Apple has been the undisputed king of the smartphone industry for over a decade. Ever since they released the iPhone it has been hit after hit – and the business of Apple has skyrocketed. Their launch events have been the stuff of legend. Their executives have cult followings and are given rock star treatment – some even becoming household names. Their stock has rocketed to all time high valuation levels. Nothing could go wrong with this golden goose. But are there cracks starting to show that could grow into major problems for them?
Recent events suggest that the company that could do no wrong is starting to make some mistakes. Nobody would say the iPhone lineup is going to die anytime soon but the upgrade cycles are getting longer and the hysteria and popularity of launches seems to be fading with each release. The future for Apple doesn’t look as bright as it has looked in prior years.
What’s The Issue At Apple?
Lack of innovation? Loss of public interest? Apple making missteps? Threats from competition? Cooling of economies globally? Cooling of interest in mobile tech? A company so large that it’s getting in its own way? For Apple, it would take a combination of all of those things to knock it off of its pedestal. 2024 could be make or break for Apple when it comes to staving off that perfect storm. Not all of it will be Apple’s fault, but a lot of it will and it’s time their leadership started owning up to that.
As with all dominant companies in history, cooling off is always inevitable. How much of Apple’s decline will be self inflicted is still up in the air. Apple has looked safe the past decade because it seems like the competition could never really put up a product that was quite good enough. Even as the technological gap narrowed though, Apple’s ecosystem insulated it from competitive threats. Regulation, antitrust lawsuits, and a shift in demand from the public could be threatening Apple’s ‘moat’ to a large degree.
Parallels From The Past
The overall obsession with upgrading our smartphones every generation peaked a few generations back. Now people seem to be OK waiting a few generations between upgrades, and that is justified. There just isn’t that much change from generation to generation. We’re all waiting for the “Next Big Thing” to come out – but it hasn’t. Meta predicted it would be VR. That bet seems to have failed. Apple has dabbled into VR (the Vision Pro comes out in 2024) but this seems like a small side-bet for them.
Fanboy or not, everyone would admit that Apple has hit an innovation wall compared to what the company was outputting a decade ago. The company that built it’s fame on changing the world several times over hasn’t really changed much in a long while. The launches aren’t as exciting or newsworthy anymore. The products don’t bring anything new to the table. If the template going forward is going to be:
[Faster Processor] + [Higher Screen Resolution] + [Increased Camera Pixels] = iPhone [Model + 1]
then the average consumer that has already lost interest won’t be very inspired. The history of tech seems to cycle and we can draw parallels between the smartphone industry of today to the PC industry back in the late 90’s/Early 2000’s.
Back then the “MHz wars” were a huge deal. Every manufacturer and chip maker was racing to crank up the clock rate on their CPUs and people would buy them year after year. Moore’s law, transistor counts, core counts, features like MMX & Hyper Threading and who knows what else – all pitched at us and we would buy it up. This was truly an innovative time in PC hardware as things started actually getting much faster and we transitioned from 2D to 3D video. Computers also started taking over our lives and the internet took off. After a decade or more of it, however, we stopped caring. Computers had become a commodity. They were all good and satisfied our basic needs – after all the web wasn’t necessarily about a FAST processor but more about a FAST internet connection. Buying a new computer year after year seemed like more of a burden than an upgrade. Desktops transitioned more and more to Laptops and so that once blazing hot industry started to fade.
You could more directly compare Apple’s iPhone line with Microsoft’s Windows line. The Windows 95 launch was IMMENSE. Everyone in tech was on the edge of their seats when 95 came out and it delivered. Windows 98 was huge too – including the now infamous Blue Screen blunder during the launch party. Windows 2000 was BIG. XP…HUGE. Windows was so big we all forgave Steve Ballmer for his horrible dancing. But as we churned through different Windows releases the excitement started dissipating; especially since mobile devices also started creeping in. Microsoft seemed to shift away some resources from the Windows team and so the value-add lessened and lessened. The release that might be most memorable in recent (if you consider 2007 recent) was Windows Vista – and that was mostly for how terrible it was. Windows went from being the hottest most talked about aspect of computing to just the software you had running in the background.
