What’s Next for the iPhone?

by Chris Seibold Jul 17, 2008

Turns out that the iPhone 3G is very hard to get. Who knew? Not this guy and this guy certainly couldn't have predicted the rate of adoption. Still the news is great for Apple and if you've got an iPhone 3G you've got to be feeling lucky. With the success of the iPhone 3G it is time to move on, the thing is out and now it is yesterday's news. So where is the iPhone headed? What is going to have you standing in line in six months or next year?

If you're one of those saying Apple has to get cut and paste implemented and turn by turn GPS rolling for the iPhone 3G to be complete you're thinking too small. There will be incremental changes to the iPhone, the broadband will be bumped, GPS will get better and cut and paste will show up someday. Those aren't major changes, those are small time improvements. We want to think big.

There are two obvious paths for Apple to take. The easiest path is the trail of iPhone perfection. If you have a sincere belief that the iPhone is as good as it is going to get then all that is required in the future is the previously mentioned minor refinements. And even that won't be too much work, with the App Store up and rolling anything that comes along that is particularly compelling can be stolen and incorporated into the iPhone directly. There is a precedent for sticking with perfection: When Steve Jobs said the Aluminum PowerBook was perfect people scoffed but Apple is still cranking out MacBook Pros in the familiar form factor. Perhaps that is evidence enough that the iPhone will stay essentially unchanged for the foreseeable future.

The other path is the path that seemingly leads to more profits and a bigger market share. For every person that has an iPhone there will be three that find it completely unacceptable. There isn't anything Apple can do (for now) about people who reject the iPhone because it is on the wrong network but there are plenty of moves Apple can make to mollify the other whiners, uh, disenfranchised folks. This is the strategy of offering an iPhone for everyone.

For example, some people can't stand the virtual keyboard so a slider iPhone would make those members of the Apple family. Those that simply value size over all other features find the iPhone cumbersome so an iPhone mini (nano, pico, shuffle whatever) would bring those users into the fold. The list goes on and on, for every feature the iPhone has the lozenge of 3Gness is still missing one or more crucial features for someone who rejects the iPhone.

Apple's decision then becomes an obvious one: Will the company go down the path of maximum market penetration and try to produce something for everyone or will it stick with the notion that it is not wise to dilute the strength of the core product?

For most companies the answer is a no-brainer. If you can sell a few more units by adding a desired feature on then it is full speed ahead, damn the product line! There is money to be made and market share to be gained! For an example of this try wading through Dell's website, it's more confusing than listening to German Professors discuss Quantum Mechanics in their native language.

Apple won't muddy the product line with those kind of choices, there won't be any iPhone K104 with a sliding keyboard (those that ship with an internal hard drive will be K104H60). No, that kind of product lineup has proved untenable for Apple in the past and the company will not allow the phone options to mushroom into a weird stew the looks like the result of an illicit tryst between the Jumbles and the Sudoku panels

That doesn't mean it will be one model all the time. From the now not quite dead iPod, Apple learned that people can handle a few choices. So a smaller iPhone timed for the Christmas season might make sense. Trying to imagine how Apple could pull it off leaves one with a headache, is a smaller iPhone a reasonable thing or to really use the iPhone is it already at the smallest possible size? Would a flip phone really be an iPhone? Would keys ruin the experience completely? There is no telling but one thing seems certain: the only company that will ever make a viable iPhone killer will be Apple.



  • I like the way you think - keep the products simple but engage with users who are not enamored with the current iPhone.

    The easiest thing I can think of would be an iPhone Nano. Perhaps the current iPod Nano with phone and a touch screen (only for dialing numbers, flicking through a contact list, and coverflow)... but it seems too small. How about iPod Nano without touch screen, with a slide out number pad to make it a bit longer? That still seems in many ways an evolutionary step rather than any big move (perhaps a slide-out keyboard on the current iPhone is also just an incremental idea?)

    I have been in 2 minds about a keyboard. I either hated it or loved it… mainly I think it might work if the iPhone+keyboard became an ultra portable that looks like the Mac Book Air but is 2/3 the size - running just iPhone apps and iWork. Similar to the Newton’s eBook in concept.

    Anyway… my thoughts on the future of the iPhone lean more towards it acting as an access point to ‘all my stuff’. The same information on my iPhone, Mac, or eBook (or even Windows via MobileMe). But is that a distinct development from where we are…. does it involve a new phone or just better software and better MobileMe?

    Greg Alexander had this to say on Jul 18, 2008 Posts: 228
  • Rule #1 of Apple: It never perfects any product. I’ve had so many “obvious” things on my wish list for various products for years! And look, it took TWENTY years for Apple to get with the program on multi-“button” pointing devices.

    I don’t know which feature or features Apple is going to continue to short-change us on. It could be the camera, it could be video-phoning, it could be the lack of an SD-slot, or the lack of bluetooth.

    Or any combination of these or others.

    But whatever it is, we’ll all still buy the iPhone but wish it had <insert desired feature> here. And this will be a feature large numbers of folks want, not something that a handful want. But Apple still won’t do it.

    Secondly, the slider keyboard is the equivalent (in won’t happen-ness) of a real consumer affordable headless Mac. (The Mac mini is too underpowered an more importantly, too inflexible to qualify as a true headless Mac). Neither of these will happen.

    Likewise I don’t think Apple will release an iPhone nano. What good is it to Apple to release a product that is not revolutionary? (Like you I can’t see how they could make an iPhone that’s just a phone. Motorola ROKR anyone?)

    You want an Apple phone? You get an iPhone. I see more chance of changes to the iPod line up. eg Culling of the classic once touch goes 64GB.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jul 18, 2008 Posts: 1209
  • The subsidized price points of $199 and $299 kills any hope of a lower priced (a.k.a. FREE) feature phones that will satisfy the Apple crowd. But then, you can never say never - not with Steve.

    Robomac had this to say on Jul 19, 2008 Posts: 846
  • Ditto, the “phone” part of the iPhone is just a <u>trojan</u> masterly orchestrated by the Steve himself.

    The real deal here is to get as much user base for this new platform - the mobile internet platform - and in 4 more years the “phone” part becomes not so much an attraction.

    In 4 years, the user base of Apple’s mobile internet platform will have >200 million users. That is enough mass to leverage their pull over any phone carrier - just like what they have with the current music iPod platform. You are either in or out, as far as it will go. But what profit-motivated company can ignore such a massive consumer base? Not if the CEO is rational and sane.

    So, two cheers for the success of the iPhone. Three high cheers for Apple’s mobile internet platform. wink

    Robomac had this to say on Jul 19, 2008 Posts: 846
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