The New iPhone, Same As The Old iPhone (Just Not In The Ways That Actually Matter)

Now, this is one post I really couldn’t put on Android Police, but it’s one I’ve been thinking about for a while. If you’ve been feeding at the iTrough, you probably have an idea where this is going. If not, check out this article (yeah yeah, it’s Gizmodo). Now, check out this one over at Business Insider by EIC Henry Blodget.

I’ve already heard Mr. Blodget’s sentiment echoed by a number of folks. Even I felt similarly about the iPhone 4S when it launched last year – that there just wasn’t enough change to get excited over. But, Apple’s brilliant Siri ad campaign featuring John Malkovich and Zooey Deschanel, along with the first launch availability of an iPhone outside of AT&T in the US, kept the steam going. The iPhone 4S, while it did not make quite the splash of the iPhone 4, has by all accounts been a great success for Apple.

And I think part of that is just because Apple is really good at letting the hype over its products reach the boiling point. But people tend to forget that there are two pots on the stove when it comes to iPhone anticipation. General Apple fans are always lusting over the next Apple product, that won’t change for the foreseeable future. And those people are important – they’re Apple’s on-the-ground product evangelists. They are the ones that get uninitiated friends and family on board with the iOS lifestyle; building out Apple’s customer base, getting people excited over the next iProduct.

While Johnny and his ilk are spreading the proverbial Apple-seed, though, Apple is waging its own hype campaign for the next iPhone. That campaign is the same as it was for the last iPhone, literally. A lot of it is Siri. Everybody knows about Siri, and at the same time everyone knows nothing about it. The vast majority of people know it’s “a way to talk to your phone.” As anyone familiar with Google’s latest incarnation of its own voice platform (or even Galaxy S III users) can tell you, this isn’t groundbreaking. But for those people who could really care less about following technology, it is revolutionary. In their imagination, at least. And that’s what matters, because it means all the people with Siri-less iPhone 4’s out there are absolutely dying to get their hands on it.

I actually think Apple planned it this way. The first iPhone was, let’s be real, something of an enthusiast’s tech toy. By the time the rest of the world heard about it, the iPhone 3G was ready to hit store shelves. That’s the iPhone that most middle-of-the-road consumers actually bought first. Those people were, by and large, locked in 2-year agreements, and their upgrade cycles ended around the launch of the iPhone 4.

The iPhone 4 was Apple’s big reboot of the entire device. It felt comfortable with the software (at least enough not to completely visually overhaul it), and decided that it was time to really focus on creating an iconic look that the company could build on for years to come. People went nuts – and for good reason. The iPhone 4’s display was miles ahead of anything else on the market, its camera is still very impressive, and the industrial design is impeccably tasteful.

I think this is the device that most iOS users in the US are currently holding, and their upgrade cycles are nearing an end. Last year, though, Apple unveiled the 4S. If you were a current iPhone 4 owner, there wasn’t a reason to shell out $600 just to get your hands on one (unless you have that sort of money to waste). The really big, huge thing that Apple unveiled wasn’t really the phone, though. Aside from geekery like a new processor, incrementally better camera, and a quicker modem for AT&T users, the phone was basically the same.

Siri, though, is what got the news. It’s what continues to get the news. People hear about Siri a lot. On TV, on the web, from their techy friends and coworkers – and guess what? They’re jealous. It doesn’t matter that comparable products exist. Apple has already created a brand cult around Siri that can’t be killed. That’s what will really get regular people to buy the new iPhone. I guarantee every Genius across the country will be ready to cut out the voice box of any person that asks them “Does the new iPhone have Siri?” by year’s end.

This is why Apple released Siri as a beta. It knew that, as a proportion of its customer base, 4S buyers were more likely to be enthusiasts, enterprises, and disposable income tech junkies as a whole. They would preach the virtues of Siri (if just to brag), and get everyone else excited, while acting as Apple’s giant lab rats.

Now, a horde of iPhone 4 users on Verizon who bought their devices in February 2011 will be hitting their 20th month in November (I fully expect a slightly “early upgrade” to be available), and almost every AT&T iPhone 4 owner will be eligible for an upgrade upon the new iPhone’s release.

They don’t really care about the bigger screen, a better camera, or a fancy new processor. They’re going to get home and talk to Siri and annoy the shit out of everyone in a 10 foot radius for the next week. By and large, these are the people that make up Apple’s bottom-line. And by now, Apple’s had a chance to refine and address many of the issues with Siri, making it (I refuse to anthropomorphize an application) smarter, faster, and more reliable for average people.

The visual differences with the new device will be sufficiently eye-catching such that no one will confuse a new iPhone for a 4 or 4S. The larger display and new backing design will be enough to ensure that skeptical but utterly tech-retarded consumers won’t think they’re just buying the same thing again.

Under the hood improvements will ensure that Apple retains a specification and real-world advantage in the arenas it cares about: battery life, photos, and display quality. And within 6 months, an Android phone that does most of those things better will probably come out. But by then, it’ll be too late.

To the skeptics, I’d say this: do you think BMW loyalists (people who lease every 3 years) really give a rat’s ass that the new 335i / 535i / 750i look pretty much the same as they have the last 8 years? Fuck no. As long as it has more horsepower, better gas mileage, and lets you plug in your new iPhone, it’s the best car in the world. Even if it isn’t.

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