iPhone has plenty of critics but they are still popular

Even though the reviews for the iPhone 7 have actually been pretty positive, the argument that the iPhone’s best days are behind it may actually carry some weight this time.

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The iPhone 7 has raised a few laughs online since it was launched a few weeks ago, with the chattering classes once again asking whether Apple's iconic smartphone has passed its peak.

Jimmy Kimmel had people on the streets of New York waxing lyrical about what they thought was the new iPhone 7, only to reveal that they were actually just looking at their old iPhone 6. Bill Maher slammed Apple enthusiasts for standing “in the nerd line” for a largely pointless update. (“Do your friends really need clearer pictures of your lunch?”).

And then there was the hoax Techrax instructional video that showed users upset at the iPhone 7’s lack of a 3.5mm headphone socket how they could use their old headphones in the new device by simply drilling a hole in it. The satire was lost on a number of people, who were surprised to find their brand new expensive device reduced to a brick.

We’ve been here before of course, with virtually every new iPhone launch followed closely by the revelation of some “major” flaw, such as the faulty antenna of the iPhone 4, the Apple Maps debacle of iOS 6 with the iPhone 5, and the unintentionally bendy iPhone 6 Plus.

All of these were seized upon by journalists, analysts and Apple’s competitors, and cited as proof that the company has lost its mojo.

The argument was unfortunately undermined each time by customers, who for some reason seem to keep on buying the iPhone anyway, in ever higher numbers, to the fury of the naysayers. One pictures Apple executives sobbing uncontrollably about negative iPhone reviews, wiping away their tears with US$100 notes taken from the company’s enormous cash pile.

But even though the reviews for the iPhone 7 have actually been pretty positive, the argument that the iPhone’s best days are behind it may actually carry some weight this time.

Sales of the iPhone have fallen for the past two quarters as demand in China falls and customers elsewhere hold on to their older handsets for longer.

The slowdown in sales is consistent with trends in the wider industry; industry analyst Gartner forecasts worldwide smartphone sales will grow by just 7 per cent this year, compared with 14.4 per cent last year.

“Smartphone sales recorded their highest growth in 2010, reaching 73 per cent,” said the Gartner research director Roberta Cozza. “In the mature markets, premium phone users are extending life cycles to 2.5 years, which is not going to change drastically over the next five years.”

Such a trend is particularly apparent in the UAE, despite enormous demand for the iPhone 7 reported by electronics retailers.

Industry analysts IDC said that smartphone shipments fell by 15.1 per cent in the second quarter of the year compared with the first, with shipments to Saudi slumping 22.3 per cent, as lower oil prices and government spending hit disposable incomes.

“Every few years in the economic cycle you have a slow down, but then things pick up again soon afterwards,” said Faisal Al Bannai, the chief executive of retailer Axiom Telecom.

“I’m confident that next year things will pick up again.”

The same could be said for Apple. No matter how well the iPhone 7 sells, its largely incremental updates are widely seen as the calm before the storm, with rumours of a radical design overhaul, edge-to-edge curved display, wireless charging and virtual controls in the works for the 10th anniversary iPhone 8 next year.

Naturally, you can expect us naysayers to point out the similarities to other devices that have been on the market for years, and to once again highlight some chink in the armour as proof that Apple has, this time, truly lost the plot.

As before, however, you can probably also expect customers to not pay one bit of attention and happily queue up round the block to shell out thousands of dirhams for a beautifully crafted smartphone


John Everington covers technology for The National.

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