The iPhone 6S is good enough


Reviews of the iPhone 6S are in, and unsurprisingly, they’re positive. I don’t envy the job of those tasked with reviewing them. How many different ways can you say “it’s the best, and you should buy it?”

This year, however, I noticed something that I haven’t before – the boredom of expectations utterly fulfilled.

Apple’s latest and greatest is hugely fast. GeekBench says its about as quick as the new MacBook, which is powered by Intel’s Core M processor. While I’m not sure if I trust that GeekBench in the iOS environment is comparable to the same in a Windows environment, the point is clear. The iPhone 6S is very, very quick.

But not everyone agrees that this on-paper improvement translates to the everyday experience. Niley Patel, writing for The Verge, calls the new A9 “the most powerful processor ever in a smartphone,” but follows up by saying “it kind of doesn’t matter.” Gareth Beavis, writing for TechRadar, notes the new chip is quick, “but in general day to day use, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of difference. TechCrunch’s review, written by Matthew Panzarino, made the boldest statement by saying almost nothing about the processor at all – “A9” is found once, in reference to the better camera and ability to shoot 4K video. The iPhone 6S is good enough for almost anything, and that makes its specific performance merits more difficult to describe.

As a computer geek, enthusiast, and writer, I’ve not just read these words before. I’ve typed them before. “Good enough” computing rose in the latter half of the last decade, and it has since come to overshadow the computing market, which has declined not just in sales but also average sale price. In 2005, the average sale price of a new laptop was around $1,200 – these days, it’s closer to $600, despite the fact more expensive models remain available. The message is clear. A basic computer is good enough for most people.

The iPhone 6S may represent the inflection point for “good enough” in the smartphone world. In fact, since its improvement seems marginal compared to the iPhone 6, it may be the latter that deserves credit. The improvement from one device to the next is no longer easy to gauge through experience alone.

I feel this, personally. Discussing a potential upgrade from my iPhone 5 to the 6S with a friend, I was surprised to remember the device is three years old. It doesn’t seem so. Yes, animations hitch on occasion – I am running iOS 9, after all – but on the whole it runs well, rarely hangs or crashes, and even the battery is adequate (it was never amazing in the iPhone 5, even when it was new). Yes, the new phone is beautiful and quick, but why spend at least $650 a new device when what I have is still, uh – good enough?

So, there’s a lot of similarities between the coming wave of “good enough” smartphones, and the PC’s predicament a decade ago. But there is an important difference. When the PC became an appliance, there was a successor waiting to woo the world – the smartphone.

It’s not clear what the smartphone’s successor will be. Tablets? They rapidly became good enough, and likely won’t see a second explosion. Wearables? The case for their adoption remains unconvincing. Augmented reality? That was set back years by the failure of Google Glass and the ire against “glassholes.” Virtual reality is desirable, but expensive, and the technology is still viewed as childish and creepy by some.

Perhaps we’ve reached a point where technology itself is becoming good enough. Maybe, after the great revolution of the last century, it will fade away into the background, become so common that it’s taken for granted. Or perhaps not. Everyone is waiting for the next big thing. All it has to do is arrive.