Smartphone makers, mobile operators still baffled by iPhone

Smartphone makers, mobile operators still baffled by iPhone

Summary: A report about a panel session on mobile user experience at Barcelona's Mobile World Congress shows that only Apple "gets it." And if the industry's experience with the iPod is anything to go by, this situation will only get worse for the competition.

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Smartphone makers, mobile operators still baffled by iPhoneA report about a panel session on mobile user experience at Barcelona's Mobile World Congress shows that only Apple "gets it." And if the industry's experience with the iPod is anything to go by, this situation will only get worse for the competition.

According to an EE Times story by David Benjamin from Barcelona, the innovations in the mobile telcom space is coming from Apple. One panelist said that 77 percent of iPhone users rated their experience as "very satisfied."

One direction, advocated by Lucia Predolin, international marketing and communications director for Buongirono S.p.A. of Milan, Italy, is to manipulate users by identifying their "need states" — including such compulsions as "killing time," and "making the most of it" — and fulfilling them subliminally.

Adobe's Murarka proposed a more technological approach to improving the user experience, satisfying the mobile phone subscriber through better interface design. Sarah Lipman, co-founder and R&D director for Power2B, suggested an almost mystical solution, somehow tapping into users' "neural networks" to navigate a mobile phone interface "using touch and pre-touch input."

This all reminds me of the parable of the blind men and the elephant. The men run their hands over small parts of the elephant but describe the whole animal based on that touch.

From the floor at the Barcelona conference, it appears that the iPhone's competitors are looking at the mobile user experience from a narrow perspective. Each design team hopes that a particular innovation will make up for missing pieces up or down the mobile service food chain. This comes nowhere near the integrated approach that Apple delivers on.

There must have been a stampede to the local wine bars after the session.

In a recent post, I reported on the steady gains of Mac OS X based on Net Applications' Web browser statistics. But I didn't mention the iPhone.

Back in November, the iPhone's WebKit-based browser passed the Windows Mobile browser share. Net Applications said the iPhone's share was greater than all the Windows Mobile devices combined. Now, Windows Mobile accounted for some 9 percent of all smartphones shipped in 2007.

So, the figures say that iPhone users really can use their browser and do so; it's not hype. And the stats also mean, as we see mirrored in the Mobile World Congress report, that users of other mobile devices can't and don't use the browser on their phones.

In addition, Mary Jo Foley pointed to some other recent analyst figures on handheld market share in a blog post: Windows Mobile falls behind iPhone in latest mobile-market numbers.

Here's a story that illustrates the developer side of the problem. I was talking the other day with an executive consultant who works at a very large technology company. In his career, he's been part of top management teams at the big Silicon Valley businesses.

Check out a related story: Macs and iPhones - impolitic Apple hardware can be hard to hide.

I mentioned an Apple patent that was filed back in late December. This was the so-called "coffee shop" wireless communication system patent that could let customers pre-order items from a handheld in the store.

A processing system is described that includes a wireless communication interface that wirelessly communicates with one or more wireless client devices in the vicinity of an establishment. The wireless communication interface receives a remote order corresponding to an item selected by at least one of the wireless client devices. A local server computer located in proximity to the establishment generates instructions for processing the remote order received from the wireless communication interface. The local server computer then passes the processing instructions to an order processing queue in preparation for processing of the remote order.

The executive said that the thing that drives Apple's competition crazy isn't the patents themselves. Every big technology company generates lots of patents — but they don't go anywhere. The patents are wallpaper. They are a technology defense for the company, rather than being indicators of future products and strategies.

The difference with Apple patents is that the team in Cupertino seems to be able to create the hardware and software platforms and then just as important, it builds the partnerships that can execute on the strategy. Every music player company wants partnerships such as the Starbucks-iTunes deal, but it's Apple that pulls it together.

The patent on ordering items is often conflated with Starbucks, since Apple has an existing relationship with the company and the technology is a natural fit with the queues in the shops. However, this in-house wireless ordering strategy could be employed for many different products and another brand might want to be the first with Apple on this one.

I'm sure that we will see waves of iPhone wannabes this year and next. I bet that some devices will beat the iPhone on some feature checklist for memory, or camera image resolution. Whatever.

These operators and device makers will find the same tough going as Apple's competitors have in the audio-video player market. The iPod's platform of hardware, software, accessories and services remains compelling, so customers stay with the Apple platform. It appears that it will be deja vu all over again with the iPhone.

Topics: Wi-Fi, Apple, Enterprise Software, iPhone, Legal, Mobility, Networking, Smartphones

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8 comments
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  • The best prediction from an analyst

    that I read was the one that said 2008 would be the year of crappy touch screen
    phones as competing companies once again fall into the trap of believing their
    hardware and software engineers when they insist they can do interface and
    product design.

    It's what I call the E.E. complex. A number of years ago I was applying for a job at a
    hardware company owned by a E.E. The guy wouldn't look at anyone for any job
    position unless they had a E.E. He insisted the sales team all be E.E.s, the HR
    director be a E.E. the graphics designer be a E.E. etc. because in his mind, the only
    way you could understand anything about electronics is if you had that E.E. degree.
    frgough
  • deja vu all over again

    We are already seeing a mass wave of touch-screen phones hitting the market. Their thinking is we can just slap touch-screens on pre-existing phones and add a few more features to compete with the iPhone. Add every feature from their bullet-list and that will crush the iPhone. Yup sounds like deja vu; we've seen this play already with the iPod.
    dave95.
  • Have WM sales fallen since the iPhone?

