iPhone, just good enough

June 27, 2007

It is not really the Jesus phone, the iPhone is just another smartphone. It is not even the first smartphone (the way the iPod was the first high-capacity music player.) It is not different, just dressed up a bit.

The bottom line is that smartphones are compromised. The phone, email, music and internet functions are very different from one another. One small device doing all of them cannot be better than individual devices doing each of them. It is a fact of life.

With the iPhone, Apple has definitely produced the best, most fantastic smartphone ever. It is a beautiful and elegant piece of hardware with simple well designed software. But it is still a smartphone, a multifunction convergence device.

The question is: Will smartphones or multiple devices be the future? Only time will tell.

Short term, Apple addicts will gobble up every last iPhone that goes on sale this Friday at 6 pm. But will the iPhone dominate the telecom market the way the iPod has dominated the music market?

I doubt it. Why?

Because I believe consumers prefer “better.” A convergence product like the iPhone can only offer up “good enough.”

RAZR is a “better” phone. BlackBerry is a “better” email device. Nintendo DS is a “better” game player. Garmin is a “better” mapping device. iPod is a “better” music device.

Some of these products even be could better if manufactures would stop trying to add more functions to the babies and just try to make them better, smaller and cooler. That is exactly the strategy that gave us the iPod.

My iPod shuffle needs to be tiny so I can run with it. My BlackBerry needs to be big enough so I can type comfortably. A little of one combined with a little of the other and you get a device that performs poorly at both functions. In other words, it gets trapped in the mushy middle.

The question is, will consumers be willing to compromise on battery life, size, price and easy of use in order to get an all-in-one device that doesn’t perform better than the sum of its parts?

Sure, a few people will buy iPhones for the sake of convenience. Sure, a few people will buy iPhones because they are so in love with Apple that they would buy a bridge if Steve Jobs tried to sell it to them.

But the in long run, the vast majority of people will prefer their “better” individual devices. Especially companies wised up and created more divergence products.

Don’t be fooled: Despite the hype, the deals and the massive advertising smart phones still only have around 10 percent of the market.

Opportunity comes from pulling things apart not putting them together. The devices of the future might plug together or network together, but they will all be individual “better” products.