Is Apple’s Empire in danger?

Is Apple starting to lose it? You may have already heard about the company’s first reported dip in sales since 2003. This is not quite reflective of their newest release, the iPhone 5SE, but it could make it worse for the makers of the most popular gadgets on the globe.

Could this be the beginning of the end of their long reign as the biggest tech manufacturer in the world? Yeah, I get it, it’s a bit of a leap. Lay off, I’m making a point.

It’s very possible at this point that, with mounting competition and a ridiculous amount of component copycats, Apple may have reached its apex in sales. There are only so many people in the world, right?

Samsung’s latest releases of their 7th generation Galaxy line and the Note 7 have shown to be miraculously Apple-like. They’ve reduced their penchant for saturating their consumer market with 3 or more different models of the same phone in different screen and storage sizes, and instead are focusing more on perfection of one model with a maximum of one variation.

In this case, we’re talking specifically about the S7 and Note 7. Previously, they came out with the S6, S6 Edge, and S6 Edge+, the latter of which was slightly larger than it’s little brother. It was a start towards what they’ve begun doing which is following Apple’s business model. But not the model we currently know to be Apple-y with the 6, 6+, 6S, 6S+, and the 5SE.

Has anyone realized that Apple is selling 5 different models of their phone now, with another new generation coming in September? Somehow, if trends continue the way they have, I don’t imagine CEO Tim Cook will look to get rid of the 6 just yet, their biggest selling unit in the entire line.

Apple has become the phone manufacturer that their late former CEO, Steve Jobs, feared becoming: the producer of a million different options. That thinking was the antithesis to what Jobs saw Apple as. His held belief was, that by giving people less options and making their one option a universal piece of technology that anyone can operate with simplicity and modesty, their standing on the market would never diminish and always be growing. That’s how Apple became the numero uno name is mobile phones by the turn of the decade, if not before that plainly on reputation.

Three years have passed since their Great Creator himself passed, and the company is doing everything the way that, even after Jobs’ first firing, brought them to their knees and forced them to beg Jobs to come back. Before he died, the iPhone 4 came out and made a killing. There were no variations of that model, and from what we know, Jobs wouldn’t have done such a thing. He would have jumped right into development for the iPhone 5. On top of everything, anytime a new iPhone would come out, it wouldn’t be without major, noticeable upgrades from the previous model.

Two weeks after he died, the 4S came out, and Siri became the new hot thing. This may have been the last major upgrade Jobs wanted on an iPhone to move the ground on the tech industry again, and its had a profound effect on the way other smartphone giants develop their phones for their customers.

Of course, later the iPhone 5 came out and finally, the screen was bigger, going with the trend of bigger-is-better in the smartphone world. But, barely a year later, they came out with two variations of the same phone on top: the 5C and the 5S. The 5C came in different colors. Woop-de-friggin-do.

And, yes, granted the 5S was the world’s first fingerprint-locked smartphone, and the processor was a slight upgrade on its predecessor, for a lot of consumers it was the first time that some didn’t feel the need to upgrade. There wasn’t a massive movement of people on the scale of the 4 or 5 where people needed the newest iPhone ASAP. A small group of consumers would say, “Yeah, nah, I’m sweet.” Personal reference, the sheer amount of 5’s that come to The Core is still amazing, just realizing how many people stopped making the switch at some point. We rarely, if ever, see 4’s or 4S’s, but 5’s are still used by heaps of people.

Okay, let’s settle back down. Apple has, for a long time, been a company that makes their consumers’ phones easier to operate, and making touch and voice control a staple to people’s lives along with a myriad of other revelations. But more recently, their model has been less to think ahead, but rather think big. Sure, thinking big is a great way for your products to have better screen resolution, processor speeds, screen sizes, storage space, etc. But that was what companies like Samsung, LG, and Huawei had been doing for years. They ended up holding on to Apple’s coat tails to try and keep up with how Apple tirelessly developed new and unheard of advances to their phones that wove themselves into the daily lives of their customers.

Apple has lost that spark of innovation and it’s been replaced with a petty sense of “we’re Apple, they’ll always buy from us”. That’s breeding a bad business model where the company can literally say or put anything into their products that’s even marginally superior to the last version, and then rely on their name to promote the product and generate sales.

Meanwhile, other companies like the aforementioned Samsung are making a killing on the market floors by minimizing the variables (multiple versions of one flagship phone), standing pat on a system (OS and business model-wise), and giving users a system that’s universally operable.

Which, if you’ve been sticking with me on this, was Apple’s model. Companies are wising up and cutting in on Apple’s action by using their own abandoned objective against them. How do you stop a juggernaut? Do as they do. Give people reason to doubt the supreme ownership of an entire market by submitting your own product with the same model. Even better if the behemoth company you are chasing decides that they’re on cruise control, because you’ll catch up to them and find them sleeping at the wheel.

