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November 12, 2012 / trajsingh

Has Apple jumped the shark?


Like the rest of you I was very excited about the new iPhone 5 launch. Apple’s superb track record at building innovative new products meant that I ‘expected the unexpected’ – an unfair thing I suppose, but the cruel flip side of excellence – people come to expect it.

Also like many of you, I was nonplussed by the actual phone they delivered. It looks like a good phone, and some of the features may turn out to be ‘killer’, like Passbook. But overall, it felt like more of the same, and I chuckled at the photos of the ‘iPhone 10‘ lampooning the slightly longer screen of the 5 over the 4/4s.

It then occurred to me that perhaps this was the beginning of the end for Apple’s domination of smartphone ‘mindshare’, and that maybe the competition was about to surpass them. The thought came out of an experience I remember well – when the IBM PC was no longer the de facto standard for business PCs.

I was working for IBM at the time, and in the PC Company in fact. I was a specialist on IBM’s new operating system, OS/2, which was meant to replace Windows (first, in collaboration with Microsoft, and later, in competition with them). IBM did something that later turned out to be a huge mistake: they made OS/2 so it would run on an IBM PC/AT, which was powered by an Intel 80286 processor. They did this for the best of reasons, their customers had masses and masses of these devices, and they wanted to protect their customers’ investments in all that hardware. (IBM had made its fortune by inventing the whole concept of general purpose computers that shared a common operating system, back in the 1960s).

The only problem with this approach is that the chip in question had a fault – Intel had built a multitasking mode into the 286, but it didn’t really work. Not an issue when running MS-Dos/Windows, but a huge problem for OS/2, which was built around multi-tasking. So running OS/2 on the AT was a less than enjoyable experience, and this contributed to a) Microsoft going it alone with Windows NT, and b) users not going for OS/2 because it kinda sucked.

Back to the future: will Apple’s decision to make the iPhone 5 screen more or less backward compatible with the previous versions (and therefore helping iOS app developers everywhere) result in other providers leapfrogging them, simply because they are free to be more innovative? Clearly running iOS 6 on an iPhone is far from a miserable experience, but those large screen alternatives sure are seductive, and even now the sum of all Android phones out there is far greater than the number of iPhones.

If I’m right, expect me to refer back to this post a lot. If not, well, it’s just a post 😉

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