Apple has made a flurry of announcements over the last fortnight. We've seen the Apple Watch graduate from rumour to reality, with the device set to launch in time for the prime Christmas market. In a sign of the times, we've learnt that the iPod Classic is to be withdrawn (mobiles having long since reduced the iPod's relevance as a music-playing tool). But by far the biggest buzz has been generated by the arrival of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6+ devices.
Both new handsets are bigger, better and more sophisticated than any of their predecessors. Unsurprisingly, the immediate reaction has thus been very positive; Apple was quick to announce record pre-order numbers (4 million in the first 24 hours) and to warn of potentially limited availability when they are released. Even though the cynical among us might question whether the latter is simply a typical marketing ploy - don't release enough to sate immediate demand, in order to increase the hype and premium attached to the product in question - it's hard to deny that the new handsets have received a very warm reception.
One major question remains, though: is the iPhone 6 simply too little, too late? The problem is not so much that Apple is late to the "phablet" party; the company itself pointed out that it has a proven track record of entering a sector after others and yet still establishing a commanding position. The real issue is that the new devices - despite all of their improvements and shiny new features - offer little that is truly exciting or unique enough to tempt new users over to the Apple family. They're just too, well, samey. The iPhone 6+ might have a bigger screen than any previous Apple handset, but it's still out-gunned by alternatives on the market which have had so much longer to establish themselves as attractive options for those in search of a "phablet"-sized device. As a result, many of the pre-orders for the 6 and 6+ handsets are from existing iPhone users - those who have long paid homage to the Apple brand and are keen to upgrade their handset to the newest one available.
Looking at some numbers is perhaps the best way to see the scale of the challenge that Apple now faces: it has allowed Android to establish such a dominant position within the global smartphone market that it now needs to offer something truly original or overwhelmingly attractive to tempt people away from competitors. By the middle of 2014, just 20% of the mobile audience across GlobalWebIndex's 32 markets were using Apple's iOS on their phone. This compares to a mighty 68% using Android. As recently ago as Q2 2011, just 24% were using Android on their mobiles; no amount of clever marketing and spin can disguise the fact that Apple has thus lost considerable ground to its closest rival.
Of course, these headline figures do mask some important trends for Apple. iOS consistently posts its best usage figures among the key, high-income demographic. And if we drill down into usage at a country-by-country level, Apple performs much more strongly in some of the most mature markets - with Australia (42%), the USA (41%) and Canada (38%) topping the list. Nevertheless, Android is still ahead even in these markets and, if we then turn our attention to the top 10 nations for Android usage, Apple's problem becomes particularly stark: across a wide-range of fast-growth markets - where internet populations are rising rapidly each year and where the mobile internet is a hugely important gateway - Android's usage figures are typically four to five times higher than those for Apple.
In the key markets where digital trends are scrutinised the most closely, the iPhone 6 models are certainly likely to please fans and prevent them from migrating to Android. But Apple will face much more of an uphill battle in winning new users, especially in fast-growth nations where cheaper and longer-established Android models have for some time now been the first choice. Essentially, Apple is currently a company standing still, rather than moving forward.Suggest a correction