My buddy Matt Miller wrote a nice post about alternatives to the iPhone on his Mobile Gadgeteer blog and as I perused (and joined in on) the comment thread, it occurred to me that a little long-view history lesson might be in order. I've been pretty disinclined to write about the iPhone because a) I don't have one yet, b)
I don't think I'll have one in my grubby little hands anytime soon, (update: so much for that theory) and c) there is so much noise about this device that adding to it seems like a fruitless pursuit (pun intended).
So I'm not going to weigh in on why the iPhone is better or worse than what's already available, whether it represents the next stage of mobile evolution, or whether it will make your whites whiter, your teeth brighter, and you personally irresistible to... you get the idea.
What I did want to to toss into the mix, especially after reading the comments on Matt's post, were the following observations:
- Apple is simply better than any other company in the tech world at reframing consumer expectations and the ensuing conversation. They have a more highly evolved sense of design than most companies – Bang and Olufsen and maybe Sony come to mind as others who have made design a clear differentiator in a similar fashion. The capture people's imagination about the "how", not the "what". That is "how will using this device change the way I work and play" as opposed to "what features, functions, or technical details make this device different or better". Don't think design is important? Read Tom Peters' Reimagine and get back to me.
- Apple markets better. Their ads are engaging. Their positioning is clear. Their CEO is a master presenter. Apple literally shut down the press room at CES this January when the Steve took the stage to announce the iPhone. Every journalist, blogger, and analyst in the room was watching the keynote. What they were not doing was paying any attention to the thousands of square feet of vendors surrounding them and the hundreds of thousands of products on display in Las Vegas. The fact that Apple has been able to sustain the insane level of interest in this device as they have for six months and built it to a perfect crescendo of media coverage yesterday is something no one else in the industry has demonstrated they're able to come close to (with the possible exception of the gaming console trio of Sony PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, and Microsoft XBox).
- Apple forces competitors to ante up when they raise the bet. If the tech business is a poker game, players at the table know that Apple doesn't bluff very often. When they raise the bet, you have two choices – call or fold. Since folding isn't a very good business strategy, competitors have to meet the challenge Apple has thrown down. Whether it's trivial (colored computer cases) or innovative (scroll-and-click wheels on music players), the rest of the industry scrambles to follow suit best they can. Those are pretty specific examples where the act of copying Apple's lead made no difference. Consider the iTunes-iPod ecosystem Apple created to carve out a huge share of the commercial media download market. Who else has been able to (or is even in a position to) match that raise?
You can vent all day about why you think Apple is a nice player, over-priced, evil, or whatever your particular epithet of choice might be. You're wrong. Apple is a vital contributor to the evolution of the connected experience and they deserve credit for continually challenging the status quo. It's what they do. They're better at it than anyone else. And that's why the iPhone is such a big deal.