Yeah Yeah, New iPhone

Photograph showing Apple Newton hand held comp...
Here it is, the iPhone 5... Wait.

Who would have thought this day would come? The day when they release a boring iPhone.

The 4S is by no means a minor update. It is significantly better than the 4. Dual core. iOS 5. The 8 Mpx camera alone will be enough to change the minds of many waverers. But it is a consolidation, a strategic market repositioning, not a shock. It perhaps takes back the lead, after the Galaxy S II being seen by many as the new messiah. But it’s still neck and neck, and that is not what we have come to expect from an iPhone release. On its day of launch, the latest iPhone is supposed to be the most desirable piece of consumer electronics on Earth. Unequivocally.

It’s Tim Cook I feel sorry for, Apple’s new CEO. In place of the showman, they’ve got the man credited with the sound strategic business decisions. Decisions like closing down Apple’s manufacturing in the US (and indeed, Ireland) and moving it to such questionable locations as Foxconn‘s giant plants in China. It is just his misfortune that his first product launch happens to be of a rather strategic and businesslike update to the iPhone.

But people are bound to say that if Steve were still in charge, there would have been surprises. Steve would have taken some feature of the new iPhone – probably Siri, the voice recognition ‘valet’ – and make it sound like God’s personal gift to you. Actually no, Steve wouldn’t even have presented us with something as lacklustre as mere voice recognition. It would have read your mind, and granted desires you had not yet even consciously formed. Steve could do it, why can’t this phone?

Yeah. Basically people are mostly just missing Steve.

Steve Jobs – An Astonishing Career

Steve Jobs
The best technology CEO since Thomas Edison?

There would always have been more to do. This is a good time for Steve Jobs to depart. Apple is at its peak; both triumphantly successful and wealthy, yet simultaneously admired and even loved. Since the company returned Steve Jobs to his – there is a strong temptation to say ‘rightful’ – leadership role, it has been on an almost unparalleled tour de force.

It began so apparently simply, with products that looked more like quick fixes for the mess he found Apple in than parts of any masterplan. The iMac was in all respects except one an obvious stopgap, an almost desperate attempt to stem the flood of computer users away from the Mac to PC. Make them cheap and paint them bright colours. But stopgap products don’t normally become best-sellers. And more subtly, attractive design revitalised the idea that a computer could be a consumer product.

The diversification into media players too seemed like a quick way to bolster revenues, and yet it evolved into a product that utterly conquered the top end of the phone market. And kept evolving, into one that some say will replace the laptop and the desktop. How the hell does that happen? Whether it was a secret plan of astonishing foresight, or ‘merely’ an extended run of inspired improvisation, virtually everything Jobs touched turned to gold.

In one of those coincidences, I was joking on the phone with my girlfriend yesterday about the news that Apple’s stock was now worth more than that of all the banks in the eurozone combined. (This, on top of having more ready cash than the US government.) I said that gold and Apple shares were the only things people dared invest in now. But what if Steve Jobs resigns? It’ll be like if gold suddenly evaporated.

Will Apple stock plunge? I doubt it, but it will fall some. It has fallen a little already, even though the news only went public after Wall Street shut for the night. Markets are nervous animals. But share price means little to a company that has no need to raise money. What does matter is whether they will continue to be great.

One strongly suspects that the attention to detail in Apple products, the integration of the technical and the aesthetic, is a direct expression of Steve Jobs’ personality. Without that obsession actually in the driving seat, will Apple continue to make great, pioneering products?

For the foreseeable future, I think they will. But somehow it won’t be the same.