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Stop the rubbish about iPhone domination, please

My betrothed’s Apple MacBook Pro was on screensaver mode a lot of Friday. Every time I glanced across the apartment, I kept on catching the screensaver’s default Apple News RSS feed.

And every sodding minute, this Apple fanboy paragraph was popping up — written by David Pogue, NY Times:

I can’t tell you how huge this is going to be. There will be thousands of iPhone programs, covering every possible interest. The iPhone will be valuable for far more than simple communications tasks; it will be the first widespread pocket desktop computer. You’re witnessing the birth of a third major computer platform: Windows, Mac OS X, iPhone.

Blah blah blah. He’s talking about the iPhone SDK.

Seeing this pop up every minute or so began to slowly drive me nuts. I made a mental note to document that here.

The Apple iPhone is, you see, screwed, in it’s current incarnation and industry configuration.

There was a six month window last year, during which many of the world’s mobile industry did a collective panic-and-hold-breath job. I spoke far and wide to ascertain this viewpoint. Operators, handset manufacturers, developers. People of position, wealth, title, influence and knowledge. Every single one of them was dusting off their business plans and preparing to surrender to Steve Jobs and the talented team at Apple.

Every single one of these people had ordered countless analyst reports and confidential briefings — along the lines of ‘so, just how many iPods were sold in the last 2 years? Ok. So.. let’s just say 5% switch to an iPhone in the next year, yeah, conservatively?’

And mild panic, or in many cases, the real frothy-mouth panic ensued.

What we thought was going to happen, basically, was none other than total iPhone domination. We — and me, having formed my opinions through the consultation of the great and the good of mobile — reckoned that Apple was about to come storming on to the European marketplace (we viewed America as a bit of a RAZR-esque enigma), and gobble up anywhere near 10, 20 or maybe 30% of the new handset market almost overnight.

Serious people wearing serious suits were preparing for this.

I was filled with excitement. How would your average normob react to using an iPhone? Data usage would go through the roof. All of a sudden, we’d enter a new era of mobile internet ‘devices’ as apposed to phones. Your basic N95, for example, is *still* a phone… with a browser bolted on (and a shitty slow one at that). It can’t be easily updated, it’s music player is pretty limited… yet it was one of the best offerings of the industry. Totally different from an iPhone… the iPhone was a game-changer. I was stoked to see just what would happen when the great unwashed got hold of their iPhones.

Carphone Warehouse, after obtaining the rights to distribute the device, were mega prepared. One SMS Text News reader popped into the Winchester branch of the chain on UK launch day and noted 18 staff on hand, ready to deal with the demand… and sadly only 3 customers at any one time during a 30 minute peak period.

Anecdotal, yes. But the stories began to break.

The huge demand was definitely there.

‘Demand ain’t no good without action’, as the capitalist God is wont to point out. Nobody bought them.

I canvassed far and wide again — this time with Normobs.

Every normob I spoke to had heard of the iPhone. Oh yes. Big time. Apple did a brilliant job there.

Not one of them planned to buy the device. Why? Cost.

Shit.

I quickly readjusted my Apple-reality-sensor.

Of course!

Of course! They never had any intention of dominating the planet. Gahhh.

Here we were, thinking the iPhone was the next big thing, only to quickly recognise that — DUH — of course — it was being operated on closed-loop-thinking. End-to-end control. Apple wanted to control the whole experience… the WHOLE experience… right down to the visual voicemail network tie in. Which requires customised network programming by a dedicated and ‘official’ mobile operator. AT&T in the States, o2 in the UK.

And Apple did a revenue sharing deal. Nice. It gets a slice of the price plan. Great concept.

It worked — it’s working — lots of people have bought an iPhone and are loving it.

Sadly, the great unwashed, the vast majority, well… they couldn’t give a toss.

That’s the killer. The nail in the coffin for iPhone dominance.

The great unwashed don’t care.

They admire from afar, much like they admire a Porsche Boxster. You know, it’s a high performance car. Looks sexy. It’s affordable for many, because you can get one for 400 quid a month… and call yourself a Porsche driver. You *could* spend your money on it. There’s a ton of people in the UK, for example, who, theoretically, if they tightened belts and redirected spending, could definitely drive a Porsche.. Boxster. Not the main Porsche range, but definitely a Boxster.

This great unwashed, similarly, looked at the iPhone.

Go into an Apple Store at the weekend and WATCH the great unwashed — girls and boys, men and women, NON GEEKS, watch them crowding the Apple Store as they admire the device. Hold it, play with it, weigh it in their hands.

And watch as they then put it back down a few minutes later and walk off.

Could afford it. THEORETICALLY could.

But 300 smackers up front? And how much per month? For 18 months? ‘Nah. I get better minutes on [insert operator name],’ you can almost hear them mutter.

Arse.

It’s the same around the planet.

I was particularly taken with China Mobile’s ‘er, no thanks, we’ve already got 400,000 unlocked iPhones operating on our network,’ stance upon breaking exclusive negotiations with Apple.

The iPhone will sell, there will be some phenomenal applications released for it.

Alas, it ain’t-going-nowhere, ’til the Fat Lady sings (or, er, Steve Jobs) makes the device $99 or £99 pounds unlocked on any network.

Unfortunately, I suspect that momentum has been lost. I don’t think there’s going to be such an opportunity for Apple again. Why, oh why, did they play for a bit-percentage of the global industry when they could have seriously challenged for domination?

The other players got the hint, very quickly. The manufacturers, the operators — they got the wake up call quickly and the industry is transforming, perhaps unnecessarily now, to respond to the iPhone.

