I Was Wrong And The iPhone 5c Is Still A Failure

on September 8, 2014
Reading Time: 5 minutes

The best way to defeat the iPhone is to create a superior alternative to the app ecosystem. With widgets, notifications, continuity and inter-app processes in iOS 8, Apple did just that. Woe to Android, Windows Phone and anyone who hopes to see Apple falter this decade.

Unless, of course, I’m completely wrong.

Perhaps there’s some amazing technology out there waiting to leapfrog iPhone. Perhaps the new iWatch and iPhablet and all the various Kits and Plays fail to entice. Maybe Tim Cook and Angela Ahrendts succeed in transforming Apple into a luxury brand, turning the iPhone into a “Veblen good” and moving the company from high margin computing to higher margin fashion.

This seems unlikely. Nonetheless, on the cusp of the big Apple launch event, I am thinking not of new products, but of past ones, and not only of successes, but failures. When I labeled the iPhone 5c a “failure,” readers did not hesitate to emphatically declare I was wrong.

Wrong.

The iPhone 5c was a failure both in terms of sales and for how it diminished Apple’s image as an innovator. I may never have been so right as when I declared the 5c a failure. Expect it to be erased from Apple Stores before this year is out.

The 5c will not be the last Apple flop. I suspect the primary value of any iWatch, at least in the first few years, will be to show people you have an iWatch.

Carry That Weight

I understand if you vehemently disagree with my assertions. Tomorrow brings us new products but will not necessarily end any long standing debates. For example, despite the adoption of Chromebooks and the gutting of the great LA Public Schools iPad experiment, I steadfastly believe in the merits of my plan to give an iPad to every child in America. Similarly, regardless of what every other tech writer is saying, and no matter what Apple introduces tomorrow, I still think NFC is a waste of Apple’s talent and our time.

Going on public record can be daunting. Certainly, it is filled with missteps. Here are two minor predictions I have for tomorrow’s event: 

  1. Apple will offer universal content search and a single log-in across apps for its Apple TV
  2. The company will launch consumer-grade, home-optimized iBeacons

Now a big one:

The weeks-long stream of “leaks” is well orchestrated and not at all coincidental. Apple plans to reveal a great many products tomorrow but few will ‘wow’ and several are almost fully dependent upon multiple partners. CarPlay and iPhone payments may be great — but these will take time and usage and third party vendors to make successful. As the ecosystem expands, Apple has less control. This forces them to talk up the product whereas in the past, the product spoke for itself.

We will know shortly if I am right.

Some predictions take longer, however, and are not as clear-cut. My very first Techpinions column, from February 18, 2013, focused on — believe it or not — the Apple iWatch. I wrote:

Very soon, sensors throughout our homes, on our pets and possibly inside our bodies, all monitored or even controlled by our smartphone, will be the norm. Imagine now if these were ad-subsidized devices, like Android or Kindle, offering no escape from the latest marketing pitch or sponsored social media update. Is this a tolerable future?

I know. Brilliant.

But a paragraph later I followed up with:

The next design battle will almost certainly not be about “skeuomorphism” versus “flat design”. Rather, monetizing hardware, the Apple way, versus monetizing data and advertising, the Google way, will set the stage for this next great battle.

Incorrect.

Nearly 2 years later, this was a battle that never happened. The market has embraced both models, not chosen one over the other. Perhaps, as wearables and smart homes become more common place over the next many years, this will change. That’s a rather weak prediction, however.

Here’s a bold one. From March 18, 2013:

As the blogosphere pronounces ‘Apple is Doomed’ at every turn, I can’t help but thinking we have it wrong. Apple will have its ups and downs, no doubt. It’s just, the more I follow Apple, the more I study Steve Jobs, the more I suspect that, while he could not live forever, Jobs absolutely believed his creation, Apple, could. Literally. 

Am I right or wrong?

Fixing A Hole

Confession: sometimes I secretly blame you for when I am wrong. In “iOS 7 Game Changers,” I spoke glowingly of AirDrop:

I predict AirDrop will have a paradigm-shifting impact on content sharing – which means it should have a paradigm-shifting impact on social sharing sites, particularly Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn. 

Hundreds of millions of iPhones with simple, real time, on-the-spot sharing, all thanks to AirDrop. Big transformative things were supposed to happen. I really believed what I said. So why do almost none of you use this “paradigm-shifting” feature? (Because it’s not necessary, that’s why. I did not think it through at the time.)

Of course, some outrageous ideas may yet come true. Just over a year ago I recommended Apple:

Integrate iCloud, fingerprint technology, and an open API. Touch any connected screen and it instantly re-calibrates itself to our preferred, personalized settings, ST:TNG-like. In this way, Apple becomes the company that manages every screen in our life, everywhere, all the time.

I think this is a near certainty within the next 10 years.

Oddly enough, it’s the stuff that seems patently obvious where I get the most pushback. Following last year’s big Apple iPhone launch event, I stated:

Asking Apple to go down market is like asking Microsoft to no longer charge for software. It runs counter to their history, their strategy, their culture and skill set, their strengths, their leadership and how they recruit, reward and incentivize their staff.

…and took a great deal of flak for that.

I contend it was true then and more so now. That even the most expert Apple analysts refuse to accept this makes it no less correct. The 5c was a mildly painful reminder the company cannot go down market. That Apple is moving further up market is no surprise to me.

Getting Better All The Time

I think I have maintained a reasonably high average for prognostication. For example, fully nine months before the actual Amazon Fire Phone was released, I explicitly stated here that:

  • An Amazon smartphone would be focused on getting us to shop more — from Amazon
  • The widely reported “3D” screen technology would be a bust
  • No Amazon Phone could possibly hope to compete with other devices unless it was completely free, which I seriously doubted would happen

You’re welcome.

Unfortunately, there are those predictions that are quickly proven wrong. Just two months ago I wrote:

Given Android’s headstart in wearables, it’s hard to see Apple winning any wearable app wars. Given the limitations of its market reach, it’s similarly difficult to see Apple winning the “smart home” market without buying its way in. 

What was I possibly thinking? With Mac, iOS and HomeKit — and a premium user base — there may be no company with a bigger head start here than Apple.

Apple will reveal much tomorrow. I predict this will be a once-a-decade event, with a stunning array of new products, services and partnerships. However, despite all the talk, all the tweets, all the analysis, we will not know the full impact of the company’s efforts for years to come.