Is Apple's iPhone 6S a victim of smartphone boredom?

Apple CEO Tim Cook at the Apple WWDC on June 8, 2015 in San Francisco, California. Some believe Apple's upcoming iPhone event will be anticlimactic.

Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

You can feel the difference, can't you?

The excitement that once gripped you as hype built for the next Apple iPhone event -- it isn't quite there anymore.

Call it phone fatigue.

Smartphone makers used to wow us with a sharper display or a crisper camera. Now we're seeing incremental updates that leave us flat. It's a dilemma facing the broader industry as the smartphone market matures and begins to slow. Just look at how Samsung has struggled despite cranking out new Galaxy smartphones, or how sales at HTC tumbled after that company released its flagship One smartphone with minimal physical changes.

There may be no better poster child for this problem than the upcoming iPhone.

When Apple unveils its next iPhone -- believed to be the iPhone 6S -- on Wednesday, the device will look exactly like last year's model. And that one, the iPhone 6, looked a lot like the first smartphone Apple introduced eight years ago. While consumers are now conditioned to expect minor changes during the off-year "S" model iPhones, it's unclear just how Apple will get consumers pumped up again.

"What can they pull out of the iPhone bag to get people excited?" said Kantar Worldpanel analyst Carolina Milanesi."That's what the big question is."

The likely marquee feature for this year's iPhone 6S will be the Force Touch technology used in the Apple Watch -- a pressure-sensitive display that responds to various types of touches. A new color could be in the works as well. Some rumors say Apple may tweak the device's display and materials and slightly alter the design to incorporate a bigger battery.

But the odds of the iPhone 6S looking radically different from every iPhone that has preceded it are slim to none. Force Touch doesn't seem as though it would resonate the way digital voice assistant Siri or a fingerprint sensor did when they debuted during an "S" year.

Our boredom doesn't mean Apple won't sell millions of phones, but it does mean consumers may think a little longer before shelling out cash for an iPhone 6S when their old devices are "good enough."

Fortunately for Apple, it may not need the iPhone to carry the day. If recent reports are to be believed, next week's event in San Francisco could be one of the most jam-packed launches Apple has ever hosted. Along with showing off new smartphones, Apple likely will introduce new iPads -- possibly including the long-awaited 12.9-inch iPad Pro -- and an updated Apple TV, as well as possibly providing Mac, Apple Watch and other news. It also will launch its iOS 9 and Mac OS X El Capitan software, first shown in June.

Apple declined to comment ahead of its event.

The biggest news on Wednesday may not be the next iPhone, but that device remains the company's most important. More than two-thirds of Apple's revenue comes from the smartphone, and none of its other devices comes close in terms of shipments and sales.

The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, which saw the screen size grow to 4.7 and 5.5 inches from the 4 inches of the iPhone 5S, have turned out to be Apple's best-selling devices so far. Sales of the smartphones have helped Apple post a bigger profit than any other public company in history and also helped it regain the crown as the world's largest smartphone maker -- though only for a brief time before Samsung won back the title. It would be hard for Apple to top that success no matter what it does with the 6S.

While Apple has made notable and much-loved changes to the iPhone over the years, the smartphone has essentially remained a rectangular box with a round home button since the first model arrived in 2007. That design limits how big Apple can make its screen and what else it can do with the device, considerations that some rivals don't have. Samsung, for instance, shaved down the overall size of its Galaxy Note 5 but retained the same 5.7-inch display size in the last two years by shrinking the frame surrounding the screen. That's something Apple would find hard to do with its current iPhone design.

Apple's design refinements have gotten millions of customers to upgrade their phones, but the market is evolving. The smartphone sector isn't increasing as much as it used to. Shipments of the devices should rise about 10 percent this year, according to IDC, well below the 28 percent increase in 2014. IDC attributed the slowdown to China becoming a more mature smartphone market akin to North America and Western Europe. China's economic woes haven't helped either.

Samsung and fellow smartphone makers including LG, HTC and Xiaomi have felt that slowdown, and not even Apple could avoid concerns during its most recently concluded quarter. In July, Apple reported fiscal third-quarter earnings that were better than analysts had forecast and revenue that was largely in line with expectations -- but it wasn't the blowout Wall Street has gotten used to. The company also projected weaker fiscal fourth-quarter sales than anticipated and said it sold fewer iPhones (47.5 million) in its third quarter than Wall Street analysts expected (49.4 million).

Many consumers are finding their older smartphones to be snappy enough, and new phones don't look different enough from their predecessors to get them to rush to upgrade. And with the changing wireless market in the US, which has essentially done away with two-year contracts, consumers may think a little harder about forking over $649 for an iPhone instead of the subsidized price of $200 they paid up front before.

For the iPhone 6S, those two-year upgraders will be crucial.

"Apple has always really embraced the two-year upgrade cycle, and its strategy has been to make sure the two-year upgrade is a compelling one," Jackdaw Research analyst Jan Dawson said. "Compare the 6S to the 5S, which is the comparison most would-be buyers will be making, and it'll be a really significant upgrade."

Apple has said many consumers still need to upgrade their phones, despite a large number jumping at the chance to buy the iPhone 6. According to Kantar Worldpanel, nearly one-third of both US and urban Chinese iPhone users -- Apple's two biggest markets -- own iPhones that are at least two years old. If Apple manages to get everyone who hasn't bought a new smartphone in a couple of years to upgrade, the device to be unveiled next week could surpass the success of the iPhone 6.

And yes, the iPhone 6S should still command long lines as the Apple faithful vie to be the first to get the new device on launch day.

But for everyone else, a new iPhone is no longer a must-have item.

This article originally appeared on CNET as"Apple's iPhone 6S: The peak of smartphone boredom?"

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    Shara Tibken is a staff writer for CNET focused on consumer tech news. She previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal. She's a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."