Customers in the mobile phone market think differently than those who are buying a conventional computer, Mac or PC. Apple understands that completely, but from the approach the Android phone makers are taking, it’s clear they are clueless about a long-term strategy.
I think it’s amusing, indeed hilarious, that the competitors to the iPhone, with their recent behemoth Android phones, are repeating the same mistakes that Apple made in the PC wars of the previous two decades.
Lessons of History
You must have lived through that era to remember the approach Apple was taking. Apple was first out of the block with it’s beautiful 15-inch LCD studio display in 1998. Apple’s Mac OS GUI was clearly superior from 1984 until Windows 95 came out. We had AppleTalk, we had laser printers. We moved to 3.5-inch floppies much sooner than the laggard PC industry. In 2001, we got a UNIX OS.
As a result, there was the general feeling that we Apple customers were cutting edge and PC users were, with gracious respect, retards. I.T. managrs took it personally.
Initially, Apple had a good representation in the enterprise thanks to its advanced UI, but over time, Apple’s direction and Microsoft’s astuteness nullified Apple’s technical advantages. The enterprise, with help from Microsoft, came to have a new agenda: control, standardization, low cost, risk avoidance, multiple sources to obtain low cost bidders, and not too much dazzle to distract the cubicle workers.
I remember, at WWDC, somewhere around 1996, chatting with Apple V.P. David Nagel. I was with Lockheed Martin, and we desperately needed pre-emptive multive tasking (re-entrant APIs) in the OS and user login/authentication and access logs at the very least. I asked if Apple was headed there, and he just shrugged. Apple wouldn’t kowtow to business. Shortly thereafter, my company, with breathtaking speed, dumped 3,500 Macs and went 100 percent to Windows NT. Other big companies did the same in the late 1990s.
The culture of a Apple blinded them, and they lost a big market. Apple just about died. Meanwhile, Microsoft was checking every box the I.T. Manager needed checked: servers, enterprise tools, e-mail, authentication, a memory protected, pre-emptive multi-tasking OS (WinNT), web site tools, compilers, databases, the works.
Today, Apple has turned the tables on the mobile phone makers. Apple understands the consumer mentality and also understands the needs of the enterprise when it comes to phones and tablets. Apple doesn’t make a big fuss about specs, but when it does publish specs for its iPhone, it provides what the customer needs to know in a way they can understand it.
When I look at some of the modern Android phones, I see an attempt to outdo Apple in terms of specifications that only appeal to the geekier users. The new Motorola Droid Bionic & RAZR and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus are rather large. With a padded case, they’ll be huge. The displays are in the 4.3 to 4.6 inch range compared to the iPhone’s 3.5 inch. The batteries must be larger to help with a larger display plus a pre-emptive surge to 4G/LTE. The Nexus has a barometer, NFC and a whopping 1280 x 720 (720p) display. Yesterday, Asus announced its Transformer tablet with a quad core processor. It seems to me that the competition is throwing every hardware technology it can at customers, hoping to slow down the popularity of Apple’s mobile devices.
Relative sizes, within a few pixels.
Meanwhile, it was reported yesterday by Ralph de la Vega with AT&T that the free iPhone 3GS, a rather obsolete phone, is outselling every Android phone. Why? Having an iPhone, a free iPhone, being cool and having what your friends have, and being able to to take it to the Apple store to buy a case or get it fixed is just a superior customer experience. Spending US$300 on a feature-laden, largish smartphone isn’t where a lot of customers are these days.
What’s more, a big phone is a man’s phone. A geek phone. It barely fits in the shirt pocket when in a case. It doesn’t seem so miniaturized. It’s not discreet. It’s this giant Newton-like, heavy hunk of plastic that demonstrates to other geeks that your phone is bigger, brighter, has more ports and features and is more powerful than other phones. Where does it go? In the backpack or in a giant belt holster.
Apple knows that many of its younger users want a small phone that fits easily in the hand. It should be light, easy to handle and not take up a lot of room in briefcase, pocket or purse. Smaller and lighter is better. Cooler. Plus, the iPhone has better infrastructure: Curation of apps, a great App Store and retail stores. It’s cool because it’s fun and easy to use. It’s like a sparking jewel in the hand.
Nip and Tuck
Don’t take this wrong. The Android phones are selling well. I just think it’s amazing that the iPhone’s competitors are repeating the same mistakes that Apple made in the 1990s in a very crucial war. Given that Android is under considerable pressure in the courts for patent infringement and that some smartphone makers are having second thoughts about Android, this platform can’t afford to make any strategic mistakes or engage in any doubts or infighting. Apple has a crisp notion of where to go, and they’re a single company with a single focus. Emphasizing, to excess, specs and features that are hard to embrace in this consumer market isn’t a good long-term strategy.