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There’s never going to be an iPhone killer

iPhone Killer

Per usual, Apple finds itself in the crosshairs of armchair critics who lazily demand that Apple needs to come up with the next big thing lest it enter a period of stagnation. All the while, other tech companies never seem to grapple with similar demands from analysts and pundits. Whereas Apple needs to outdo the iPhone, we never hear calls for Facebook to come up with a social network killer or for Google to come up with a product that will obsolete the search engine.

The iPhone’s 10th anniversary earlier this year sparked a number of opinion pieces proclaiming that the iPhone has peaked and that it’s time for Apple to deliver an iPhone killer, a futuristic device that will obsolete the iPhone in the same way that Apple’s iconic smartphone quickly rendered the iPod outdated.

Writing for Wired, Davey Alba opined that the iPhone — of all things — is actually slowing Apple down and that the company must figure out what’s next.

Now Apple is facing a turning point, and once again the iPhone is the reason—but not in a good way this time around. The smartphone market is saturated. Rivals, especially Google, are building hardware that truly rivals the iPhone. After 10 years, the iPhone can no longer serve as Apple’s growth engine. The company now faces the same challenge it did a decade ago: figuring out what’s next.

It’s not an unfair point, but it conveniently overlooks the fact that Apple has become rather adept at extracting more dollars from existing iPhone owners via its burgeoning suite of services. Whether it’s the App Store — which recorded its most profitable day in company history not too long ago — or the growing popularity of Apple Music, Apple has figured out a few ways to pad its bottom line even as iPhone sales growth did an about-face this past year.

Meanwhile, a piece in Forbes from earlier this year took an even bolder position, arguing that Apple must build an iPhone killer.

Which means it’s time for Apple to kill the iPhone…not in one fell swoop, of course, and not as the intended goal… No matter how innovative your product or service once was, sticking to incrementalism in order to most efficiency milk the maximum amount of revenue out of it is a losing proposition. As your incremental change curve flattens out, the development that will [obsolete you] will be disappearing in your windshield before… you ever noticed it approaching in your rear-view mirror.

It’s time for Apple to build the iPhone killer.

The only problem is that doing so is impossible.

The original iPhone was a revolutionary device that quickly transformed the smartphone into an indispensable part of the way we live. And because its functionality is wildly expansive and limited only by the imagination of third-party developers, it’s utility isn’t artificially stunted in the way that the iPod’s was.

The smartphone in general, and the iPhone in particular, isn’t going anywhere because it functions as a portal of sorts; its utility is always expanding as its hardware improves and new software is developed. Looking ahead, for example, the upcoming iPhone 8 is said to feature advanced augmented reality functionality that may very well transform the way we use our smartphones.

The fact of the matter is that some products become so entrenched in our everyday lives that the notion of killing them off simply isn’t realistic. Notice how we never hear calls for anyone to develop a TV killer or for Google to develop search engine killer. Truly revolutionary products and technologies have extremely long shelf lives that can’t be obsoleted on an arbitrary time frame. The iPod’s demise at the hands of the iPhone was an exception, not the rule.

Put simply, the iPhone isn’t going anywhere no matter what type of product area Apple opts to enter. Curiously, some people have even argued that a more advanced version of the Apple Watch might eventually replace the iPhone. These claims, I believe, completely overlook the fact that a big and easily accessible smartphone display can never be replaced by even the most intuitive software on a watch or a pair of AR glasses.

Point being, there’s never going to be an iPhone killer, only new and advanced iPhones that render previous models obsolete.

Having said that, Apple still doesn’t seem to get the credit it deserves for continually rolling out, with absolutely no aberration, impressive advances in iPhone technology year after year. From huge leaps in hardware performance to incredible improvements in camera technology, Apple has managed to steadily and substantially improve the iPhone user experience every single year for 9 years running. And with the iPhone 8 looming on the horizon, the next leap in performance and design may be the biggest one yet.

Just last quarter, Apple posted a new quarterly record for iPhone sales. And yet, for reasons that defy explanation, some pundits would have you believe that Apple is in dire straits and desperately in need of rolling out an iPhone killer.

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 15 years. A life long Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW. When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.