There is no denying the fact that the smartphone industry is no longer as exciting as it was a few years ago. While smartphones keep improving every year, the magnitude of improvement has slowed down. The improvements are more evolutionary in nature than revolutionary like before.
If you look at the iPhone, Apple has continued improving its external design, performance, camera, and battery life, but the changes have only been incremental when compared on a yearly basis. The same is true on the software front to a certain extent as well. Apple last gave iOS a major visual overhaul in 2013 with the release of iOS 7. Since then, while the company has made various UI tweaks and refinements, the OS has remained largely unchanged. Yes, Siri has gotten smarter, Spotlight has improved, the notification centre and lock screen were revamped, but the overall look and feel of the OS have remained the same.
If you compare the iPhone 6 that was released in 2014 to the iPhone 7 in 2016, you will get largely the same experience on both. Yes, you do get the usual improvements like a better camera, battery life, better performance, etc, but consumers have started taking these changes for granted nowadays. While the iPhone 7’s body is water-resistant, it is not a feature that people are going to use on a regular basis and be happy about it. It is a feature that you only realise exists when you drop your phone in a pool or go to a beach. As for 3D Touch, which Apple highly touted when it first debuted with the iPhone 6s, it has not turned out to be as big of a deal as the company would have liked. Sure, many major apps now support 3D Touch actions, and the feature sure is handy to peek into links and emails, but you have to remind yourself that it exists in the first place to use it.
These incremental improvements have led to a problem. It has made the iPhone feel very boring. Sure, it still ‘just works’ most of the time, but there is little denying the fact that when you excitedly upgrade from an iPhone 6 to an iPhone 7, you will be hard pressed to find some features that justify the upgrade. Instead, you will have to actively hunt for them, with the improvements to the camera, battery life, and build quality only becoming noticeable over a period of time. With every release of iOS, third-party apps have become more powerful, but then the experience of using them remains the same on both, an iPhone 6 and iPhone 7.
The lack of excitement surrounding the iPhone is understandable since the smartphone market has matured and even a basic smartphone is now good enough for most purposes. However, that has not stopped Android OEMs from innovating. Samsung and LG have pushed the boundaries in terms of design with curved displays and modular design on their handsets, while Apple has continued using the same design language for the last three years.
If you add up all the major hardware features that Apple has included in its last three major iPhone releases, you get waterproofing, Apple Pay, dual-camera setup with improved camera performance, and 3D Touch. Similarly, if you add up the major features in the last three major Galaxy S releases, you get fast charging, waterproofing, improved camera performance, curved display, fast wireless charging, Samsung Pay, and an all-glass design.
Barring 3D Touch whose usefulness can be argued upon, the last three flagship Galaxy S handsets combined have packed in more major new features than iPhones. Apple can perhaps be praised for bringing optical zoom to the table in a slim form factor with the iPhone 7, but every other feature which the company has introduced was added by Samsung at least a year before. And features like wireless charging and an all-glass design, the company will introduce them this year with the iPhone 8.
Apple will eventually get around to using some of the same technologies that the likes of Samsung and LG are using today, and the company’s implementation will arguably be better than the rest. But as things stand right now, I cannot help shake the feeling of the iPhone 7 being a boring handset. A boring handset that most of the time just works.
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