What makes a hit product? The definition of what a successful smartphone was back in 2006 was very different to how the market behaves now. Back then, the productivity era was in its full glory, and if an OEM was planning on launching any product without a physical keyboard or a great one-handed navigation experience, the device was bound to fail. Even though many have now laughed at Steve Ballmer for mocking the first-generation iPhone back then for not having a physical keyboard and being incredibly expensive, what people don’t realize is that he was right. At times when you could get a Motorola Q for just $99 and get all the features you were going to get on a fully-subsidized $500 iPhone, everybody agreed with Ballmer in that Apple was crazy.
The irony is that the market proved something different. A hit product doesn’t necessarily have to follow trends to be successful, but that always depends on the trends. An example is also the iPad, where none of us here at Pocketnow wanted to buy one when we saw it, since we felt it was ridiculous to carry an oversized iPod Touch around. Three years later, yes I’ll admit, the result is that now we all own one. There was really nothing wrong with the computer before the iPad landed, and there really wasn’t anything wrong with the smartphone when the iPhone landed. What has made these two products a hit is that they were built to serve a segment of the market that was un-served, and it turned out to be the largest portion of the market, which was the average consumer. People that needed something simple and easy to use, yet powerful, found a place to stay with the iPhone.
As Brandon discussed on episode 007 of our Pocketnow Weekly Podcast, years ago it was easy to wow anybody by showing them how we could handle Google Maps on our HTC HD2. Today, everybody owns a smartphone. What we knew as the average consumer just half a decade ago has evolved along with technology. Just yesterday I saw an 80-year old lady at a coffee shop drilling her iPhone 3GS like any teenager would so it’s clear that what was once a market that only enthusiasts invested on, is now the mainstream standard that everybody is following.
The biggest problem that Apple faces with the monster they helped push, is that it’s become harder and harder to impress a customer any more. Half of my friends, who were all using BlackBerries two months ago, are now carrying a Samsung Galaxy S III. The other half haven’t decided to take the plunge just because they’re waiting to see what Apple will announce tomorrow with their iPhone event. In a way, I think this fact holds true for just about all of us who don’t own a Galaxy S III yet. We’re waiting to see if Apple is still bold enough to own the smartphone market for another year with the iPhone 5, or we’ll move-on to greener pastures.
That said, I think one point is very clear: Apple can no longer play the “upgrade” game with the iPhone tomorrow. It probably made sense back when competitors were still struggling to impress anyone with either Android or Windows Phone, but today, the story is different. Samsung just sold 20 million Galaxy S IIIs in just 100 days, and as of last month, was crowned king of the smartphone sales in the US. The Nokia Lumia 920 is another example of a product that has all the potential to disrupt the market along with the Windows 8 boom later this year. This is no time for Apple to be in denial of what needs to be done with the iPhone 5. Giving a little stir to Steve Jobs’ remark back when he announced the iPhone 4: this product needs to “change everything all over again”.
The question is how? How can you change the simplest form of a smartphone into becoming any simpler or any better? Here are a couple of ideas:
The software should be unique
By now, we’ve become accustomed to Apple’s strategy of making each new product unique in different ways. Surely iOS 6 will even work on the iPhone 3GS, but don’t even dream about the 3D Maps working on it. In that same fashion, I’ve been very clear that iOS 6 is not enough. In my opinion, we were either spoiled with iOS 5, or this is the worse set of incremental upgrades that Apple has ever brought to their mobile platform. Turn-by-turn navigation? Really? Three years late is all that comes to my mind every time I go through the minuscule features, which I still can’t count as over 200.
Now one thing I did find interesting is that every time there’s a software upgrade for iOS 6, the settings icon animates in ways that it never has before. Apple has always been adamant of providing animated widgets or even animated icons on their platform, but this stupid little thing has made a lot of us think that Apple may retain the icon grid, but these will now be animated. Don’t you find it annoying that there’s a clock application on iOS, with a dead clock on it? How hard can it be to animate a clock to give you the time? How hard can it be to animate the weather widget with real-time weather? This may be a direct stab at the Windows Phone live tiles, but a very overdue feature also.
Whether it’s something better than Siri, or who knows, probably something different we still don’t know about, but the success of this device depends solely on how unique it’ll be able to run the software that powers it.
The hardware should be unique
The challenge is, again, making the simplest phone in the world, well, simpler. The solution to that would be to change the construction materials. I’ll literally “crack-up” if I see another glass-on-glass device (pun intended). Polycarbonate or even aluminum are all things of the past. Surely the iPad looks great with aluminum, but the first-generation iPhone did everything well, except make calls because of this, and the device looked terrible after a couple of battle scars. So, if plastic, glass, stainless steel (antennagate) or even aluminum isn’t a solution for this device, what is?
A good example with some bad execution is Motorola’s latest RAZR line-up. They don’t only use Kevlar to make that thing strong as a tank, but they also use nano-coating to keep the device splash-proof. Sony has also proven to be just as bold by making the Xperia V your next swimming pool companion, so there’s no excuse for the next iPhone to be any less sturdy.
We all know that Apple recently bought a Liquid Metal company. I’m no scientist to figure-out how that’ll benefit an iPhone in the future, but I do hope Apple figured out a way to use it with the iPhone 5. Something that’ll give the device the same elegant feel, but on a sturdier body.
Probably one of my biggest science fiction dreams last year with the iPhone 5 that was never released was to see Apple using the glass back to provide solar charging for the battery, at least while on standby. Whether it’s that, or something I can’t even think of, Apple’s challenge is to make this phone something we’ve never seen or held before. Or else, choosing a Lumia 920 or a Samsung Galaxy S III will be a no-brainer.
The bottom line
Steve Jobs was quick at saying that they had re-invented the phone back in 2007. He was right. He was also quick at stating that the device was at least five years ahead of its time. He was again, right. It took Samsung five years to beat the iPhone in consumer appeal, elegance and quality, but it just did.
Those five years are over, the Galaxy S III is already a success, and all eyes are on Apple’s event tomorrow. What are you expecting for tomorrow’s next iPhone? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments down bellow.
Your move Apple.