Apple reached apogee with the launch of the iPhone 4S. A marginally better product, launched by a flat stage presentation from Tim Cook, but sales were still buoyed by the strength of the brand’s emotional impact and prestige, and people didn’t want to discuss their disappointments so soon after Jobs’ death.
This week’s launch of the iPhone 5 marks the beginning of the company’s slide. There were no real pioneering features in the new phone (well, maybe the thinner display), just things that make it better than the last iPhone. Cook and industry journalists both felt the need to address gaps in the phone’s feature set (screen size, NFC, wireless charging, trouble with simultaneous voice and data on some networks), some of iPhone 5’s catch-up features (Siri improvements, LTE) and the foolishness of the new connector (Farhad Manjoo is too spun up, but still correct; John Gruber still believes that irrelevant elegance trumps the practicality of universal standards).
Two disappointing launches in a row suggest that the post-Jobs Apple isn’t strong enough to preserve the religious fervor that has driven Apple sales. The brand is becoming mortal. Many acolytes will now abandon their Messiah.
Apple should still do well for a couple of years. iPhones are still easier for most people to use, and beautifully designed. Google will wrestle with promoting some powerful new features like Google Now. And Nokia will sink beneath the waves before having much of an impact with its exciting Lumia 920, if it ever ships. But Apple is looking at 10% market share, long term, which will let carriers start to kick around their products (add carrier software and services, influence operating system update schedules, etc.).
The question of whether Apple can really thrive after Jobs is gone has been answered: No.