tymshft

There is nothing new under the sun…turn, turn, turn

But WHY were the iPhone naysayers incorrect?

When I look at predictions that were incorrect – more often than not, my own predictions – my intent is not to make fun of the stupid people (generally me) who got it so wrong, but to ask the question – WHY was the original prediction incorrect?

When Apple came up with its iPod that was also a phone – with the wildly unoriginal name “iPhone” – it was not an overnight success. In fact, some very influential people thought that it would be a spectacular failure.

Ben Sin revisited those incorrect predictions, but again he was not laughing at the bad predictions:

Now, this piece isn’t in any way meant to poke fun at people who predicted failure for the iPhone. Nobody, not even Jobs, could have known the iPhone would be the single most important invention of the past decade.

So why did people such as Steve Ballmer, TechCrunch, and others think that the iPhone would fail? For a lot of reasons, but I’d like to focus on two of them.

First, several people didn’t like the idea of a touchscreen at all. TechCrunch:

That virtual keyboard will be about as useful for tapping out emails and text messages as a rotary phone. Don’t be surprised if a sizable contingent of iPhone buyers express some remorse at ditching their BlackBerry when they spend an extra hour each day pumping out emails on the road.

David Platt:

…users will detest the touch screen interface due to its lack of tactile feedback. Using a thumb keyboard, as on the very popular Treo phone, allows the user to feel the keys and know subconsciously that he’s about to press this one and not the one next to it. A touch screen doesn’t allow that, so the user will have to be looking at the keyboard at all times while using it.

And I’ll include myself in that number. For years after 2007, I resisted getting a phone that didn’t have a “real” keyboard. Even though I hsve relatively thin fingers, I knew that there was no way that I could accurately type on a virtual keyboard that was so small.

So what did I learn, and what did others learn, when we finally got an iPhone or an Android phone that had a virtual keyboard?

Auto-correct.

Granted that auto-correct is constantly vilified, but on balance it does more good than harm. Contrary to the 2007 belief that people would take forever to type anything on a virtual keyboard, I type at a pretty fast rate – and my phone corrects my errant keystrokes more often than not.

And by freeing up the space formerly occupied by a physical keyboard, modern phones can now either have a bigger screen, or can do away with the complexities of a “chiclet” model phone in which the keyboard slid in and out. This resulted in a better user experience.

Add to that another thing that Jobs wasn’t banking on in 2007 – voice dictation. I personally am not a big user of voice dictation, but as we get more comfortable with the technology and as Siri, Alexa, and their friends continue to evolve, input will be even easier.

(One caveat: voice dictation has its own drawbacks. If you get irritated when you see a crowd of people all staring at their phones, you will get REALLY irritated when that same crowd of people all starts TALKING to their phones.)

So what’s the second reason that people thought the iPhone would fail? The cost was too damn high. Even back in 2007, when most people were not exposed to the full cost of buying a phone because it was buried in their data plan, people worried that the iPhone would be a failure because other phones could do the same thing much more cheaply.

Ballmer:

It’s a $500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I’d prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get.

So, what happened? The iPhone came out, it was really expensive, and in the U.S. it was only available on a single cellular network. Sounds like a recipe for failure, right?

No. Because people really, really wanted the iPhone, and they loudly demanded that Apple release the iPhone for Verizon and other networks. And in economic terms, it became a scarce good with pent-up demand.

Not every Apple product has been a runaway success, but they have clearly had several successes over their decades-long history, and the iPhone was clearly one of them. While it could have gone the other way, and while certain aspects of the iPhone marketing have been ridiculed (“It’s white! OMG OMG OMG!”), the iPhone delivered enough functionality and included enough revisions that people continued to have interest in it.

And the iPhone influenced other products, and even other markets. Today you have Android phones that receive calls, play music, and access the Internet. And they’re really expensive and don’t have keyboards.

On a personal note, one of those iPhone revisions affected my industry, biometrics. In the years before 2007, if someone had told you to put your finger on a phone to unlock it, you would have resisted the idea because that’s what police do to criminals. But when Apple put a fingerprint reader on an iPhone, use of the technology in consumer markets became acceptable.

In 2007, it was difficult to predict that this new device would change things as much as it did. And we never really know when a new product will succeed, and when it will fail. So frankly, when the next revolutionary product comes out, we probably won’t be any better at knowing whether it will change everything, or be a spectacular failure.

Anyone got an iPod for sale?

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