Will The iPhone X Defy The S-Curve Of Technology?
Brian Cooper, chief creative officer of OLIVER Group, looks at Apple’s latest iPhone reveal alongside patterns of consumer fatigue
Technological progress is often thought to be linear: We invent, test, adapt, invent, test and adapt from model 1.0 to the next iteration. But more often than not, it works in an S-curve. Things dip in and out of popularity, with new gadgets paving the way for future milestones while old devices still operate in the background.
As the launch of the iPhone X loomed large over us, we once more found ourselves at a point where the S-curve theory will be tested.
Back in 2007, Apple’s product innovation with the original iPhone didn’t just alter the face of tech—it tore it clean off. Since that game-changing release, the decade saw the iPhone go from the proponent of an exciting, unknown future to ‘Oh, the screen’s a bit bigger and the headphone socket’s gone.’ Like most technology, even Apple’s innovations have followed that S-curve life cycle.
First, the tech is researched and developed. Apple established its interface with iPods and such; by the time the iPhone arrived, the design was friendly and familiar, its skeuomorphic reference points gently nudging us into a new age without it really seeming as such.
Then, ascension. The iPhone’s capabilities multiplied with each newer version, the prominence of iOS-optimised apps proving this. Android fans rued the day they sold their time, money and souls to that little green robot. Apple seemed unstoppable.
More recently, the iPhone has matured. It found its feet and, as a result, updates have become less revolutionary. Loyalists are less and less forgiving, finding it hard to justify the price hike for what are, in comparison to the old days, incremental improvements. This isn’t the Holo-Deck. It’s just the iPhone you already know… but with a few little tweaks.
What should happen, now, is the final step: discontinuity. As people tire of Apple’s twiddling, something new will come along, stealing our hearts and wallets. Some will continue to use the iPhone, but the market will be bulldozed by another name.
Oddly enough, that hasn’t happened.
Tech is, by nature, charmingly discontinuous. The print press didn’t make the pen redundant. The pen simply sunk to the bottom of the S-curve, and as new forms of communication have been introduced, so has the once-mighty print press; pens giving way to typewriters, typewriters giving way to computers. But we still keep old inventions because they remain useful—vinyl fans are proving this more so year upon year. It still serves some sort of function, however archaic.
This is why the iPhone hasn’t reached discontinuity yet: Nobody else has taken the throne. Google Pixel 2 is the sole competitor, but seeing as the iPhone X pipped it to the post with its release, it hasn’t exactly got the best leg-up in the race.
Apple also has the upper hand because it invested massively in its products’ ecosystem. What it essentially has is tech’s answer to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, a luscious backbone connected all the way from top to bottom, side to side. You can enter at any point, anywhere down the line, and you’ll find your way.
The company’s services revenue recently hit an all-time quarterly record, with international sales racking up 61 per cent of its $45.4 billion revenue. There are over 700 million iPhones in use today. Apple has, up to this point, excelled at innovating and, when the future becomes cloudy, offering handy updates to a track-tested winner. Its upcoming HomePod is another example of this; it takes Apple’s learnings from its other products and applies it to the home-listening experience.
This bit-by-bit approach is all part of the plan, it seems. The beguiling new iPhone that’s been oh-so-talked-about has three iterations, with the famous home button being phased out as the editions run from 8 to 8 Plus to X. Tech is discontinuous, yes, but this process is very much cyclical by nature: Without the home button, the iPhone loses a part of its identity. And with its FaceID (essentially Apple’s version of Windows’ Hello facial recognition) and its score of AR capabilities, it builds a new one. It becomes something new, much like the original iPhone was in 2007.
And what comes next? When you think about the last time a brand continued developing a line of tech, something truly revolutionary, defying the S-curve at every peak, it’s been a while. E-books didn’t do it. Google Glass flopped. Apple has fearlessly dominated the market with the iPhone for years—the iPhone 7 was the first sign of customer fatigue en masse.
And maybe this new model, with its eye-watering price tag, with its FaceID demo flopping slightly at the launch, will be the last straw for consumers. Their patience can only be worn so thin.
But as we’ve seen before, Apple understands that everything’s connected. Nobody really knows which new-fangled tech will fall to the bottom: AI, AR or VR. But as Apple rides atop the S-curve, the introduction of these innovative features to its ironclad ecosystem could, ironically, keep Apple at the top of the game by continually extending the iPhone’s S-curve ever higher.
Apple’s iPhone has remained in front for the past decade. This new model is changing everything. Again.
Brian Cooper is chief creative officer at OLIVER Group (which includes OLVER Agency and DARE). Brian’s career is steeped in both above-the-line and digital expertise working both agency and brand-side. He has worked at leading agencies including BBH, McCann-Erickson, Mother, Wieden & Kennedy and Ogilvy.
Lead Image: Apple
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