iPhone 5: The last word in smartphone innovation?

If Apple was a dark horse to kill off music players, maybe there's a dark horse waiting out there to reinvent the smartphone. Probably not.

Amid all the advance iPhone 5 hullabaloo -- and no, sports fans, we're not anywhere finished and there are still two days to go before the official announcement -- it's easy to forget that this was a family of devices "that, under the normal rules of business, should not have been invented."

The above is a partial quote from Slate columnist Farhad Manjoo who's must-read piece recounts the long and winding road taken by Apple before it came out with the first iPhone in June 2007.

Given the popularity of the iPod and its centrality to Apple's bottom line, Apple should have been the last company on the planet to try to build something whose explicit purpose was to kill music players. Yet Apple's inner circle knew that one day, a phone maker would solve the interface problem, creating a universal device that could make calls, play music and videos, and do everything else, too--a device that would eat the iPod's lunch. Apple's only chance at staving off that future was to invent the iPod killer itself. More than this simple business calculation, though, Apple's brass saw the phone as an opportunity for real innovation. "We wanted to build a phone for ourselves," Scott Forstall, who heads the team that built the phone's operating system, said at the trial. "We wanted to build a phone that we loved."

Reading Manjoo's narrative, which nicely pulls together the different pieces of evidence that saw their first public airing during the just-concluded Apple-Samsung trial, I'm struck again by a path that was filled with more than its fair share of trial and error. And as Apple counts down the hours before unveiling on Wednesday what is already being touted as a sure hit in the form of the iPhone 5, the challenge to rivals -- as always -- will be how long it takes to catch up (or surpass) Apple's designs. If Apple's victory in the Samsung verdict holds up, rivals will be wary about designing anything that even remotely resembles an Apple iPhone.

But design thinking didn't end on August 24 and if, as Manjoo notes, Apple reinvented the phone, the door isn't closed to some bright bulb as Samsung, HTC, Motorola -- you know the laundry list -- reinventing the smartphone. Or so we often say believe to be the case when it comes to tech innovation. It's theory versus practice. And given what we've seen to date, that may be stretching the boundaries of credulity.

 

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