Is Apple Innovation Slipping as It Upgrades iPhone, Watch?

NEWS ANALYSIS: Apple wants to be known as innovative, but it hasn't come up with a new product in more than two years.

Ironically, for all the running, swimming and hiking adventures for which Apple designs its watches, hearing peripherals—and to an extent, its smartphones—the company itself is merely jogging in place.

For two years in succession, the world's richest and most well-known consumer IT device maker hasn't been able to come up with a new product to maintain the innovation-leader image the company tries to project.

For the record, the last time Apple showcased an entirely new product was in 2014, when it introduced the Apple Watch. Before that, the new product was the iPad in 2010.

Even though it spent an inordinate amount of time at its product launch event Sept. 7 talking about how its products help users improve their overall health and specifically how it has partnered with Nike on a new waterproof watch for running and swimming, Apple offered its customers only variations on current products.

AirPods a Notable Variation on an Older Product

In a media event at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in downtown San Francisco, Apple surprised no one in introducing the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, a set of wireless ear buds called AirPods, an updated Apple Watch and new partnerships with the aforementioned Nike, Nintendo and Facebook's Instagram.

Is Apple offering interesting new variations? The answer is yes. The addition of a vastly improved set of cameras in the iPhone 7 Plus that includes a telephoto lens and larger aperture is an outstanding new feature many users will value.

AirPods are strange-looking but an interesting concept. These small earphones (not trivially priced at $159 and available in October) are designed similarly to regular Apple earbuds, with a five-hour battery and an antenna that hangs down a few inches below the user's ears, making it appear as though white tubes of some kind are protruding from the listener's head. I'm sensing a product redesign in the future, but the idea is a good one.

Oh, one more thing: These little guys will be very, very easy to lose. They're small, and when one of them falls out of an ear while jogging or climbing--and you can bet they will--you might as well throw the other one away, too, because it will be virtually useless.

Nike Watch Is Ruggedized

The updated Apple Watch Series 2's main new feature is its own GPS, which enables users to gather fitness data during an outdoor workout without having to take along a smartphone.

Apple also introduced a Nike-branded version of the watch that is ruggedized for running, swimming and whatever other sport in which users choose to compete.

Here is what other analysts and other vendors in the mobile space were saying Sept. 7 after the product launch.

Forrester Research:

"Though not a completely redesigned smartphone, Apple did announce enough innovation to the new iPhone 7 devices to maintain its leadership," said Forrester Vice President and Principal Analyst Thomas Husson. "In particular, the timing is ideal for Apple to leverage its Beats acquisition and deliver new headphones—bundling voice-based services from Siri with an Apple Music subscription offering.

"While Samsung raised the bar in terms of smartwatch functionalities with its more autonomous Gear S3, I believe Apple delivers more value to consumers with the new Apple Watch—simply because it is best-positioned to provide more differentiated services thanks to its partner ecosystems," Husson said. "That said, the new Apple Watch isn't the new disruptive product that Apple needs."

Julie Ask, Forrester vice president and principal analyst, noted: "Consumers underestimate the engineering feats that the iPhone 7 brings, like the audio, camera, processing power, etc., in such a small package. Once they have it in their hands, they will fall in love with it. While it's hard to market performance and speed, consumers need to experience it firsthand to get it. We may see a lukewarm response, but the iPhone 7 will pick up momentum once consumers have them in their possession."

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...