It’s Fine If the iPhone Looks the Same. In Fact, It’s Better


WHEN APPLE INTRODUCES the next iPhone this week, it seems certain that it will look nearly identical to last year’s iPhone. Which means it will also look like the iPhone from the year before that. If this happens, it would break with Apple’s nearly decade-long tradition of redoing the whole phone every two years. You know what? That’s just fine.

Since the iPhone’s inception, Apple has leaned on a predictable lifecycle. After the original came the 3G, followed by the mostly identical 3GS. Then came iPhone 4, followed by the mostly identical 4S. iPhone 5, 5S. iPhone 6, 6S. Tick, tock. Simple enough.

And it made sense! Carriers were subsidizing devices then in exchange for a two-year blood oath, which made it easy to sync up your new phone with The New Phone. It also made a broader kind of sense, though, because smartphone innovation and improvement was happening at a rapid enough clip that these really were entirely new devices, with new capabilities and new aspirations, new ways to insinuate themselves into vital aspects of our everyday lives. They deserved new bodies to match.

Today, that’s no longer the case. The two-year contract is dead, or at least diminished. And while there’s still plenty of progress in what smartphones can do, the curve has flattened out. Apple not changing the iPhone doesn’t mean it’s out of ideas. It means it knows a good thing when it sees it.

Steady As It Goes

“Say you’re buying a Porsche, if you’re a 911 fan” says Brett Lovelady, founder of design firm Astro Studios. “You wouldn’t wanted it to deviate too dramatically from the form factor and basic interactions of what that means.”

If nearly a decade of smartphone dominance has established anything, it’s that the iPhone is a Porsche, a luxury good that consumers an identify with and, more importantly, can readily identify. It’s not that the iPhone won’t change at all this year; it should lose the headphone jack and gain some fresh camera smarts. But it’s a misconception that progress has to be tied to dramatic industrial design changes.