Full disclosure: I’ve owned an iPhone since the smartphone launched back in 2007. I’ve jumped from the first generation hardware, to the 3G, to the 4, to the 5. And with each upgrade, I’ve gone from the kind of wide-eyed fascination with a shiny new piece of hardware to a resigned shrug with all fucks fully exhausted at this point as Cupertino does its annual hardware shuffle, rolling out its latest and “eh”-est to increasingly muted enthusiasm (by yours truly, at least – Apple’s making money hand over fist, so someone is still in love with the damned thing).
As Apple rolled out their two iPhone models yesterday, I reached a queasy realization: I have the same relationship with Apple that I’ve had with Nintendo since… well, almost 2007. From the highs of a new hardware announcement to the sinking feeling that either I’ve outgrown their products, or this company has stopped growing in any discernible and interesting way.
Read on as I try to make the case that the Apple Watch is just this generation’s Virtual Boy…
7. Their Fans Are the Worst
I’m going to spend a lot of time in this article talking about the iPhone as a status device – which it kind of still is, even as the prices have gone down a bit, and their ubiquity has more or less made each iPhone the thing you give your little brother when you buy the next one.
And in some ways, owning an NES or identifying as a Nintendo fan (from the way back edition) confers a certain kind of status. It’s making the claim that you’ve been with gaming before it was all crushed candies and grannies waggling Wii Remotes. You know from both Link and Lolo.
No one knows more on the topics of what’s best about Nintendo’s past and what the company needs to do for its future than a Nintendo fan. They are monolith and they are obnoxious as hell.
There’s a combination of elitism and entitlement about Apple (and Nintendo) fans, the kind that makes one of the uninitiated want to rage-vomit when someone with the glazed eyes of the faithful tells you how they’d never touch a PC because PCs get viruses, and don’t you know Android devices are evil.
Cripes, the only reason I’m writing this article is because I’m the same kind of Apple fan who thinks the company needs to make some changes because why won’t they listen to my brilliant ideas to go all haptic, all the time?!
6. Color Wars!
If you offer a piece of hardware that I like in different colors, you will get me to pay attention to your new, colorful hardware. Nintendo has known this for years, and Apple has probably thought the same thing, but that kind of wasn’t the priority for the iPhone (until they wanted it to become even more of a mass market product).
Seriously, looking back at the range of Gamecube colors back in the day (and the often futile hunt for the Platinum model) is a wonderful thing: Nintendo knew that a range of candy-colored consoles did and will draw eyeballs – and if you take your time doling out the new colors, fans would (sometimes) consider a double dip just to get the new product range.
After years of offering the iPhone as a jet-black (and later, white) status symbol, last year Apple decided to color things up a bit, positioning that year’s model as a plaything for everyone (alongside new, more accessible price ranges).
I’m not sure what it says about me that it’s such a big deal for me that a corporate monolith offers their pieces of planned-obsolescence junk in the color that matches my style, but here we are, I guess.
5. It’s Great Having New Hardware – Until It’s Old Hardware
Speaking of being obsolete…
Hardware evolves – that’s just a fact of life and technology. Hell, it’s the only way you’ll get iteration and innovation out of the big corporate behemoths. But sometimes, when you’re a big fan of the new hotness, that means getting left behind when the even newer hotness comes along and makes that device you bought two or three years before half-useless.
Case in point: three years after its release, Nintendo is already fragmenting the audience for their 3DS handheld. Two weeks ago, the publisher announced that they would be releasing the New 3DS (again, how is Super 3DS so hard?), which included a second analog nub and a faster processor which would put its performance on par with the Wii.
Yay? Not so much.
What that means in practice is that games like the recently announced Xenoblade port won’t play on the 3DS I bought at launch. I don’t even like Xenoblade because I’m an adult and I ain’t bout that anime RPG drama, son. But if I did want to play it, I’d need to shell out money for a device that’s only a marginal improvement over the one in my back pocket.
So it goes with iOS devices, but at a seemingly brisker pace: from almost the very beginning, Apple’s been releasing hardware in parallel with beefed up software which will chug on older machines (or just not work at all).
We’ve gone through how many iterations of iOS since 2007? And how many of them have pretty much segmented the userbase? After a certain point, it’s like they’re daring you to buy a new phone (that they’ll then render useless in under two years).
4. Apple Pay: A Brilliant Idea (That Copycats Will Probably Ruin)
I haven’t gotten the tech boner about Apple Pay that some pundits have already found themselves doubled over by, but I think it could be potentially groundbreaking. Imagine a new way for someone to run off with your wallet, but with the added convenience of said wallet being your phone.
