10 Steps Toward the Difficult Task of Beating the iPhone

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2009-09-18

10 Steps Toward the Difficult Task of Beating the iPhone

Needham & Co. analyst Charlie Wolf is reporting in a new research note that as the Palm Pre's price comes down, so too will its appeal in the marketplace. The Pre, which was recently reduced in price from $200 to $149.99, will experience a strong drop in sales due to pressures from the market, the analyst claims.

As the market matures and more companies start offering applications that can compete on the same level as the Pre, it will be far more difficult for the device to hold up. Worst of all, the Pre, which currently has just a handful of applications, can't compete against the iPhone and its tens of thousands of applications.

That isn't new and it isn't even unique. Every other so-called "next-gen" device on the market is having difficulty even staying relevant against Apple's device. They might feature touch-screens and an app store, but so far they don't have the kind of appeal that the iPhone does. And the chances of that changing anytime soon are slim.

But that doesn't mean it's impossible. Quite the contrary, it is possible for the iPhone to be beaten. But it will take some hard work to get it done.

Step 1: Know the Market

When Palm and RIM brought touch-screen devices to the market, it was obvious that they didn't analyze it properly. Yes, the Pre's multitasking is nice, and the BlackBerry Storm has a nice design. But the Pre lacks applications, and the Storm's touch-screen is so bad that most users have opted for other BlackBerry devices. If RIM and Palm did a better job of analyzing the market, they wouldn't have made those mistakes.

Step 2: Deliver a Great Touch-Screen

If a company wants to compete with the iPhone, it can't release a touch-screen with subpar functionality. It needs to be just as responsive as the iPhone's touch-screen. It needs to ditch tactile feedback like in the BlackBerry Storm. Most importantly, it needs to accurately reflect the user's gestures.

Step 3: Focus on the App Store

One of the biggest problems so many of the companies in the mobile phone market face is that their devices don't have an accompanying app store with enough applications. Right now, Google's Android platform is closest to offering a viable app store, with just over 8,000 applications. That's a good number. But Apple's store has over 75,000 applications. Unless a product launches with at least 20,000 applications, it's doubtful that many consumers will care about its store.

Step 4: Attract Developers

Following that, it's important for companies to play nice with developers. Palm tied the Pre's future to webOS, and so far I think it has backfired. Once again, Google has done the best job of appealing to developer desire, but it still has some serious work to do.  Any company that tries to beat Apple in the mobile market must focus its time on developers. How can it get as many applications as possible in as little time as possible? That's a question Apple has answered. Any competitor must answer it as well.

The Devil Is in the Details


Step 5: Design Matters

Anyone who doesn't think the design of a prospective iPhone killer doesn't matter is kidding himself. The iPhone is a sleek, beautiful device. It fits easily in a pocket. Its screen is just big enough to enjoy a video on it. The glossy finish attracts those who care about a device's aesthetics. A prospective competitor needs to incorporate all those features into the design of its own device. It should be on the same level as the iPhone.

Step 6: Ditch the Physical Keyboard

I realize that many people have trouble with Apple's virtual keyboard, but you know what? It hasn't stopped the company from selling millions of iPhones. As nice as physical keyboards are, in the end user's mind they're a vestige of a different generation in mobile phones. Virtual keyboards are the future. And if a company thinks they're not efficient, they should find a way to improve it.

Step 7: Build Some Hype

Palm arguably did the best job of building hype around its product (aside from Apple, of course). The company made a big announcement. It excited all those in attendance. And it made the general public start caring about the Pre. The only problem with the Pre is that it failed to provide an experience that users wanted when it was released. Prior to that release, Palm made all the right moves.

Step 8: Make It a Launch 'Event'

Apple is a master at making a product launch an "event." Remember when the company's employees applauded everyone who left with an iPhone the year the phone was released? It was something memorable. It was an "experience." Apple is simply the best at providing an experience, whether it's through the company's iPhone or its retail outlets. The company that wants to compete with the iPhone must follow suit.

Step 9: Immediately Address Problems

Just because the product is launched, it doesn't mean that the company's work is done. The product needs to be supported. If issues arise (and they normally do), the company needs to make it clear to consumers that it will address those problems promptly. Once again, Apple has done the best job at this. When issues arise, it fixes them. The company has a track record of making it right. Competitors can't maintain "radio silence" the way Palm did with its Pre.

Step 10: Focus on the Apps

Once the product is released, it's incumbent upon companies to ramp up the number of apps available to users. Applications have become a key battleground in the mobile phone market. Without them, a company doesn't have a chance against Apple. But if it can deliver a viable number of apps that can compete against the iPhone, all that can change.

So while it's certainly possible for a company to beat the iPhone, it won't be easy. It will take work and money. But Apple shouldn't worry just yet. Things might change, but for now, there aren't any companies that can take it on.

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