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Apple CEO Tim Cook is striking back at critics who say innovation in the smartphone industry has peaked (AAPL)

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tim cook apple ceoJustin Sullivan/Getty

Apple CEO Tim Cook doesn’t think the smartphone industry is anywhere near reaching its peak.

"I know of no one who would call a 12-year-old mature," Cook said when speaking with Nikkei Asian Review, apparently referencing the 12 years since the first iPhone debuted — a milestone launch that’s largely perceived to have kicked off the smartphone era. "Sometimes these steps are humongous, sometimes these steps are smaller. But the key is to always make things better, not just change for change’s sake." 

His comments come as iPhone sales have declined in recent quarters and smartphone shipments across the industry have slowed over the past several quarters. In its fiscal fourth quarter earnings results, Apple revealed that iPhone revenue had fallen by 9% year-over-year during that period, continuing a streak that’s persisted for several consecutive quarters.

And more broadly, the smartphone industry is only just starting to recover after facing a wave of declines. Global smartphone shipments grew by 0.8% year-over-year in the third quarter of 2019, according to the International Data Corporation, signalling the first sign of growth after seven quarters of declines. 

The industry-wide slump has in some cases been attributed to the notion that many new flagship smartphones only offer minor upgrades over their predecessors, making it more difficult for smartphone makers like Apple to convince consumers to upgrade every year or two. Taken together, these trends have contributed to the notion that the modern smartphone has peaked.  

Even before the company unveiled its iPhone 11 and 11 Pro in September, some Wall Street analysts had said this year’s new Apple smartphones would likely offer incremental updates over 2018’s iPhone XS and XS Max. 

But those analysts also think next year’s iPhone, which is expected to support 5G connectivity and may feature a new design and 3-D cameras, could bring iPhone revenue back to growth. 

Apple too believes iPhone sales will begin to trend upward again starting in 2020, as Bloomberg reported in October. Estimates from Strategy Analytics suggest that Apple could lead the 5G smartphone market in 2020, even despite the fact that it’s late to the market compared to rivals like Huawei and Samsung. 

"The ethos and DNA of the company have never been stronger on the innovation front," Cook also said to Nikkei Asian Review. "The product line has never been stronger." 

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SEE ALSO: Next year’s iPhone is starting to take shape, and it already looks like Apple could be on its way to reclaiming dominance in the smartphone industry

leadicicco@businessinsider.com (Lisa Eadicicco)

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