A Spectacular Non-Event?
Poor Apple, the largely unwarranted beating was always coming, although some would say it was long overdue. But, the tide of expectation for a new iPhone is now something that even Apple cannot match. That is in part due to its own obsessive quest for secrecy, one that is casually blind-sided by the supply chain, eager leakers and the insatiable curiosity of the press.
So, when Tim Cook stood up and showed off what everyone already knew, the iPhone 5 launch was guaranteed to be a bit of a let-down. Something hideously exacerbated by Apple's insistence on having no live broadcast. So, while Google parachuted and abseiled in Project Glass, and Samsung wowed the world with the Galaxy S3 on Facebook, all we see are low-res photos of Apple busybodies looking pleased, to no great effect (you can belatedly watch the keynote here, but why would you?).
Sapphire Brilliance Dulled
Still, take the cynical blinkers of journalism off and Apple delivered a stellar new product. Double the power for the same price, a bigger, better screen, 4G and improved WiFi, a new OS with better features. The trouble is, these are all features you can find on other phones, so while brilliant in their own way, the magic is gone from smartphone events like this, especially as Apple insists on this cookie cutter presentation year-after-year.
In future, it is probably best for all concerned just to upload a shiny HD video to YouTube and be done with it. While Apple might be stoked by a sapphire crystal in the new iSight camera, it is impossible to feel that excitement watching a text feed update.
There was also the lack of immediate post match gratification, with no instant launch of the new iOS or iTunes, no chance to crash an Apple website in the rush to pre-order. Even the new iPods aren't turning up until October, so there was no chance to rush out and "try it, feel it."
Perhaps the worst piece of news of the day was Apple's evolution to the new "Lightning" connector. While that's fine in itself, charging US$ 29 for the adapter ($39 for the adapter lead) is something that a company with hundreds of billions in the bank just doesn't need to do, and this will lead to a lot of grumpy customers with legacy equipment.
Through the Eyes of the World
So, many commentators are grumbling over the lack of surprises and the impossible position Apple finds itself in. If Apple keeps saying "this is the best product we've ever made," while the company might believe it, those with a phone that already does "feature x" or has "hardware capable of y" can rightfully scoff.
ZD-Net led the way with the questions, wondering if iPhone 5's lack of tangible pizzazz leaves the door open for Windows Phone 8, with the new Lumia looking decidedly different. Wired does a great job highlighting Apple's dichotomy, citing the iPhone 5 as both "amazing and utterly boring".
Developers at the coal face will have some decisions to make. Their existing apps will run happily in a centered mode on the new phone, or they can tweak the code to create a new full-screen app. But, with new apps, is it worth adding backwards compatibility? Games developers have a bigger quandary, the power of the new phone means making games that won't run well on earlier models, creating forks and divergence that Apple has, by-and-large, avoided until now.
In the Real World
Personally, as an iPhone 4S owner, I'll be happy to wait until my contract is up (when the iPhone 5S should be out). Most of the features of iOS 6 will work on my model, and the extra screen space or extra power doesn't have me rushing to the stores, sure the phone is brilliant and amazing, but so is is the one in my hand.
No doubt millions of more-hardcore Apple users will be tossing their old phones into the recycling bin in the rush for the latest model. But, those moments of unbridled joy and passion at Apple and telco stores seem to a thing of the past for most. At the end of the day, no matter how much internal magic there is, iPhone is now just another smartphone.