The forthcoming sales figures don’t matter, no matter the appearance of augmented reality, no matter the delays between announcement and shipping, Apple’s upcoming iPhone 8 has already won 2017’s battle of the smartphones.
It’s fair to say that the presumptively titled iPhone 8 has not had an easy run through the field of leaks this summer. From questions over the potential removal of Touch ID to the ever-increasing price, the geekerati are resigned to a handset that will not arrive until October at the earlier, and will likely be in very short supply due to constraints on the components.
But the handset has already struck significant blows that will help preserve Apple’s domination of the high-end handset market.
Firstly, Apple has already won the mental game. The aura around the iPhone, its ability to shape the market to new technologies and techniques, and its ability to mark some features as ‘must haves’ and some features as ‘gimmicks’.
One example. For a long time, other smartphone manufacturers have been pushing wireless charging as a feature that helps overcome demands on batteries, but Apple has not made any attempts to join the party. With the iPhone 8 expected to use inductive charging, Apple is finally offering wireless charging a route to the mainstream and will, in the eyes of many, legitimize the technology. If Apple chooses to go with the widely adopted Qi charging standard then expect a glut of chargers and accessories to benefit every Qi enabled device. Or Apple could decide to do its own thing and lock out the competition with a proprietary standard.
No matter the one details, the broad strokes will be that wireless charging is ‘hip’ because Apple says so. At which point I fully expect the Android market to swing behind that vision over the next design cycle. If it’s on the iPhone, it needs to be on the rival handsets.
You can see the same influence on the ecosystem in many areas. It’s exhibited in the rush to thinner smartphone designs with small batteries, using fingerprints as biometric ID, and the rise of contactless payment on a mobile.
Apple has also won the resources game. The huge volume of iPhones sold in the financial year means that a similar demand on the components in the supply chain. Landing Apple means you have a single partner with a significant volume of orders. If you’re a supplier of DRAM then the iPhone is going to take up a lot of your stock and that leaves fewer components for other smartphone manufacturers to buy, which will raise the price (due to demand) or lower the retail sales (due to supply restraint) of the competition.
It also means that Apple can monopolize new technology when it arrives. By definition, new technology will be harder to produce and available in smaller volumes. If the iPhone can tie up the supply, either by contract or by volume, then the competing smartphones have to either ignore the solution (that Apple has anointed as a ‘must have’) or have a compromised workaround in place that draws attention to Apple’s more user-friendly method.
Finally, Apple has won the media game and should pick up better coverage than the opposition.
To be fair, this isn’t down to just the 2017 portfolio of new iPhones. Apple’s reality distortion field may not be as strong as the years when Steve Jobs was behind the controls, but the launch of new iPhones pretty much-guaranteed saturation coverage both in the geekerati’s favorite blogs and websites and in the mainstream media. Expect any new technology to be showcased with Apple’s stock footage. And watch for the bullet points from the keynote to be repeated online long before they can be independently benchmarked.
The iPhone 8 could well be delayed and in short supply. The iPhone 7S and 7S Plus appear to be little more than iterative upgrades front he iPhone 7 family. The overall specifications may be improved from previous models but on paper they will do little more than bring Apple’s smartphones to the same level as the Android flagships.
All of that may be true, but Apple’s 2017 phones have already conquered much of the mobile market and will continue to do so for the rest of the year and into 2018.