It appears Apple has done it again with its new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models. Sales through the first weekend of availability topped 10 million according to the tech giant. That record smashed Apple’s previous number of 9 million units when the iPhone 5s and 5c were released. To put it in even greater perspective consider that sales for China were included in the previous year’s 9 million opening weekend figure, but due to regulatory issues the iPhone 6 models were not released there at the same time as the U.S. and a number of other countries this year.
It’s not difficult to get an ‘apples to apples’ sales comparison, but finding actual numbers to do an ‘apples to Samsung’ (or any other OEM) comparison can be difficult since few companies release actual unit sales numbers. They will instead release units shipped to retail outlets and carriers, or represent their sales as a percentage of total handsets sold during a given reporting period. In the end it seems some companies want to obfuscate the comparison. Regardless of what the actual numbers are, it’s clear that the only OEM that generates any notable buzz when it launches a new handset is Apple.
So what is it that makes the iPhone so successful in comparison to other flagship phone launches? If the answer was easy, other OEMs would be eager to replicate the formula to create their own comparable successful launches. The truth may be simpler than it seems, for now though let’s take a look at the obvious new features of iPhone 6 models.
The new iPhone 6 models are notably larger than their predecessors. The two new iPhones have 4.7 inch and 5.5 inch screens, each with Retina HD displays sporting true HD resolutions. Apple had long resisted the movement of the market towards larger screen devices. In fact during an Apple press conference on July 16th 2010 then CEO and Co-founder Steve Jobs stated “no one’s going to buy that”, ripping Apple rivals for their larger screen devices. At least one competitor didn’t take Steve’s advice, as Samsung released the original Galaxy Note in 2011 with a 5.3 inch screen to great success, reportedly selling 10 million units in the first year it was available. Samsung didn’t waste any time releasing a commercial spot calling Apple out for their apparent change of heart.
The next features on the list aren’t really new at all, they’re improvements on features and specs that already existed in previous iPhone models. Apple states all of the new features like this:
“iPhone 6 isn’t simply bigger — it’s better in every way. Larger, yet dramatically thinner. More powerful, but remarkably power efficient. With a smooth metal surface that seamlessly meets the new Retina HD display. It’s one continuous form where hardware and software function in perfect unison, creating a new generation of iPhone that’s better by any measure.” (Source: Apple)
It’s really an interesting marketing approach by Apple. First they draw attention to the fact that the new iPhone’s most notable new feature is that they are simply bigger. Then they move through all the iterative improvements they’ve made, thinner, more powerful, and more efficient. They continue to share the improvements to the previous iPhone models with the new camera features. Perhaps the last line in the quote above is the most telling. The new iPhones are better than the previous iPhones.
The fact is that while Apple has added a few new things to their lineup, none of those things are new at all. They aren’t even industry leading specifications. There are phones with bigger, higher pixel density, better daylight readability screens. There are any number of phones that are thinner and lighter and even smaller but have screens the same size as the new models. Today most flagship devices are sporting 13, 20, even 41 megapixel cameras with onboard image stabilization, 1080p video recording and great low light performance. Nearly every leading phone released over the last couple of years has NFC built in to enable sharing, pairing and even paying features. None of these things are new or innovative for Apple.
You might be thinking this is a negative review. You would be wrong. Both new iPhone 6 models are beautiful pieces of hardware that perform extremely well in every category. They just aren’t innovative like the original iPhone was when it launched in 2007. So what is it that makes Apple so successful with consumers and so appealing to the tech press? Since innovation isn’t the answer, the one thing that remains is execution.
Since the original iPhone launch, Apple has consistently delivered everything they have led the consumer and tech press to expect. They’ve repeatedly announced a product and made it available within days instead of weeks or months. In recent years they’ve managed to launch their latest iPhone on every major carrier in markets all around the world near simultaneously with only a few weeks span before they are available globally. They deliver software solutions in the iOS operating system in ways that users have come to expect them, a similar look, feel, and workflow with only minor changes from version to version. Apple has shifted from being the market disruptor it once was to holding on to what it has. They have been doing this for many years now simply by executing time and time again.
Consumers and the press like the stability, reliability and dependability that Apple has come to be known for. Oh sure, they’ll ooh and ah at all the new tech toys and innovation announced at CES and Mobile World Congress. They’ll enjoy playing with the latest Windows or Android phone their co-worker or family member picks up. But then they’ll sit back and wait for Apple to refine and repackage the innovative work others have already done in a completely predictable pretty white box.