Has Apple been reduced to playing catch-up with Microsoft and Google?

Has Apple, the king of the computing hill in recent years, been reduced to playing catch-up with Microsoft’s Windows Phone and Google’s Android operating systems? When Apple debuted the iPhone in 2007, the company changed the smartphone landscape. But today’s announcement of the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 featured a distinct lack of innovation. Where the iPhone was revolutionary, the iPhone 5 is merely evolutionary – and a minor one at that.

The iPhone 5’s biggest selling points are a 4-inch screen and LTE, both of which can be found on hundreds of devices currently on the market. Other improvements include a thinner and lighter form-factor, a slightly new look, a faster processor, a 720p front-facing camera, HD voice calls, an additional microphone, a nano SIM card, and a new proprietary charging cable. The rest of the specs haven’t changed much since the iPhone 4S, including the storage capacity, camera, and battery life. While the specs aren’t bad, they are by no means an improvement over other devices on the market. And with NFC and other exciting features noticeably absent, the iPhone is no longer the killer smartphone it used to be. Even its highly-praised Retina display has been bested by the Nokia Lumia 920, and the new charging cable is almost pointless when wireless charging is brought into the mix.

On the iOS 6 side, things aren’t looking much better. With the iPhone 4S, you could at least count on Siri to provide somewhat of a competitive advantage. Not so with the iPhone 5. Siri is a bit smarter now – she can now provide sports rankings and movie ratings, book restaurant tables, and give turn-by-turn directions – and Google Maps has been replaced by Apple’s mapping solution. Other not-exactly-new features include Passbook (e.g. Windows Phone’s Wallet and Google Wallet), FaceTime over cellular networks, the ability to sync browser tabs between your phone and computer, iMessage sync between devices, better Twitter and Facebook integration, photo sharing, favorite email senders (VIPs), and a few other things. Even the ability to instantly reply to phone calls with a text message isn’t new – Nokia’s older devices used to support this.

Last, but not least, is iTunes 11, which now sports a new album art-centric layout (Zune says hello) and allows you to sync your device over WiFi (again, Zune). Really, the only interesting features are the ability to instantly access music purchases or resume content from any device. And where’s the oft-rumored unlimited music subscription plan?

The iPhone 5 will, more than likely, sell like gangbusters for Cupertino. After all, Apple has enough momentum to keep the snowball rolling downhill for some time to come. But when it comes to innovation, the company is getting dangerously close to becoming stagnant. Looking through today’s announcements, it’s difficult to find a feature that isn’t already found on a competing platform. The iPhone 5 is a nice update for Apple fanboys and those hopelessly entrenched in the Apple ecosystem, but when it comes to actual innovation, look no further than Windows Phone and Android.

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William Devereux

William Devereux is the former Microsoft editor at Pocketables, as well as a Microsoft MVP and SkyDrive/Outlook.com Insider. As his title implies, he wrote about all things from Redmond, including Windows 8 and Windows Phone. He is currently carrying a Windows Phone 8X by HTC and a Microsoft Surface with Windows RT tablet.