I kid – I know Apple’s put features in place to protect security or whatever, and it’s really only a matter of time before other companies start jacking the idea. Which is cool until someone completely screws it up.
In the same way that Google pooped out the half-baked OS with the early versions of the Android ecosystem, someone will figure out how to integrate their own pay system into their phone (which will be weird and confusing and require its own device-to-device interface).
So it went with the Wii and the motion craze that infected the PS3 and Xbox 360. In both cases, the hardware manufacturers took a good, long look at what worked with the Wii and promptly ignored it. Simple, relatively intuitive devices controls became “screaming and waving at your TV because it’s the future, idiots.”
Where Apple might see a new, standard in paying for things with one unified device, others might see an opportunity to release their own frustrating “solution” where I can only go to In ‘N Out and pay for my burgers with my phone because stupid Five Guys has another system and forget you, I hate In ‘N Out.
3. The Apple Watch: The New Virtual Boy
Speaking of terrible fads, some of you might have forgotten that playing games in 3D wasn’t just a bad idea of the 00s – Nintendo paved the way back in the ’90s with the headache-inducing Virtual Boy. It was a solution to a problem no one ever had: “Hey, can I play games in a red monochrome on a “portable” device that isn’t?” But, you know, asked while being extreme and wearing a backwards baseball cap.
The Apple Watch comes from that same grubby place of creating an expensive piece of nonsense trying to replace (or at least work in parallel with) a far superior solution from the same company.
After spending the better part of the last decade or so of convincing us that watches were useless since our phones pretty much contain every way of interacting with time, schedules, and calendars imaginable, device makers have been scrambling for a way to bring the watch back.
I get that the Apple Watch is two parts gleaming status symbol, but so was the iPhone and that was a thing that could play your movies, act as a camera, get you on the Internet, and do about a dozen other things in at launch that other device makers had spent years trying to integrate gracefully.
Like the Virtual Boy, the Apple Watch seems to carve out a couple of those features and imagine that we want to wear them. At least the Apple Watch won’t cause neck damage, but at least you could play a terrible game of Mario Tennis on the Virtual Boy. Yeah, the Apple Watch is a device in search of a purpose.
2. They’re Effectively Everything to Everyone Now
At the top of this post, I talked about how insufferable Apple and Nintendo fans are – at least the hardcore set. But that doesn’t really speak of their entire audience, does it? An interesting thing happened when Apple started offering multiple models of the the iPhone and iPad at (relatively) lower prices: your grandma could now read an eBook.
In the same way, the Wii made gaming accessible in a way that it hadn’t been in the past, no longer just the territory of Street Fighter fans who could successfully do that weird z move on a fight stick – video games were and are for everyone.
While I don’t think Apple’s reached that same kind of status at this point – the Apple Watch feels like the kind of thing pop-collared bros would be excited about (I’ll cop to probably being kind of a judge-y asshole on that one), but Apple’s trying to get everyone into the iOS ecosystem.
Plus, consider the U2 album deal, which sees the aging rock band releasing their latest, Songs of Innocence exclusively (and for free) via iTunes, making it the “gotta have it” platform for your graying buddy who’s still trying to keep WinAmp alive. This is Apple’s House of Cards or kinda “eh” fourth season of Arrested Development: with one title, they may have found a way to hook in people who wouldn’t have given their service a second look.
Because really, once you’ve exhausted the hardcore, you’ve got to find a way to reach out to the other bazillion-plus people on Earth who might be vaguely interested in the thing you’re selling.
1. Playing Catchup or The Wii U Fallacy
Remember when Nintendo announced the Wii U? I mean the bit after we all stopped collectively groaning about the name (why is “Super Wii” so hard to figure out, people). Some of us started getting a little hyped at the prospect of a Nintendo console that could offer some of the power of the (aging but still popular) Xbox 360 and PS3.
Not being able to match the performance of those two consoles kept a lot of third party releases off the Wii (or offered frequently boom-boom busted versions of the same games with waggle-style gameplay). With the Wii U, Nintendo would finally be able to offer the same big, badass Call of Duty experience you could find on the big boy consoles.
Except, you know, that never really happened.
The big deal with the iPhone 6 is that with its larger size and fancy, fatter screen, it’s mimicking other “phablets” out there like the Samsung Galaxy, and it’s easy to see Apple going through the same contortions as Nintendo did four of five years ago in the thick of developing their new hardware: look at what’s working for the competition and match it. Hence, a new screen that feels like it’s playing catchup with what will probably be outdated in the next year or so.
Companies steal each others’ swag all the time, but it’s frustrating looking at Apple as the one running behind, trying to play off last year’s look as next year’s hook.
Previously by Charles Webb
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