Hey, Apple: it’s time to really start innovating again with your smartphones. Seriously.
Why do I make such a bold claim? Well, it’s because Samsung has recently kicked Apple off its top spot as the leader of worldwide smartphone shipments. According to data from Canalys, in the first quarter of 2023, Samsung is back at the top of the shipments list after Apple knocked the South Korean firm into second place at the end of 2022.
While Samsung’s large range of phones and huge scale has seen it be a leader in phone shipments for some time, Apple has always been close on its tail, given Cupertino has a vast U.S. audience. But this latest shake-up has me thinking that to once again hit the top spot, Apple will need to innovate more with the new iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro.
iPhones are great but boring
Look at what Samsung has produced over the last 12 months. We have the mighty Galaxy S23 Ultra, sports a very impressive 200MP camera. And the Galaxy S23 and Galaxy S23 Plus present keenly-priced and very capable Android phones, which have great displays and a trio of impressive cameras.
Then Samsung has the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Z Flip 4, both refined upgrades on their predecessors, to the extent that picking one of the best foldable phones in 2023 doesn't seem like a big gamble or the move of an early adopter.
In comparison, Apple’s iPhone 14 Pro simply brought in a 48MP camera and the Dynamic Island as upgrades on the already very capable iPhone 13 Pro. The 48MP camera didn't exactly set the smartphone photography world on fire, notably given the Galaxy S23 Ultra now tops our best camera phone list. And the Dynamic Island is a cool concept, but I’ve seen very few developers actually put it to good use.
Then we have the standard iPhone 14. Not only did it barely get a chip upgrade, but it also stuck with just a pair of cameras and a 60Hz display; yes, 60Hz in 2022… even some of the best cheap phones have 90Hz screens.
It really felt like Apple was treading water with its standard phone. Yes, we got a new and bigger iPhone 14 Plus but that was hardly an exciting phone, relying on the dedication and ecosystem lock-in of its users rather than giving them a phone to lust after.
Going by the rumors so far, it’s not looking like the iPhone 15 is going to mix things up that much either. It’s still early-ish for rumors, but we could be looking at USB-C for the regular iPhone 15 and a more curved design. The iPhone 15 Pro could get a much faster A17 Bionic chip, curved sides and titanium design, but the periscope zoom lens may be exclusive to the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
More concerning still is that the standard iPhone 15 could still stick with a 60Hz display; if that's the case I’ll be flabbergasted.
When it comes to foldable phones, Apple supposedly has the so-called iPhone Flip. But it's not looking like it'll arrive any time soon if indeed it's being worked on.
And on the affordable phone side, Apple appears to have given up on the iPhone SE, with no hint of a new model coming any time soon, and the current model looks rather dated and feature-light. In comparison, the new Samsung Galaxy A54 is the best budget phone you can buy right now.
Bring back the old Apple innovation
I’m of an age where I remember each new Apple phone launch felt genuinely exciting.
This was a time before near-constant leaks, and Apple did still put out iterative models. But each phone seemed to offer a compelling reason or two to even consider an upgrade. And the improvements in camera quality kept feeling like a generational leap.
These days, the differences are all but unnoticeable unless you really go searching for them. I swapped from Android to iPhone in 2021, having adopted the iPhone 13 Pro. While I felt a renewed passion for iOS, I’ve stuck with the iPhone 13 Pro as the iPhone 14 Pro simply did not offer anything compelling to upgrade to.
Compare that to some of the best Android phones, and you’ve got a whole list of interesting handsets with all manner of new features and tools to use; the Google Pixel 7 Pro in particular has all sorts of clever features — just look at Magic Eraser.
Of course, I don’t think Apple is going to worry too much about being behind Samsung on phone shipments. After all, Apple is stupendously rich and successful. But I do hope it’ll be more innovative in the face of the competition.
We’ve seen how Apple can shake things up with computers by making its own chips and using clever software engineering to make the likes of the slim MacBook Air M2 feel like a real portable powerhouse. I just hope that more innovation makes it into Apple's new iPhones come September.
If not, I think I’ll be strongly tempted back to Android, and I'd not be surprised to see Samsung strengthen its lead, especially as we have the Galaxy Z Fold 5 to look forward to.