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Critics take bite out of Apple over missing features

SAN FRANCISCO -- Has Apple become a victim of its own success?

The company that is now the world's most valuable enterprise in history — built largely on the success of its iPhones and other mobile devices — unveiled its latest model Wednesday, and in a development that was nigh-unthinkable when founder Steve Jobs was alive, reviewers and investors did not react as if the messiah had just landed.

The explanation for the underwhelming reaction is not hard to pin down. In the days prior to the launch the blogosphere was filled with expectations about the amazing new technologies the latest Apple device would contain. In the words of the Huffington Post, it was “the most anticipated iPhone yet.”

At the chic San Francisco hall where the launch event took place the introduction of Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller did little to dampen the sky-high expectations. In a bout of hyperbole that was outstanding even by Apple's standards, he called the new device the “most beautiful product ever made, bar none,” and also described it as the best engineering that Apple has ever done.

Against such lofty rhetoric, and more importantly, against highly sophisticated competitors such as the Samsung S III, the introduction of a device that was merely lighter, thinner, more powerful than the previous models was a bit of a letdown.

Many of the competing phones already boast screens that are much larger than Apple's new flagship iPhone, and have long offered customers features such as turn-by-turn navigation systems that were proudly touted by Apple only at Wednesday's event.

While many reviewers in the tech press are reticent at criticizing supposed Apple shortcomings, the Wall Street Journal was forthright about the omissions of the new device, noting many missing features in an article that would be anathema to any loyal Apple fan. “Does iPhone Risk Becoming Boring?” was its headline.

“No one heralded the new device as a great leap forward,” wrote the Journal's tech columnist Jessica E Vascellero. “What's more, several features that are becoming standard across other smartphones aren't in the iPhone 5.”

Included among these are a chip for near field communications, a technology that allows phones to be used as digital wallets with just a swipe near an appropriate reader, and which lets users exchange files and videos just by bumping their phones together.

Other widely expected features that were missing included wireless charging and biometric unlocking, which uses facial recognition or fingerprints as found on many phones running the latest version of Google's Android operating system. Two other popular features included on the latest Android and Windows Phone 8 devices but absent on the iPhone are enhanced widgets and notification tiles that let the user see information such as emails, weather, stock prices, tweets and Facebook updates right on the phone's home screen.

Such omissions will not make the iPhone an overnight dud. Apple may even meet the incredible 10 million unit sales some analysts have predicted it its first week on sale. But according to industry analyst Carmi Levy, the shortfall does portend future challenges for the company.

“There's enough demand out there, and the market is immature enough that Apple's fortunes will be easily sustained by organic market growth for some years to come,” he told dpa. “But cracks are starting to show. Apple needed a grand slam. Instead, it moved its players along the bases. It's a great strategy to win games. But long term, it may not be enough to sustain the dynasty.”

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Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, gives prices of the iPhone 5 during an Apple event in San Francisco, Wednesday, Sept. 12. (AP)

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