Crunch time for Apple as innovative edge seems lost


Despite the unveiling of its iOS 7 software, Apple is lagging behind its rivals when it comes to innovation, as Paul Withers explains

For years now complacency seems to have informed Apple’s product strategy.

A few tweaks here and there to the operating system and the most imperceptible of hardware redesigns have kept Apple diehards satisfied for more than five years.

But times are changing and Apple may need to rethink if it wants to retain – or recapture – its must-have status.

Technology changes almost daily and consumers are forever playing catch-up to ensure they have the biggest and best handset on the market.

Operators acknowledge that – O2 recently launched its mid-contract trade-up tariff Refresh to allow just that.

Apple’s decision to release just a single handset each year is all well and good, provided it brings something to the table worth waiting for – as it did back in 2007 with the first iPhone.

The truth, though, is it hasn’t done this for some years now. Its brand strength has allowed it to get away with this, but the likes of Samsung are now a serious threat to it.

Samsung’s current popularity now makes  it the equivalent of Apple in 2007. It now even generates the kind of hype which has historically followed Apple’s every move.

Importantly, you don’t have to have a lot of money to own a Samsung, thanks to its ever growing portfolio which touches most price points in the market.

Samsung has launched more handsets in the past month than Apple has in six years.

Its design team has also shown guts by producing devices such as the Galaxy S4 which look nothing like an iPhone – allowing for clear differentiation in the market.

And as for features, the S4 beats the iPhone 5 in almost every respect. So what can Apple do to redress the balance?

Last week’s unveiling of Apple’s new iOS7 operating system (pictured) suggests the firm is well aware that it needed a kick up the backside and that it can’t trade on past glories – just ask Motorola what good that does in the long run.

iOS7 is the first big overhaul of the iOS platform since the first iPhone was released in late 2007. The redesign, according to CEO Tim Cook, was aimed at presenting a cleaner and simpler-looking format.

First impressions are good. Visually, the differences are evident from the off, with a 3D-style effect from a ‘flatter’ design. Even the unlock screen has changed for the first time.

But the real updates are the features – and while they are significant for Apple, there isn’t much we haven’t seen already.

Playing catch-up
For example, the somewhat tiresome way of accessing settings for functions such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth can now be accessed instantly by swiping up the screen to reveal the ‘Control Centre’.

Other new features within this include airplane mode, rotation lock and sound control.

While this is an essential improvement, similar features have been included in Android for years and more recently in BlackBerry’s new BB10 operating system.

Much has been said about the new iTunes Radio, which features more than 200 stations and millions of songs from the iTunes Store. It is being touted as a rival to Spotify. This is a good feature – but haven’t Nokia had the same service for years on Nokia Music?

And anyway, the App Store is full of radio apps.

It seems that, for now at least – and we don’t know what the new iPhone in September will bring – Apple has run out of ideas. Its ability to innovate – once its biggest strength – appears to have been lost.