The mighty Apple has fallen to earth

Toby-Shapshak-180We can all let out our breath. Apple’s annual hypefest — sometimes called the iPhone launch — is over. As expected, and in accordance with Shapshak’s First Law of Smartphone Upgrades — minted for the previous iPhone launch — the device is thinner with a faster processor and better camera.

Actually, it’s not really thinner: the new iPhone 5s uses the same chassis as last year’s model, while the colourful, slightly cheaper 5c has a brightly covered plastic back.

It’s “unapologetically plastic”, Apple chief vice-president of design Jony Ive said — Apple, the once mighty leader of consumer electronics, which resumed its place in history with the iPhone, the iPod, the iPad and all-aluminium cases for its much-copied MacBook Air range, calling something “unapologetically plastic”.

What the launch showed us is that even Apple eventually falls to earth. Nothing it released last week is better, or worse, than anything the other major manufacturers have revealed in their recent launches. They all tried to get their products out before the Apple mania avalanche overwhelmed other coverage.

Except there was no avalanche.

Apple has become just another computer/cellphone/smartphone maker faced with the same challenges as the others. Compare Apple’s news with the highlights of the other big announcements, and you see not only how the only differentiation is becoming the brand, but also how the smartphone market has matured and reached a plateau:

  • Sony’s slim Xperia Z1 is waterproof and has stunning camera qualities.
  • Samsung’s Galaxy S4 (released earlier this year) has a great screen and camera, as well as a bunch of built-in health-measurement apps and activity monitors. It knows when you’re not looking at it and pauses the screen.
  • Samsung has a much-derided new category: smart watches. The new Galaxy Gear watch is an accessory that only connects to the Note 3.
  • Nokia’s Lumia 1020 has a spectacular 41-megapixel camera, cleverly saving a 5MP image for social media sharing.

That, in brief, is what the major smartphone players have launched. Samsung’s gains aren’t just its own. It has also boosted the position of Google, whose Android operating system it uses (as do Sony, LG, Motorola, Huawei and ZTE).

Android is the new Windows of the smartphone world and sells about 70%-80% of new smartphones (depending on which analyst’s numbers you choose to believe). Apple’s iOS has about 20%, and the rest is being fought over by BlackBerry (anywhere between 4% and 13%) and Windows Phone (about 3%-4%).

Just as Microsoft’s Windows dominated the desktop computing era, Android will dominate mobiles. Except, and this is a big exception, about a third of Android activations have been in China, where a lot of these phones never connect back to Google’s search and cloud services — Google gives Android away free by hoping to redirect traffic back to its own servers.

The Steve Jobs magic has passed (image: Ben Stanfield/Flickr)

The Steve Jobs magic has passed (image: Ben Stanfield/Flickr)

Meanwhile, we now definitively know that the Steve Jobs magic has passed. Apple is reinventing the wheel, or in this year’s case, the home button, with a fingerprint reader in such an infinitesimal upgrade that no one believes the hype anymore.

The stock market wiped 5,4% off Apple stock after the announcement, worried, as it has been for the past year, that this is the last hurrah of the Jobs mojo. The share price is down by a third from the high that took it past Exxon Mobil to make it the most valuable stock.

Without Jobs to “rehypnotise the media” and extend that famous “reality distortion effect”, Apple will continue to trade on its aura of specialness. But in reality it has fallen to earth.

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  • Joe Black

    Look I’m no fan of the over-hyped overpriced products they sell, but you can never count out any company that has billions in it’s bank account and employs thousands of extremely talented people.

    People were saying that MS/Windows is dead every few months for years. It’s just not going to happen overnight. And most certainly not from a single failed product.

    I have felt for quite a time that with a Samsung in the world there is no more space really for an Apple, but let’s be realistic here – Apple won’t take it lying down.


    Nobody has called them dead. They’re just saying that they’ve fallen down back to earth. Few people now see them as the glittery fairies that they once were thought to be. Reality has kicked in. I’m no fan of Apple either, but I am damn grateful to them for killing off the horrible WM, Symbian and Blackberry OS (v10 excluded), forcing Google to be innovative with Android, and Microsoft to get its act together with WP.

    As much as people hate Apple, we need them. Google’s 70-80% share of smartphones is worrying. We don’t want a repeat of the Symbian / WM6 days, or the current dillema of Windows controlling the desktop/laptop market.

  • dognet

    I think Apple is still strong. Atleast for those many people who bought iPhones/Apple products for a valid reason and not because Steve Jobs said its cool.

  • Wimpie Pieterse

    I agree with your article.

    Although, to balance your view, you might disclose the year on year growth in numbers Apple is achieving with the Iphone. Granted, Samsung is doing even better, and thats also worth a mention…. The fact is that 20% of a growing market translates to a growing nett worth for the company.

    Secondly, Apple has a much higher income per unit than any other cellular manufacturer. This means the growth I alluded to above is highly geared: samsung (for instance) need to sell many more units to achieve the same growth Apple has shown over the past few years.

    To close, I want to mention the sales figures that Apple achieved in the first 3 days of releasing the Iphone 5S/5C: 9 Million sold in 3 days. On top of that Apple is struggling to keep up with the demand. The inventory issue probably a PR stunt to be sure, but you can’t fault the record sales figures of the first 3 days.

  • Joe Black

    No I did not say that anybody said Apple is dead. I merely pointed out that people go as far as saying MS is dead every couple of months for as long as I remember – I mean how wrong can people be?
    I must admit I have zero issue with Windows dominating desktops nor Android dominating mobile devices. These are the winning horses I have been betting on all along. It’s more than a mere fan boy bias. While Chinese kids have been selling their kidneys for IPhones; Android does exactly what windows does. It makes well rounded technology more accessible to more of humanity. So of course they are going to have bigger market share – They cater to more of the market.

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