By Sreemoy Talukdar

In June 2013, I dipped into the funds I had been scratching, beggaring and saving away to gift myself the HTC One M7. The phone was released in February that year and it took HTC almost five months to bring it to India. Those were five, impatient months. Doing weekly rounds of dealers in my city, Kolkata, became a routine. So I was probably among the very first buyers of M7 in India. It set me back by over Rs 43000.

The gorgeous HTC One M7
The gorgeous HTC One M7

I still vividly remember the shock and awe my decision generated among friends, colleagues and even family members. After getting over their collective incredulity, they ended up asking me only one question. If you had to spend so much money in buying a smartphone, why didn’t you get the iPhone?

Why indeed.

I’d be shadow boxing with this question for years to come. And even now, as the latest version of the world’s most popular smartphone was released by the Cupertino-based company on Wednesday, I’ll try one more time to explain why iPhone continues to remain the world’s most overrated, overpriced device (not other Apple products, mind you). Watching the Apple event live on Wednesday night in India, I was reminded once again of all those reasons that made me decide that I shall never waste my hard-earned cash on this exquisite piece of unadulterated hype.

Remember Antennagate?

In June 2010, the world’s most celebrated technology visionary and entrepreneur was a harried man. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs had just released iPhone 4 and the “world’s best smartphone” immediately ran into reception issues and frequent call drops due to the apparently faulty placement of the antenna. Just to put it in perspective, Jobs had termed iPhone 4’s antenna design “brilliant” during the launch.

It quickly became dubbed as ‘Antennagate.”

Jobs was defiant. In reply to tech website ArsTechnica’s query, which had been reporting on the widely-encountered problem, he wrote: “All phones have sensitive areas… Just avoid holding it in this way.”

Apart from advising people to change their grip, Jobs claimed that the issue has been “blown so out of proportion that it’s incredible… There is no Antennagate,” alleging that “media attacks” were prompted by Apple’s size and success. He also said that all phones suffer from such issues, a claim that didn’t go down too well with rivals. Apple then blamed it on software, eventually upgrading it, which actually worsened the problem, reported the Wall Street Journal.

After running into issues with its metal frame in all-glass iPhone 4 which developed resistance when in contact with skin, Apple adopted a different approach in iPhone 5. It went for a metallic finish, which admittedly gave the phone a more premium look but that was offset by ungainly glass caps on top and bottom that were used to circumvent the reception problem.

iPhone 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S5 Tech2 720

Arch-rival Samsung tried another formula, sticking to an all-plastic body that ensured no antenna issues but a cheap feel for a premium flagship device. At this stage, major smartphone manufacturers belting out full touch-screen devices still didn’t know how to effectively solve the antenna problem. HTC showed the way.

In M7, HTC went for an all-aluminum construction that immediately set the bar high above the competition, lending it a glamorous look and a smooth, premium feel. But how did it solve the antenna issue? The Taiwanese company inserted thin plastic antenna lines along the top and bottom of the metallic unibody that enabled reception and yet looked seamless. HTC’s then design guru Scott Croyle told CNET that it took roughly 200 minutes to cut and process the front and rear parts of each phone. “There are multiple panels, but they feel like one part.”

(Also read: Apple iPhones have the worst voice quality around)

The result was one of the best-looking phones of all time that floored critics. It won every conceivable award since its launch and was also named the Best Smartphone of 2013 during the Global Mobile Awards.

If critics were enamored of it, so were rivals. Almost 18 months after M7 was released, Apple appeared to have adopted HTC’s design cues — a full-metal unibody frame with plastic antenna strips at the back — for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. During the launch of HTC A9 last year amid allegations that it looked remarkably similar to iPhone, HTC president Jack Tong said: “We’re not copying. We made a unibody metal-clad phone in 2013. It’s Apple that copies us in terms of the antenna design on the back.”

So when friends and colleagues were asking me in genuine amazement why I didn’t get an iPhone, they were in effect giving testimony to Apple’s unmatched marketing brilliance.

Android wine in an iOS bottle?

Ripping off design cues from rivals, however, is the most common charge in the smartphone universe and results in countless lawsuits between companies. Apple and Samsung have been regularly taking each other to court over it. The earliest versions of iPhone, for instance, bore a striking resemblance to LG’s Prada handset which released way back in 2006.

