Apple's "Innovation"

Full disclosure up front - I own an iPad 2. I own a MacBook. I have owned three models of iPhones (though six iPhone 5 models is why I now have an Android phone). I am not against Apple in anyway. They make gorgeous devices and pretty okay user interfaces and they certainly did popularise the MP3 player, smartphone and tablet computer. And maybe the smartwatch (though the jury is still so far out on that, they've not even started taking open statements yet). 

But notice how I said "popularises" and not "innovates" despite what Apple might try to tell you. The iPod was not a new device. The iPhone wasn't a new idea either, nor was the iPad. The key part of their undoubted success wasn't that they were first, but that they were the best. They built on the shoulders of the previous devices that had came and been moderately successful. For example, the Creative Zen range was and still is "better" than the iPod range, but it never managed to break through the barrier of public conciousness for loads of reasons. I say "better" beacuse that's subjective; but the facts were plain - the Zen was mountable as a drive, not needing iTunes, played loads more formats, in some cases had a FM radio, and my Zen had a built in voice recorder. That's why "better" is both true and not true - it did all that but it still wasn't an iPod, which was it's biggest flaw.

That might sound confusing and probably reads like I'm talking shit, but if you were there you'd know exactly what I am talking about. I worked for years in a phone shop and there were loads of "smartphones" before the iPhone. The Motorola MPV, the Orange SPV, the O2 XDA, the iPaq range - and any phone running Nokia's Symbian S60 OS, which was a lot of phones. They had all the features of smartphones that we have today - including touch screens - but it was Apple that gave us the capacitive touch screen, one button (I can't stress how insane that was when it was announced) and an OS that was an actual computer OS. But it didn't have expanable storage, something I used for music daily. It didn't have an app store (yeah, seriously you might not remember that part) but my Symbian phone did allow applications to be installed. It didn't even have 3G or a front facing camera, which my bulky and certainly not as sexy Nokia N80 had. Apple didn't innovate, but it did make people want phones that did this stuff, and took it mainstream.

The iPad didn't create the Tablet - it just was the best at it, easily, for years. It might still be (though the Surface 3 Pro and the Nexus 9 are strong contenders).

The gall of Apple to say these were innovations or breakthroughs was acceptable when no one else had managed to get the spotlight like they had. No one had managed to make these devices lustable outside of the tech-crowd, and to be perfectly honest that was innovation enough. History is always written by the victors.

And then Google spoiled it for everyone.

With Apple's software and devices post-Android launch (and maybe Android coming of age with versions 3.0 and 4.0) they've both been playing catch up with each other. Apple's Siri is cribbed by Google Now. Apple's notifications are cribbed from Google (who then cribs from Apple). The cyclic nature of the development, each OS moving forward in new ways (like home automation or car integration) comes along at the same time as iOS announcing a new "custom keyboard feature" which Android had for years, whilst Android announces a "do not disturb" feature that iOS has had for years. This is what happens when everything gets to a level of parity. 

The problem is when Apple continues to play the innovation card. Take the recent launch of Apple Music, their long awaited music streaming services. Like the iTunes Match and iTunes in the Cloud nonsense from before, it's just not clear enough what it does. Yes, it allows you to stream music like the competitors but it's just not doing anything new and better than anyone else. Take the oddly named "Beats1" station. On the Apple site it is stated as "This is radio as it’s never been done before. Beats 1 brings you the latest music, interviews and culture, 24/7".

That's just nonsense really. There is nothing innovative about a 24/7 online radio station. In fact, all radio stations are like that - my radio station is like that, and it's not backed by a billion upon billion dollar company, but instead by volunteers on a shoe string budget. The idea that curation is a key feature is actually really nice, and it's why blogs and msuic sites have appeared, and it's why something like my radio show gets around 200 loyal listeners a week - I am the curator, and they trust me to provide music and commentary that they will like in a very specific niche. The idea of a world station is actually horrifying to me; Radio 1 is absolute dog shit (and was when I listened to it) almost all the time, only after 7pm it being close to be worthwhile, and even then it's a stretch with most curators moving to other stations (like 6Music).

There is an argument to be made for musical curation replacing the automated bots that throw up recommendations. But the issue is that dressing that up as something totally new is just plain insane - mass-broadcast radio is literally the oldest form of broadcasting. Music radio shortly follows that, and Last.fm has been learning my music tastes since August 2006 and does a splendid job of recommending me new music.

But I return to my original point. Are Apple going to take the carpet from underneath Spotify, Rdio, Pandora, Google Play Music, Deezer... even Tidal (Apple are quite late to the game)? Maybe. Maybe not. Time will tell. Their advantage is that they have a lot of devices out there who were just updated to the new version of the music app and will assumedly have the new Music feature enabled. Spotify will struggle to get past that. And then there's this bullshit from reviewers - "I have no idea if Spotify has something like this [automated recommendation radio - spoiler alert it totally does] because I've never taken the trouble to set up a Spotify account on my phone, and I haven't tried the web version since about 2012, when it was free on Facebook for a while". 

I've actually noticed that website appears to just have a massive wide-on for Apple from a basic Google Search though...

That's the struggle that other services will have now Apple have came into the game. People believe it's better just because it's Apple. And that's fine - it's been right a lot of the time before, right? Well, remember earlier - I used "better"? That applies here. Apple Music (which I admit I've not had the ability to try yet, being a non-iPhone user (though it is coming to Android)) will be successful, probably. But will it be the best? Probably now. I've got over 8 years of listening history on Spotify and over 18,000 tracks on my Google Play Music cloud account.

But then again, I did have a 3G video calling memory expanding Nokia smartphone... and then ended up buying an iPhone shortly afterwards.