Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sensibly Average

In a spot for Direct TV from 2001, a husband is happily cruising around on his computer, going from web site to web site. Click, click, click again, until there is a pause and a voice: "Alert. You have reached the end of the internet. You have seen everything there is to see. Please go back. Now." He gingerly hits a key, as the camera cuts away. We next see him as he wanders into the living room with a dazed look on his face. "I thought you were surfing the internet," his wife says." "Yeah." he responds. "I finished it."

The commercial came to mind in light of the roll-out of the new iPhone5. First, to put it in context, let's revisit a few headlines. "Hundreds camp out, crazy for the iPhone." That was from 2007, when the first model came out. Or how about this one from 2008: "By 8am Friday, an estimated 350 people were already lined up to buy iPhone 3Gs at the downtown San Francisco Apple Store." Or this one from 2009 for the birth of the iPhone 4: "In what may be the largest consumer electronics launch of all time, jubilant crowds stretched for blocks in many US and foreign locations." In each case, if the announcement wasn't heralded as the second (or third or fourth) coming, it was certainly close.

Contrast that with this past week's introduction. To be fair, we are in the middle of a contentious presidential campaign that has monopolized most of the space above the fold. And events overseas have claimed a lot of attention, whether it be the violence in the Middle East or financial markets in Europe. And it was Fashion Week in New York, so headlines like "Optical disillusion! Kim Kardashian makes another fashion misstep in baggy monochrome dress" were to be expected.

But consider this time there were no front page headlines. Rather, leads like this: "No, This Is Not the Best iPhone Ever." Or this one: "Should I buy the iPhone 5? Some things to think about as you consider your next purchase." Or how about this backhanded compliment: "No one has complaints about the phone itself from the brief time they've spent with it." Or my fav: "This is the first iPhone whose name includes a number greater than 4." If that isn't heresy, it's the closest thing to it: when in the past have the technorati dissed Cupertino so openly? Put another way, it's almost as if they looked at the device and said, "you know, you don't sweat much for a fat girl."

That's right. A public so smitten with tech in general and Apple in particular that just last year it was ready to put Steve Jobs on Mount Rushmore is decidedly cool about the latest toy. And why is that? Arguable, the new device pushes the envelope even if it doesn't break any new ground. It's bigger. It's faster. It's thinner and lighter. But then again, so is everything else. To use Jobs' own term, is it "insanely great?" Or is it merely "sensibly average?"

So the question bears asking: like the guy in the commercial, have we reached the end? Not of new iterations of smartphones: one can safely assume that there will be an iPhone n+1. It might be made of glass. It might be able to drive your car. It might even be edible. But after some 244 million units sold, not only are we not getting worked up about the next model, we barely even notice. And if we're not getting worked out about Apple, forget Google and Samsung and HP and the rest. Why, it wasn't long ago to even mention all them in the same sentence was to invite the scorn of the hippest and savviest among us. And now? Perish the thought, but is Apple in danger of being known not as an innovator's innovator, but as a green tart fruit best used in pies?

We are a fickle lot, to be sure. Or as Jon Stewart pointed out in a less charitable way, we are puppies: "Oh look! Something shiny! Rooof!" Yes, Apple has produced some amazing devices, and raised the bar for all. But in a world where "what have you done for me lately?" is not just a Janet Jackson single but how we live, the public may have started to hit the wall. So you beat Samsung in court: that was so yesterday. And well, tell us: what HAVE you done for us lately?


Marc Wollin of Bedford never drank the Apple Kool-Aid. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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