And there probably won’t be one anytime in the near future. For anyone that doubts this, let me just say that Apple just surpassed Microsoft this past quarter in revenue and that is no small feat.
Well it seems pretty simple enough to answer, right? Apple has a very simple formula:
- Make it simple
- Guarantee the experience
- Provide a single app store
- Have a clear product lifecycle
Make it simple
This is a very important success factor for Apple. Everyone, from my 7 year old daughter to my Dad can use the device without instructions. The finger is a natural utility we all know how to use and the rest is just a click away.
Granted the other mobile OS platforms have made a lot of progress here, but Apple started it and it is the simplest one to use.
Guarantee the experience
This is perhaps THE most important success factor for Apple. By controlling both the software and hardware, they basically guarantee you the experience you are going to have. There is only one iPhone, but there are 10s or 20s of each other device. You can get an Android phone from LG, Samsung, Motorola, HTC, just to name a few and they each provide various versions with different specs and their own experience. The same is true for Windows Mobile, WP7 and even palm and RIM.
While it is good to have a variety and everyone likes to be unique, it could change your mind about a operating system, device manufacturer, or both if you end up with a device that does not perform. The best example is Nokia. They are still the biggest phone manufacturer on the planet and for the longest time they have what I thought was the best phone factor (until I saw the iPhone). I am talking about the Nokia Communicator.
I bought the Nokia 9500 Communicator as soon as it came out and was very excited about it, until I was let down by Nokia. For a $900+ phone, the browser was lousy, it crashed often, took too long to start (along with every other app) and never got any software updates. The worst was the promise to support the BlackBerry platform which never came except to certain European regions. Worst yet, Nokia abandoned that version of the Symbian platform.
Not that the iPhone is without fault, but at least I know it will work fast. This was the one thing that impressed me enough to change my mind about the iPhone and touch screen devices. Before the iPhone, I had had such a bad experience with Windows and SonyEricsson touch screen phones that I would not buy a phone unless it had a physical keypad/keyboard. That is mainly why I skipped the original iPhone and waited for iPhone 3G.
The developer guarantee
The second aspect of the experience guarantee is what developers got. One platform, one resolution, one set of features, and one place to advertise. We will talk about the latter point later, but these are also very important.
Again, with almost any other platform every developer has to worry about what devices to support, what resolutions they may have and what features they may have, which ultimately means that the user experience for end users will not be the same on every phone. And this is not accounting for the programming difficulties to support these variations.
I must end this section by saying that Windows Phone 7 has made great strides here, but I still do not see it as the same since the hardware is not controlled which would mean that every manufacturer will do something different to make its phone more attractive to end users.
Provide a single app store – One Store to rule them all
Now this is arguable the most controversial aspect of the iOS ecosystem. Originally, I disliked the fact that I was not free to put any software I liked on the phone, but now I see the value of it.
Before the App Store, almost everyone was skeptical over buying mobile software for various reasons. Chief among these was the fact that it was relatively expensive, and almost always tied to your particular phone, so you had to repurchase it if you upgraded your handset (even if it was just a newer model of the same phone). The iPhone addresses all of these, plus it provides a single great place to promote and sell your app. The approval process has its faults and there are many, but again it too protects users to some extent so they can shop with some sense of security.
As for the other potentials now, their app stores are segmented at best which just damages their potential.
Have a clear product lifecycle
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this also is critical to Apple’s success. The current product lifecycle for any iPhone so far has been two years, which is a year and half more than any other device. I say this jokingly, but it is almost true.
Every other phone maker, has such diversity in their phone offering that they do not care about the hardware. Its all disposable, except the money we put down to get it. The only thing that has changed recently is that Google’s Android has been upgradable on some phones (mainly its own G1 and Nexus One), and even at that, you are at the mercy of the device manufacturer as to when and if they will support newer versions of Android.
With the iPhone its a clear message. An iPhone will be upgradable to the latest version of the iOS platform for two years.
I have to say that Microsoft again is trying to catchup here, and they announced that WP7 phones will be upgradable over the air, and they specifically mentioned this regarding the cut and paste that will be added to WP7. IF they execute well here, they could have this one nailed down.
What to take away
Having said all of this, there has been some changes in the iPhone ecosystem with the iPhone 4 having a retina display, but you can be certain that iPhone 5 will not support a new resolution, and there is a compromise to be made between consistency and advancing.
The only two manufacturers that I see with a true potential to compete with the iPhone are RIM and now HP. They are the only two that control the software and hardware so they can control every aspect of the user experience. For the others it is much harder.
Here are a few pointers for the other manufacturers if they are listening:
- Reduce your hardware offering, and instead concentrate on fewer devices with a longer lifecycle. If users know that they are buying a phone that will be supported for a year or two, they will be more inclined to make that investment
- Related to the first, make sure you do provide software updates for your phones. This buys brand loyalty when combined with a good user experience
- There is a fine balance between performance and battery life. But for a smartphone, the performance has to be snappy, otherwise no one will care that the battery lasts 5 days.
- Provide consistency between your devices. You can provide a touchscreen phone, one with a physical keyboard, and even a clamshell, but make it easy for developers to develop one code for all your devices
- Related to the last point, provide a single portal for users to buy applications. Users should not have to jump from shop to shop depending on what they need. Granted this is difficult with some service providers such as Verizon insisting on its own App Store.
- (Personal Agenda) For goodness sake, provide a GSM version of your phone with global support. The rest of the world runs on GSM and users want to know that they can use their phones everywhere.
- (personal Agenda) Do not lock your phones to a provider. We are already tied to contracts to get the phone with huge ETF fees, and most people don’t like to jump providers just for the heck of it. But we do like to be able to put in a local sim when traveling abroad and not have to spend the kids’ tuition fund on mobile fees.
How else can others compete with the iPhone? Get vocal in the comments.