The ‘Ultimate iPhone’ and how it applies to everything else
Published: Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 22:10
Yesterday Apple announced the new iterations of its tablet offerings, the iPad Air and the new iPad mini with a retina display. For the most there was nothing that was truly revolutionary. The devices were thinner, lighter and faster than their predecessors as has been the case for the past few years with Apple on the hardware front. Despite not having anything to do with the smartphone, this continues the idea of the “ultimate iPhone”. The idea, which has been around since the first few years of the iPhone, essentially says that Apple created a feature filled “ultimate iPhone” and then stripped away certain features so as to release yearly iterations of incremental improvements. As an example, the iPad mini was released when the iPad already had a retina display. However, the retina display was saved until the second generation of iPad minis.
From a business perspective, this makes perfect sense. If you release the absolute best phone or tablet you can, where do you go from there? Apple doesn’t start the process of building a new iPhone or iPad right after the latest one is released. These devices are planned and developed years in advance. Apple even commented on how they’ve been working on the iPad Air for years so it was likely being worked on right around the same time as the third and fourth generation iPads. This strategy isn’t unique to Apple. Take Sony’s PlayStation. About halfway through the life cycle of the PS2, Sony introduced a newer version that was slimmed down. The same thing happened during the life cycle of the PS3. These new consoles were smaller, lighter and had a few minor tweaks, but for the most part were the same devices. This move helped reinvigorate sales when they began to lull, similar to what minor updates do for smartphones. The only real difference is that the time it takes to reach that lull is much shorter for a smartphone than for a video game console.
This concept doesn’t just apply to technology. Look at the entertainment industry. Yves Guillemot, CEO of Ubisoft, said in an interview with Kotaku that iterations of the popular “Assassin’s Creed” series were already planned through 2016. As someone who has played through the entire series thus far, it shows a striking parallel to the iPhone and iPad. “Assassin’s Creed” has come a long way since the first entry, but other than the jump to the second installment, the series has had years of relatively minor annual refinements to get to that point. The same idea exists for movies. Franchises, particularly of action movies, are often planned years in advance with each subsequent film trying to up the ante, while more or less remaining the same. Taken 3 was recently announced. Should we expect something drastically different from Liam Neeson killing a bunch of bad guys in a spectacular fashion? Probably not. It will, however, probably have different set pieces for when Neeson’s character does inevitably take down a horde of bad guys.
You can even apply this idea to sports. A football team likely has a lot of options within their offensive and defensive playbook. However, they aren’t going to use every look in the first week of the season. According to CBS, following their victory over the Washington Redskins in the first game of the season, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick said they “probably showed 60 percent” of their offense in that game. It makes no sense to play your entire hand so early in the season which is why teams tend to save certain offensive plays, trick plays or defensive coverages for later in the season. It also doesn’t make sense to assemble a team, in any sport, that will be good for one season. Instead, teams are usually built with the intention of improving and having sustained success over multiple seasons.
On a more general and abstract level, the idea of the “ultimate iPhone” puts emphasis on the marathon, not the sprint. Regardless of the effects it may have on the process of innovation, it is in the best interest of companies like Apple or Ubisoft to manage years of incremental progress as opposed to having a few good bursts before burning out. We encounter this perspective of planning for the long term in sports, politics, entertainment, education and almost every other aspect of our lives. And although it may seem slow and tedious, it is also usually in our best interest.