People Are Desensitized to Product Evolution

Quite a lot of vocal people on social networks are, anyways.

When Apple executives took the stage yesterday to officially announce the iPhone 5, many were underwhelmed, with a feeling of “that’s it?”

This could partially be due to the early leaks over the past few months that preceded the device, but even that only played a relatively small part in it. It’s not a new phenomenon, and we’ve seen it with, well, almost every iPhone release following the first in 2007. Especially with more incremental updates to the device, such as the 3GS and 4S.

Another part of it could be the questioning of Apple’s approach to products, which was even experienced by the first-generation iPhone. What I mean is, the company doesn’t pride itself on being the first to certain features, but rather the best. This approach may not be favorable to enthusiasts who want to have the latest technology as soon as possible, but it clearly works just fine with the masses. To me, this approach can be debated on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes, the amount of time that it takes for Apple to implement something (the ability to take panoramic photos from the native camera app, for example), can be perplexing. One more significant feature that enthusiasts are questioning the omission of in the iPhone 5 is NFC, which fellow writer Manan wrote about on his Svbtle blog.

When the first iPhone was released, it lacked a number of features that competing smartphones on the market already offered, and yet it was still loved by consumers and clearly changed the face of the mobile industry. Apple’s strategy is to focus on getting core features right — nailing the user experience of said features — then playing catch up to implement other features from competing devices. So yes, part of the criticism — from enthusiasts, at least — is based on “x already has this feature, so why should we care again?”

But there’s another, far more significant factor at play here that has little to do with the actual merits of the evolutionary device itself.

Like a drug where people just can’t seem to once again experience the feeling of the first high, people are hoping to relive the experience of the first iPhone announcement with each new iPhone. People passionate about Apple — and even just technology in general — are hoping that the company will reveal something that’s completely game-changing. Something that changes everything once again. Average consumers also want a very, very significant update to the device to justify purchasing it.

Even though Apple changed almost everything with the new iPhone — increased display, better display, revamped design, better camera, new adapter, battery improvements, new headphones, iOS 6 — people are still underwhelmed because these are all things that they expect. Faster, thinner, better battery life, better display; these are all things that we’ve grown to become entitled to of incremental phone updates.

Here’s an excellent analogy that compares Apple’s school of thought with the Porsche 911. While remaining, in a way, similar to the first incarnation, significant steps forward were taken throughout its gradual evolution.

The iPhone 5 is a colossal — still evolutionary — update that was inevitable, really, but people are still underwhelmed. And it’s not because the new device sucks, or lacks NFC, or has too large/small of a screen. It’s because people are desensitized to these incremental, evolutionary updates — no matter how good they may be — and are waiting for Apple to do something revolutionary.

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Paul Paliath

Paul Paliath is a designer. You should follow me on Twitter here.