Apple lacks any inherent skills or capabilities," McGuire said, "but because, as much as anything else, competitors have gotten very good at creating their own products."

Still Hope for a Bigger Screen

Even if the next iPhone is more than an incremental product, Apple will be knocked by some who have unrealistic expectations for the company, he continued.

"Unless the iPhone is made of unobtainium and makes hair grow, some people will say innovation is gone at Apple."

While the guessing game leading up to the next generation of an Apple product is a favorite pastime of technology observers, the company often finds a way to surprise, noted Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies.

An evolutionary next iPhone makes sense, he said, but Apple may have multiple rabbits to pull from its hat when introduction time rolls around.

"What will be interesting to watch is whether it'll bring out a new form factor along with the iPhone 5S," he told MacNewsWorld. "More and more of the market is demanding phones with bigger screens, so there will be high interest if Apple does something in that category."


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