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Smartphones have undergone some pretty rapid improvements over the last two years. The start of this change can mostly be credited to Apple, who introduced the first iPhone in early 2007 and kick-started a revolution. That groundbreaking phone launched and left the world in awe just months later. Since then, Apple has been running the show, leading the pack ... or however else you want to put their strong performance into words. That is, until yesterday ...

Apple has ran a pretty tight ship for the past four years, especially when it comes to their mobile products. A new iPhone has been released during the summer months ever since the original iPhone, along with major software updates. This has worked quite well for them in the past. Although the iPhone 4 was not met with 100 percent approval (face it, there were people upset after that keynote, too), it was one of the best selling phones in the world. The iPhone 4S won't stray far from that path, no matter how minuscule the upgrade. If you don't believe me, take a look back at the iPhone 3G and 3GS. Those, too, were fairly incremental and still shattered sales records worldwide.

This time around is different, however. This is the first year Apple has really had to stress software over hardware. And it's the first year they have broken tradition. But why? Why did it take them 16 months and why didn't they put a little more "wow factor" in this update?

In truth, Apple has been slowly slipping since the little green robot entered the scene. With over half a million activations per day, Android has swept the world off its feet and has garnered the support of some of the largest cell phone manufacturers in the world. This was only a matter of time. Apple's keynote yesterday only gave credence to that in a big way. Don't worry, though. Apple and their iPhone aren't going anywhere. They just won't be leading the industry or setting the standards anymore. Not for a few years, at least, when things settle down a bit.

Had it not been for Android – or Android's Law, rather – the iPhone 4S might seem like a fairly significant upgrade. A dual-core processor with dual-core graphics and a image sensor that taunts that of dedicated point and shoot cameras? That's not a bad upgrade at all. Sure, we were expecting a larger display – 3.5-inches is tiny in comparison to what's out there today. But if we take the mountains of Android phones out of the picture and compare the iPhone 4 to the 4S, the upgrades aren't that minimal. The biggest disappointment is the fact that they look identical (again, nothing we haven't seen before). This upgrade mostly appears lackluster in light of a slew of Android phones that have had dual-core processors and large displays for nearly a year now. Instead of conforming, Apple is sticking to their guns. And for once, they're experiencing some backlash.

There are always the nonsensical rumors that develop into belief and high hopes to blame. They're getting progressively worse every year, and we've learned to expect them to. But rumors aren't at the root of our disappointment. Sure, they play a big part in the "underwhelming" nature of Apple's announcements. But would we care that the iPhone 4S still has a 3.5-inch display if there were no 4-inch or greater Android phones? Android is the driving force in mobile innovation and it's a force that should not be taken lightly.

The fact is, Apple is a single manufacturer that creates one phone per year. They're up against an increasing number of manufacturers and a handful of other software platforms. These manufacturers use third-party components (Apple does, too, to an extent) and churn out devices like they're going out of style. By law of averages, Apple should have fallen off of the map a long time ago. But that just goes to show the quality of their products and brand loyalty. Regardless, launching one phone per year (no matter how iconic or magical), in a world where bigger and better phones are launching by the week, will only last so long.

How long can Apple maintain a one device per year schedule?

One year is eons in the mobile realm. Just look at the second half of 2010 to now. We've gone from a 3.7-inch display standard to 4.3-inches and beyond, the year of the Snapdragon to the year of the Tegra 2 (and the pending penta-core Tegra 3) and so on.

The margin between the rate at which Android phones advance in comparison to the single refresh the iPhone gets every summer (fall, this year) is growing quickly. Maybe Apple is trying to tell us something. Maybe this October launch was not an accident or a missed deadline. Maybe the iPhone 5 is real (of course, if it isn't now, it will be at some point) and will see an early 2012 launch.

I'm not predicting that Apple will change to a bi-annual update schedule. In fact, the chances of that are slim. But I'm rather suggesting that if they aren't they better be coming up with something else that keeps them on par with competition, because suing everyone on claims that they're "slavishly copying" isn't working. It's biting back.

What's your take on all of this? Will (or should) Apple move to a bi-annual launch schedule for the iPhone to keep up with the competition? Have Android phones finally become the standard for what is considered a high-end smartphone?


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