Apple’s iPhone Philosophy: Not First, But Best

Apple’s been called a lot of names in the past, and copycat is one of them. But it’s Apple’s alleged willingness to allegedly “copy” its competitors that makes its products so appealing.

On Tuesday, Apple took the wraps off its long-awaited iPhone X, a high-end smartphone that will complement the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus the company also announced at its press event. The iPhone X, which is slated to hit store shelves on November 3, comes with an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screen, wireless charging, and a revamped design. There’s also a face scanner that will be used to verify mobile purchases via Apple Pay and give users access to their smartphones.

If all that sounds familiar, it’s because those features are already available in Samsung’s Galaxy S8, a device that launched in the spring. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 also comes with those features, as do several other flagship Android smartphones.

Apple detractors point to those handsets and say the iPhone X is a copycat smartphone designed to help the tech giant catch up to its competitors. But perhaps the real story is that Apple watched what its competitors have done and has found a way to deliver something better.

For years, Apple has used a wait-and-see approach with many of its most popular products. In the early 2000s, Apple delivered iTunes only after it found a way to marry hardware, software, and music content into one complete system. Even Apple’s original iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone to have a touchscreen. But it was the first to do it right.

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On the feature side, Apple (AAPL) has annoyed competitors for years. The company’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor, for instance, is widely viewed as the most reliable and most responsive in the industry. And with help from its audio subsidiary Beats, Apple has delivered impressive wireless earbuds in its AirPods that are generally considered among the best on the market.

At its iPhone X press event, Apple made bold statements. The company called its smartphone’s screen the best in the business, and said its wireless charging would be tops. Apple went so far as to call the iPhone X the “future” of the smartphone market, even though the features it announced have been available for years, in some cases, in competing devices.

But then reporters got a chance to try out Apple’s Face ID face-scanning feature and said it worked remarkably well. And that screen? Well, it’s downright gorgeous, they said. And with the ability to charge multiple Apple devices on a single AirPower charging pad next year, the company might have just found a way to trump all those competitors who are still working on getting high-quality pads into customer homes.

What Apple unveiled on September 12 wasn’t a groundbreaking device like the company would have us believe. But it did unveil a handset in the iPhone X that took some of the nicer concepts in competing devices and maybe, just maybe, improved upon them a bit. And by tying all of those features into the universe Apple has created, it’s made both Apple fans and even those who don’t own iPhones at least come close to believing that its iPhone X is a cut above its competition.

Like it or not, Apple once again captivated an industry on Tuesday and stole the spotlight from its competitors. And with some direction from those competitors, it’s used an old trick from an old playbook that has paid off time and again.

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