Apple’s Timid Steps Forward: The Carrying Capacity Of Innovation?

Editors Note: This is a guest post by Walter Deleon, a web enthusiast and writer who loves all things design and technology. He also is a professed Apple and type fan who enjoys spending his days surfing the interwebs and battling monsters.

Apple’s new iPhone 5 is a phenomenal product. There is no doubt that it will easily sell millions, the massive Apple fan base, supportive iPhone ecosystem, and the end of a lot of two year contracts will guarantee that. It’s also a little bit boring, which has led to serious questions about Apple’s willingness or ability to innovate.

Sure, the iPhone 5 is meant as a natural update, an evolution and not necessary revolution. But the question has been brewing for a long time. Can Apple still innovate? Will it continue doing so? Alas, the potential question lies not in one place.

For starters, iOS 6 doesn’t come with any big improvements. There is no difference between the features of the first beta release to the Gold Master. Historically, iOS has been the best mobile operating system out there, but with the timid new features, Microsoft and Google can now really compete with it. Google Now is said to run rings around Siri, and Microsoft is betting it can become the first major company to make NFC payment mainstream.

Although Steve Jobs said that a product’s design should only be changed when it’s current form factor limited what one could put into it, People get bored. People want an obvious differentiation between two different generation devices. And the fact that the iPhone 5 adds no new features exclusive to it’s generation that can’t and won’t be found in an iPhone 4s is mind boggling. The new iPhone 5 doesn’t come with anything that can make you say “wow”. And don’t expect an iPhone redesign for another two years.

In addition, Apple’s most successful iPod is the largest sign of danger for the road ahead.

The constant change that comes with every reworking of the Nano seems to be in the very DNA of the product. The releases have always been the most unexpected during Apple’s events. From being Apple’s replacement to the iPod Mini, to becoming Apple’s answer to the Flip camera, to becoming a worthy watch. Now the latest nano, which is like a mix of the 5th and 6th nanos, a it’s 2.5-inch display and a symbian-esq pseudo-iOS interface, fails to make it’s mark as an outstanding successor.

There was a glimpse of the future two years ago, when Apple released it’s updated Nano, a simple iPod with a 1.5 inch touch display. It was about the size of a watch. Then a year after that, it was updated with new clock displays and Apple even began selling nano watch bands in its retail stores. It was clear, the potential was blindingly obvious — it was only Bluetooth away from being the ultimate iPhone accessory. It felt like an absolute revolution brewing in wearable technology that guaranteed an extra $149 in revenue from every iPhone owner.

Yes, the demand for smartwatches is real, and growing. The aspect of wearable technology has gone from being a gimmick to a possible trend. The TikTok and LunaTik iPod nano watch bands were an absolute success, the Pebble smartwatch that connects to the iPhone shattered funding records on Kickstarter, even Sony became part of the trend, releasing a smartwatch for Android devices.

Apple could have blown the smartwatch market wide open with the first truly must- have phone accessory in years. Imagine the craze that would have been.

Instead there’s the new iPod nano. It is a cautious step towards familiar price points and predictable sales numbers and not at all a risky first step towards a revolutionary new platform. Worst of all, it’s not even a compelling product. All you need to do is take away the touchscreen and it becomes a Samsung Yepp from 2007. It runs a grotesque proprietary OS, comes in just one storage size, doesn’t support apps or popular streaming services like Spotify or Pandora, and makes no case for existing in a world where most teenagers get their music from YouTube.

It is a dangerous sign for Apple’s new leadership; Jobs was always insistent that past success not forestall future innovation.

Just think: if Apple had introduced a completely re-imagined iPod nano that served primarily as a watch companion to the exact same iPhone 5 on Wednesday, we wouldn’t be asking if the company’s products had gotten tired or stale or safe. We would be asking if Apple could make enough iPods to match its inevitably chart- topping iPhone sales.

Has Apple reached the carrying capacity for how much innovation a company can bring forth? Did Apple’s future die with Steve Jobs?

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