Sep. 10, 2013 at 4:56 AM ET
Apple keynotes are like Christmas morning — after weeks of shaking boxes, the wrapping comes off and we finally get a look at the goods. In recent years, though, the keynotes have felt a bit anti-climactic, like Christmas mornings in the age of the Amazon wishlist. Everybody looks around and smiles, but deep down, they lament the lack of surprise. We want to be surprised by Apple's iPhone news event Tuesday morning in Cupertino, Calif. But due to the tremendous detail of leaks from Apple's China product supply chain, we probably won't be.
Still, is the disappointment solely due to the information anticlimax, or is there more to it? The rumored news is likely to be very exciting for Apple's shareholders — after all, Apple launching a cheap (colorful) iPhone 5C that can expand market share in developing nations is a smart play, and probably long overdue. Apple will reportedly be hosting almost-simultaneous launch events in Beijing, Tokyo and Berlin to celebrate this widening of its market. Great! Terrific! But what's in it for hardcore Apple fans? The same phone as last year, only now it has a fingerprint scanner and comes in gold?
Apple plays things this way because it legendarily makes a fat profit in a business where nearly everyone else can't make a dime. As long as the products maintain their unique design and innovative feel — and feature that ease of use that makes Apple beloved among grandparents and design freaks alike — they keep selling, to the tune of tens of billions in quarterly revenue.
However, Apple's two-year iPhone update cycle — a new body one year, an under-the-hood refresh the next — is starting to give its competitors a leg up, as crazier and yes, more innovative, Android (and even Windows) phones come out faster and faster.
Are we talking about that borderline grotesque Samsung Galaxy Mega "phablet," with its 6.3-inch screen and blatant disregard for average human hand size? Maybe. And what about that 41-megapixel Nokia? Sure. Hyperboles aside, there are a panoply of phones with thin bodies, large screens and even long battery life, many that even feature quad-core processors, near-field communication and touch-free gesture controls.
Besides that gold iPhone 5S, Apple fanboys this season do get a revamped operating system. iOS 7 brings a huge number of overdue improvements to the platform, not to mention an overall look-and-feel that seems contemporary, if not progressive. But for all of its gains — at the core, a pull-up control center, dynamic multitasking and more complex, actionable notifications — there are still wildly practical features that iOS 7 lacks, such as the home screen widgets and app usage meter found in the latest Android devices.
Does this mean we should enter the Cupertino news event with a dour face and a pessimistic outlook? Maybe not.
Apple's been known to surprise us, and a new surprise could do wonders. Maybe a slick smartwatch that makes Galaxy Gear look like a wrist-top shoebox? Or maybe the first peek at the Apple TV set that's supposed to shake up the video industry? Apple's not known for showing products before they're ready to ship. Nevertheless, it broke that precedent in June when it revealed the forthcoming Mac Pro, and Apple's fearless leader Tim Cook may see fit to do it again.
What are we waiting for? To borrow a quote from "The Incredibles," produced by Apple's sister company, Pixar, in the golden age of Steve Jobs: "Something amazing, I guess."