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No more magic: How Tim Cook botched Jobs’ product-launch formula

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For the last decade, Apple has set the gold standard for product launches, and credit has always rested unequivocally on the shoulders of Steve Jobs. The company always knew how to woo loyalists, but when Jobs returned, he found a way to speak to the rest of us when presenting products like the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

Wednesday’s iPhone 5 launch saw Apple return to preaching to the converted. While I have little doubt that Apple users everywhere will applaud the iPhone 5, I doubt whether it will continue to reel in customers from other platforms like Android.

The reason actually lies more in the presentation than in the product. Steve didn’t focus on the technology, he focused on the magical experience. Tim Cook can’t quite seem to capture that, and it’s going to hurt Apple.

A page from the darker eras of Apple history

Before Jobs returned to Apple, the struggling company was stuck in a monotonous cycle of products that made good upgrades to existing lines, but seemed to ignore what was going on with competitors. As loyal Apple users eventually gave up, the company’s strong business started to erode, until its engineer CEOs didn’t have a clue how to turn this around. Jobs came back and brought forth the idea of creating products that competed on impression, not “speeds and feeds.” Apple reached amazing new highs on this formula.

iphone 5 being produced design caseNow look at the iPhone 5 launch. If you watched it live, you heard about bigger screens, faster radios, better-performing camera software, and improved case manufacturing. You heard about the wonders of LTE, a very fast but still lightly deployed cellular technology. You even heard about the unique tools used to build the case. Engineers had plenty of specs and numbers to chew on, but mainstream consumers didn’t hear anything magical enough to pull them from another current-generation phone.

Show me the magic

Competing based on sheer specs has never been a strength for Apple, because other companies have always been able to adopt new technologies faster. This made Steve Jobs’ approach a much better fit for Apple’s carefully thought-out designs.

Watch the iPhone 5 launch with a critical eye, and you’ll see a device that has a smaller less-brilliant screen than competitors. It has a slower CPU and graphics processor. It’s more fragile. The vastly improved antennas may be Apple’s only technical edge – a necessary one considering the Antennagate woes of the iPhone 4.

The iPhone 5 still makes a strong upgrade from the iPhone 4 it replaces, so loyalists dedicated to buying Apple products should still love it. But former customers who have defected to Android will likely not move back, and people who actually chase technology will probably take their business elsewhere.

This doesn’t foretell a decline for Apple, but it likely will mean slowing growth next year as we start to look someplace else for magic.

Like Amazon.

Amazon has figured it out

What really struck me about the Amazon Kindle launch last week was how Apple-like it was. Jeff Bezos spent little time on the technology in the new tablets, preferring to focus on the magic of the device. The launch even ended with a classic “one more thing” moment when Amazon announced 4G data service for $50 a year.

kindle fire hd launch tablet amazonAmazon’s new Kindles hit hard on three vectors that buyers care: value, experience, and services, or, in other words, magic. You don’t care what technology is in the box, you care that you will get a great experience without having to learn any new strange technology.

If Apple wants to continue pitching its products in the light that suits them best, it should study – well, Apple. Amazon clearly has been.

The Spirit of Steve

The issue with the iPhone 5 isn’t that it isn’t a technology leader, it’s that we’re missing the shiny veneer that used to cover up that fact. We should only care whether the iPhone 5 provides a great experience, but Wednesday’s product launch seemed to lose track of that all-important factor.

Luckily for consumers, Amazon is selling amazing experiences, so Steve Jobs’ legacy lives on. Sadly, it just seems to live on with another company.

Guest contributor Rob Enderle is the founder and principal analyst for the Enderle Group, and one of the most frequently quoted tech pundits in the world. Opinion pieces denote the opinions of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Digital Trends.