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Another day, another iPhone. Same old thing?

By Michael Connor

Last week, Apple announced the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro series. While these handsets boasted impressive new technologies such as significant camera improvements, they were very reminiscent to the iPhone 7. Let me explain why. 

When the iPhone was first launched in 2007 by Steve Jobs, it was deemed a revolutionary product and became a standard for innovation in the tech world. Each new iteration of the iPhone came with great expectations. The third generation, iPhone 3GS, introduced Apple’s two year design cycle and was the first handset to focus strictly on internal improvements. 

 iPhone 4, 5, and 6 were all major design upgrades while the S years (4S, 5S, 6S) focused on improving specifications. Apple customers grew accustomed to this two year cycle and Apple’s biennially design changes. While Apple kept upgrading their iPhone line, prices began to increase. The iPhone 3G on contract started at $199 which made the device more accessible compared to the original iPhone’s $499 starting price. However, by the launch of iPhone 6, the starting price was $699 without a contract. 

When the iPhone 7 was launched in 2016, Apple broke their two-year cycle and showed a device with an awfully similar design to the iPhone 6 and 6S. The only main physical differences were new colors, a redesigned home button, and most notably a two camera bump for the Plus variant. Even worse, 2017’s iPhone 8 was the 7 with new colors, a faster processor, and upgraded camera. 

Apple did change the game in 2017 though with the announcement of the highly anticipated tenth anniversary device, the iPhone X which included a near bezel-less OLED display. iPhone X was the innovation fans had been craving for after a long three year cycle. 

The catch to the iPhone X’s appealing change was that it cost a striking $999 without contract. Not only did it become the most expensive iPhone to date, but it became the standard for modern pricing among competitors such as Samsung and Google. All premium devices now cost near the $999 price range. 

Apple, with respect to tradition, launched an S variant and a plus model (the Max) of the iPhone X in 2018 with iPhone XS branding. The device series increased internal specifications and camera quality. Apple also announced the “more affordable” iPhone XR series which introduced the first LCD X variant costing $749 without contract, which is still very much a hefty price tag.  

Apple repeated the controversial three year cycle with the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro series and like the iPhone 7, launched devices whose success will be dependent on slight design change, camera, and internal improvements. One positive distinction to mention is that Apple dropped the price of the iPhone 11 (the XR’s successor) to $699. The iPhone 11 Pro series continues to start at the highly expensive $999. 

The main point I want to offer is that Apple, while still creating beautiful products that are state of the art, is lacking the innovative design spirit that made the iPhone experience so thrilling. Not only has Apple pushed considerable innovation to a three year period, but they are charging customers massive price tags for modest improvements. 

Some might argue that a three year cycle might be credited to a more defined product and technological stabilization. It is true that smartphones are highly advanced and larger changes do not occur as often as they did in the past. Let’s face the fact that iPhones are much more long lasting now than the pioneering generations.

Design changes (beyond cameras) are always welcome though. I don’t want to go as far as saying Apple is just resting on their laurels and creating modest upgrades because they can, but they can certainly innovate more design wise. I for one cannot wait to see an iPhone have a smaller notch or even better notchless. 

One personal note to Apple’s credit. I was an iPhone 7 owner for two years and was completely thrilled to upgrade to the iPhone XS last year. While the upgrade was probably not worth it for iPhone X owners, for me, it was a much desired upgrade. This perspective has to be considered for the 2019 lineup especially taking in account owners of older iPhones. This year may not excite me (definitely sticking to the XS this cycle), but for someone else Apple’s recent announcements might be very appealing. 

 Michael Connor can be reached at michael.connor@spartans.ut.edu

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