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The Difference Between K1 and K2

September 14th, 2012

The iPhone is being criticized for not being mind-blowing; Timothy Lee of Forbes gives the rundown:

It has a faster processor, a bigger and brighter screen, supports LTE networking, and is thinner than its predecessors. It will doubtless prove to be a capable phone and a worthy competitor to the latest Android gear.

Still, judging from the Twitter chatter and early coverage by tech sites, what’s striking about the phone is what’s missing: a compelling story about what makes this phone better than its predecessor or distinguishes it from its competitors.

He then explains why:

Jobs instinctively understood that most customers don’t care about technical specs, they care about what you can do with a device’s raw hardware. Sometimes, if a new product had a particularly impressive technical improvement—as with the Retina Display—he’d come up with a whimsical brand name for the new feature and make that the focus of the presentation. But more often, his presentations would focus on small number of applications or characteristics, like Siri, that weren’t directly tied to any specific hardware upgrade but made the product dramatically more useful for ordinary consumers.

Had he been around, could Jobs have made the iPhone 5 sound more exciting? Maybe. Perhaps a focus on how much faster LTE is, like the old Mac-to-PC side-by-side presentations Jobs did showing a rendering process or something. Maybe Jobs could have made the new mapping technology a centerpiece.

But frankly, I doubt it. One of Apple’s disadvantages is that it is not competing against one company—Google and Android—it is competing against all other companies that make cell phones. It has to beat all of them out, and that’s an enormous task. Not only that, it has to beat all other phones combined. If one Android phone has features A and B, another has B and C, and yet another has C and D, the iPhone has to have A, B, C, D, and E to beat them. Not exactly a fair fight.

The biggest problem, I believe, is that we’re simply running out of features that knock our socks off. I noted this back in 2010 when the iPhone 4 came out:

One other thing that this makes me think of–there’s so much new stuff on this phone, what’s left to add to the next-gen iPhone a year from now? Seriously. It’ll be hard to make it much slimmer; doubtful they’ll up the screen resolution; no more cameras to add, or video functionality; no more wireless stuff to add that I can foresee. The iPhone 4 didn’t up the flash memory, nor did it add colors, so that could change, but those are relatively mundane “upgrades.” So, what could be added next year that could compare with this year? The iPhone 4 will be pretty damned hard to beat, even for Apple.

The 4S added Siri, but it’s not that easy to create iconic new technologies like that. The “S” upgrades are usually speed bumps anyway; the iPhone 5 was supposed to be one of those every-two-years major upgrades.

And that’s probably its biggest flaw: it didn’t live up to expectations. People have come to expect Apple to hit not just home runs, but grand slams every time. The iPhone is already such a good product, it’s progressively harder and harder to do even better.

This came more to light for me when a student in my class a few days ago asked if I was excited about it, and I gave my “Meh” response. but then they asked about switching from Android, and my response was much different. Students have handed me Androids in the past and I have played with them. They feel plastic and cheap. The touchscreen is less responsive. The interface is less intuitive. I know many people prefer Android, but the phones I have seen it on just feel inferior to Apple hardware and software.

From that perspective, it is my impression that the iPhone 5 is mind-blowing. I think you’re simply getting a much better product. However, coming from the heights of the iPhone 4S, it’s, well, also really good. But from that height, there just isn’t as much difference.

Another factor is Apple’s own popularity and how that has translated into leaks. iPhones in the past had some surprise. This one had zero. Nothing was unknown before the announcement. The taller profile and bigger screen had been known for a year or more, and parts leaks gave us a look at the entire exterior and much of the interior for at least a month in advance. We knew it was LTE from software clues. We knew about all the features in iOS6 already, including the panorama photo feature. The only things we did not know were some minor technical features, like the exact number of megapixels in the camera.

As a result, there was nothing that would surprise anyone who was paying attention.

Alas, a lot of this simply comes back to and down to perception. This was put rather cruelly to the test in this video:

Frankly, I hate videos like this. They play on people’s ignorance—which is the point, yes. But you know they edit out the people who either don’t see a change or who can easily spot that it’s not an iPhone 5. Worse, it plays on people’s desire to be on TV—some of the people in the video look like they’ve been asked to audition for an Apple commercial, and some perhaps think that this is exactly what they are doing.

Despite all that, Kimmel’s video has a point to make: people simply expect every new iPhone to be better, so they see it whether it is there or not. Basic human psychology. It doesn’t mean the new iPhone isn’t faster, thinner, lighter, and better—it just means these poor schlubs aren’t really equipped to tell the difference.

Anyways, I will probably go out and get my iPhone 5 pre-ordered today—SoftBank starts taking pre-orders from 4 p.m. For me, it’s not because I’ve gotta have it, it’s more because, well, frankly, it’s free and there’s no downside. If I thought the 5S or whatever will be out next year would be a quantum leap forward, I might wait, but there’s no special reason to think that. SoftBank subsidizes the entire price of the 16GB model in exchange for extending your contract another 2 years, which I would do with or without a new phone anyway, so I pay nothing extra for the hardware. Is essence, there’s no reason not to get a new phone. It would be turning down a free mini-computer, and while the 5 doesn’t blow me away, it is still a very, very nice product.

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