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Apple has to start thinking beyond the iPhone

Apple has to start thinking beyond the iPhone

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Image: Foundry

Welcome to our weekly Apple Breakfast column, which includes all the Apple news you missed last week in a handy bite-sized roundup. We call it Apple Breakfast because we think it goes great with a Monday morning cup of coffee or tea, but it’s cool if you want to give it a read during lunch or dinner hours too.

Life after the iPhone

Last week a new CIRP report indicated a trend that will be worrying for Apple: the company’s customers are holding on to their iPhones for longer. From 2021 to 2022 the average age of replaced iPhones dropped, but that figure is now heading back towards the peak recorded in March 2021. It would seem that the effects of lockdown and the pandemic, when people were less able to spend money on travel and thus had more disposable income to upgrade their phones, are proving temporary. The longer-term underlying trend towards less and less frequent upgrades is reasserting itself.

Your first thought may be that this is good news and an indication that Apple is doing its job well. The phones are more robust, perhaps, and are thus better at surviving long-term use. The inclusion of 5G support and extremely powerful processors means the hardware is more future-proofed. Maybe the design team should be given credit for forward-looking aesthetics that age well. I would tend to agree that whatever the reasons for it, a slower upgrade cycle is good for customers and the environment. But Apple’s management, at least when being honest with themselves, are unlikely to feel that it’s good for them.

This conflict of interests reminded me of a famous “saying the quiet part out loud” moment from an Apple keynote in 2016 when Phil Schiller said he was “really sad” that so many PC owners were holding on to their machines for more than five years. To Apple this was cause for derision: look at those silly old PC owners with their silly old PCs. But to any reasonable company, or rather any company with the PR good sense to behave as if it has the interests of reasonable customers at heart, this should be a point of pride. The addictive capitalist cycle of novelty and obsolescence is shatteringly bad for our wallets and our world. If you can keep a PC running for more than five years, you’re part of the solution, not the problem.

In fact, I suspect the long-term trend away from frequent iPhone upgrades is less to do with Apple’s excellence and more with the state of the smartphone market as a whole. This hasn’t yet reached the commoditized state where one brand of handset is indistinguishable from another, thanks in part to Apple’s canny marketing and refusal to allow features like iMessage on rival platforms. But it’s certainly true that generations of products made by the same company are becoming harder to distinguish with each passing year.

The quantum leap in camera quality you’d enjoy when jumping two generations from the iPhone 3GS to the iPhone 4S, for example, would dwarf the iterative and niche improvements you’d notice when moving four from the XS to the 14. The landmark, game-changing upgrades from those early years—3G! LTE! Siri! FaceTime! A front-facing camera! The App Store! The first Retina display!—make the tentpole features of recent years seem pedestrian by comparison. There’s less reason to become excited by the new iPhone models each fall, and less reason to upgrade at an urgent rate because the phone you’ve already got is already amazing.

Of course, this is largely inevitable, and the last thing I want to suggest is that Apple’s engineers have been sleeping on the job. The rapid and astonishing advances made by the smartphone industry in its early years were possible because the low-hanging fruit hadn’t yet been eaten. But because of those advances, today’s cheapest budget Android phone is a vastly more capable device than the fanciest flagship of 2007, and there’s a limit to how much you can improve on a product before customers stop noticing.

To its credit, Apple realized long ago that the iPhone would not be the golden goose forever, and has been looking for other sources of income to take its place when the time comes. The company recognized, for instance, that even if they didn’t buy as many iPhones, a large user base of people with enough money to have bought one previously was a ripe market for subscription services, and now we have Apple Arcade, Music, News+, Fitness+ and so on. But more importantly, it has been looking for the next platform, the one that will take the smartphone’s place as the single device that most people carry around all day. Apple tried the iPad, and it tried the Apple Watch, and neither turned out to have the same universal appeal. The next attempt will be an AR headset, which may turn out to be the next iPhone, and then again may not.

The iPhone has had a good run and isn’t done yet—not by a long shot. But its days, nevertheless, are numbered, and Apple mustn’t hang on too long without finding a good replacement. Because that really would be sad.


Reviews corner

F-Secure Total for Mac review: It will protect your devices from rogue software, but at a cost and with some limitations.

Trending: Top stories

The must-have accessory for Apple’s AR headset will be an Apple One subscription.

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In fact, Google just showed Apple what it needs to plant inside its walled garden.

Apple’s first app subscription is here (Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro are coming to the iPad) and now we’ll be paying for our devices forever.

Pump the brakes GM, you’re not going to win the CarPlay fight.

The rumor mill

Apple has busted a prolific Twitter leaker, seemingly by working an elaborate misinformation scam. Be careful what you believe out there, folks.

The 15-MacBook Air is so close, stores have “already begun stocking up.”

Apple is reportedly planning the largest iPhone ever. Could this be the fabled iPhone 16 Ultra?

The Apple Watch Series 9 might bring a serious bump in battery life.

New Beats Studio Pro headphones have been spotted in the latest iOS and macOS betas.

Podcast of the week

After a tremendous couple of years, the Mac cycle has hit a lull–or you could say it is now eerily similar to the pre-M1 days of the Mac. But that could change starting at WWDC, with the possibility of some groundbreaking updates, a much-anticipated Mac Pro, and an unveiling of the next version of macOS.

You can catch every episode of the Macworld Podcast on Spotify, Soundcloud, the Podcasts app, or our own site.

And with that, we’re done for this week’s Apple Breakfast. If you’d like to get regular roundups, sign up for our newsletters. You can also follow us on Twitter or on Facebook for discussion of breaking Apple news stories. See you next Monday, and stay Appley.

Author: David Price, Editor

David has loved the iPhone since covering the original 2007 launch; later his obsession expanded to include iPad and Apple Watch. He offers advice to owners (and prospective owners) of these devices.

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