In a new Financial Times (FT) report about Apple in China titled "Apple Wilts in Hot China Smartphone market," they spoke with Xiang Ligang, an expert on China's telecommunications sector. Ligang thinks that Apple now faces a challenge in "keeping itself interesting" in China, namely namely because Apple is "looking like a trend follower these days," instead of a leader as it once was when the late Steve Jobs was at the helm. The FT reporter adds that "When Apple first launched an iPhone in 2009 in China, the smartphone was a status symbol for young Chinese middle class consumers," but now "Chinese smartphone users are no longer buying into the hype as they once did."
The Financial Times thinks that "local rivals have caught up with, and in some cases exceeded, the sort of technological advances that were once Apple's calling card."
Ligang supports that view by stating that 'Rumors suggest the forthcoming iPhone 7 will have a dual lens camera, for example, but by the time it launches in September it will already look old.
That sentiment that Apple is no longer the company to break new ground on smartphones annually is what Apple's competitors want to continually enforce to remove the status symbol associated with the iPhone that demands the higher prices. The competition wants to erode that confidence and make it that Apple is now the 'Me too" tech company instead of the leader it once was. They want smartphone fans to look at a Septemeber iPhone event and walk away dissappointed because everything they introduced has already arrived on competing smartphones.
We covered this very same marketing philosophy expressed in a Korean report yesterday about Samsung. We noted that "Samsung wants to replace Apple as the company that introduces industry leading innovation to the world every year" before Apple. Their goal going forward is to rob Apple of this mantle by delivering 'meaningful innovations' a month ahead of Apple's predictable September roll out of the next iPhone.
Our report also noted the Korean report stating that "This can be seen as Samsung Electronics' confidence in meaningful innovation that is applied to Galaxy Note 7 and as Samsung Electronics declaring a war against Apple in occupying superiority in advance."
Even Google is getting in on this trend to dismantle the marketing image that Apple's iPhone is the technology leader. In June it was revealed that Lenovo is using Google's Project Tango technology that covers a 3D camera that delivers an AR experience that will arrive on the market prior to the iPhone 7.
Xiaomi also introduced a new phablet with a 6.4" display and HP's smartphone arriving at the end of August will sport a 6" display along with an Iris scanner just like Samsung's new Note 7. So the competition is pulling the rug under Apple's feet to ensure that they have nothing new in hardware to offer consumers this fall.
So in that light, waiting for the iPhone 7's dual lens camera to arrive as the big feature of the year will be a yawner for many in September. The element of surprise is long gone, especially with all of the rumors of late, so Apple will go through the motions in September and we're to react as if it's truly a breakthrough.
Of course how Apple delivers new technology still matters. On the hardware side, their 3D camera will perhaps appear to be a 'Me Too' technology – but the other companies haven't really made a compelling case for the new 3D camera other than it will provide better pictures in the dark. Lenovo being the exception with delivering AR - and that's yet to actually be proven to be anything but marketing candy.
Apple could introduce an app like Faceshift and other 3D camera advantages leaving the competition in the dust. Software is still one of Apple's remaining strengths and weapons against the competition and it's what we'll be looking for at the iPhone event in September.
Being first for the sake of being first with a technology has rarely proven to be meaningful. Apple Pay was late to the party and almost overnight ran over the long standing Google Wallet. Others tried to deliver fingerprint scanners and all failed to impress. Apple walked in with Touch ID and overnight the technology found meaningful purpose and appeal because Apple thought out the technology and how it could deliver a solution.
Microsoft had a multiyear lead over Apple on the tablet front and failed miserably. Apple's iPad zoomed to over 100 million units sold long ago because it approached the hardware and software completely differently than their competitor. So trying to drown Apple out of the first-to-market game could continue to fail if Apple delivers better solutions for the same hardware technology basics. Something the Financial Times and other publications seem to constantly overlook and fail to acknowledge.
The FT report continued to harp on this point. "The Chinese phonemakers are fast catching up with Apple in quality and performance as well, and the consumer mindset is also evolving. Some users will always associate Apple with wealth and taste, but for a lot of users, sporting a Huawei or Oppo will no longer cause them to lose face.'
Apple has ceded ground to Huawei, as well as to relatively unknown brands such as Oppo and Vivo, who took the top three slots respectively in market share rankings for the second quarter, according to Canalys, the research group.
Bryan Ma, analyst at IDC, the research firm, says Chinese consumers quickly tire of last year's or even last month's model. "One of Apple's problems in China is its product refreshes . . . or lack thereof," he says.
"Apple needs to make sure that the next product looks noticeably different from the previous version, as the physical appearance is critical in market such as China where iPhones are viewed as status symbols".
Crucial to staying relevant is to promise something new. Mr Ma says the worry for Apple is that supposedly leaked images of the iPhone 7 do not appear much different than the iPhone 6S."
While Apple is rumored to have a radical new form factor in the wings for 2017 involving curved glass, we know that by then the competition is bound to drown the market with all kinds of curved glass smartphones to ensure that Apple's design is nothing special.
Chinese smartphone makers have historically been the best in the world at fast cloning top brand name products, and this is now being applied to smartphones as the likes of OPPO mimic the iPhone in both hardware and UI, for instance.
The Chinese have even created iPhone "mock ups" of rumored design with lightning speed as the one shown in the video below that surfaced late yesterday.
These are not the real thing as MacRumors astutely pointed out. A close up of the back of the iPhone in the video showed that the model number printed on the back was A1429 which is actually identified a version of the iPhone 5. It's also why the videographer tries to continuously blur out the lower half of the backside of the iPhone mock-ups in an effort to hide that printed number. That's how good the Chinese are at cloning.
By flooding the market with photos and videos of these next iPhone mock-ups months in advance, the thrill of seeing a new iPhone roll out for the first time at an iPhone event is now all but impossible. In the end, the rumor mill plays right into the hands of Apple's competition that are determined to show that Apple is nothing more than a Me-Too smartphone maker nowadays and that its long standing magic died along with the company's co-founder long ago.
Will Apple be able to reverse this trend of looking like a technology follower with the iPhone 7 or iPhone 8? Only time will tell. But as long as Apple continues to deliver rich solutions and creative software that runs circles around the competition, their competitors will continue to spin their wheels in vain trying to kill the king of the hill.