For Apple Consumers, the iPhone Thrill Is Gone

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- The Apple  (AAPL) iPhone 6 gets its big announcement next month. Great.

Oh, investors will be jumping up and down, no doubt, and first week sales and shipment numbers will be coursing through the media bloodlines.

But as a consumer, seven years into the iPhone's lifespan, it's difficult to get excited about what are now incremental changes to the company's leading product. Even tech writers are wondering if anyone will care about the iPhone 6 and slight changes like larger screens, a broader palette of body colors or yet another version of iOS.

They will, of course. They'll still line up outside the Apple store the night before the first versions go on sale and they'll still buy millions of them, just as they did in the months before the iPhone 6 announcement. They just won't be incredibly excited about it, nor should they be.

The iPhone is still a great technological achievement, but it's an everyday item -- on par with an appliance. A premium appliance, to be sure, but it's still just a Kitchen Aid mixer among Hamilton Beach and Sunbeam products. It's a Vitamix blender among Osters and Warings. It's premium enough to warrant a mid-three-figure price tag when it's unlocked, but accessible enough to be sold at Walmart (WMT) . If you're willing to settle for last year's model or even older, Verizon (VZ) , AT&T  (T) , Sprint (S) or T-Mobile  (TMUS) might just give you one for free with your subscription.

According to market research firm ComScore, iPhones are the device of choice for 41% of U.S. smartphone subscribers. The No. 2 smartphone brand, Samsung and its Galaxy line, has only a 28.6% share. No. 3, LG, has just 6%.

Globally, the iPhone finished 2013 with a 15.6% share of the market, according to research firm Gartner. That's down from 19% in 2012 and trails Samsung's 31% for 2013, but is still a dramatic lead over Huawei and LG's third-place share of 4.8% apiece and should get a nice bump after the iPhone 5/S/C generation ends its two-year run.

But that's just the problem: The iPhone isn't exactly some niche luxury device anymore and the game-changing features of past iPhones, including Retina display, high-definition cameras, Siri and even Touch ID fingerprint scanning, are yielding to changes that aren't necessarily device specific. The iOS 8 Continuity feature has more to do with integrating the Apple ecosystem of devices than it does with making the iPhone a better overall device.

Bigger screens, a sapphire display, a fitness app? They're all features that iPhone owners will love, but with the exception of a potential sapphire screen, they're nothing smartphone users, Nike  (NKE) and Under Armor  (UA) adherents or even FitBit owners haven't seen before.

They're going to be higher-end versions of those technologies, but they'll still be versions. They're new wrinkles, not complete rebuilds or innovations.

In fairness to Apple, it's incredibly difficult to blow minds in the modern tech landscape. Its own App Store is filled with offerings that have made life not only more convenient, but have made those living it increasingly visible to the world around them. But there's a whole lot to sift through, leaving even tech-savvy consumers lamenting the current state of oversaturation.

Where mobile technology once expanded limited options, it now overwhelms users with choices. The response to that pseudo-omnipotence has been a passive step back. Apple learned this firsthand as its iTunes music sales dried up, its iTunes Radio streaming service failed to make users download more music and an exodus to passive streaming options including Pandora  (P) and iHeartRadio pushed Apple into buying streaming service Beats Music. Apple is learning the same lesson with video as viewers increasingly shun downloads and ownership for YouTube streams or Netflix  (NFLX) and Amazon  (AMZN) Prime Video services.

Where once the appeal of advanced technology was its potential for personal curation, the flood of choices shifted that emphasis to interactions and algorithms that made the choices for you. By rating, ranking, reviewing and clicking thumbs up or down, we allowed services to reduce our viewing, listening, buying and posting patterns to empirical data and continue patterns we were already following.

The average U.S. consumer wants more choices than Coke or Pepsi, Democrat or Republican, but they are best served by a loose coalition of options. Something north of three but south of a dozen that they can flip through with ease and not feel like the guy pushing boxes through the warehouse at the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Costco loves that model and offers customers a maximum of two to three brands of any one product at a time, riding that rotating mix of small choices to continued growth and increasing sales.

With just about all smartphones able to access the same apps and perform the same tasks, apps like Pandora, Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter became fixtures among ComScore's Top 10 and their data follows users across multiple devices and platforms. No, iTunes Radio and iCloud don't show up on Android devices, but that's a statement on how Apple wants to position itself in that curated marketplace.

As ComScore points out, Google  (GOOG) Android devices still hold a 52% share of the smartphone market to the iPhone's 42% share. That still makes Apple the premium, elite counterpart to Android's downmarket, multi-device offerings, but it's a high enough percentage of iPhone owners to make the device a common luxury.

Where people once bought the iPhone for all the new conveniences it offered and all the technological advances it brought into their lives, they now buy one simply because they need a smartphone. They may prefer the Apple ecosystem, they may believe that the iPhone is a higher-quality product that the smartphones it is up against, but they're largely done being blown away by it.

The iPhone thrill is gone, and its mystique is fading one free last-generation phone at a time.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

>Contact by Email.

Follow @Notteham

 

At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned. This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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