Why Apple cannot afford to launch another iPhone that looks like its predecessors
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Concept videos depicting what is hoped to be the iPhone 6 are twice as abundant as iPhone 5 concepts were in 2012, or iPhone 4 concepts in 2010. The reason? Customers are craving a complete redesign of the phone, and that means on all levels.
The thing is all the concepts floating around today still retain a lot of the elements found in current-generation devices, and even in past-generation models. Take for instance the front of the phone. Apple hasn’t changed it since literally day one.
iPhone redesign over the years
Sure, the metal frame around the bezel is gone and sure, the screen has expanded by 0.5 inches on the diagonal, but it’s virtually the same phone overall: same Home button in the same place; same earpiece with the same opening size and placement; same two black stripes at the top and bottom; same rounded corners; same volume buttons; same mute switch; same Power button; same Apple logo in the exact same place.
The sides and the back of the phone have undergone numerous changes since 2007, some more dramatic than others. The first iPhone had an aluminum back shell with a plastic “window” at the bottom allowing radio waves to pass through and give you signal. The design was brilliant, but it would not stick as Apple planned to develop the second generation of iPhones with 3G connectivity.
The iPhone 3G therefore had to have an all-plastic back case to allow even more radio waves to pass through the enclosure and reach the antennas inside. The Cupertino giant could have picked other materials for a radio-transparent case, but plastic was obviously the most feasible option.
The 3GS, launched in 2009, marked the first time customers and the media casted doubt that Apple was an unmatched innovator. Pore for pore the iPhone 3GS was identical to its predecessor in terms of design, and the company was slammed by critics for only upgrading the device on the inside. Sales continued to soar nonetheless.
In 2010 the iPhone 4 came about. It was what many regarded as a truly radical design shift in years, and thanks to a prototype leak that created unprecedented amounts of hype, the device became an instant hit with the masses. To this day it still sells in some parts of the world as a premium handset.
2011 marked the arrival of the iPhone 4S, which again disappointed the masses as Apple seemed to be going through another period of poor inspiration. Looking exactly like the iPhone 4, the newer model simply iterated the processor and brought Siri as the tentpole feature of the upgrade. Sales would not disappoint as the Apple fanbase was hard to barge.
Then came the iPhone 5 in 2012. Apple called it an all-new design, but the now-mature public started to notice that Jony Ive was over-emphasizing the novelty. The front of the phone was nearly identical, while the back got a redesign that wasn’t universally appealing. Apple returned to the aluminum shell and the plastic radio windows with a different look, but somehow the design still felt iterated, not reinvented.
The identical-looking 5s deployed in 2013 was the final drop for those criticizing Apple’s bi-annual, incremental upgrade cycle. Acting like an attention distractor, the all-plastic 5c model was released alongside it. Sales of both phones combined brought new record-setting profits for Apple, but for the first time in history, iPhone showed signs of weakness. The 5c sold far less units than initially projected by Apple and analysts alike.
Radical, not incremental
If the past is any indication, 2014 will bring an all-new iPhone to the table. Rumor has it this phone is completely re-imagined, and some say there will be one model boasting a huge 5.5-inch display. Most sources, however, insist that the iPhone 6 will have a 4.7-inch screen.
Other rumors say the glass panel overlaying the LCD will be all-sapphire, while yet more speculative reports mention 10 megapixel iSight camera, a quad-core A8 chip, and other small upgrades.
But the design remains a mystery. With mere months to go before the announcement is made, there hasn’t been a single conclusive leak to point to an all-new face for Apple’s flagship product. I fear that if this aspect doesn’t change this year, iPhone might finally start to lose its magic.