The sad fact is, at the current price points, it doesn’t matter if the iPhone does the dishes, the great unwashed don’t care. Won’t care.

They’re far too looked-after by their existing service providers, recently awoken from their slumber. They love the device, they’d use one if you put it in their hands… but unlike the world’s iPod purchasers, they’re not prepared to pay a premium for an iPhone.

Even if you made the iPhone cheaper and unlocked it…… I wonder, I seriously wonder if many would change.

The tech elite and the geeky few will, I’m sure, always have an iPhone.

But Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, LG… they can all breathe a sigh of relief. They have done, in actual fact. They’re over the iPhone. Working hard to improve their UIs, they’ll still continue to shift bucketloads — MILLIONS — while the iPhone will only ever shift a few.

As for countering Blackberry?

Save me.

Tosh.

Tosh, tosh, tosh. Blackberry can sit back and rest for a lonnnnnnnnnnnnng time. That’s another diatribe for another day though.

Apple iPhone. World domination? Er, no. Woe is me. I’d love to see a different future, though.

You never know, perhaps Jobs will pull one out of the hat…

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

12 replies on “Stop the rubbish about iPhone domination, please”

“this Apple fanboy paragraph was popping up — written by David Pogue, NY Times”

Hey, you’re absolutely entitled to your opinion about the iPhone’s future. You’re wrong about it (and I’m right that the 2.0 software will be a big, big deal)–but we can check back in 6 months to confirm.

But I really don’t like your labeling me an Apple fanboy, primarily because it’s not true. I swat Apple whenever it deserves swatting, and praise Apple when it does good work. Same as I do any company.

Here are 40 examples to get you started:

http://www.davidpogue.com/bio_photos/fanboy.html

–David Pogue

The thing is I am not sure that Apple actually ‘want’ world domination. Surely their positioning and un-openness is testament to this.

The hype surrounding such dominance is seldom from Apple themselves. Their partners maybe and certainly the fans too.

They make shiny and beautiful objects of desire. Objects of desire are rarely ones that are objects of mass consumerism.

I think you will be waiting a while for ‘Jobs to pull one out of the hat’ as I bet he won’t change from the minor market share he so deservedly protects. Not everyone wants to be Microsoft.

One could argue that in the same way as niche engagement will never be mass reach television, Apple will never be a ‘Tesco of Technology’. Thank goodness.

jmac’s last blog post..Volunteer Dummy

@David Pogue: er…a wildly expensive device with thousands of very tasty apps is……still a wildly expensive device.

People *won’t know* how great the apps are becasue *they will never get to try them*. You need the device, connected, first. You know, cart/horse, etc.

Ewan was on the money when he acknowledged the great job Apple have done with the device, but rubbish job (assuming that was their plan) in taking it to the masses.

“it will be the first widespread pocket desktop computer.” Er, no it won’t and never will be. It comes closer than anything previous to mobilising previously deskbound experiences, but that is only because of the UI. Others can/will/are copying the UI/touch experience just as Windows did to Mac, and will do so at a price point less than half that of the iPhone.

Those devices that follow will be the widespread pocket computers. The eePC’s of the mobile world. £100 (£150 tops) to buy, on any network.

They will be out before the end of this year.

The iPhone will remain in its iNiche, unless the fundamental offer dynamics change.

All this said, I’ll be fronting ca£h for SDK apps for my iPhone. I already have a wish list. I’m sold on it. But just like Ewan, I don’t expect it to sell millions on the back of some cool apps. Most normobs only care about voice/text, maybe the odd Google. iPhone is still niche.

/m

Remember, compared to what we have available to us in the States, the iPhone does show extremely well.

Once again, though, the price tag might just be Jobs’ plan, and has been all along. Keep it elite and you never have to fight head to head with new offerings like Android.

“The iPhone will remain in its iNiche”

I’m absolutely baffled by you guys’ saying that the iPhone will never reach the masses, has a niche, etc. Maybe this is a U.K. perspective?

Here in the U.S., the iPhone is a HUGE breakout success. In 6 months, it’s become the #2 bestselling smartphone, bypassing all Windows Mobile devices, all Palm and Treo devices, and trailing only the BlackBerry. They are, in fact, on track to sell 10 million of these in the first year. That would make the iPhone more successful than even the iPod!

All I can guess is that the terms and prices are more onerous on the U.K., where it seems you guys are based, than here in the U.S. Because here in this much larger market, the iPhone’s “niche” is about the size of the Atlantic.

–Pogue

I think our mistake — or my mistake, David, was to assume that the iPhone was intended as a rival to handsets such as RAZRs, Sony Ericssons (and Nokias, here in Europe). That was my critical error.

In the States, you *have* to define the iPhone’s success by comparing it within the (previously absolutely dire) smartphone category. Then it looks successful.

Place it next to the real handsets that the normobs (“normal mobile users”) are buying — the piece of shit devices that do nothing but call and text — and the iPhone is nowhere. A glint in the milkman’s eye. My issue was thinking, assuming, that Apple intended wiping out the vast majority of offerings from existing handset manufacturers. At the price point, it doesn’t. Too many people are walking into their operator stores in America and grabbing the cheapest piece of rubbish. I was mistakenly hoping to see an iPhone in every hand soon. What that would have done for the mobile industry… geez… it would have been phenomenal. Such a shame.

But I’ve reset my expectations, alas!

Add bluetooth keyboard support to the iPhone, and I think it become more compelling for those longer emails, blog postings, general word processing. It /does/ have a beautiful screen and UI.

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