Apple’s design may have stalled, but the latest iPhone still has the potential to disrupt through major photo and video upgrades (while the new Apple Watch could capitalize on gaps in the lucrative health care market). But are customers ready to drop upwards of $1,500 for the Pro upgrade?
Remember 2008? George W. Bush was finishing up his last year in office, Beyoncé and Jay-Z got married, Britney Spears made her big comeback after a tumultuous public breakdown, and the companies that made point-and-shoot cameras had a banner year in sales, hawking more than 110 million consumer cameras that year. Fast-forward to today, and Bey and Jay-Z are still married (phew!), Britney is making yet another comeback, and the same companies that make point-and-shoot cameras have seen their sales utterly decimated. According to Nikkei, last year the makers of point-and-shoot cameras sold just 3 million cameras. That’s a 97% drop in sales—97%!—in just over a decade.
It’s no mystery what happened, and how. The answer to who and what annihilated the consumer photo business is sitting right in your pocket: the iPhone. But the point-and-shoot camera industry was only one tiny slither of the world that was set to be changed by the iPhone.
Remember the Filofax? Yeah, it’s dead now. Physical maps that your car’s glove box used to eat for sustenance? Gone. The way of the dodo. One-hour photo drop-offs? The few that are left are on life support and gasping for air. The fax machine, landline telephones, pay phones—remember them?—all relics of a not-too-distant bygone era that now seem as ancient as switchboard operators and milkmen. MP3 players, Walkmans, CD players, even Apple’s own iPod, are all dead, dead, dead and dead, thanks to the serial killer known as the iPhone.
For some companies and industries, the demise was as sudden as cyanide (Blackberry, Nokia, and Motorola) and for others, it took a bit longer, like a slow-killing cancer. For example, it took five years after the iPhone debuted for most companies that made camcorders to discontinue these useless contraptions, and for some to even file for bankruptcy. Then there’s the other industries that were transformed by apps that weren’t built by Apple but still changed the entire business landscape: Uber and Lyft apps, which nearly killed the taxi industry; DoorDash, Caviar, and ChowNow, which upended restaurant delivery (and even restaurants themselves), and Redfin and Zillow, which changed the housing industry—just to name a small few.
In recent years, it has started to feel as if there were not many more industries that the smartphone, or the iPhone specifically, could kill or even disrupt. That was, until Apple announced the iPhone 14 Pro last week, and the death knell was rung once again for several companies and even possibly a few industries.
Before we get into which business categories are now going to meet their maker thanks to the latest iPhone, let’s just get the obvious out of the way. The new iPhone 14 does not look new. In fact, it looks so much like the iPhone 13 that you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart in a lineup from a few inches away. This is obviously a bit of a trend: We all know that the iPhone 13 looked pretty much exactly like the iPhone 12, which was only slightly different in design from the iPhone 11. Even Steve Jobs’s daughter, Eve Jobs, made fun of the latest iPhone “design” when she posted a popular meme of an old man wearing a maroon striped shirt who is holding up a gift he just opened of the exact same maroon striped shirt. Next to the meme is the bold statement: “Me upgrading from iPhone 13 to iPhone 14 after Apple's announcement today.” But while the outside might look like a photocopy of its predecessor, it’s what’s on the inside that some companies should be extremely worried about.
For the purposes of this column, the fact that the new iPhone looks like its siblings is actually helpful. Because at this point, the design, look, feel, colors, shapes, and sizes don’t matter. It’s what’s inside that counts. Right now it looks like the guts of the new iPhone are about to try to finish off the camera industry once and for all. For example, the new sensors in the iPhone Pro 14 can shoot raw images up to 48 megapixels. That’s four times larger than the last iPhone could capture. To put that into context, a new Leica Q2, which also has a 48-megapixel sensor, costs $5,795. Sony’s A1 camera with similar specs is $6,500, and Nikon, Canon, Fujifilm and other mid-level camera makers sell cameras that are all several thousand dollars, which doesn’t even include lenses, which can cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars more.
