Apple falls victim to high expectations

The iPhone 4S suggests smartphone technology has hit a wall

The inevitable has happened—Apple has become a victim of its own success.

After repeatedly coming up with fancy new toys that would go on to be desired by zillions of people around the world, the company’s much ballyhooed press events at which these gizmos are launched have become the tech world’s equivalent of must-see TV (except, ironically, they’re not video streamed, forcing interested parties to follow along on live blogs that frequently crash). Whenever one of these things takes place, the pressure is on to deliver something that inspires oohs and ahhs.

That didn’t happen Tuesday with the company’s unveiling of its latest gadget, the iPhone 4S. The new device—which will be available in Canada on Oct. 14, presumably through Bell, Rogers and Telus—features faster download speeds, a better processor, a sharper camera and some voice recognition bells and whistles, some of which are already found in competing Android phones. But there wasn’t anything “magical,” to use one of Steve Jobs’ favourite words, with everything new simply representing incremental improvements. The nerds were not immediately impressed and neither were investors, who sent Apple’s stock down nearly 3 per cent. (It has since rebounded.)

Apple itself seems to have known that its new iPhone is only a marginal improvement, thereby opting for the “4S” designation rather than the “5” many had been expecting.

You almost wonder if there’s some secret conspiracy going on where Jobs, who recently stepped down as CEO because of health concerns, handed his successor Tim Cook some dull material, thereby setting up for triumphant return somewhere down the line.

More likely, though, is the fact that smartphone technology has hit a wall. Someone, whether it’s Apple or one of its competitors, will eventually figure out how to revolutionize mobile technology and take it to another, higher level—perhaps with SIM cards that are inserted directly into our brains? Until then, it looks like it’s going to be more memory (ooh!) and sharper photos (ahh!).

Apple has a history of taking ideas and shining them up. It didn’t invent the smartphone or the tablet, but it made them spiffy enough for the masses to want one. If the company wants to maintain the rapt attention of tech enthusiasts and media everywhere, it’s going to have to keep coming up with such “new” categories. After all, people don’t tune in to Apple for incremental; they want “revolutionary” and “magical.”

That’s a lot of pressure, but it’s the position Apple has put itself in.

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