TIME Apple

Relax: Apple Innovation Is Fine

We looked at four of the most common Apple criticisms, specifically those for the iPhone. Has innovation really leveled off in Cupertino?

These days, it’s just common knowledge: Apple innovation has tanked since Steve Jobs’ death, while Samsung’s parade of split-screen apps, touchless gestures, and sexy smartwatches has propelled the Korean tech giant into the lead. Not convinced? Simply gaze upon Apple’s last three iPhones — underpowered, featureless, stuck in the past — and you too will see that Apple CEO Tim Cook is cooked.

Or is he?

We looked at four of the most common Apple criticisms, specifically those for the iPhone. Has innovation really leveled off in Cupertino?

1. Performance

The Criticism

The iPhone is underpowered. While Samsung reinvents the stat sheet with each new phone, Apple makes routine updates a year later. It just can’t compete on specs anymore.

The Reality

In recent years, Apple has done some of its best innovation under the iPhone’s airbrushed hood. When consumers see a new iPhone of identical shape and size, they assume nothing’s changed. In reality, Apple’s biggest accomplishment is maintaining its lauded design while keeping pace with Samsung’s powerful, shape-shifting phones.

Granted, we can’t conclude that Apple is winning the spec war, but it’s certainly not losing either. We plotted Geekbench multi-core scores for Apple and Samsung phones over the last few years to see how they stacked up over time.

Apple and Samsung have both maintained a dizzying pace, nearly doubling performance with each new release. Apple’s 2x leap from the iPhone 5 to 5s is particularly impressive, perhaps even more so than the all-new Touch ID.

2. Features

The Criticism

Apple hasn’t added any innovative features since 2010. Samsung adds 2,010 new features in every phone.

The Reality

This one’s partially true. Whether it’s air gestures, tilt scrolling, or companion watches that let you take secret, creepy photos, Samsung is the indisputable King of Features. Meanwhile, Apple’s biggest feature forays have seen mixed results. (Siri? So-so. Touch ID? Great when it works. FaceTime? Neat, but who actually uses it?)

Still, who says “number of features” is synonymous with “innovation?” It all depends on the problem you’re trying to solve. From a marketing standpoint, features like Samsung’s Smart Pause — where videos start and stop as your eyes move on and off the screen — are genius. They’ll grab a dozen headlines, generate thousands of YouTube views, and do wonders for on-stage demos. But that doesn’t mean people will actually use them. In the end, most Samsung features are like mail-in rebates: fun, enticing, and ultimately forgettable.

Meanwhile, many of Apple’s so-called features are designed so that nobody will notice them in the first place. A tap on the home screen camera icon causes the screen to bounce slightly — indicating that the user must swipe up to snap a photo. Dates and times don’t clog up the message screen, unless you happen to swipe to the side, where all that info is cleverly stored. There’s nothing revolutionary here — but these are the “features” Apple focuses on instead, features made for users — not for tech headlines.

3. Display

The Criticism

The Retina Display (326 pixels per inch) is now the Retro Display — Apple’s top rivals have crisper screens.

The Reality

Apple hasn’t budged from 326 pixels per inch (PPI) because it hasn’t needed to. Steve Jobs was ultimately right (even if the math was a little funky): at a viewing distance of 10 inches, the human eye can no longer discern individual pixels. The HTC One’s 468 PPI might sound impressive, but it comes at a cost. For an indiscernible increase in sharpness, the phone ends up wasting precious resources to power all those pixels.

Apple’s decision to stick to 326 pixels isn’t one of laziness, inability, or lack of innovation—it’s a conscious decision to keep battery life up and thickness down.

Note: The iPhone’s smaller screen size helps keep the weight off, but Apple wins on thickness too.

4. Screen Size

The Criticism

Apple has only changed the iPhone’s screen size once. This proves the company doesn’t care about innovation.

The Reality

This is one of the most bizarre knocks on Apple. The company may indeed benefit from producing a larger iPhone, but this is a matter of business, not of innovation. The question for Apple is not, “How do we make a bigger iPhone?” but instead, “Among non-iPhone users, who will be convinced to buy one if we add a bigger screen, and will it be worth the production cost?” If Apple does indeed make a bigger iPhone, expect small splashes of creativity throughout, with a close eye on design, simplicity, and user experience. But don’t insult Apple by praising the new dimensions — the new screen size will be the least innovative thing about it.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest. Check out Taylor’s past columns here.

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