The Mobile Revolution Begins! (and 3 years later the iPhone comes out)

I find the whole iPhone phenomenon interesting because people are seeing it as a technology advance when it’s really a textbook marketing/branding success (revolution?) in the making. Apple essentially tricked the entire media landscape into doing amazing PR, even “independent” sources like blogs and NPR.

Let’s be clear, the $500+ phone isn’t new. The phone with a google map that you can drag around with your finger isn’t new. Neither is one that can play gigs of mp3s, has a real address book, a real web browser, real email, etc. Having the option from a text message to reply or voice call the person back isn’t new. These things have existed for years, I know because I have it. Oh and mine lets you build/install apps, the sticking point many techies complain about for the iPhone, but very few of these apps have seen any success. It’s also available for any network, uses EVDO, has wi-fi and bluetooth, has handwriting recognition, serves as internet conduit, a real keyboard, etc. The reason nobody had to camp out for my phone, the reason I don’t pimp it to everyone I meet? It’s running a Microsoft OS, ho hum. So from a technology/feature standpoint, the iPhone is nothing new, but even well-informed tech people seem to have fallen for the slick ads, the expert PR “reviews”, and the general fanfare.

People are opining that this was Steve Jobs’/Apple’s greatest risk, which I disagree with, because they weren’t really taking a risk because they weren’t doing anything new. They’ve added that Apple shine to devices that have existed for years, that they’ve been able to watch people use, and they’ve fixed the mistakes. They’ve made the interface sexy with effects and constraints, a skill they’ve honed for even longer. They’ve used all their fanboys to turn a device into the Beatles.

I’ve done enough software to know how important (and potentially misleading, though that’s not the case here as far as I know) a well-executed interface is to adoption. I once co-wrote a CMS that was effectively ignored by everyone but its authors, but then I spent a day adding some logos, gradients, and javascript UI effects, and people were immediately scheduling meetings with me just to get a peek at it. Where Jobs & Co. deserve credit is that all of the “news” coverage their product is getting is lauding a revolution, instead of saying “Apple’s new iPhone is almost as capable as a 3-year-old Windows Mobile phone, but they executed the interface much better.” For more information, see the next edition of most marketing/branding books.

  • Brian

    While the marketing and branding is certainly an important part of Apple’s strategy, I think you’re missing out on a few key factors.

    While these features may have been available in one form or another, they’ve usually been bogged down in devices so unecessarily complicated with interfaces that are virtually unusable to your “everyday” user.

    While you say “Oh and mine lets you build/install apps”, Apple is widening the market to people that couldn’t care less about the ability to “build” apps – I don’t build parts for my car, but I still want to drive a car. I’ve never written a software application in my life – it’s not my job, why would I care about that now?

    The “revolutionary” part is the fact that these features are seamlessly integrated into an interface that is fast, slick, and actually makes these features usable to most people. As a techie, you’re clearly underestimating the significance of this.

  • esavage

    Perhaps I wasn’t clear…

    I’m not underestimating the significance, I was just trying to point out that Apple has raised the bar in terms of shaping the press/ debate/ hype to a level I’ve yet to see. It’s impressive and I think there are lessons to be learned from it. You don’t need to invent anything, or materially improve on it (Windows Mobile, Blackberry, Symbian interfaces are very usable, albeit less animated) so long as you can get people to convince themselves your product is important.

    As for the building, obviously most people don’t want to build apps for their phone, but the phrase “I’ll wait until they allow third-party apps” is very common among the tech crowd, though I doubt it’s a big issue since adoption of customizable platforms has already proven light.

  • Brian

    I’m not not a “techie”, but consider myself a reasonably good “user” – Windows Mobile devices are almost unusable in my eyes. From the SLOW performance, the crashes when I received calls, the inexplicably antiquated setup (why in the world when managing your connections do they have the confusing “work” and the “internet” system?) and configuration options, the IE that was so bad it made browsing the internet pointless, the battery life that made “mobile” a joke (I don’t want to have to constantly be turning WiFi on and off to save battery, I don’t want to have to do anything to worry about battery), the outlook email app with no spell checker – to a “normal” user, these things can be dealbreakers, while the phone might have every technological bell and whistle.

    It’s not just a matter of “pretty animations” – it’s a matter of easy of use and tight integration of all of the functionality of the device.

    This technology might have already existed in one form or another, but Apple brings to the table something sorely missing from the market – a way for a normal user to actually use such advanced technology.

  • Brian

    I guess I’m saying this – Apple’s first priority is integrating all of the functionality into a seamless and extremely intuitive package. Next is worrying about integrating Bluetooth stereo, etc . . .

    This represents a real shift from the usual way these devices are designed, and accounts for why only a small segment (business users) use devices like this.