Cook is a smart man, one of the smartest in the world. That’s not what’s in doubt. You have to be hyper intelligent with that extra X-factor to rise up the ranks of a company richer than a handful of small countries. But if what I’m arguing as his vision for the business is correct, then Apple is an empire on the decline, and they’re not going to recover easily unless something big happens.

If the company intends to continue being the main name in smartphones, then the iPhone 7 has to be a major release with critically acclaimed specs and features. Rumors have been scurrying all around the internet at lightning (HA!) speed about the potential for getting rid of the headphone jack, losing the screws at the bottom of the phone to keep it closed, the Wi-Fi antenna bands being moved to the top and bottom edges of the back frame, etc., and they’re fuelling the fervor for the newest model.

What happens if this release ends up a flop, though? The company’s smartphone division is reliant on their yearly releases to keep sales stable. It’s a tower of alphabet blocks stacked one on top of the other. It takes one rogue block to kill the balance and knock the whole thing down. If the phone doesn’t end up being a significant upgrade on the 6S, we’re looking at another down year for the company.

These next few months are going to decide Apple’s future. And I don’t imagine they’re taking that for granted.

But what do I know? Maybe it’s not the 7 they’re releasing. Maybe it’s the 6S SE.

 

What do you guys think? Is Apple following a path back to the middle of the pack of competitors in the smartphone market? Has Samsung taken the steps necessary to get even with Apple? 

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Pokemon Go Review: Right after I catch this Dratini

PokeGo Header

Pokemon Go is the Game of Thrones of smartphone games: your friends are all loving and consuming it at all hours of the day and night, sometimes at 4am, and won’t stop saying, “HOW ARE YOU NOT INTO THIS STUPENDOUS THING???” while staring intently into their glowing LCD on the top of Mount Eden. No, wait, that last bit was only relevant to Pokemon.
Since you obviously haven’t heard about this new thing called Pokemon Go, aside from the fact that it has invaded your Facebook news feed and is following you like a lost puppy hoping for your affection everywhere you go, let us delve into what this whole thing is.

In sum, Pokemon Go is the newest installment in the legendary Pokemon franchise from Nintendo, in association with Niantic Inc., that makes you get up out of your chair at home and become a world traveling Pokemon trainer. The app, using Google and Apple maps, takes your location and helps you search for and catch all of the Pokemon from the original 151. It puts what are called Pokestops, veritable landmarks around you, that you can get items like Pokeballs and potions from, and virtual gyms where you can train your Pokemon and battle other trainers.

So that’s the skinny. But let me tell you, just explaining the game in a few short sentences doesn’t do the justice of actually capturing the essence and magic of the game itself. Talking about it is one thing, but playing is entirely another.Horsea Go

The app is still new and, for all intents and purposes, in its testing phase. As many know, the servers have consistently been crashing at Niantic headquarters due to the colossal user activity of the app in its first week here in New Zealand. The game constantly glitches and stalls, and you have to close and restart the app multiple times within 60 minutes. You want to catch that Blastoise? Sucks to be you, we’re freezing you out. WHO’S A TRAINER NOW???

Sorry, unresolved issue from a couple of days ago. I’m good now.

In addition, there have been a large number of reported injuries and other dangerous encounters because of the game and how sucked in a player gets, disregarding their surroundings. Every time you open the app, the loading screen shows a warning to players to always be aware of where they are and what’s going on around them. Which, to be fair, isn’t really doing much since people are more inclined to help themselves to that next Pokestop than making sure to look left and right before crossing a busy intersection.

One fix for this might be the rumoured GoWatch for the game, a wearable piece of tech that would vibrate whenever Pokemon are near. This would keep users’ eyes on the footpath or road, not down at the concrete or asphalt itself. Then, when your watch vibrates, you can decide where it’s best to stop and then pull out your phone. It’ll be great for safety, but by the looks of the actual prototype, not so good to have on your wrist when trying to get a girl’s number.

PokeGo Watch
Potential Pokemon Go watches that, when your phone screen is off, would vibrate when Pokemon are near.

