The buzz is strong surrounding the upcoming Galaxy S IV from Samsung. Media outlets and tech pundits are making a big deal out of the upcoming release because many believe that Apple is on the verge of slipping with its grasp of the smartphone market in the post Jobs era. Many people are hailing Samsung for its fast-paced innovation as they keep releasing phone after phone. In many ways, the Galaxy takes a page out of Apple’s playbook, constant iteration.
The days of a new iPhone being an annual event are long gone. In fact, Apple product launches are a thing of the past without Jobs’ showmanship. Even if the rumors about an iWatch are true, it would take all the charisma of Steve Jobs to sell it to consumers. Something along the lines of Google Glass shaped by Steve Jobs would be amazing.
The best strategy for Apple regarding the iPhone and touch devices would be to simply treat it like a stable product and shorten the iteration cycle. Without someone guiding the product vision like Jobs, they need to open up their ears to consumers and perhaps look to hire a product visionary that can oversee the entire line of products who can complement Jonny Ive.
What Apple needs to do is rethink the entire iOS platform to future proof it.
The iPhone numbering scheme should be dead by now. At most we could have two lines of iPhones much like MacBook and MacBook Pro or even the iPad and iPad Mini that are released in parallel but are essentially very similar products. Waiting a whole year to get a new phone feels glacial in the current market when capabilities such as RAM and processor speed are still improving at a fast pace.
Although much is made of iPhone build quality especially starting with iPhone 4 and its polished glass and metal-casing (which had the unfortunate side-effect of antenna gate), the majority of people upgrade their phones every one or two years (some do so for every release). Despite the build quality of the iPhone, I think the focus should be on durability (glass that won’t crack on concrete, water-proofing, etc.). Personally I’d love to see a tougher iPhone along the lines of Casio G’Zone would be really great.
Aside from the device capabilities, the iOS could also use a boost in terms of releases. The pace of releases has slowed considerably, not to mention the lack of big ticket features. While part of this is due to the maturing of the software, there are still many areas that can be improved, like better input options or native voice recognition.
One thing Apple can do is open up more of the operating system like Android to allow users to change some of the default behavior (change the default maps application), provide hooks into the system (replacing the keyboard), or even a real file system that isn’t sandboxed.
More Open to Apps
While the App Store proved to be a great new market and revenue source for both the iOS and OS X, Apple’s stewardship of the vetting process was problematic from the start. There are too many horror stories of apps being pulled for the most arbitrary of reasons. While Apple has made some amends in clarifying guidelines, there are still many trivial cases of apps being pulled for mysterious reasons. With the sheer number of apps out there, there is already the problem of discovery. The notion that Apple can also be arbiters of taste is laughable to say the least.
With Google Play, Android developers can not only release apps with minimal risk of being denied publishing, they also have the option to distribute apps directly without counting on users to jailbreak their phones.
As smartphone capabilities converge more and more with computers, opening up the app platform will be more crucial to Apple (at least follow a similar model to the Mac App Store, where developers have a fallback). In fact, app eco system is what provided a lot of inspiration for key innovations in functionality (pull to refresh, orientation locking, and many others).
Better Revenue Share
One of the crazy things about the current App store is Apple’s insistence on taking a 30% cut of everything. While this works great for digital goods sold within games (like power up items, etc.), it’s quite a burden for e-commerce or subscription-based services since they are expressly banned from even linking to a sales page within the app. While there are ways to get around it, the 30% cut makes absolutely no sense for many transaction costs (even 5% would be pushing it for some products). There needs to be a clearer delineation of transactions where Apple adds value (purely digital products) and others where they don’t (like e-commerce, where the seller is burdened with shipping and inventory).
The iPhone is Still Relevant
While I don’t think the iPhone is going to die or fall to the wayside any time soon, but it does seem to be fast becoming the “boring” and “stable” choice among smartphones. The easy to use and intuitive interface is by far it’s greatest asset even compared to the latest Android device, it’s lost considerable mind-share among early adopters as they seek more features to match their needs. One thing Tim Cook can’t deliver is the same excitement and wonderment that Steve Jobs inspired throughout his career.