What Apple misses in its slowing iPhone sales

(Written for Techpinions)

While Apple has attributed the slowdown of iPhone sales to being caused by a range of business and financial issues, not included in their list is the product design itself. Yet, I think some of the design decisions made over the past few years have impacted the iPhone’s popularity.  These design decisions came about from a company that paid little attention to customer preference, usually believing it knew best. That’s what happens to many companies that are successful, thinking they’re smarter than their customers, develop a level of arrogance, and misread the market.

Foremost and symbolic of this arrogance has been the removal of the headphone jack that provided no consumer benefit yet was something everyone understood. Why, customers asked, would Apple make the phone less convenient to use, abandoning a standard that most customers relied on. It required users to abandon their wired headsets, switch to Bluetooth, or use a dongle that could be lost and often cost extra.

When customers continued to complain about low capacity batteries, making it difficult to get through the day on a single charge, Apple continued to make their phones thinner and more powerful, but with no improvement to battery life. People wanted more time between charges, not thinner and more fragile phones.  In fact, most worry about thinness, because they buy a protective case.

If there was any question about a user’s anxiety of depleted batteries, just look at the proliferation of battery pack sales of all sizes and shapes, some now even built into suitcases.

In fact, this obsession for thinness has become Apple’s design language and mission across all of its products, leading to a wide range of performance problems, quality issues, and even recalls. And let’s not forget an array of over-priced dongles that now adorn the walls of Apple stores and comes across as another way to grab another $50. What’s notable is removing all these ports was not even needed. Numerous PC notebooks are just as thin and light as MacBooks and have a full array of ports. It’s more likely they were removed to save a few dollars.

Apple moved to facial recognition to replace the fingerprint sign-on and verification. But it required learning a new set of gestures and replacing something that users liked and worked well. Apple did an excellent job in implementing this change, and, for some, improved the sign-on process, but they did little to prepare their customers for the transition. Like so many companies these days, they never included detailed instructions with their phones and left it to you-tubers to produce videos to explain how to use the new features.

Even today I can surprise most iPhone users by showing how they can turn their keyboard into a trackpad by holding down the space bar. Apple just assumes users are savvy enough to learn new features on their own. Another sign that they don’t think enough about their users.

Lastly, Apple has not created a coherent product line for their phones. While most companies create a good, better, best product lineup, Apple has created a new, old and older lineup to provide products at varying prices. I would question whether even the biggest Apple fan can reel off the differences between an iPhone 8 and an iPhone 7.

Apple differentiates many of their new models by processor speed, but slowness on an iPhone is mostly attributable to the wireless connection rather than the processor speed. In other words, they tout the advantages on things that matter only slightly. Frankly their lineup is a mess.

This reliance on older models to create their lineup seems to be the result of laziness and lack of product development resources, even while the company has expanded many times in size and created a huge new headquarters. That laziness is exhibited by the lack of development across their line of computers and actually exiting product categories that offer potential for innovation, such as routers and monitors. The Eero home WiFi mesh network is something you’d expect from Apple to improve their customer’s experience. What are all these people working on?

Today you need to spend close to $1000 to get the “current model” of the iPhone or even more when you the upgrade memory and buy a warrantee. Apple took a huge risk in increasing its pricing to compensate for lower volumes. I guess that’s not working out so well.

Yes, Apple is facing numerous problems that are not of their own making, but that’s even more of a reason why their lack of innovation, and lack of attention to customer needs is more apparent than ever.



by Phil Baker