As Expected, The Boring iPhone 5 Breaks Previous Sales Records

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The iPhone 5 was supposed to be a flop. Consumers were supposed to be disgusted with the lack of innovation. No one was supposed to buy it. That is, of course, if you listened to the buzz during last week’s launch. The opposite turned out to be the truth.

Apple announced the iPhone 5’s first weekend sales this morning and they are stellar. The best ever. Apple sold twice as many iPhone 5s as iPhone 4S during the first few days. And, if you recall, this is all from a phone that due to lack of wild specs, connectivity options or something truly new, was deemed “meh.” This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Apple has done it for years. But so did RIM.

The iPhone 5 is a bit of an oddity in the mobile world. It’s a slight evolution in design over the past few models. It still sells like mad. Other phone models require something special, a gimmick, to sell in similar fashion. Not the iPhone.

The iPhone 5 is just a taller iPhone 4S in the same way the iPad is just a big iPod touch. It lacks a lot of the forward-thinking hardware found in competitors: NFC, wireless charging, or even a massive display. This formula works for Apple, though. Apple sells an experience and, at this point, in its product cycle, the hardware is just a portal.

Apple will skip specific hardware if it doesn’t provide a good experience. Last year, Apple passed on 4G LTE, likely because the mobile chips were battery killers at the time. Likewise, NFC didn’t make the cut this year because there still isn’t a widely accepted mobile payment solution. But these so-called missing features clearly didn’t affect sales.

Apple’s devices might be just slightly different from each other because the device itself does not matter.

Consumers have come to expect a desktop-ish experience from the iPhone. As with BlackBerrys a few years ago, consumers buy these devices for the familiarity. For better or worse, an iPhone from 4 years ago behaves similarly to one from today. Nerds and geeks might desire something radical; moms and dads just want a new, but still familiar, device. Thankfully the mobile smartphone market is large enough to support both types of devices.

Android has evolved greatly over the last few years. The original 1.0 release is widely different from Jelly Bean. 2.x is very different from 4.x. Each new version forces consumers to learn new workflows and navigation paths. Each OEM’s Android skin amplifies this problem, too. This constant change hasn’t stopped Android from becoming the dominant mobile platform. And I agree with the fanboys: Android has evolved into a superior mobile operating system. But Apple’s slow and steady approach has merits, too.

Like MG stated last week, Apple’s repetition is boring to some. People who were expecting the iPhone 5 to be revolutionary were likely disappointed by the taller iPhone. Apple does not need to revolutionize the iPhone. Today’s sales numbers further reinforce that thought.

There was a time when RIM was the dominant smartphone on the planet. New BlackBerrys looked like old BlackBerrys. The company naively ignored newcomers and turned its back on innovation in favor of selling a familiar experience. Apple has the luxury of a vibrant app store to keep its devices fresh. A BlackBerry was never anything more than a tool where Apple created the iPhone to be a gadget. And people love gadgets.

Apple is not headed down the same road as RIM, although there are clearly similarities. As RIM was with the BlackBerry, Apple is afraid to disrupt the iPhone experience. Consumers expect the iPhone to look and work a certain way and Apple is not likely to fudge with its most important device. That’s partly why the iPhone 5 is just slightly different from the iPhone 4.

The iPhone 5 will likely become the best-selling iPhone of all time. That is until the iPhone 5S comes out. And as long as sales continue to trend upward, do not expect a revolutionary iPhone. Samsung may dilute its Galaxy brand by releasing new models as fast as possible, but Apple will stay the course and continue to perfect the iPhone with as little fuss as possible. After all, “meh” sells just fine.