LG Prada iPhone 4 Tech2 720
There’s some resemblance between the LG Prada and the iPhone 4

Design commonality is a universal affliction and cannot be held solely against the Cupertino-based firm. But a bigger charge has been frequently labeled against Apple that, to my mind, becomes a crucial determinant in selecting a smartphone.

For all its chest-thumping about being the “best and first in everything,” the fact remains that many of Apple’s features in its iOS operating system had already been an integral part of Android. The matter, though obliquely, was brought up by Sundar Pichai in 2014.

At Google I/O that year, Pichai, now the company’s CEO, said: “If you look at what other platforms are getting now, widgets, custom keyboards, many of these things came to Android four, maybe five years ago.” He didn’t take names, but he didn’t need to.

And there’s a laundry list of them. Tech website Phandroid recently compiled many of these features which are a part of iOS 10, Apple latest software release that will adorn the iPhone 7.

From lock-screen UI to something as simple as clearing all notifications; from ‘raise to wake’ to the opening up of Siri to developers (Google Now had long been open for years); from a photo app with facial recognition to a better ‘phone’ app; from handy features like traffic information in Apple Maps (which has long been a part of Google Maps) to uninstalling stock apps; from split view, to collaboration features in notes, iOS has shown that it is really in love with Android.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Give and take among competition results in a better product for customers. But the way Android has regularly outperformed iOS in terms of user friendliness, better intuitiveness and is more tailored to individual needs point to a lacunae in Apple’s strategy which it has only now begun to correct by placing stress on smarter, rather than gimmicky features.

Lack of innovation

But by far the biggest problem with iPhone is that Apple’s entire flagship line has stagnated. Under Tim Cook, Apple has become a more profitable company but there have been no real game-changing innovations of the kind Jobs regularly introduced. With all its warts and works, iPhone 7 at best is a solid but unimpressive product that offers only incremental updates to its earlier version and largely plays catch-up with the competition.

Aside from all the glossy claims that were pushed down our throats yesterday, only one feature will really matter to users — better battery life. The iPhone 7Plus dual cam, while a handy addition, is nowhere near a novel innovation. HTC had rolled it out with its flagship M8 (please check the date of launch).

While the M8 dual cam was nowhere near the iPhone 7 Plus in terms of features, the idea was already in place. Which essentially means that Apple took an existing idea and improved on it, as it has consistently done throughout.

dual camer. Wide plus telephoto

With a 12 megapixel camera and a wider f/1.8 aperture, iPhone has closed the gap, but has still not overwhelmed Samsung whose Galaxy S7 already has a 12 MP camera with an even wider f/1.7 aperture. There’s also no reason to think that the dual camera will be able to deliver DSLR level image quality, as Apple’s Phil Schiller suggested on stage.

TechCrunch writer Haje Jan Kamps explains it beautifully, “I have no doubt that Apple’s iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus will be some of the best cameras available in mobile devices. But… if you want to make the most of ’em, don’t listen to people spouting marketing bollocks on stage. Shun digital zoom like the bubonic plague and stick to the zooms provided by the cameras. On Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus, that means you should shoot at 1x or 2x zoom, nothing in between and nothing beyond.”

Err, can I listen to music while charging?

Apple AirPods

With iPhone 7, Apple bid goodbye to the ubiquitous 3.5mm headphone jack and introduced a lightning connector for earbuds or wireless connectivity through what it calls ‘Airpods.” These “wireless headphones” that come with their own charging case will be available in India for Rs 15,400. That’s a steep price for stuff that could be easily misplaced.

But the biggest problem with Apple’s shift from 3.5mm jack to lightning connectivity is that you cannot listen to music while charging your phone. Simple. As Vox points out: “The downsides are obvious: Almost everyone has headphones, speakers, and other gadgets based on the ubiquitous 3.5 mm headphone jack. Eliminating this connection could render these devices unusable, or at least force everyone to carry around an extra adapter.”

That Apple touted this introduction of wireless headphones as its “boldest step” while launching the iPhone should tell you volumes about how the company has come to put gimmicks over real innovation. Apple has lost its mojo. But that won’t be a problem in selling a billion more of these overpriced devices. After all, it’s the iPhone.

Publish date: September 8, 2016 8:00 pm| Modified date: September 8, 2016 8:02 pm

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