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Some people sounded a bit underwhelmed following the announcement of the iPhone 5 yesterday. I’m not one of them, as I don’t really get all excited about PR events to begin with. Furthermore, the iPhone 5 is exactly what I would have expected. Yet, one aspect of it has me shaking my head.

But let me begin by explaining why the rather moderate changes totally meet my expectations.

iPhone – the Volkswagen Golf of smartphones

The iPhone has basically turned into the Volkswagen Golf (replace with local car reference as appropriate). It’s so popular that the maker is reluctant to introduce any drastic changes to its functionality or design. Every new generation is an evolution rather than a revolution. The ambition is not to be the tech avant garde – let others introduce new features (NFT, wireless recharging, etc.). It’s sufficient if the class-defining product takes them on board when they’re already mature and proven.

Yet, those changes that Volkswagen and Apple do make, however minute, get a big song and dance during the announcement to create the impression that the new generation is actually revolutionary after all. I don’t envy the marketing guys for the iPhone or Golf, as this seems like a slightly schizophrenic situation to me: It’s essential for product strategy not to be revolutionary, yet also essential to be perceived as revolutionary. That’s why both Volkswagen and Apple even tell us how the way they make and fit a certain part has changed.

The car analogy goes further still – the iPhone as well as the Golf have reached a point where they’re both very solid products indeed. But they are also both decidedly not hip any more (if the Golf ever was). Nor cheap for what you’re effectively getting (not that either product ever was).

Personally, my choice would neither be an iPhone nor a Golf, but I can see why some people would buy either.

Yet, I mention »despair« in the title of this blog entry. Why?


For a short time, I thought the major despair I would get out of the announcement yesterday was going to be the death of the iPod Classic before I had a chance to get the 160GB version. A few years ago I thought that 80GB were plenty, no need to pay extra to get the larger 120GB available at the time. How silly I was. Anyway – it subsequently turned out that the Classic is going to live on for another few months at least.

My single despair with Apple’s media event is – the new connector.

Engadget’s Tim Stevens, who did a live blog about the PR event yesterday, wrote it was »soul-crushing« that he would now need an adaptor for all his old-style dock connector devices.

That’s harsh, particularly if you thought that you’re still okay with a non-industry-standard connector as long as you stuck with the one vendor that uses it. Instead, even Apple afficionados now have to deal with two connectors across the current product line-up: 8-pin for two out of five iPod models and the iPhone 5, 30-pin for another two iPod models, the iPhone 4 and 4S, and the iPad 2 and 3 (or »new iPad« as the maker calls it with total disregard of temporal relativity or whatever the technical term may be).

However, that doesn’t really concern myself. All my audio, video and other electronic equipment uses industry-standard connectors. That’s not a coincidence, as I don’t want vendor-locked devices.
Some of my euqipment is nearly 10 years old and I still have no connectivity issues whatsoever. Nor do I expect any in the foreseeable future. The worst I fear is that I may need one or two USB-to-Micro-USB adaptors, which are less than €5 apiece. So neither have I got a stack of devices whose connectivity options are suddenly obsolete, nor do I have to buy 30-pin-to-8-pin Apple adaptor for a staggering €29 (a price that is frankly outrageous).

What leads me to despair about the new connector is the sheer mind-numbing nonsensicality and user-unfriendliness of designing yet another proprietary connector for a purpose that is served perfectly well by industry standard solutions like Micro-USB/MHL. As evident by the fact that Apple’s own i-device standard cable goes from 30-pin/8-pin to USB.

I cannot put into words how incredibly tiring and unnecessary this is in my eyes.

Maybe an example can illustrate my point.

There’s a micro-USB charger in the office that I work in. It looks like somebody forgot it when they moved desks. As I sit right next to it, I can testify to the popularity of that charger in our office. Blackberries get hooked up to it, as do Androids and regular phones from various manufacturers. Virtually the only type of phone currently available that cannot use this little charger is the one bearing a fruit-themed logo.

It’s like having to use a different type nozzle at the petrol station if you drive a particular make of car. Just pointless. For the iPhone you either need a dedicated charger, or an adaptor.

A curious thing about this whole 8-ping design decision is that, by European law, all mobile phones have to have a Micro-USB connector these days. This does wonders in getting rid of all those different chargers, connector cables, etc. It also makes it so much easier to recharge your phone when you’re not at home and don’t have your own charger with you. Literally everybody complies with this regulation by simply building a Micro-USB connector into the phone itself. Done.

Apple instead give European customers (and only European customers): the 8-pin-to-Micro-USB adaptor. At a cost of €19.

As I said: It’s mind-numbing.