- Despite Apple’s reputation for innovation, recent hardware upgrades have been incremental, lacking the major changes that would truly qualify as innovation.
- The iPhone 15 Pro Max, for example, highlights how Apple is catching up to features that already exist in other devices, rather than introducing groundbreaking ideas.
- Calling the M3 Macs innovative is questionable, as they are essentially just spec updates without any significant creative changes. The word “innovation” is losing its meaning in Apple’s keynotes.
From popular iPhones, to versatile iPads and unrivaled Macs, Apple’s product line features some of the best consumer technology released to date. And what makes these devices even more powerful is the tightly integrated ecosystem that ties them all together. Many customers, including myself, started with just an iPhone, only to find themselves with a full suite of Apple devices within a few months or years of use. Though, despite these devices’ objective excellence, their hardware upgrades lately have been pretty incremental.
Incremental upgrades in both the hardware and software departments are completely understandable at this point. Apple has mastered its devices’ design, performance, and operating systems, so there’s not much to ask for. My issue, however, is with the company throwing around the word “innovation” during its keynotes, when its recent products have been lacking that aspect.
iPhone 15 Pro Max
The iPhone 15 Pro Max’s 6.7-inch OLED display
I upgraded from an iPhone 14 Pro to an iPhone 15 Pro Max to see what 2023’s Apple innovation in the mobile department was all about. The main differences between the two phones are the Action button, improved camera, USB-C port, and titanium build. Starting with the Action button, other OEMs have included something similar on their devices for many years now. Replacing a mute switch by a clickable button (that is limited to a single action, by the way) is a welcome tweak, not an “innovation.” Innovation in this sense is a major change driven by creativity and that unlocks new potentials. A recycled, half-baked idea is not it.
Similarly, introducing an improved zoom when other manufacturers have been beating that for years is just catching up. It’s not the mind-blowing kind of innovation that we witnessed when the original MacBook Air or Face ID debuted, for example. The same can be said about USB-C and the titanium design. They are all welcome changes, but they lack the unique creativity that helped Apple stand out in the past.
Again, I’m aware that flagship smartphones have matured, and I’m not requesting groundbreaking changes on a yearly basis. I’m simply pointing out that the word “innovation” is losing its meaning because of how redundantly Apple has been throwing it around in its keynotes.
Apple Watch Series 9
Another example revolves around the latest Apple Watches. Arguably the biggest highlight of the Apple Watch Ultra 2 and Series 9 was the double-tap gesture. For those unfamiliar, this offering has existed for years as an accessibility feature. On the latest models, however, Apple relies on the faster S9 processor to supposedly make it more accurate and further integrate its functionality into the system.
This feature, on paper, is pretty innovative, I have to admit. Many of us use their noses to tap the watch’s screen when the other hand is occupied. So being able to rely on a two-finger tap instead is certainly a welcome change. Well, except that the feature doesn’t work reliably. XDA’s Editor-in-Chief, Rich Woods, and I have both tried to actively use this feature on his Ultra 2 and my Series 9, and its implementation is wonky. False triggers often happen throughout the day, and the watch frequently fails to detect intentional input.
The entire argument behind Apple making this feature exclusive to the new models is the improved accuracy. When said accuracy is a no-show, then one of the watch’s biggest highlights is invalid. Looking back at its predecessors, most of them have also been incremental upgrades. Despite that, Apple continues to claim it’s innovating, when in reality it has been just polishing its devices to provide a more reliable and powerful experience.
Another recent batch of not-so-innovative products is the M3 Macs. In fact, Apple’s “Scary Fast” event is what drove me to writing this piece in the first place. Towards the end of the keynote, Apple CEO Tim Cook repeated the word “innovate” around three times in a row, when the 30-minute Mac launch could’ve been a press release.
I will state again that I’m not expecting these products to introduce groundbreaking changes with every single upgrade. However, calling them innovative when they’re quite literally a spec bump is laughable. The 24-inch iMac, which hadn’t been refreshed in over two years, could’ve used some more creative changes. The company didn’t even switch its accessories from Lightning to USB-C. Despite the valid improvements of the M3 chip family, I wouldn’t call 2023’s iMac and MacBook Pro models an innovation.
The illusory truth effect
The word “innovation” itself could refer to small changes, too. However, Apple used to use it when actually coming up with genius ideas that surpass its rivals’ executions. Today, Apple products remain some of the most reliable and powerful devices available to consumers. Nonetheless, the recent models lack the creative twists that would usually highlight Apple’s accomplishments.
It’s proven that repeating an inaccurate statement over and over again can actually make it seem true to the hearer. As someone who watches Apple’s newest keynotes more than once for work reasons, I’ve noticed how the phrasing plays a role in influencing viewers’ opinions. And the more immersed someone is in the company’s products and keynotes, the more likely they’ll miss these cues, as they just become typical wordings. However, ask an expert who has never watched an Apple keynote or ad in the past to view some of its recent events, and they’ll likely question what the so-called “innovation” is all about.