The iPhone and The Important Of Iteration

Watching the reaction to Apple’s latest unveiling and seeing just how many people were disappointed by the release of the iPhone 4S (and the omission of the iPhone 5), you can’t help but realize how little credence we give to the idea of iteration. So often we look for massive change, for a single stroke that will change everything. We hope for the introduction of something that we’ve never seen before rather than a slightly, if not significantly better version of what we already know works. And the iPhone 4S, along with iOS 5 seems to be exactly that: a significantly improved, yet not drastically changed revision to one of the best (hell, I’ll say it… the best) smartphone on the market. What on earth is there to be disappointed by?

I know I’m about to cross some wires here, but one of the things I love about both Apple and self-improvement is that while a new invention, device, workflow or even an application can change everything, more often than not it’s the incremental changes along the way that lead to the biggest improvements. We tend to be somewhat impatient and want the uber-solution to all of our problems. Sadly, they doesn’t exist or if they do, they don’t come around all that often. Even from our beloved Apple. The bar is always high for any new offering from Apple, but even when we find ourselves let down at first, that tends to quickly disappear the minute we get a new device in our hands (and let’s face it, not one of those disappointed souls are going to avoid upgrading…)

Friction is one of the biggest challenges in tech and in personal productivity. It’s where we often get frustrated and give up. Removing friction is where Apple excels like no other company on the planet. They are vigorous in their attempt to make things simpler to use and more effective in our lives. They aren’t looking to be revolutionary, simply evolutionary. Even “game changing” devices like the iPad expand on what was already working for us, rather than really introducing something entirely new (I think we all remember those unflattering comparisons to it just being “a giant iPhone“). Most meaningful change happens slowly and painfully by having the courage to take little steps forward (and occasionally the wisdom to take a step backwards)… to make things better rather than different. Thankfully there are companies like Apple who have the conviction to not always give us what we want, but to deliver what we need… time and time again.

A new form factor wasn’t going to make you all that more productive, a NFC chip probably wasn’t going to let you leave your wallet at home and a slightly larger screen won’t change your life. On the other hand, an attempt at a seamless cloud solution, a better notifications system, a new personal assistant and the beginnings of speech-to-text entry in apps could make a pretty massive difference to the way you do things. Hell, the camera improvements alone are enough to make me upgrade. Take a moment to step back from your disappointment and I think you’ll quickly find there’s already more to be excited about than you’ll probably ever need and/or use. Besides, it gives us something to look forward to next year (and it gives Apple something to sell us). Stop worrying about the next best thing. I assure you, we aren’t using the things we already have to their full potential.

Bottom line: I’m looking forward to pre-ordering on Friday, to getting my phone on the 14th and to seeing what improvements the latest iteration holds. What about you? Are you disappointed or are you ready to order?

12 Responses to The iPhone and The Important Of Iteration

  1. Yes! I really like your attention – to their attention – to iteration. I also like to think about this concept with writing… It’s okay to have a cruddy first draft… the biggest thing is to have the whatever-you-want-to-call-it to keep iterating (aka writing a second, third, fourth draft…) until you’ve got something really solid to show the world…

    • That’s actually a great way of looking at it. How bad would a world of first drafts be (then again, that sort of sums up this blog…). I may be missing out, but I’ll take a world or a work that keeps getting better over one where there is alway something new and shiny to distract me (and let’s face it, there’s already PLENTY to distract me…).

    • How funny. When I saw the word “iteration,” all I could think about was writing, too. I once was asked if my writing process was iterative or linear. I actually just found my lengthy response to that question. Poor person to whom I was replying. :) In the response, I basically state that my process usually isn’t linear because that closes other possibilities but it is iterative in that I repeat the same actions over and over again.

      • I used to just write and publish (and I’m not going to claim that I’m the world biggest editor these days), but it does make such a difference. Even a cursory sanding of your words makes them a hell of a lot smoother. Yay lengthy responses!

  2. I could not agree more with you here (for once:), Michael. As I watched the various live blogs around the web that were realtime covering the event, I could not help but think these newly added features were a “wow hands-on experience” as opposed to a “wow watch from a distance demo type experience.” Partially due to no dramatic visual changes in the physical form factor. Also, following the Facebook alliance rumours had me enticed, I must admit. But, here you summarize exactly what they are great at doing. Just enough and not too much. We’ve seen it before and I’m convinced we’ll feel those “wow” after effect moments when we take crisper, sharper photos, ask our personal assistant to remind us how to get home audibly so, keep an eye on our kiddos with family & friends, and all the rest. Subtle, but powerful changes we can accept and adopt with as much our human nature tends to lean us towards resisting change just for the sake of it. And, not seeing the much improved long term benefits. Great post. Enjoy reading your blog always.

    • Had to happen eventually…

      I think you’re right that this will be far better to hold rather than to behold. Then again, I just can’t understand why people would care more about a “better looking” phone than a “better phone”. Sure, some of those rumors were pretty damn exciting, but the Apple rumor mill always goes overboard. Besides, like we both said, the camera for the kids is enough to crap rationalize the purchase :)

  3. Based on our discussion over @ginidietrich:twitter ‘s  blog, I  knew I would like this post. 

    It’s funny how we get so disappointed that what we thought would happen isn’t exactly what ended up happening. By doing so we focus on the negative and can’t see through to the positive. I told someone last night to just get a sharpie and write a 5 on top of the 4s when he gets his new phone because, as you said, I know he’s getting one even though he’s complaining. 

    I enjoy the iteration analogy but I Also see a lot of this as whether or not people look at life by seeing a “glass half full” or one that’s half empty. If I see it as empty, I’m disappointed that Apple didn’t come out with the iPhone5 that had all these bells and whistles. Half full and I can remember the days (really not all that long ago) when we stretched the cord of our home telephone far enough that we could have a phone conversation in the hall closet where no one could listen. Yes…it’s true…I was alive before cell phones…let alone smart phones. 

    Thanks for writing this piece and reminding us all to weigh our comments and our thoughts before going public. 

    And…I will be beating you to the pre-order on the 7th because it’s normally live at midnight Cupertino time…11 PM in Alaska. Can’t wait for that, iCloud and iOS5. And the next cool thing that Apple comes along with.

    • Glad @GiniDietrich:twitter got us acquainted! 

      @MarcoArment:twitter wrote a great post saying something very similar. Asking what the reaction would have been if everything was the same, but the name was iPhone 5 and not 4S. 

      Overall, I actually think it is more than an optimism or pessimism thing. It’s almost glass half full vs. piece of crap glass that I never wanted in the first place… 

      I’m envious of your advantage and can’t wait to rave about the phone as I know I will :)

      • Love the “piece of crap glass” and may have to steal it for my post. Looking forward to raving about my husband’s new phone too. I may wait until Christmas for my upgrade. His is his birthday present…from September,

  4. Second post I’ve read today on iteration. True revolution is rare, evolution and progression.. that’s how it is, always has been. Apple can’t even outdo Apple, unless it’s a free iTV with every purchase. I know this much, they’ll still sell like hotcakes, disappointing or not. FWIW.

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