Does Apple's 'Boring' iPhone 5 Foreshadow a Blackberry-Like Decline?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Even though I think Steve Job's death put Apple's (AAPL) best days behind it, negative reaction to iPhone 5 surprised me.

In fact, I found some of it quite extreme.

Here's a sampling of two of the more interesting thoughts via Twitter:

Wow is right.

Strong words from George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research, who shares my view that Apple will slide from greatness to goodness over the long term.

Even stronger words from whoever @bobegan spoke with. Apple -- heading down the path of utterly pathetic Research in Motion ( RIMM)?

Let's slow down and exercise our critical thinking skills.

There's no question about it -- relative to Steve Jobs, I have very little confidence in Tim Cook's ability to keep Apple where it's at now, let alone take it higher outside of the next 12 to 24 months. At the same time, I'm not crazy.

The day after the iPhone 5 launch, I discussed the new product with a friend, who is the ultimate Apple geek. We came to the conclusion that a boring and unoriginal iPhone might not necessarily be a bad thing.

Whereas many smartphone makers place almost sole focus on features, Apple concentrates obsessively on the user experience.

A difficult-to-define distinction exists between true innovation and change for the sake of change. Apple created and instantly perfected the smartphone. At some point, the bells and whistles naturally and appropriately slow down.

Consider this analogy. I ride road bikes. Most cyclists will tell you that even a novice cyclist will notice massive differences between a $600 road bike all the way up to around the $2,000 to $3,000 level. Once you pass that $2,500 threshold, however, the law of diminishing returns kicks in.

Unless you log several hundred miles a week, you probably will not recognize -- or have much use for -- the enhancements you receive as you increase the price point. Simply put, at some point, upgrades become less significant, but cost more money.

In a different way, that's what Apple is up against, though not necessarily from a cost standpoint. Apple has reached a point where they have pretty darn near produced a flawless smartphone.

As Apple makes upgrades to such a stellar product, it's difficult to notice them. In other words, the difference between the first iPhone and iPhone 4 (or even the models in between) is enormous. Now, it's tough for quite a few people to even tell the difference between an iPhone 4S and iPhone 5.

Continuing on that track, if Apple has indeed perfected the smartphone, why, at this stage of its evolution, does it need to make and promote more than seemingly modest improvements?

Forget that we might not be at a point, technologically speaking, to make cost-effective advancements. Think about it from a brand standpoint. If the next iPhone looks, feels and operates in a way that renders its predecessor unrecognizable, doesn't that send the wrong signal?

Why is Apple fixing something that's not broken? That's the message I would get if Apple, like other hardware makers, kept making wholesale changes to its product.

Even if every iPhone 4 or 4S user does not feel the need to rush out and buy iPhone 5, Apple still has a gigantic market to address. Given the rapid migration from feature phones to smartphones, it's not like Apple will rely solely on repeat customers to drive iPhone sales, particularly during the holiday quarter.

My concern over Apple comes in three waves, one near-term and two long-term.

1. Will Apple miss increasingly lofty iPhone 5 numbers in the holiday quarter? I would have the same trepidation even if the consensus labeled this new iPhone "revolutionary" as opposed to just evolutionary.

2. Unlike RIM, will Apple -- minus Jobs -- know when it's time to disrupt its own product line? Will the next transition be as smooth as the Mac to iPad transition that never even really ended up being much of a transition?

RIM had something going with the Blackberry. It did not anticipate Apple's dominance; therefore, it never even attempted revolutionary change. And it's not like the Blackberry evolved much over the years either.

While Apple will not drop the ball to the extent RIM did, it's critical that Tim Cook sees the future before it happens and acts accordingly. That's a tall order for a mere mortal.

3. I have no problems with Apple's current products. I love them all. I'll probably end up getting an iPhone when my nightmare with AT&T ( T) ends (they call it a contract). I have several iPods, an iPad and the best Macbook Pro -- or computer for that matter -- to ever hit the market.

Anxiety enters the equation vis-a-vis what's next. While the present iteration of Apple's dominance isn't going anywhere anytime soon, it has a shelf life. Everything does. Expiration of the active pipeline might not take Apple down, but it will trigger that unfortunate metamorphosis from great to good.

Apple needs "one more thing." It's not iPad Mini. And it's looking more and more like old guard media conglomerates will not let it be iTV, assuming Steve Jobs really did figure out the living room.

Endpoint -- a boring iPhone 5 is probably a good thing. Not knowing what's next, especially if the crew in Cupertino isn't even sure . . . that's a big problem.

At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this article.

Rocco Pendola is a private investor with nearly 20 years experience in various forms of media, ranging from radio to print. His work has appeared in academic journals as well as dozens of online and offline publications. He uses his broad experience to help inform his coverage of the stock market, primarily in the technology, Internet and new media spaces. He has taken a long-term approach to investing, focusing on dividend-paying stocks, since he opened his first account as a teenager. Pendola, 37, is based in Santa Monica, Calif., where he lives with his wife and child.

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