There’s an argument in the platform wars, and also on Wall Street, that goes something like this: “Apple doesn’t innovate anymore. It moves too slowly, and is being taken over by more nimble, more innovative rivals.”
Any success Apple has is the result of slick marketing, rather than the newest technology. But now, Apple is a laggard and is being overtaken by more nimble companies.
Apple has an “innovation problem,” according to Forbes.
“Samsung is innovating faster than Apple,” according to Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster.
“Why Doesn’t Apple Innovate?” asks CEO.com.
For Apple haters, this argument feels good to make. Unfortunately, it fails the test of fact and reason. Here’s why.
Vision means you don’t try whatever to find out what works
Samsung’s Galaxy S4 is a good example of a product considered more innovative than Apple’s competing iPhone 5.
The S4 has “Smart Pause,” “Air Gesture,” dual-camera mode, a photo “eraser” feature, a health and fitness tracker, “smart scroll,” and something called Sound and Shot for adding sound to pictures.
Plus, the S4 has a much bigger screen, NFC support, a higher pixel-density camera and a more advanced chipset than the iPhone 5.
Does all this — does any of this — mean Samsung is more innovative?
“Smart Pause” and “Air Gesture” don’t strike me as bold new directions in user interface design, but mere gimmicks that most people will either ignore or turn off. They separate the user from direct control, and are likely to be frustrating to use for most people. Is anybody loving these? I haven’t heard anyone gushing about them on social media. It seems to me that Samsung threw these ideas in there just so they’d have something to demo and convince the gullible that they’re more advanced than the competition.
The dual-camera mode, where an image from the front camera is placed in a box on the picture from the back camera, the photo eraser, the health-and-fitness tracker and “smart scroll” are just more feature gimmicks that should be or in some cases already have been added by many apps available in the App Store. I personally use the eraser feature and “smart scroll” in long-existing apps. They’re really no big deal.
“Sound and shot” is yet another thing you’d expect to find in some free app nobody uses. Is this taking the world by storm as is, say, Vine? The answer is no.
I don’t think anyone believes Apple doesn’t have the technological capability to make a bigger-screen iPhone or add NFC chips. Obviously they can do it. They’ve chosen not to yet. They’ve made a judgement call. Does deciding that the ability for people with smaller hands to hold a phone and deciding the market or the services aren’t ready yet for NFC mean Apple isn’t innovative? Or does it just mean they’ve made a decision some people (but not the market) disagree with?
And finally, you would expect a newer chipset to come out on a newer phone. The Galaxy S4 is six months newer than the iPhone 5.
When iPhones first ship, they tend to have much higher benchmark performance than all or nearly all the competition. Does shipping 6 months after the iPhone make Samsung more innovative?
I think any honest observer would have to admit that Apple is certainly capable of slapping on feature gimmicks and somewhat arbitrary new interface alternatives, but that they chose not to. Their strategy is to ship one best phone, and it has to serve everybody out of the box, enabling users to add gimmicky features with downloadable apps.
You can disagree with that strategy, and believe that Apple would be better off using the Samsung model of selling dozens of phones to target every narrow niche. But that disagreement doesn’t mean Apple isn’t innovative.