    I still firmly believe that the iPhone competes in a completely different market than the WM device but one way to prove me wrong would be to show that WM sales [b]fell[/b] (or flattened significantly) since the introduction of the iPhone. In other words, if people who have a certain set of requirements used to buy a WM device to fulfill those requirements but now, instead, buy an iPhone, then yes, these are competing devices.

    If, on the other hand, you say that the iPhone captured 20% of the market but the market just coincidentally grew at the same pace + iPhone sales, then all you have done is artificially tacked on iPhone sales into a market it does not compete in. Again, it would be like saying Toshiba Satellite captured 95% of the subnotebook market. Do you believe people actually think: MBA or Satellite... MBA or Satellite... hmmm... which should I buy?

    Likewise, I don't believe that people think: HTC or iPhone... HTC or iPhone... Prove me wrong though. Show that WM device sales have fallen. Here is a start:
    [url=http://www.pocket-lint.co.uk/news/news.phtml/12780/13804/microsoft-windows-mobile-phone-sales.phtml] WM sales very strong [/url]

    Great news for Apple that the iPhone is selling reasonably well in the media enabled cell phone market. Achieving 0.4% of the market in such a short time and in such a huge market is quite an achievement! Seriously, go Apple! However, unless you are actually taking sales away from WM, Apple's success has nothing at all do with smartphones in general, or WM specifically. :)
    NonZealot
    • WM Market share projections have fallen

      Figuring Balmer had put near term forecasts in the 60%-80% range. If Microsoft
      has NOT woken up to reality that WM is stagnate in the market with the market far
      outpacing their current growth rate (on their US home front), they need to and do a
      great service to their investors with honest outlooks.

      So looking at the markets WM and the iPhone currently compete in (remember WM
      was an 8 year head start or so and iPhone is not available yet in the Pacific Rim),
      WM sales are growing much slower than the market in general. This is not a good
      thing.

      A place to start:
      http://www.canalys.com/
      Bruizer
  • A dose of reality

    I've been a geek my entire life. I have seen several ground breaking milestones over the years regarding technology. I rank the iPhone experience right up there with the mouse and the GUI.

    The iPhone is an incredible user experience with unlimited potential. It runs OS X, it's the first successful device to take computers the next step closer to humanity... gesturing. It is very satisfying and almost instantly changes your perspective on what you want from a device (just like the mouse and the GUI did). This little device is a full blown computer.. granted it is locked down frog butt tight at the moment, I find myself looking forward to future software updates from Apple and looking forward to all the 3rd party apps that are about to release for the iPhone.

    In regards to MS WM, microsponge doesn't stand a chance.. I got my iPhone syncing my exchange mail, calendar, contacts, etc. It is far better than anything I have ever seen from all the rest of the manufacturers and software vendors. The buzz about any new smart device coming out revolves around it being an iPhone killer. For a device to hit the market and have that type of impact is enormous.. It?s bigger than huge.

    So will we see an iPhone killer? The answer is a simple no. Not tomorrow, not in 10 years... after 10, we'll talk. Apple thought ahead and they have the granddaddy of all trump cards... software updates... They can overcome any challenge any competitor throws at them just be unlocking another small part of OS X, and the threat has just been crushed.

    I'm all for competition tho. It drives the industry to overcome what some small brained people thought was impossible. So to all the other companies out there, by all means, compete. Just try not to be too discouraged when you can't win no matter how hard you try. You guys are looking at a wall you just can't get through at this time... Perhaps in 15 years things will change. Just look at Microsoft, they are in downward spiral and losing their battles on all fronts. If you thought they were going to be number one forever, you need to go hit that pipe a few more times, lock the door, and hide from reality. No one will stay at the top of the food chain for too long... not even Apple. But yes, it is thier time to dominate... at least for a little bit.
    i8thecat
  • RE: Smartphone makers, mobile operators still baffled by iPhone

    I think the statistics are incorrectly skewed. Windows CE/Mobile devices have free & pay programs which create a registry hack to re-identify the browser on your device. These polls are probably from different Server logs. Therefore, what you're seeing are skewed by the well-known and well-used registry hacks.
    Pischk
    • Skewed

      now THAT's grasping at straws at it's best. The percentage of users who would want to bother with registry hacks just to hide what browser their using on PHONES is mind-numbingly small..... and just how ashamed ARE you of your browser if you do actually bother?
      theoxygenthief
  • RE: Smartphone makers, mobile operators still baffled by iPhone

    i am NOT surprised at all that the iPhone WebKit browser has surpassed WinMobile's Internet Exploder. No not one bit. i have a WM5-powered Verizon phone (XV6700) and IE on that platform is ATROCIOUS.

    when a relative let me play with his iPhone, i was absolutely shocked at how well it rendered web pages compared to the crappy job i was used to with IE on WM5.

    i am also not shocked at how the handset makers and the carriers just don't get it. Verizon thinks i buy my data connection so i can have their shitty VCast garbage and buy crappy MP3s of pop music. all the carriers want to do is create a "lock in" situation like Microsoft and others have in the computer world -- what they don't understand is that it is really hard to get a relatively tech-savvy group to believe their crap about how their "services add so much value" to my "user experience". the carriers can't even believe that tripe! they are selling a commodity -- phone connections and bandwidth -- nothing more and nothing less. the horse manure they spread is only to try to justify their incredibly over-expensive prices to the rubes.

    should someone else come up with a GSM network that offers all the talk, text and data i can eat for $50/month, i will go find a grey market iPhone and sign up for their service because the major carriers simply don't want to deal with me as a consumer that really only wants them for the pipe they have.
    dennis_parrott