iPhone – The smartphone’s new hope
I have been, like many other consumers around the world, a loyal and dedicated follower of the Apple product range. The original iPhone was the “big-bang” moment for the lucrative smartphone market we see today. Although Microsoft, and after them RIM, were the actual trailblazers, the iPhone made the smartphone a must-have product. With the launch of the 1st generation iPhone back in 2007, Apple’s share price shot from $120 to $700 (Google Finance) in September 2012 after the launch of the iPhone 5. Their share price has dropped recently to around $430 but the business is still one of the biggest in the world, but for how long? I have owned 3 iterations of the iPhone, the 3GS, 4 and now the 5. I have also been through many an iOS upgrade and one thing I have noticed is that through all these devices, the primary look and feel hasn’t changed a bit.
The Android’s strike back
Now I know that Apple has made progress in leaps and bounds with features and software upgrades since the original iPhone but most of these were subtle changes. Apple’s strategy is to make their designed user experience as perfect as possible. Thus most of their development time is spent tweaking existing features, fixing bugs and adding small but very useful capabilities. This has culminated in the iPhone 5 being one of the smoothest and most stable smartphones around. This strategy is in direct contrast to that of most Android phones. Take for example the Samsung Galaxy range, each new model usually comes with an attractive set of new features such as “Pop Up Play”, “S-Beam”, “Smart-Stay” introduced with the SIII as well as new “Smart-Scroll” and “Air-Gestures” software to be introduced with the SIV. Some might say Samsung tries too hard with different gimmicks, but they usually have a home-run with at least one of their new features.
Apple’s current trend begs the question; will Apple make a big leap concerning their iOS interface in the near future? I personally, and I know of many others, feel that such a leap will definitely be necessary. Most probably sooner rather than later. According to a new survey, Android captured a majority of the US market share for the first time in February last year and now accounts for 51.2% of sales where iOS accounts for 43.5%. China, the largest smartphone market in the world, paints an even bleaker picture for the Cupertino based company where Android holds around 90% market share.
As a casual iOS user I do get an uneasy feeling about the future of the iPhone brand. The original smartphone trendsetter RIM (now known as Blackberry) was in a very similar position only a few years ago. RIM hi-jacked the then fledgling smartphone market from Microsoft who was trying to make the early Windows Mobile platform work. RIM developed a closed software system and integrated many business and messaging features such as “Blackberry Messenger”. Apple then took over the smartphone crown when they introduced the revolutionary iPhone. The uneasy feeling I have is the fact that Apple could very well be following a similar path.
Return of the iOS
But, and this is a big but, there exists too much talent within the Apple design and engineering team for them not to pull another iPhone-rabbit out of the hat. With the passing of Apple’s inspirational figurehead Steve Jobs, many people believe that Apple is a dying company. What most people don’t know is that the brains and ideas behind the iPhone and iPad are still alive and well at Cupertino. Rumours have it that Jony Ive, the Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple is much more involved with the iOS 7 update and that due to his influences “radical changes” are expected. Jony Ive was regarded as Jobs’ right-hand-man when Apple was flying high with the introduction of the iPhone and iPad dynasties. Ive had a huge part to play in the design and experience of these devices. He and the brains trust at Apple might just be able to deliver the “next big thing” to hit the mobile market.
The hardware Apple uses for their devices have never really been an issue for me. The specs-vs-specs argument was an early defence adopted by many Android users due to the Google OS not being able to rival iOS. With the exception of the Nexus phone, Apple still remains the device to beat when it comes to hardware and software integration. Unfortunately with the recent evolution of the candied-named Google OS platform, Apple has fallen behind the curve due to their lack of grand scale innovation. This is evident in the fact that the iPhone 5 did not need the latest quad-core processor or world beating RAM specifications to handle iOS 6.
iOS app development has also been on the decline. According to the Aberdeen Group’s recent survey Microsoft devices will be the target market for app developers in 2013. It is also evident that the developers are finding the iOS market quite saturated and will aim to develop less this year. A radical change to the iOS setup might just be what Apple need to reinvigorate interest in iOS app development.
Apple has probably squeezed the last remaining revenue dollars out of the current iOS structure. Time for a rebirth has come, and hopefully Mr Ive and the engineers at Apple will provide when iOS 7 arrives. A lot of Apple and Android fans have been throwing advice at Apple on various platforms on how to improve the iOS, but I think the team at Cupertino should follow the advice of their late great leader:
“A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” – Steve Jobs.