When Apple executives took the stage at the Steve Jobs Theater at the company's campus on Tuesday, they spent a lot of time demonstrating how powerful the next iPhone's camera will be.
Not only did Apple provide a deep dive into the technical specifications of the iPhone 11 Pro's new triple-lens camera system — as it usually does during iPhone launches — but it also spent a significant portion of the presentation showing how the camera is advanced enough to be used by professional cinematographers in new ways. Filmmaker Sean Baker was brought on stage to discuss how he used the iPhone 11 Pro's triple lens camera with the Filmic app to shoot through multiple lenses simultaneously. The company also showed a short film created by director Diego Contreras and filmmaker Guillermo Garza to flaunt the iPhone 11 Pro's video recording prowess.
Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, also emphasized the iPhone 11 Pro's new Deep Fusion feature, which processes images pixel-by-pixel. He called it "computational photography mad science."
The presentation gave a specific message: Apple was appealing heavily to photography professionals, videographers, and others whose livelihood relies on their access to high-end video shooting and editing tools (Instagram influencers, perhaps). And that says a lot about the state of the smartphone industry, which has been declining globally for seven consecutive quarters according to IHS Markit.
New reasons to upgrade
Part of the reason smartphone sales are declining is likely because people aren't upgrading their phones as often. Customers now wait an average of 2.83 years to upgrade their smartphones, according to data from HYLA Mobile, which is an increase from 2.39 years two years ago.
That means companies like Apple have to come up with new reasons to encourage upgrades, likely by targeting different markets. In Apple's case, the target audience for the iPhone 11 Pro seems to be creative professionals that would strongly benefit from having a phone that specializes in video shooting and editing.
Apple isn't alone in creating pricey phones that are targeted squarely at somewhat niche audiences and enthusiasts. The same could be said of Samsung, which is launching its nearly $2,000 Galaxy Fold smartphone later this month after a botched first attempt at releasing the phone in April. That phone, which has a foldable design that opens like a book to reveal a massive 7.3-inch screen, surely isn't for everyone either. It's for early adopters and perhaps professionals who feel justified in spending nearly $2,000 on a phone that offers more screen space (and probably better battery life) than any other mobile phone you can buy.
This shift is reminiscent of the laptop industry, which saw steep declines around 2012 and 2013 as mobile devices like smartphones and tablets were increasingly gaining traction. While the laptop market continues to struggle, one of few areas of growth the market has seen in recent years also came from a niche audience: gamers. Growing demand for gaming systems contributed to a 27% year-over-year growth in traditional PC shipments during the second quarter of 2018, according to the International Data Corporation, with business volume being the biggest driver behind the increase in shipments.
Apple's iPhone 11 Pro launch suggests that smartphones could be undergoing a similar shift. It's evidence that only targeting the average person — who no longer upgrades their phone regularly every two years — may not be enough for Apple to boost iPhone sales as much as it needs or wants to.