There are several reasons Apple is going after this market. One is likely how big it is: According to the Camera and Imaging Products Association, which tracks camera sales, more than 8.3 million cameras were shipped to electronics sellers in 2021, along with more than 5.4 million lenses. The new iPhone essentially comes with four lenses, with an ultrawide and two telephoto features. Given that the iPhone Pro now costs $1,500 fully loaded, it’s tough to justify the cost of an iPhone over an Android, which comes with equally impressive stats, and some of them, such as the Google Pixel 6a and the Samsung Galaxy S22 start at around $300—and while the cameras are good at that price point, you will likely find yourself buying a phone and a camera. For Apple, convincing consumers to skip the camera and the Android, and buy one single product, means more iPhone sales, and more of the most expensive iPhone—especially for customers who wouldn’t usually even think about using the iPhone as a camera because they work in an industry that requires better quality cameras. After all, you have to have some pretty astounding features to justify selling a phone for $1,500.
The same is true for the video specs on the latest iPhone. The new iPhone can record in 4K at 24 frames a second, with astounding image stabilization that not only rids the need for an expensive gimbal (yeah, those $500 contraptions are going to be joining the dodo soon, too) but at a quality that is nearing the quality of video cameras used by filmmakers, who shoot on systems that cost tens of thousands of dollars. The quality of the video is pretty astounding for such a small device (especially in the new “Action Mode,” where you can run and film someone and it looks as if you shot it using an expensive crane and camera crew). While it doesn’t seem as if the new Jurassic Park will be filmed using an iPhone, it’s clear Apple is gunning for that market, too. And for smaller productions, it might just make the cut.
It isn’t just Hollywood and the photography industry that should be worried about the latest announcements by Apple. The company clearly pointed to the fact that it’s still aiming to disrupt the biggest industry of all: health care. The iPhone, the latest iOS software, and the new Apple Watches all have upgrades that are related to consumers’ health. The new Apple Watch, for example, has two new temperature sensors that monitor health (which can detect minor changes in fluctuation as small as .1 degree), crash detection on both devices (which can detect if you’ve been in a massive car crash and automatically call 911 if you can’t); there are new exercise features, sleep detection software and hardware features, and even more monitors and sensors. (Apple crashed a bunch of cars with test dummies wearing Apple Watches to build this feature.) In fact, the marketing page for the new Apple Watch mentions the word “health” 18 times. A decade ago, the company would have touted the word “design” that much with its marketing jargon.
Going after health care makes sense. Not only is it an astounding $10 trillion industry, but it’s also largely a broken one in which customers don’t own the data about themselves and—not to be a Debbie Downer here—but it doesn’t appear the health insurance industry wants to avoid people getting sick, whereas companies in Silicon Valley are trying to make a business model out of people avoiding getting sick. Apple, having long been rumored to see health care as the ultimate industry it wants to disrupt, wants to take that different approach. According to a report last year by The Wall Street Journal, the company has plans to offer “its own primary-care medical service with Apple-employed doctors at its own clinics.” You can imagine a scenario in which your Apple Watch and iPhone know you’re sick before you do, using all the sensors and software and gizmos on your Apple devices, and perhaps dispatches a health care provider to wherever you are. According to the Journal report, Apple’s chief operating officer, Jeff Williams,who oversees the health team, had said that Apple should disrupt the “363” and “break fix” model of health care in the United States—where people only really see doctors when they are sick, two days out of the year, and don’t see them the other 363 days. In other words, Apple wants you to pay it to help you avoid getting sick, rather than pay when you are sick.
Which of course leads us back to 2008. Back then, as the iPhone was turning one, Apple was worth just $75 billion. Today, Apple is currently worth $2.43 trillion. Apple alone makes up almost 6% of the value of all U.S. stocks today. As such, the question many investors keep asking is, how can the biggest company in the world continue to grow—especially given that the company hasn’t released any new hardware categories in several years. Some Wall Street analysts have even warned that the growth opportunities for Apple are slim and that the company is going to face some serious headwinds in the company years. But when you look at this past week’s latest announcements, it feels like the possibilities for which industries Apple can not only disrupt but also kill are endless—even if the company makes an iPhone that looks exactly like the one it released a year ago, which looks like the one the year before that, which also looks a lot like the one the year before that, and so on.