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Is Apple losing its innovative edge?

Of late, it’s starting to seem like those wow moments from Apple are getting more scarce. And yet everything they release just works… Why is that?

Since Apple’s fall event last month (where the iPhone X was revealed), the company has been the subject of many heated debates everywhere, including the Digit office. As expected, the big event had the (predictable) effect of polarising geeks yet again. Apple fanboys saw the iPhone X as the last beacon of hope in a long-stagnating smartphone market while the Android brigade set out creating “we did it first” memes.

The whole “we did it first” swell made me think. Not only are the claims true (for the most part), but it seems a more recurring theme than before. Sure, we rip on Apple a lot, but this is probably because there was a time when the company used to come up with some (or most) never-seen-before things in the market. Scratching your head? I wouldn’t blame you, but there indeed are a few – and most of them from quite a few years ago. Take high-resolution pixel-dense displays as an example. Such kind of screens didn’t really exist until Apple came out with its first *ugh* “Retina Display”. I kinda miss those major Apple bomb drops like 64-bit processing in a smartphone, which sent the other side scrambling to speed-up their own roadmaps. Then there are the little things such as Apple’s work-in calibration and audio-signal processing (latency reduction), which is unmatched even today.

But of late, Apple seems to be the one doing the catching up. Think of most of the announcements that Apple made. Edge-to-edge displays have already been done, face ID isn’t new, and wireless charging in 2017 – really?

Heck, even LTE Smartwatches had already hit the market. Sure, they were clunky and you couldn’t share the same number with your primary SIM, but they were there. And this last bit – the one in which I’m making excuses for how the existing product was flawed and how Apple made it better – is precisely where Apple is excelling these days.

Let me explain…

They say – “Better late than never”. But in Apple’s case, going by the the way it has been doing things lately, we probably need to modify the old adage to “Better late if you do it better”. Take the previous edge-to-edge displays for example – many have done it before, but they’ve had at least one bezel. Apple on the other hand seems to have done it better and made it “true” edge-to-edge (save for that little notch for sensors).

AR gaming, the kind Apple showcased, was something I’d experienced first on a Wave phone running on Bada (remember those?). Then came Google’s Tango AR implementation. But as always, Apple’s ARKit seems to have taken AR capabilities up a notch. The level of graphic detail, the ability to zoom in very close to the rendered objects in 3D space, and even the audio increasing or decreasing based on the distance – all looked pretty impressive.

iPhone 8
Ahh yes, yet another iPhone

As Digit readers, many of you may have already identified this pattern where Apple takes an existing technology and refines it to the point where it suddenly seems “workable” rather than just a proof of concept. And yet, considering the rabid fanboyism that’s commonplace these days, I’m pretty sure some regular folks still don’t know that this is a strategy that Apple seems to blatantly follow; indeed, of late, this seems to be its only strategy.

Apple’s competitors (including the little guys), who rush their production cycles to come up with genuine “firsts” naturally face an uphill battle. The consumer reaction isn’t always great, because not only are the implementations half-baked, but also these companies don’t have the weight needed to drive the ecosystem towards adoption. Take the case of augmented reality – sure, Google’s got ARcore, but the Android ecosystem is so fragmented in terms of OS versions that mass adoption will take time. Simply put, a fewer proportion of Android devices run the latest version of Android as compared to iOS. So, when these AR experiences start rolling out, chances are iOS users will get a more uniform and widespread experience.

Even we in the news and publishing business struggle with this – is it better to come out with something first or wait and be accurate and comprehensive? In our case, the jury is still out. But in the consumer tech world, it seems like Apple might be onto something. In being the last entrant, Apple is strategically making the most logical move. It lets others endure teething troubles, and through their pain, it gathers some much needed intel.

Is it true innovation? Probably not. But what is innovation anyway? Perhaps Robert has a clue.

Siddharth Parwatay

Siddharth Parwatay

Vertically challenged geek. Interested in things like evolution, psychology, pc gaming, history, web culture... amongst other things.