The iPhone 5S would be Apple’s third “S” series iPhone, and after the first two “S” versions users are trained to expect a similar design with small features. Essentially Apple uses the same design for two years, leaving off the option to boost screen sizes as fast as Samsung or HTC, and sacrifices on design changes that might make room for NFC or wireless charging.
While some may call the iPhone 5S and the “S” series a problem, it’s actually genius. Extending the life of the iPhone model by an additional year offers many benefits to Apple and iPhone users.
The iPhone 5S Problem
Rene Ritchie details Apple’s iPhone 5S problem and the history of the iPhone “S” models in detail on iMore. The problem Apple faces is that Apple takes its time to institute new technology, though it may be trying to counter the issue by introducing an iWatch or other devices to pull attention away from that longer period of time.
Predictability is a big part of the issue. It’s how HTC and Samsung are able to push out the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4 ahead of the iPhone and why both manufacturers upped their game in what many expect is an iPhone “S” model year.
Others argue that it’s not the amount of innovation Apple delivers with the “S” models, but the name itself. Former Apple Ad man, Ken Segall argues that Apple should skip the iPhone 5S and jump straight to the iPhone 6, even if it’s the same device.
On his blog, Segall argues,
More important, tacking an S onto the existing model number sends a rather weak message. It says that this is our “off-year” product, with only modest improvements. If holding off on the big number change achieved some great result, I might think otherwise.
Simply changing the naming system wouldn’t address Apple’s big, then little, product cycle. But it could resonate strongly with consumers who are already searching the internet for the iPhone 6 more than they are looking for details about the iPhone 5S.
Why the iPhone 5S Problem is Actually Genius
Does the iPhone 5S present a challenge for Apple? Yes. There are certainly trials to releasing a minor update to a device every other year, but there are many also many benefits to this approach.
According to Apple Senior Vice President, Phil Schiller, Apple “didn’t want to be predictable” when it announced the new iPad name in early 2012 (and avoided using the ‘S’ naming strategy for its tablet). Despite these claims, there are benefits to the predictable nature of Apple’s iPhone releases.
It Keeps Consumers Happy
Apple’s iPhone release cycle is predictable enough that most consumers know what is coming and when it is coming. Even the average consumer can read one iPhone 5S rumor roundup and get a sense of whether or not the iPhone 5S will deliver something worth waiting for over the iPhone 5.
As Ritchie explains, this pattern, teaches “when to buy, and by extension, when not to buy,” but in many conversations with potential smartphone shoppers, the general public is less concerned about buying an iPhone 5 versus an iPhone 5S.
Yes, part of this predictable cycle tells consumers the iPhone 5S will be a minor upgrade, but the other side of this coin is that consumers can more confidently purchase the iPhone 5S, knowing it will not be immediately overshadowed.
Unlike the iPad, which Apple was able to push out a second model of in 2012, most consumers are locked into two-year contracts. While iPhone users appear more willing to upgrade annually at a higher cost, Apple’s ‘new every two’ approach to major iPhone releases better fits the current U.S. cell phone market.
As it stands, shoppers can pick up the iPhone 5 and then upgrade to the iPhone 6 when a new major release comes out. iPhone 5S users can predictably buy the iPhone 5S and then pick up the iPhone 6S two years later.
Combined with the promise of major iOS upgrades that come swiftly and arrive for years, the iPhone 5S remains attractive even as a minor release.
This approach allows Apple to keep consumers happier, by removing the feeling that the phone they just purchased is out of date. This problem may sound trivial, but look at the iPad 4 release: it spawned a lawsuit in Brazil and many complaints from iPad 3 owners.
iPad 3 owners were annoyed by the swift release, even though the iPad 4 was essentially an S release. The iPad 4 featured the same design with only a few notable changes, but it came just 7 months after the iPad 3. Christina Warren of Mashable shared her complaint about Apple’s swift release.
Look, I understand that technology cycles are getting shorter and shorter. I know that the latest and greatest won’t last forever. But I still feel cheated. I know I’m not alone
Commenters on Warren’s post go further, venting about the iPad 4:
I agree. Apple ripped us off and its current ‘unprofessional’ and borderline unethical treatment of its loyal customers (I’ve been using Apple products for 25 years) will simply serve to alienate us. Customer service was once high on their list, clearly, this is no longer the case. – Charlene Sands
For an alternate view, which sums up why this anger is uncalled for, Sascha Segan offers, Why Angry iPad 3 Owners Are Stupid. Segan’s take on why the iPad 3 is still a great gadget sums up why Apple’s iPhone 5S problem isn’t a problem. IPad 3 owners aren’t the target audience, it is new tablet shoppers and Android owners that are.
One has to wonder if Apple called the iPad 4 the iPad 3S, if users would have expressed the same anger.
A Year for Major iOS Innovation
The iPhone 5S allows Apple to go hard on iOS 7, potentially bringing a flatter, fresher look with new services like a mobile payment system and iRadio, according to the latest rumors.
It’s not to say that Apple lacks the resources to deliver a new phone and a new version of iOS, but historically the “S” model years brought a bigger focus on software. This is undoubtedly a conscious decision by Apple to offer iPhone owners using an iPhone 4 or iPhone 5 a new set of features, even though there are some reserved just for the newest model.
In iOS 3, with the iPhone 3GS we saw the introduction of many features such as;
- Spotlight search
- Cut, Copy and paste
- Voice Control
- Push Notifications
- Landscape keyboard support
- USB and Bluetooth tethering
- Video recording
- Autofocus camera support
- iTunes purchases
- In App Purchases and more.
Alongside the iPhone 4S in 2011 Apple also pushed the software hard. While the feature list is smaller, we saw major new introductions like,
iOS 6 arrived with the iPhone 5, but many of the enhancements were smaller additions, which allowed the iPhone 5 to carry the release. In the off years, iOS carries the weight.
We think iOS 7 will deliver a new user experience and we may see a new way of interacting with the iPhone. Analysts are calling iOS 7 and rumored iOS 7 services the iPhone 5S’ killer feature.
Allows Product Evolution
By keeping the same design for two years, Apple is able to put more resources into each major iPhone launch. Much like car manufacturers re-use a model for several years before a major redesign, Apple is able to focus on one major iPhone release every two years.
One benefit of this is the ability to use the same iPhone 5 accessories with the iPhone 5S. By keeping the design similar, there is a greater abundance of accessories for users to choose from, and users who upgrade mid-cycle can use their old accessories.
Apple is reportedly working on an iPhone 6 prototype that features a larger, higher resolution display and a new design that may remove the home button from the front of the device. These iPhone 6 concepts show potential new iPhone 6 designs, several of which showcase radical design changes, including a design that comes from Apple’s labs.
While some investors and consumers worry about an iPhone 5S problem, the big and small release cycle of the iPhone is actually a smart way to deal with consumer expectations, and the two-year contract most users sign to buy the iPhone.