When it comes to new iPhones, Apple simply can’t win
All the news, rumors, and tips you missed last week.
By David Price, Editor, MacworldSEP 11, 2023 3:30 am PDT
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.
Winning and losing
There is considerable excitement in the Macworld offices this week, where preparations are almost complete for tomorrow’s Apple event. Company watchers have been rather starved of stimulation this year—we’re well into September and this is only the second keynote of 2023. So expectations are high.
But is that fair? Apple’s annual iPhone refresh is undoubtedly the most important event of its year, simply because that product generates such a swollen proportion of its revenues. But it doesn’t follow that it therefore has to be exciting–in fact, the terrifying financial importance of the iPhone is far more likely to make its manufacturer cautious when launching an update. Look at the numbers in Apple’s most recent quarterly earnings call, then put yourself in the shoes of the guy who has to tell shareholders there’s a $40 billion hole in the finances because a phone designer decided to get funky.
Chuck in the fact that Apple has been making iPhones since 2007, and the increasing commoditization of the smartphone market, it’s not merely unreasonable but positively illogical to expect iPhone-related fireworks tomorrow. The company’s engineers may be famously conservative, but even they have managed to incorporate most of the available advances across 17 generations and 38 models; by now they’ve plucked not only the low-hanging technological fruit but most of the leaves and quite a lot of the branches too. What is there left to change? The iPhone 15 will be a bit better than the iPhone 14; the iPhone 15 Pro will be quite a lot better than the iPhone 15; neither will change the formula in any earth-shattering way. And both will have done their job.
Not that this will be enough for the punditterati, of course. With its consistently excellent quality and unprecedented sales numbers, the iPhone has raised the bar so high that Apple cannot win when launching a new model. If, as seems almost certain, the iPhone 15 is a minor iteration of the 14, analysts and reviewers will complain that it’s boring. But the same people will pounce on any missteps if, against all expectations, the company decides to take some risks. Even if the iPhone 15 is somehow both radical and flawless, it will only raise the bar even higher for next year.
So my prediction for the new iPhones is quiet excellence: easy listening rather than rock and roll. And that’s okay. A product line this far into its lifecycle is unlikely to spring many surprises and should not be castigated for failing to do so.
Mind you, that doesn’t mean the entire Wonderlust event will be a snoozefest. It will be interesting to see what Apple does with the second generation of the Apple Watch Ultra; the software updates are a big deal; and AirPods updates are always good fun. And if nothing else provides amusement, we get to watch Apple, after years of fighting against it, pretending that switching from Lightning to USB-C on the iPhone is a really good idea after all.
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 Facebook, Threads, or Twitter for discussion of breaking Apple news stories. See you next Monday, and stay Appley.