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.