After iPhone

The following article was written in April of 2014, before Apple announced the Apple Watch or iPads Pro and long before rumors of an Apple Car or Apple VR. I'm re-publishing it now, when there are once again concerns about iPhone growth and what it means to Apple, as a reminder that iPhone being built as a platform now means iPhone can be used to as a platform. That—the amount of phones people will buy being finite but the amount of things enabled by the phone and similar devices that people will buy being not-so-finite—is the more interesting story to me going forward.

Apple needs another iPhone-class product or they're doomed. We heard it right after the iPhone was released. We heard it right after the iPad was released. We're hearing it now. From shoddy journalists to market mad-people it's the single most consistent, most bullshit Apple narrative of the last half-decade. What makes it so daft, so egregiously wrong-headed, is that there isn't a business as big as the iPhone, not for Apple, not for anyone, and there won't be again. Not for years more to come.

We've all seen the reports. The iPhone by itself is more profitable than many of Apple's competitors are in total. iPhone is as profitable as companies with oligopoly control over fossil fuel resources. It's a singular phenomenon.

The iPad doesn't make as much money as the iPhone. And, no iWatch, iTelevision, iEspresso maker, or any other consumer electronics product is going to either.

Yet article after article, analyst after analyst insists Apple simply must release their "next big thing" and now or, doomed. 60 days to release an iWatch or doomed. Has to sell 65 million units a year or doomed. Haunted. Doomed.

It's an onslaught of the ignorant, the attention-stealing, the misaligned, and the manipulative. It's unending and it's damaging. It sets us up with expectations that can never be met. It sets us up to think veritable miracles of engineering are boring. And it forces Apple to waste time coping with countering insane misperceptions rather than solving the real problems of real people.

The truth is Apple makes two kinds of products. They make the flagship products that support their business, like the iPhone, iPad, Mac, and iPod. And they make the supporting products that increase the value of their flagship products, like the Apple TV.

The Apple TV is a great product and could, if rumors of a hardware update and Game Store prove true, become a really great one. But it won't be a hundred million unit selling, multi-billion dollar profit making one any time soon. Same with the iWatch, if Apple ships a smartwatch or band this year. An iWatch or iBand could be a fantastic product that really makes owning an iPhone far better for a certain group of people than anything else in the market. But imagine how many Apple would have to sell, and at how high a markup, to even come close to generating iPhone-level profits. (Or save yourself the mental work and check out Ben Bajarin's research on Techpinions.)

It took from 1984 to 2007 for Apple to go from the personal computer to the very personal computer. You could argue iPod in 2001 was Apple's first blockbuster mobile product, but it was extremely limited. You could argue the iPad was their most recent, but it's really an extension of the iPhone's multitouch revolution.

I covered this from a different angle back in January in a piece called "Today Apple revolutionizes—" What exactly?:

That's the challenge facing not only Apple, but every major technology company. The personalization of computing has no obvious, immediate, giant, next leaps to make. [...] What's easier to see is an array of smaller products and services making a sizable, if more widely dispersed impact. Just like evolution, taken year after year, can equal or surpass any singular revolution, an array of smaller products and services that improve the overall value of ecosystem and experience can be just as important.

That, I think, remains the key take-away here. There won't be another iPhone, not even if Steve Jobs were still running Apple, not for many years to come. But there will be many, many things that, taken together, make the iPhone much more valuable. There won't be anything as big as the iPhone but there will be things that, taken together, make the iPhone bigger.

"What's next" is a long way off. Maybe not 1984 to 2007 long, but long enough that dumb articles about it should get the furious ignoring they so richly deserve. Absent any sense or reason, all they do is drain attention away from the's "what's more". And there'll be a lot of that. We've spent years building up the smartphone and tablet platform, and now we'll spend years building things on top of that platform.

And that's so much more interesting than empty, silly, doomsaying cries for another iPhone.

In other words: After iPhone will be because of iPhone.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.