The iPhone 6 won't wow: 6 reasons why

Demand for the iPhone 5 is slumping and Crave's Eric Mack isn't surprised. He's hoping Apple's next big leap will impress, but he isn't holding his breath.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
Expertise Solar, solar storage, space, science, climate change, deregulated energy, DIY solar panels, DIY off-grid life projects, and CNET's "Living off the Grid" series Credentials
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Eric Mack
4 min read
iPhone 5 sales are slumping, leaving me to wonder if there will even be an iPhone 6. CNET

Apple's getting hammered by analysts and investors as I write this, and I've been trying to resist the urge to say "told ya so."

Sorry, no will power today.

Back in September, after the much-awaited and meh-filled unveiling of the iPhone 5, I made a declaration that's being borne out further in this week's headlines -- the iPhone jumped the shark some time ago. At the time, I was reacting to the lack of any groundbreaking innovation in the latest Apple smartphone iteration. But this week, word came that iPhone demand was slumping and Apple had reportedly cut component orders.

Is that really such a big deal, you say? No, not necessarily. It could just be the normal drop in sales after the holidays. Or it could be that, plus the six reasons below that lead me to continue to believe that the iPhone will join Adam Lambert, Sarah Palin, and many others on the list of pop culture icons that peaked around 2010.

Just to be clear on what I'm saying, my best educated guesses are that we will see a new iPhone this summer, and it will be an iPhone 5S with mostly iterative updates, a choice of colors, and perhaps the lower-cost model of the latest rumors. But the real question is: then what?

My gut tells me the iPhone as we know it will be done at that point. I have a hunch there will never be an iPhone 6, because Apple will be forced to move into a significantly different form factor to keep people interested and compete with the movement toward bigger phablet-like thingies and emerging wearable electronics (lots of us have fat thumbs, after all). Or, there will be an iPhone 6 and it will disappoint. Here are my reasons for all my iPhone doom and gloom:

1. iOS is stale: After a panel discussion last summer, I cornered two analysts who together keep four very close eyes on Cupertino. Asymco's Horace Dediu and Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster both expressed a sentiment that's become even more common since then -- iOS doesn't seem so fresh anymore. Forget Adam Lambert, the interface feels more like something that would consider Clay Aiken a contemporary.

How iOS can catch up with hipper offerings from Windows Phone and Android -- let alone getting back to the UI vanguard it established half a decade ago -- without upsetting hordes of legacy users is a task of Microsoftian proportions. And it only works out for Microsoft about half the time.

2. Samsung and Android are rocking it lately: Sales, reviews, and anecdotal chatter all tell the tale of an ascendant Korean monolith. The Samsung Galaxy S3 has wowed us, and the Galaxy Note line has led us to reconsider what makes a phone a phone -- something we might have expected from Apple a few years ago.

Based on my observation of CNET reader feedback, anticipation of a new Samsung flagship phone and what's next from Google's Nexus line has reached the voracious levels previously reserved for only the iPhone. These days, if you see storm clouds over the headquarters of Samsung, it's not foreboding, but likely just where the company is hiding all the thunder it's stolen lately.

3. Apple is different under Tim Cook: When I wrote about Apple's shark-jumping activities in September, I was hesitant to place too much emphasis on the absence of Steve Jobs, but the ensuing months have made it clear that Apple is a different company under Tim Cook. Still a remarkable operation, but one that seems to follow the more traditional model of giving customers what they want, rather than the Jobs model of dictating to consumers what they will want.

Don't believe me? How are you enjoying that iPad Mini that Steve told you you'd never want? If a lower-cost iPhone is revealed later this year, consider it confirmation of what I'm saying here.

4. Young people don't think Apple is cool anymore: Once the iPhone becomes Dad's phone, you've got a problem. Santa doesn't bring many BlackBerrys these days. Apparently the cool kids today are into Windows Phones. Gotta say, I didn't see that one coming. Will 2013 be the year that helping Mom with her Metro tiles becomes a meme?

5. Price does matter: Part of Apple's growth has been about expanding into global markets, but in lots of those markets it's tough to swing $600 for a phone. Heck, that's tough in all markets. The competition has caught up to the iPhone, and their devices are cheaper. Money talks, and during these economic times it actually screams.

6. To wow, you need a wow factor: When I think of the last time Apple really gave us a major innovation, all I think of in recent years has to do with the iPad. Siri was cool for a while, but it didn't really have the staying power. Iterative improvements to a really good product will only hold our interest for so long, especially when Android is iterating just as effectively.

The smartphone as we know it is a pretty mature device. We're ready for something else, and in the past decade, Apple is the company we've looked to to provide our next "Wow!" Right now I'm having a hard time imagining any iPhone 6 that will elicit that most joyous of palindromes. I sure hope I'm proven wrong.

What do you think? Is the iPhone nearing the end of a magnificent run? Or is it a kinetic motion machine of awesome that's too legit to quit?