Apple iPhone launch events are starting to feel a lot like Groundhog Day. I always start them in the market for a new iPhone, and always end them by deciding to stick with my trusty iPhone 6S for a little longer.
As the 2019 unveiling began, I was sure I was going to be a sucker for the iPhone 11 in purple, a color I find to be insanely great. But I’d also hoped the rumors of a USB-C iPhone were true, so that I could finally ditch lightning cables altogether (my iPad Pro and MacBook both use USB-C). I hadn’t expected 5G, but I had hoped the screen would lose that crazy iPhone X notch. Hell, I would have been into the hotly-tipped reverse wireless charging feature, even though I don’t have any gadgets to reverse wirelessly charge. I’d find something!
Instead what the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro offered were … more incremental camera improvements along the lines of what Android phones already offer. Look, I like to post stellar Instagrams as much as the next social media denizen, but are better iPhone snapshots (plus a case that is disappointingly light lavender rather than full-on purple) worth a more-than-$700 upgrade? Not when I can hold on to my 6S for one more year and wait to see if all the rumors about iPhone 2020 are true.
True, this kind of let-down can be blamed as much on the rumor mill as on Apple itself. But the rumor mill has had a pretty good track record these past few years, and it was not unreasonable to suggest that the company would introduce some major iPhone tech beyond metastasizing the camera bump and trying to market slow-motion front-camera videos as “slofies.”
Now we seem to be in a situation where the number of new features Apple doesn’t announce on stage far outnumber the few new features it does.
Indeed, the 2019 event may have set a record for rumored updates that were no-shows. Sleep tracking on the Apple Watch didn’t happen, nor did the lost item tracker that would tackle the Tile market. There was no new Apple TV box. The new 10.2-inch iPad is basically the old 10.2-inch iPad Pro with a lower price tag and more internal magnets. The Home Pod is spoken of no more. And us loyal customers didn’t even merit the slightest crumb of detail on the forthcoming Mac Pro.
“By Innovation Only,” the official title of the event, seems almost ironic in retrospect.
To enhance the sense that Apple was phoning it in, CEO Tim Cook quickly ceded the stage to games from Konami and Capcom and a so-so trailer for Jason Momoa’s adventures in a post-apocalyptic forest. This is how Apple expects to find new revenue in 2019: not with new iPhones so much as with two sort-of-cool $5-a-month subscription services, both of which take clear aim at specific rivals. (Calling it Apple TV+ when Disney is about to launch Disney+ isn’t even subtle.)
Cook did not end the keynote with “one more thing,” which is telling. The last three “one more thing” moments heralded the launches of the Apple Watch, Apple Music, and the iPhone X. Apparently, even in Apple’s books, we haven’t had anything worthy of that superlative category for two years.
Perhaps, like good little children at the holidays, we should just learn to be content with what gifts Apple deigns to give us; perhaps, like spoilerphobes, we should avoid disappointment by ignoring even the best-sourced rumors from analysts with the greatest track records.
Or we could read the litany of no-show features as a warning sign that Apple’s true innovators are (like Jony Ive) heading for the exits. The company wants to branch out into TV and games, while its private storehouse of tech that isn’t quite ready for prime time seems to be growing at an alarming rate. Call it the Sony playbook.
Perhaps next year will be when this malaise ends; perhaps iPhone 2020 will live up to the hype and I’ll finally find reasons to upgrade my 5-year-old phone. Then again, Bill Murray’s Punxsutawney-trapped weatherman always thought tomorrow would be different, too.