It’s been well established that the iPhone is the most popular, most desired smartphone in the world. And with good reason — it is an excellent product that seamlessly merges top-notch hardware with polished software to deliver a user experience guaranteed to make even its premium price seem like a bargain. But can Apple continue to maintain this kind of dominance forever? One need only look at blockbusters of the past to see a mobile landscape riddled with RAZRs and N95s and to realize that manufacturers are almost never able to maintain their devices’ cachet ad infinitum.
Right now the iPhone is such a force to be reckoned with that it’s usually not compared with individual handsets, but made to stand against entire platforms — iOS versus Android versus Windows Phone — and it is still able to hold its own. There are now scores of Android phones on the market from dozens of OEMs, and yet none of them can even touch the market share and profit margin enjoyed by the one and only smartphone that Apple chooses to sell. Samsung’s Galaxy S series is probably the strongest competitor for iPhone mindshare, but sales of those phones still pale in comparison to Cupertino’s single mobile device. It is a feat that deserves the utmost respect.
What, then, could possibly topple the iPhone from high atop the heap of competing handsets? Especially with fierce brand loyalty on its side, it would seem to take almost a seismic shift in the mobile communication terrain to unseat the undisputed king. And yet we’ve seen such seismic shifts occur before: Motorola sold millions of RAZRs (the flip phone, not the smartphone), and then it didn’t, wandering somewhat aimlessly until its DROID-branded handsets on Verizon paved the way for a global resurgence. Nokia still sells phones by the barrel, but its smartphone share has plummeted as of late, and it’s lost the overall worldwide crown to surging Samsung.
So what kind of shift would relegate the iPhone to a has-been? It probably won’t simply be the feature creep being employed by other platforms to differentiate themselves circa 2012: there are plenty of phones with more powerful processors, bigger screens, higher resolutions, and yet the iPhone keeps on selling. Plus, Apple never rests on its laurels — whether it’s pushing the limits of display technology or providing the best mobile imaging experience on the market, each generation of iPhone is sure keep pace with or outshine market rivals. And the more money that Apple makes, the more it has to throw into research and development.
If no one is going to make a better phone, then, I’d suggest that the iPhone could only become irrelevant in the face of a completely new type of device — something whose utility becomes instantly obvious to the masses, but which Apple, with its deep investment in the iPhone, isn’t prepared to immediately emulate. Think Google’s Project Glass, or some other type of product that both acts as a communication and computing platform, but also allows the user to interact more deeply with his or her environment than the current smartphone design allows for. If your friend has a heads-up display feeding information and analytics about the world in real time, your iPhone is suddenly going to look kind of dinky.
Apple is a smart and fairly nimble company, however, and it’s just as likely that it will be the one coming out with the next, next thing as it is that another OEM will do it. And even if Apple is not first, as it certainly was not in the smartphone game, it has shown the capacity time and time again to do something much better than those who came before it. So while the iPhone’s reign will likely come to an end one day, it probably won’t be anytime soon, and it may even be Apple itself which does the unseating.