iPhone 2.0: The difficult second album

Jonathan Mulholland knows a thing or three about the mobile industry and I always enjoy his perspective. This weekend I’m pleased to bring you his thoughts on iPhone 2.0.

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I think there are remote Amazonian tribes, isolated from western civilization deep in the jungle, who have heard that the 3G iPhone is coming on June 9th.

I’m not sure that speculation is any longer the right term for it; pretty realistic looking predicitons have been circulating the web for months now. 3G HSDPA, GPS, AppStore – I’m sure you’ve heard the list. I remember speculation back before MacWorld 2007, the rumours were flying then to be sure but none that I can remember came close to the final spec or even the look and feel of the device. When Steve Jobs finally whipped the first iPhone out on stage it was to genuine awe. Do you remember that wow factor? Do you remember scouring Flickr and the web that night trying to track down as many ‘real’ pictures of the device as possible? No? Just me then…

I guess the point I’m trying to get to is that it’s getting harder and harder for the 2nd generation iPhone to launch with the same buzz. 3G…’meh!’ Better camera…’and?’ Download applications…’so what else is new?’ It’s going to be harder to impress this time. Added to this competition in the device market is hotting up – Blackberry, Nokia, LG, Google Android each have devices ariving or on the scene already that are real iPhone competitors. And all of these are ready to compete with the presumed future specification of the 2nd generation iPhone, not the current version.

Has the iPhone had it’s moment? Will the event next week be an anticlimax? I don’t think so. I think Apple will use a few of the tricks learnt in building the iPods market dominance to also unveil a real surprise. I’m betting Steve’s famous ‘one more thing’ next week will be the announcement of an iPhone mini / nano / air – a smaller, sexier ‘fashion accessory’ device that will take the iPhone truly towards mass market adoption.

Sceptical? I was explaining my train of thought on this to a friend the other day…

Apple launch the 1st generation iPod. Whilst the specs aren’t that impressive by themselves Apple’s design approach and innovation in bringing these pieces together creates an interesting (if overpriced for what it is) product. The user interface in particular is pretty revolutionary. Early adopting geeks like me buy it, but it doesn’t immediatley take off in every market. Sound familiar? This is where we’ve been for the past year with the iPhone. The mobile industry is alerted, but not quite sure to what extent or how they should compete, and starts to build devices that mimic the specs and functionality.

A couple of years later Apple launch the iPod mini. Specification wise it appears to be a step backwards – it even has a smaller hard drive, but it looks cute and crucially it comes in pink. People like my wife start to buy it. Incremental changes are made to the user interface as the Click Wheel is introduced. It may be inferior technically to most other offerings in the market (including Apples now 2nd and 3rd Generation iPod’s) but the iPod Mini is now cheap enough to become a fashion accessory, mass adoption starts quietly. A repeat of this is what I’m expecting from the key note next week. Lots of players in the mobile industry will misread the move and start to think that Apple has lost the plot, but a cheaper smaller device with a spec that doesn’t push the boundaries could really spark mass market appeal.

Fast forward one more year, and Apple launch the iPod nano. It’s a really bold move – replacing the now best selling mini only one year into its product life and it wrong foots most of the competition who are now scrambling to bring out small hard drive iPod mini competitors (remember the Creative Zen Micro?). The nano introduces significant innovation into the market place (flash memory, dramatically reduced form factor, colour screen). The iPod line as a whole is now well on the way into mass adoption, and has reached a price point sweetspot. Won over by the design, and at a price which is now more reasonable the iPod line starts to cement long term dominance of the market place. This is what I think will happen next year, by which time Apple will have caused a major shift in the handset market place.

It really wouldn’t be difficult for Apple’s engineers to take the hardware feature set of last years 1st Generation iPhone and put it into a smaller, sexier reduced form factor case. For sure the specification of such a device wouldn’t be impressive – but isn’t this the exact same trick played with the iPod Mini, and more recently the MacBook Air?

Only 9 days to go to find out…

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Republished with permission from Jonathan’s personal site.

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