Why the iPhone Can’t Be Beat

by Chris Seibold Nov 04, 2009

It was Halloween. The doorbell rang. You saw zombies, Elvises and pregnant nuns. You also saw you share of crappy costumes bought at the local Walmart but one costume you didn't see was the iPhone Killer. The reason an iPhone killer didn't darken your door looking for the snack size pack of milk duds (which resemble excreta from Night of the Lepus but are actually tasty home dental tools designed to remove loose fillings) is because no one has any idea what an iPhone killer looks like.

Sure, you're saying no one actually knows what a real ghost looks like or has any idea what an actual vampire looks like and they pull that off, why not an iPhone killer? Remember that the menagerie of costumed folks that came begging were all based on some idea that has a representation in popular culture. Even something as fantastical as a wolfman has a look that society can easily identify. An iPhone killer, at this point, is so completely ineffable that creating a quirky concept that conveys it is like Don Quixote jousting windmills. Except you could, with enough cleverness, come up with a really nifty Don Quixote costume.

Why is the notion of an iPhone killer so ethereal? Why is it so difficult when a great costume is relatively easy to come up with? Think about what makes a great costume. You can distill it down to a few things:

Cleverness (to really get people interested people have to think how clever you were coming up with the thing)

Originality (another witch isn't going to do it)

Workmanship (yes cutting fifty eye holes in a sheet and going as Charlie Brown just isn't enough).

Wow, a quick look at that set-o-criteria would leave you thinking that the same thing set of requirements would be used with an iPhone killer. But that oversimplifies the case of the iPhone. With the iPhone it isn't enough to be clever, the iPhone is already fiendishly clever. It isn't enough to be original, the iPhone is a true original. And monks can handcraft an phone that goes through four billion quality checks before it hits the shelves and you won't beat the iPhone craftsmanship because the iPhone is already good enough.

When you are building a phone to beat the iPhone you need to mix in a few more things. You'll have to beat Apple's reputation as a company that produces solutions instead of problems. It took Apple twenty years to build the brand. You'll also have to manufacture the media frenzy that accompanies every iPhone update. That took another ten years of careful massaging by Steve Jobs. On top of all that, you'll have to match the iPhone's marketing.

Can that be right? Will a phone have to be that good to beat the iPhone? Of course not, that is a short list, the phone that unseats the iPhone will have to be much better and that chance is gone, as dead as all the iPhone killers that have already come before it.

Take the example of the Moto Droid. Check out the spec sheet war and realize that you just don't care. By now the very idea of an iPhone killer is as tired as a narcoleptic coming off a three-day crack binge. Sure, the geeks are getting worked up, but you can get those people foaming at the mouth merely by mumbling something like "pixel density, OS independent resolution, ZFS, and quantum enhancement touch screens." Yes, the talk sounds great to geeks, but that isn't a surprise, these were the folks who were sure Mac OS 8.6 was going to have a major impact on Windows.

The iPhone is in the rarified position of defining the market. You've got two choices when buying a smartphone right now: iPhone or Not an iPhone. There isn't a real choice, no Chevy versus Ford option, it is the iPhone competing against all the other smart phones out there. And as far as the market is concerned every phone that isn't an iPhone is just another knock off. The Pre didn't break that paradigm, the Storm didn't and neither will the Motorola Droid. Sure, all these products seemed as legitimate as the iPhone when they first rolled out, but in retrospect they were laughable attempts to one up something that can't be one upped.

To understand why the iPhone can't be beat, perform the following experiment: Go to Target. Get a hacksaw and cut one of those point of sale card readers, next to the register, free from its moorings. Then take it to Verizon and tell them that it is an iPhone killer. Once you've said "capacitive touch screen," Verizon would be all over you to sell the device.

After you post bond, hey you can't expect you're appropriation of someone else's property to go unpunished, you'll be in the big time meetings with Verizon execs and you'll get to tell them all the ways your device is better than the iPhone. You might even generate a spec sheet battle.

Your device at least equals the iPhone but really, since it has a real keyboard, your device simply kills the iPhone. A little bulky maybe, but who are we kidding, you can hook your device up with an Ethernet cable. The iPhone doesn't have an Ethernet port so you can smell the spec sheet win.

Then when it rolls out and doesn't do jack you will be befuddled by the lack of acceptance. At this point, you should seek out a long time Mac fan. They will happily regale you with spec sheet battles with Dell and tales of maddening times when the Mac did more than the Windows counterpart and still couldn't gain any traction in the marketplace.

Why didn't the Mac gain some sort of traction back in the old days? The old story is that Apple screwed up by not licensing the OS, but that take is half-full of hurt feelings and the other half is pure shinola. It was never really a question of which OS was better, or who licensed first (recall that Apple did, eventually, license the OS). The question was all about who people trusted more. And they trusted Microsoft.

People lined up around the block (literally) for Windows 95. They saw the winner and they went with it. Apple could call Windows 95 MacOS 92 all they wanted, make great jokes and have spec sheet battles, but the company still lost. Badly. Every time. Things aren't as rosy for Microsoft right now, but the company is still winning the OS battle.

The iPhone is in the same place Microsoft was 20 years ago. People trust it not to suck. All the spec sheet battles in the world won't change this. In short, Apple has the marketing, the media and the developers. The only thing that is going to beat the iPhone, right now, is mistakes from Apple. And Apple isn't going to make many.




  • The only people who even use the words “iPhone killer” are Apple fanboys and the media.  I’ve looked at the spec sheet and I really like the DROID.  I bought my iPhone a month and a half ago, but if I were still in the market, I’d be seriously considering it.  My friend is replacing his iPhone with a Droid tomorrow.

    Whether or not it can be beat is another question, but it’s certainly possible.  If there’s a lesson to be learned in the tech industry, it’s that no brand leader is every beyond reach.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Nov 06, 2009 Posts: 2220
  • It’s not even that - in the U.S., it’s AT&T;, where we get to have an iPhone, or everybody else, where we get a phone, and wait for the future.

    Howard Brazee had this to say on Nov 06, 2009 Posts: 54
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    <h1>ferragamo sale</h1> I’ve looked at the spec sheet and I really like the DROID.  I bought my iPhone a month and a half ago, but if I were still in the market, I’d be seriously considering it.  My friend is replacing his iPhone with a Droid tomorrow.

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