And then there were two. Tech giant Apple has released not one, but two brand-new versions of its trend-setting, buzz-generating, profit-making phone.
Behold the 5s: the luxury model, with a brushed metal case offered in urbane shades of gold, silver, and “space grey.” On the inside, the 5s’s next-generation 64-bit processor is about twice as fast as its predecessor. The 5s also sports a much-improved camera with a larger aperture, bigger pixels, and intriguing automated features—including “true tone,” an algorithm that adjusts the intensity and the colour temperature of the phone’s two flashes (one white; one amber) to make it play nice with portraits. There are a couple of “geek-chic” features too, including a new fingerprint scanner that allows you bypass the familiar four-digit log-in code by holding your finger on the home button.
On the other end of the design spectrum: the 5c, the brash, fashion-forward foil to the 5s’s elegant, understated poise. On the inside, the 5c shares the same specs as the current (now discontinued) model 5. On the outside, however, things have changed dramatically: instead of a metal body, Apple offers a seamless polycarbonate shell that manages to feel slick and solid at the same time. Instead of a basic palate of black and white, the company offers a smorgasbord of hue and saturation: lime green, happy-face yellow, flamingo pink, Caribbean blue, ice-cream white. Beyond the aesthetics, the real difference is price: Apple plans to price the 5c about $100 cheaper than the 5s (for models with the same capacity).
Time will tell what consumers think of such offerings. As for the technorati—the technology columnists and reviewers, the bloggers and would-be pundits—they’ve responded with furrowed brows. Faster processor? Fine. Upgraded camera? Yes, always appreciated. Fingerprint scanner? Cool. But innovative, revolutionary, groundbreaking, transformative, cutting-edge—leave them all in the thesaurus, because there’s really no need for them here.
That is, unless you’re talking about the marketing. Apple’s new two-tiered pricing is perhaps the most novel thing about the new iPhones. If the 5s is the object of desire, a place for Apple to flex its technological muscles, the 5c is the colourful workhorse intended for the price- and/or design-conscious, not only in North America, but in China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and other burgeoning economies. No, it’s not the “entry-level” phone that many expected, but putting aspirational before affordable has long been part of Apple’s strategy. Sure, take a little off the price to get people interested. But the discount bin? Leave that to the likes of Nokia, Blackberry, and the other has-beens.
For those who have loved Apple—not just its products, but the idea of a company built around the Big Idea—it’s all a little prosaic. Instead of big change, we get big colour; instead of a revolution, we get marketing.
Or maybe we’re asking too much. Is it possible that we have become spoiled by the incredible pace of the smartphone evolution, of how quickly and how completely Silicon Valley has been able to innovate? After coming so far, so fast, is it not understandable that the pace of evolution might now slow, and be experienced as a series of incremental refinements rather than a Great Leap Forward? Or to put it more poetically: when good is this damn good, do we really need perfect?