Roy Murdock

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Death of the iPhone

Coming Soon

I was reading this article on the shortcomings of Siri in iOS7, and it got me thinking about the following:

  • What are people coming to expect from their phones?
  • How are these expectations being met (or not)?
  • Who is better equipped to meet these expectations? Apple or Google?

Apple has long been the champion of meeting (and exceeding) customer expectations. Curation was the tool that Steve Jobs and his talented team used to create the iPhone empire. Users were presented a smooth, easy way to interact with a new and useful technology. Users didn’t care that they were unable to customize their phones because the phone performed 99% percent of the tasks they needed and demanded. Technicalities were kept hidden away behind a curtain, allowing users to do these necessary tasks in a distraction and bug free environment: making calls, sending texts, browsing the web, taking pictures, listening to music, and using apps (also tightly controlled by Apple) were all easy and pain-free interactions with the iPhone.

By removing anything potentially confusing or hard about using a smartphone and simplifying the most essential tasks, Apple curated the smartphone experience to the average consumer - a largely untapped market. Success followed to the tune of billions in sales.

Yes, Apple’s marketing department also did a brilliant job of creating demand for the iPhone, but it is simply wrong to write off the iPhone as a marketing gimmick, purchased only by Apple fanboys and consumer sheep.

I once had a marketing professor who taught us about meeting customer expectations:

Always underpromise and overdeliver. Marketing is a tool that will get your product into the hands of the consumers, but it can’t change their feelings about it once they actually use it. If you promise too much and underdeliver, your customers will be disappointed and frustrated. They will angrily reject your product because you have broken their trust. They will probably never buy another product from you again, and they will go out of their way to warn other consumers about their negative experience. Underpromise and overdeliver and you’ll have a WOW situation: one where the customer is simply ecstatic with their purchase. It’s the WOW situation you’re after. This turns consumers into loyal customers who will appreciate your honesty and enjoy their experience with your brand.

Apple used great marketing to get the iPhone into the hands of consumers, but it was the curation of the experience that created the WOW situation for their happy customers. Take for example the first gen iPhone ads: They promised a seamless browsing experience that would give you the essentials: music, videos, email, photos, maps, and the internet.

Then they delivered on their promises. And then a curious thing happened: you found out that you could write yourself notes, effortlessly sync your phone with your computer, monitor the stock market, get weather updates, yelp for food, fatface your friends, and most importantly, play Fruit Ninja. You wondered how they could forget to include these amazing services on their commercials, chuckling to yourself as you posted another embarrassing photo of your friends to Facebook. The fact is that they didn’t forget to tell you anything. They left it up to you to discover the beautiful world of applications. Meanwhile, the phone did exactly what you had come to expect from the brilliant, minimal ad campaign. These were the ingredients of the WOW situation.

The numbers don’t lie: Apple’s status as the most valuable company in the world is due largely in part to its iPhone business which, as of Q2 2013, still brings in ~50% of Apple’s total revenue. No amount of marketing panache could create a facade large enough to cover up a bad product year after year, let alone create such an explosive and continual growth in sales. It’s simply ridiculous to propose that Apple has become the world’s most valuable company off of ignorance and the need for conformity. The Android fanboys can beat their chests and howl all they want; it doesn’t change the fact that the iPhone is an extremely solid device.

But now I’m beginning to see a problem for Apple and the iPhone. Sure, sales were great last weekend with Apple moving a record 9 million new units, but I really don’t see the kind of innovation behind the 5s that would warrant record-breaking growth. For a complete qualification of this statement, check out my article on why the 5s is not particularly useful. Another symptom of the iPhone’s frailty is the processing power wall that Apple seems to have recently run up against.1 The 5s is undoubtedly much more powerful than the 1st gen iPhones, but the difference is minuscule when compared to the 5.

The underlying problem here is that the iPhone has no more room for “useful”. Software-wise, Apple can only fuss about with the superficial aspects of the phone: the color palette, the design scheme, the user interface. The new hardware it introduced is gimmicky at best, and does not support any potential for future innovation. Google has virtually unlimited room for “useful”. Why? Google has data. A lot of it. More data means smarter applications. Let’s take a look at Google Now and Siri to see which one does a better job of curation.

Here’s a great intro video to Google Now. It can pull up movie times when you’re near a movie theater, a public transit schedule when you’re near a train or bus station, your flight records when it comes close to departure time, interesting stock movements based on your portfolio, the number of miles you’ve walked and biked in the past month, etc. It gives you the information you need without even necessitating an interaction with your phone. This is referred to as predictive technology. Google Now is smart enough to know what you want before you even have to ask for it.

Right off the bat, Siri requires more work because it is a responsive technology. You need to give Siri a prompt to get the information you want from it. Functionality-wise, Siri (and all of iOS7 for that matter) can only perform half of the Google Now functions using twice the amount of effort and time, using decentralized apps that aren’t nearly as smart and responsive as the clusters of information given to you by Google Now. Siri + Fandango + Yelp + Facebook + Passbook + Nike Tracker + Big Data = Google Now. So how can Apple get the Big Data to make this equation balance out?

Short answer: It can’t.

Apple doesn’t have the framework in place to know you as well as Google does. Everybody uses some combination of these apps daily: Google search, Gmail, YouTube, Google Drive, and Google Maps. Don’t know how to cook that chicken curry you’ve been craving? Google it, then watch a Youtube video. Don’t know the best way to get to that concert tonight? Google Maps it, then print out those tickets you’ve saved in Gmail. If I was able to look at all of the searches you’ve executed, places you’ve visited, videos you’ve watched, and emails you’ve sent, I would have a pretty good picture of you as a person. This is the view that Google gets into your life. Google Now is their attempt to build you a friend/personal assistant who has access to all of this information.

Apple does not collect data from the most powerful internet search service in the world. Apple Maps doesn’t come close to the accuracy and reliability of Google Maps. Apple does not have access to your email. Apple really can’t do much other than blur out your wallpaper when you pull up your notifications bar, make you a playlist in iTunes, and recommend your next app purchase. Its attempt at the next generation of content curation and predictive technology falls flat with Siri. She’s a great conversationalist, but she just can’t seem to remember who you are.

I guess this is a good place to point out that I own a Macbook and an iPhone, and that I am not just another Android/Google fanboy. At the moment, I am not willing to give up the beautiful, intuitive, smooth user experience and syncing abilities that the Apple experience provides. I owned an HTC Rezound for a year - the ability to customize my phone was nice, but it didn’t come close to making up for the frustration caused by the incessant crashing and overall bugginess of the OS and poorly-integrated applications.

Herein lies the tradeoff - Apple is safe, simple, easy to use, and has all of the functionalities that I need. Syncing between multiple Apple devices is a breeze. Google needs to give me something truly badass in order to woo me away from my comfortable, frustration-free iOS experience. The next generation of content curation - truly predictive technology - combined with a bit more Android stability might convert me once and for all. Google Now is onto something that Apple and Siri just aren’t equipped to compete with.

Maybe Apple would’ve been better off if they hadn’t introduced Siri back with the iPhone 4s - it seems like they’ve hit on an ever-increasing pocket of demand that they aren’t equipped to handle. Responsive technology is great, but Google Now is already combining the responsive with the predictive in a dynamic and truly useful application. I see an unlimited amount of potential buried under Google’s goldmine of data. I see a dead end for Siri and the iPhone.


  1. Thanks to Jay Lee for pointing this out to me.^

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