Monday, March 23, 2009

The Apple iPhone 3.0 announcement: a different look

Last week was quite a week for the iPhone... It started with all buzz around the highly anticipated iPhone 3.0 announcement. Every columnist, tech blogger, iPhone developer and user had his own wishlist for iPhone OS 3.0. Then came the actual announcement itself. While a few were underwhelmed in not seeing their most-wanted feature being announced, the general consensus was that the new OS had a few surprises, a few disappointments but it was more or less on target with the user's expectations.

When I got to sit down and reflect back on what's the most significant aspect of the iPhone 3.0 announcement, it struck me that it was neither the copy/paste nor the push notification feature that was significant. In fact the announcement lays emphasis on two important aspects of the changing dynamics of the mobile/computer industry

The power of Software
In this rapidly changing world, where mobile devices get dated so quickly, how does one cope and stay on top? For long, the hardware has been the sole distinguishing factor. The best device was the one which could boast of an array of high end hardware components like processing chip, camera, battery, etc. Any phone that you buy would get outdated in a matter of few months due to constant hardware advancements. Developments in software was considered minor and there was no concept of pushing software upgrades on existing devices (at least not for a layman). This is where Apple came in and demonstrated the power of Software on a mobile device.
The iPhone when released in fall 2007 was a revolutionary device. But what's more revolutionary is the way that Apple has managed to keep the iPhone on top through regular software updates. The power of software is that it can be refreshed continuously and in fact remotely too. The amazing thing is that it's been two years since I got my iPhone but still it gets a new lease of life every June, with features that keep it atop with competing phones that are newly released. Every time when someone says that the iPhone lacks a specific feature or utility, all I say is 'Wait till the next release' (unless there are hardware limitations). This also goes a long way in strengthening consumer loyalty as buying a phone is like an investment for what it is now as well as what it can evolve into, in the future. When I look at my iPhone, I see it as 'a intelligent bot that grows smarter every June'.

The App Store
When Apple first introduced the IPhone and the device became a runaway success, it realized the importance of taking advantage of the lead. Apple had to establish differentiating factors which would set it apart from the competition. The iPhone hardware was good and the software was amazing. But how long would it take for it's competitors who had spent years and years in the mobile industry to catch up? Well, not many. Apple's arrival was just a wake-up call. It did not mean the competition would sit back and languish on it's fate. Apple had to take advantage of it's position to set up distinguishing factors - those which will keep the customers loyal and which will make the competition tough to catch up with. The answer: iPhone App Store.
It is ironic to note that the very Apple that was stubbornly against native apps during the launch of the iPhone, not only reversed it's stance but set up an ingenious model of native 3rd party app development for both developers and consumers. For the users, it ensured a simple rating-based one-stop shop for all applications with a dead-easy iTunes based one-click payment system. What's more, all of this is OTA (over the air), thereby removing the dependency on computers to a great extent. As for developers, besides setting up a simple model where they don't worry about marketing and distribution, Apple also provided them with a powerful SDK kit for development and even went so far as to set up a 100 million dollar venture capital program to lure potential developers. The outcome was this: 25000 apps in just 9 months with a user base of 30 million. Apple had shot ahead in the blink of an eye. Now as other companies like Palm and Microsoft are developing equal or better phones and softwares, they are stumped against the biggest hurdle - the App Store. The developer and user base that Apple has established are a mighty challenge to oppose.
The rise of the AppStore has led to another significant development - the emergance of the iPhone as a mobile gaming platform that competes against the likes of Sony and Nintendo. The SDK provided great interfaces for developing powerful games for the iPhone. But the real reason that iPhone has evolved into a mighty gaming platform is the easy of content delivery and the rise of network games. A Nintendo DS or a Sony PSP, while being really advanced in game development and also features physical keys, did not have a suitable mechanism for buying games on the go. Apple revolutionized just that and now it boasts of more games than those of the DS & PSP together. Also it has set a precursor to the future of the mobile gaming world.

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