Now that the "fan-boy-itis" has begun to pass I've been thinking of exactly why yesterday's announcement was such a let down. I started to think about Steve Jobs and Apple in general and what I realized was that yesterday showed the signs of two disastrous traits from the past.
These two traits, or "demons" as I refer to them below, are probably all that stands in the way of Apple dominating the mobile field at this point.
Demon #1: Over engineering to the point of detriment
There's a famous story of Steve Jobs' time at NeXT. Apparently he invited a reporter to NeXT headquarters for an interview. At this point NeXT had not introduced a PC yet and everyone was beyond anxious. When the reporter arrived they saw a PC looking object with a cloth covering it and assumed they'd be treated to a first look at the long awaited NeXT PC.
When Jobs eventually arrived and lifted the cloth what was under it was not a PC but just a monitor. A beautiful monitor, a near perfect monitor, but nothing more. According to the reporter Jobs went on and on about the monitor and how they had engineered it to be the perfect monitor. But in the end all that bravado hid the sad truth that NeXT had put so many resources into over engineering the thing to perfection that they were no where near having a working PC.
They never did manage to produce a PC in the time frame they needed to. Had Apple not bought them for their OS NeXT would have been a complete failure because of that.
Why this should give people pause: Jobs' crowing over how the 3G and GPS chips were fit into the iPhone without increasing the size was just the NeXT monitor all over again. I have no doubt there was some amazing and very time consuming engineering behind that accomplishment. The question is whether that was the best use of Apple's resources and if anyone would care that the phone was 1/4 of an inch thicker than the original. Because I suspect that other things got the shaft because of that feat of engineering.
Demon #2: Leap and then take a break
Of course the classic Apple story is of the original MacOS. Years ahead of anyone when it came out Apple never managed to create a successor to it. They engineered three separate OS systems as possible replacements but never managed to get one out the door (Ironically that is what eventually brought Jobs' back into the fold when Apple bought NeXT for the OS).
This all comes back to a fatal flaw that Apple employees always seem to have which is arrogance. They are the best at what they do in many ways but they tend to think they're even better than they are which leads them to not compete as fiercely as they could.
Why this should give people pause: A year later Apple has given us access to some things we didn't have initially (the SDK) but doesn't appear to have added much of anything. Things like Exchange support were the result of a Microsoft licensing agreement so you can't really give them credit for that. In truth the iPhone has been at a stand still while Nokia, Google and even Microsoft have all rushed to incorporate its advances into their own platforms.
With that said...
The above is one side of the story. The other side of the story is that the Steve Jobs and the Apple of today are probably worlds different from the ones featured in the above stories. For Jobs part he has so far successfully shown he can lead Apple without the destructive quirks that did him in the first time around. On Apple's part the MacOS debacle was in large part due to then CEO John Sculley not feeling confident enough to lead engineering staff (a problem Steve Jobs certainly doesn't have)
But as I read the parade of ridiculous hands-on tests where each author tries desperately to find something to say about an iPhone that is essentially identical to its predecessor I can't help but think of the above two items and wonder if Apple's bad angels are finally catching up to it.