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New technology: the good and bad of commercialized progress

In early September, Apple released yet another permutation of its iPhone series. This year’s innovative new product, the iPhone 5s, was accompanied by the iPhone 5c, which replaces the previous iPhone 5. The iPhone 5s presents impressive new features such as a fingerprint scanner, an upgrade to the iOS 7 software and slow-motion video. Apple markets these additions to be worth the $399 price that comes with a two year-contract. Meanwhile, the iPhone 5c comes equipped with exotic new colors like banana yellow, cyan, and kelly green, while keeping essentially the same technology as the vanilla iPhone 5.
Still, is it really worth spending that much money to buy yet another iPhone? Are the new additions really innovative enough to be worth that kind of money? And why would you buy a phone if you know that there will be something more advanced next year?
Apple has been milking this cash cow since their 2007 release of the first iPhone. Since then, it has released six more generations of iPhones, each one marketed as being better, faster and more creative than the last. Undoubtedly, there has been progress in the technology with each new generation. But with the exception of Siri, introduced with the iPhone 4s, there have been few revolutionary additions to the iPhone series. Each and every iPhone has the same basic features: a touchscreen, a camera, onboard applications, and a speaker. Sure, they improve on the basic hardware each year; a new operating system here, a better camera there. Many of these features, though, are superficial. For example, the iOS 7 has a more minimalistic and less textured design than the iOS 6; the interface itself, however, is essentially the same. Yet Apple continues to advertise the “great new features” the iOS 7 introduces, such as AirDrop and Control Center. But even these capabilities are stale. AirDrop, a file-sharing program available only to Apple products, was released July 20, 2011, months before the iPhone 4s. Meanwhile, Control Center is simply an easily-accessible settings page.
With such a disappointing upgrade to the software of the iPhone, you would expect cutting-edge hardware to justify the high price tag. The iPhone 5s, however, does not dazzle the user with ingenious physical upgrades. One of the centerpieces of Apple’s marketing with the iPhone 5s is the new fingerprint scanner. The scanner doubles as the passcode to unlock the phone and as a method of verifying purchases in the Apple store. There is no doubt that this technology is innovative; however, there does not seem to be any particular reason to incorporate it into a phone. It hardly saves more than one or two seconds when unlocking the phone or buying a product. And while Apple assures that your fingerprints are stored only in your individual phone, there is still an underlying uneasiness with giving a company such detailed, sensitive information.
The iPhone 5s also boasts an improved camera and the ability to take slow-motion video. But these changes are not new concepts or advanced technology; every generation of iPhone has a slightly improved camera from the last. Even slow-motion video is a feature that can be simulated with the cheapest video-editing software. But Apple continues to advertise the iPhone 5s as a ground-breaking product, despite its lack of relevant, original hardware.
Innovative companies have always been a cornerstone of American ingenuity. Apple, however, is no longer creating original products; they are merely improving on the same models they created in years past. By marketing each of these new models as revolutionary, Apple continues to motivate more and more consumers to buy their product. This smart short term plan ensures that Apple stays stable and profitable, allowing them to produce new products every year. As a whole, however, the repetitive use of old ideas stagnates the technology industry.
As Apple releases each new model of an old product comes out, it presents the illusion of progress and of advancements in technology. Consumers, in turn, spend money on these rehashed products. Meanwhile, genuinely inventive products are ignored completely, lost among gossip of whether or not you should buy the iPhone 5s or the iPhone 5c.
These products do not deliver when it comes to either software or hardware; they are not distinguishable enough from previous generations. What changes they do have are simply not worth the expense of buying another iPhone. Yet Apple will continue to market their iPhones as ingenious and innovative. And without a doubt, next year, another iPhone will be released, boasting technology that is marketed to be better, faster and more innovative than even the iPhone 5s.

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