Despite the flaws though, the layout, gameplay, battle style and graphics surpass all expectations for the newest installment in the single most successful game franchise Nintendo have ever had. Their numbers put competitors to absolute shame. Locations services make it easy for you to follow your character as you walk, bus, and NOT DRIVE while you’re playing (seriously everyone, your life matters more than a Pidgey, high CP be damned), and the game uses distance traveled to award you with medals, helps you crack eggs and hatch new Pokemon, and is a part of how you level up as a trainer. Perhaps most importantly, that aspect of the game gets players out of the house and moving around, walking from destination to destination and finding new Pokemon to catch instead of the older generation of games that allowed players to sit in one spot and battle their way to the Elite Four and catch every species of Pokemon, all while charging through a bag of Doritos and that now non-fizzy, half-filled L&P. This gets you moving and shaking like no other Pokemon game before. You’re walking, being active, seeing places you don’t always go to, and talking to others in the community of PokeNerds (no, not the ones from the old games that always tried to hit you with a Slowpoke, end up losing the battle, and then start making some weird guffawing noise spelled out with English letters. You know the one, “Fufufufu…” What even was that supposed to be?)

Pokémon Trainers crowd in a corner of Queens Wharf to catch a Tentacruel
Pokémon Trainers crowd in a corner of Queens Wharf to catch a Tentacruel

There’s a nostalgic attraction and investment in Pokemon Go for users over the age of 20. We grew up playing Pokemon Red, Gold, and Sapphire for hours on end, walking as fast as we could to the next gym, training our little PokePets to new, higher levels to become to strongest trainers around. I still remember my mum screaming at me every evening to shut the damn game off and wash up for dinner, to a point where it almost became a ritual. It was what you talked with the kids at primary school about, trading Pokemon, arguing about your best ones, what gyms you beat, helping each other through the maps and booby-trapped Rocket Power basement puzzle and honestly so much more. It was a cultural phenomenon on a scale never seen before in the gaming world. I admit: I never believed that a game would ever come out again that would so unify a generation of kids and adults and bless them with the magical experience of this imaginary world where power and play combine, hard work and effort are rewarded, and being the best meant earning the title of the “greatest in the world”.

You know, aside from that whole thing with Gameshark and cheat codes. Any kid who used that crap is disqualified from that last paragraph.

If you hadn’t figured it out by now, I am not exempt from the current re-up phenomenon that this game has become. I’m a Level 12 with a kick-ass Lapras that was hatched out of a 10km egg. Yay for effort!

World PokeGo
There’s a whole WORLD of Pokemon out there!

Now? Story time. Another technician from The Core and I went on a little Pokemon hunt on Sunday night around 6:30pm. We were both, as millions are, still very new to the game and testing how everything works. We began our journey in Wynyard Quarter, walking around the docks and catching Poliwags and Ponytas as friends do. Our levels went up, our bag of items grew too big to handle, and our sights were set on bigger and rarer pocket monsters as we went along. As we walked around, we encountered anywhere between fifty to one hundred other players just in Wynyard Quarter, and many of them would look up from their phones for a quick glance at the other nerds that were on the same youthful buzz as they were, giggling at the realization that they were not alone in the endeavor. We’d pass trainers who would have helpful advice to finding certain rare types of Pokemon, because they were “just around the corner, Bulbasaur is kind of like near that water fountain”. We’d pass the same information to anyone looking distraught and hopeless, but never too low to concede to the defeat of losing a one-of-a-kind Magmar that doesn’t pop up every 2 meters.

The Auckland Domain packed with trainers, at 9:30 PM, on a Sunday night.
The Auckland Domain packed with trainers, at 9:30 PM, on a Sunday night.

Eventually, we found ourselves walking all the way around Victoria Park, back towards the Quarter. I, myself, was on the hunt for a magical Dratini that seemed to have been evading us for a solid two hours. The footprints on my tracker would increase and decrease like the steady winter wind that whipped at us on the docks (G.O.T. REFERENCE! Nailed it). We would get close, then she would escape. My prize! Come back! (A tear rolls over this author’s cheek in memory of that night). Finally, we took a break and had some dinner…then finished and immediately drove to the Domain where 3o cars were parallel parked in one central location where some Lure Modules (items that attract Pokemon and benefit all players in the area) had been installed to bring those little creatures into our loving grips. Random strangers, all glued to the screen of their phones, were crawling around the far reaching grass of the massive park to catch that ever-elusive Growlithe or Rhyhorn. More advice from fellow walkers, more cars driving through around the museum on the high hill, and SO MANY ZUBATS. UGH.

We did eventually end our night (since we had to work the next day helping you wonderful people repair your screens and batteries), but not before taking a long detour from the Domain to Newmarket and a good distance down Remuera Road, then doubling back to head home…at 10:30pm. We had walked 10km each, and caught dozens of new Pokemon.

And the next night, my compatriot went out for another spin at the training game while I rested my weary hamstrings. He’s better than me now. I am sad. I’m going to go train some more now. I’d say goodbye, but there’s a Vulpix outside of Burger Fuel Queen Street. Hopefully management doesn’t mind.