eWEEK at 30: Apple Redefined the Smartphone as a Fun-to-Use Device

By Michelle Maisto  |  Posted 2014-02-15 Print this article Print

When they saw the iPhone, they scrapped everything.

The phone Google was planning to introduce, code-named Sooner, could do a host of things the iPhone couldn't—including connect to a store full of mobile applications and run software that could also run on any other smartphone, tablet or yet-to-be-created device. But compared with the iPhone, it was ugly.

"[Andy] Rubin and his team, along with partners HTC and T-Mobile, believed consumers would care more about the great software it contained than its looks. This was conventional wisdom back then," wrote Vogelstein.

The iPhone proved that people wanted both. Further, it made them realize that if something worked well but wasn't pleasurable to use—even if something complex by nature felt complex to use—that was bad design.

Products like the Nest thermostat are the result of Apple teaching people to think: I'm having a bad experience; this could be done better.

"That wasn't just the iPhone. Apple established that first with the Apple II. That was Jobs' passion, that technology should be the servant, not the master," said Gottheil.

"Think of the iPod. There were portable MP3 players before the iPod, but you had to know how to convert your CDs to MP3s and all that. And Jobs said no, it's absolutely not the user's job to have to figure out how to operate it."

Sustaining the Apple Mojo

With time, the iPhone's growth numbers have slowed, in part because of Samsung and in part because there are only so many people on the planet—or at least so many people with the income to support an iPhone.

Jobs' successor, Tim Cook, has said he expects China to become Apple's number-one market. "It's a watershed day," Cook said in a televised Jan. 15 interview, as the iPhone 5S became available to China Mobile's 760 million customers.

"Apple makes compelling products, with high prices and good margins. But that's not a recipe for enormous market share," said Jackdaw's Dawson.

That recipe may also not hold up in China, where "it's a completely different set of demographics," says TBR's Narcotta.

"You can see the challenges they're facing, when Apple has a $700 device against a $200 Samsung device. Apple has to somehow transfer its caché and mojo to entice customers into their ecosystem. But is it worth the premium? That's ultimately the question," Narcotta continued.

In addition to Samsung, Apple faces a formidable rival in Lenovo, which is currently the second-largest smartphone seller in China. On Jan. 29, Lenovo expanded its global reach by purchasing Motorola Mobility from Google.

"Even without Motorola's relationship and patents, Lenovo—well, let me put it this way," said Narcotta. "We have these graphs that show year-to-year growth comparisons [in China], and Lenovo is what I call the graph wrecker. There's this tight group that has consistent growth, and then there's Lenovo's way over on the right, with like 400 percent growth, Narcotta observed. "Their brand strength is pretty amazing."

Follow Michelle Maisto on Twitter.



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