I have been fascinated by the various comments from people, Wall Street analysts included, that were disappointed with the new iPhone 4S. These folks have been having dreams of delusion trying to coax Apple to make each new iPhone conform to their imaginations. When I polled a few of them to see what they expected, they mostly tripped over themselves trying to explain their vision for a new iPhone. Common points were things like it should have been thinner, lighter, with a tapered designed to make it sleek and more unique.
I am pretty sure these folks who want this design don’t live in the world of engineering, manufacturing or even have a working understanding of physics. If you look at the iPhone 4 from an engineering stand point, it is already packed with more chips, batteries, antennas, radios, etc in order to give it the kind of features and functions it has today.
Now imagine that Apple decides that these folks are right. They make it slimmer, lighter and taper it at the bottom. That means they must use a smaller battery thus impacting total battery life. And it means they have to put in sub par or smaller antennas and chips on a smaller die, thus less functionality. And they would possibly have to change the kinds of radios they use to fit them in this new design, also affecting the quality of wireless voice and data signals.
Now, if I am a consumer and have the option of having a slimmer, sleeker iPhone but with less battery life, less power and less functionality, versus having Apple give me a similar physical design but with a CPU that is 50% faster than the one in the iPhone 4, a graphics chip with 7X the power of the one in the last phone, and better antenna and radios so that my voice and data connections are solid, the same size battery that is now tweaked with new software to give them even more talk time, music listening time, etc, which iPhone do you think they will choose?
While this is a key reason for Apple to stay with the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fixit” strategy for the iPhone 4S, there is another even more practical reason for staying with this design.
You may have noticed reports over the last two weeks from the channel that Apple was selling all of the iPhone 4’s they can make even though people were fully aware that a new iPhone would be coming out this fall. And we know that Apple can’t make these fast enough to even meet current market demand.
One thing it appears Apple concluded was that, after 16 months of making the iPhone 4, they actually do have the manufacturing of this phone down and in fact, are starting to ramp up even more production lines to meet demand. With this in mind, it made perfect sense to re-design it from the inside out, and still keep all of the manufacturing tooling and processes in place so that they could also make the new iPhone 4S in the kind of volume needed to meet market demands.
The manufacturing experts I know tell me that had Apple actually done a radical new design for this phone, they would have had to retool a lot of the production lines and that this would have been very disruptive, in a negative way. What people don’t realize is that this phone is not that easy to manufacture and Apple, in some cases, has to actually invent the manufacturing tools and machines just to make them in the first place.
Now, this does not mean that they could not have a new or even a radically designed iPhone in the future. But the process to ramp up a completely new manufacturing system takes time and is very difficult to do even on an annual basis. So while they are maximizing the current manufacturing lines for all the iPhone 4’s current physical designs, I am certain they are working behind the scenes to create perhaps a new form factor that can still have this level of functionality and designing the manufacturing procedures and machinery even now for when they will need it in the future. I suspect the next iPhone will be specifically designed to support LTE, a technology that is not ready for primetime because of modest US coverage but by late next year should be available in about 85% of the US.
I am also certain that once consumers really understand that this is a completely new phone even though it is in the same design package, they will flock to it in huge numbers. And Apple will not skip a beat.
But when people want to project their visions and ideas on Apple and hope that Apple responds to them, they need to look at the practical side of creating something as sophisticated as the iPhone. And in the end they need to realize that Apple actually does know what they are doing when it comes to designing the best and most powerful smart phone they can make and delivering something that customers really want and need in an iPhone, instead of delivering the design pipe dreams of over active imaginations.