The iPhone 15 Launch Fiasco
The iPhone 15 was supposed to be Apple’s next big hit. However, the phone’s launch was plagued with problems, muted public response, and negative sentiment. People had set a very low bar for the iPhone 15 launch. VERY low. Yet, as bad things sometimes go, it still disappointed. The now famous overheating issue that affected it right out of the gate was a huge black eye to a company not used to taking punches. What made it even worse is how they completely botched the handling of it – upsetting a lot of their loyal base who just dropped $900+ on a product that should not have come out of the box like that. Apple hasn’t made missteps this big in what seems like decades.
Nothing To See Here
The device didn’t generate as much buzz as prior releases due to lukewarm reviews from critics. Before release, the early leaks were unimpressive with very little in the way of the phone’s innovation or inspiration. We were supposed to get excited about a titanium frame? Dynamic island? These are just features that don’t move the needle. People who actively searched for a reason to get the 15 from an iPhone 13 or 14 couldn’t find a reason to. And many of those that did were face with the big problem.
Right out of the gate Apple’s iPhone 15 launch was plagued by overheating issues. The issue was so widespread that Apple, after originally denying that there was even a problem, was forced to issue a software update to address it. People took to social media to claim their phones were getting so hot it was causing burn marks on their skin. Some people reported temperatures of 115°F (46°C) or higher.
The overheating issue is thought to have been caused by a number of factors including the phone’s processor not having adequate cooling, its new titanium frame, and changes in the design. Some people speculate that compromises made to make the phone lighter (a point that Apple has advertised to death) may have all but cursed the phone. The combination of these factors led to the phone to heat up excessively, especially when it is being used for demanding tasks such as gaming or video streaming.
Apple has said that the software update will help to reduce the amount of heat that the phone generates, but some users have reported that the issue persists even after installing the update. Apple is continuing to investigate the issue and is expected to release another software update in the near future.
The all-new titanium frame was supposed to be a big deal for the Pro and Pro Max lineup – supposedly making the iPhone stronger than it ever has been. This has not been the case. Not only has the new design not strengthened the phone, but it’s arguably made it weaker. The new design with the titanium frame has no give – which is causing the back glass on the iPhone 15 to snap with MUCH less pressure than before. This is going to be an issue that is going to cost owners $100’s to fix. The feature of the phone pitched to bring stability and protection has done quite the opposite.
Back glass breaking has always been an issue with the Apple lineup but with the 15 series being so vulnerable to it this is going to leave a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths.
The new coating used on the titanium frame is scratching VERY easily. People have reported that (especially the blue and black colors) are picking up scratches from keys & sharp objects much easier than ever before. This is a huge annoyance and nearly impossible to fix without a frame replacement – which isn’t very cost effective.
Overall Perception Of The iPhone 15
The iPhone 15’s failure is a major setback for Apple. The company has long relied on its iPhones to drive its profits. However, the iPhone 15’s poor performance suggests that consumers are not AS interested in Apple’s products as they once were. Apple has been able to raise prices launch after launch to more than make up for any drop in popularity, however. But will that last forever?
Competition Could Contribute To Apple’s Decline
In addition to the iPhone 15’s failure, there are several other factors that could contribute to Apple’s decline. These include:
- The rise of Chinese smartphone manufacturers
- The increasing popularity of Android
- Apple’s own lack of innovation
Chinese smartphone manufacturers, such as Huawei and Xiaomi, have been making significant inroads into the global market. These companies are offering high-quality smartphones at competitive prices, which is making it difficult for Apple to compete. A big name that could come out of nowhere in the USA might be a Chinese manufacturer called OnePlus. They haven’t really hit the mainstream here yet, but if a major carrier decides to push them to the forefront that could be an issue for both Apple and Samsung.
Android is always a threat because of how much it dominates the non-Apple ecosystem. The operating system is now used on more than 70% of smartphones worldwide. Android’s open-source nature and its wide range of apps and devices make it a more attractive option for many consumers than Apple’s iOS. And Android based phones can launch to market at prices lower than Apple’s.
It is still too early to say for sure whether Apple’s reign over the smartphone industry is coming to an end. However, the failed launch of the iPhone 15 and the other factors mentioned above suggest that the company is facing an uphill battle. Apple needs to innovate and come up with new products that will excite consumers if it wants to maintain its position as the world’s leading smartphone manufacturer.
The somewhat muted response to the launch of the iPhone 15 is just one of several factors that could contribute to Apple’s decline. If the iPhone 16 (expected to launch in September of 2024) plays out the same way it will definitely be a problem for them. Until then we’ll just have to wait and see.
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