As the smartphone market continues to mature, ripening far beyond the practical fusion of PDA’s meet Cell Phones, leaders in the industry are constantly trying to shape customers expectations and create needs that bring in revenue dollars. If this rapid journey into post-PC territory has revealed anything it’s this: consumers’ expectations about what a smartphone should do and what role it should play in their lives have evolved toward ideas of a device that is a handheld computer. This is an important realization, as it precludes all previous assumptions about what a smartphone can do, how important it has become to the average person, and how truly ubiquitous is the concept of a connective device that can be held in the palm of our hands.
So, let’s cut to the chase. Apple has been a leader in smartphone markets with a commanding authority fueled by its design, innovation, and integration with apps and music sales. However, the colossal shadow of the iPhone cult may be in for a big wake up call if Apple doesn’t make a few crucial improvements in its next smartphone release. The recent dawn of the Samsung Galaxy III had generated enormous anticipation beforehand, and was met with brilliant reception afterward. Other Android-based and Windows-based phones are slowly—but surely—eating away at Apple [insert audience laugh track here].
The good news is that the few changes that Apple would have to make to its iPhone design and user experience would be minor at best, but certainly enough to match the wolves that circle its marketshare—and perhaps, take a bite out of theirs.
3 LITTLE THINGS
As far as performance, camera quality, and app diversity go, the iPhone can still run with the best of them. Most of the improvements required to beef up the iPhone’s wolf pack aren’t so much about its lack of muscle—it’s more about adding some more tact and practicality to its fight.
That being said, there are three areas in which the iPhone currently lags behind its competition: durability, OS experience, and screen size. Let’s take a look.
DURABILITY STATUS: TANK
Most of the market took to Apple’s ingenious design which insists upon simplicity; the one button rule: less is more. While some companies have opted to provide users with a few more, (aside from volume, power, and hold controls) most smartphones today come with a minimal amount of buttons which manipulate the normal user experience—usually between one and 3.
This was a truly amazing revelation by companies that finally came to understand that not only were touch screens sexy, but they were practical and simple. People love simple. People need practical.
But there was another feature of the iPhone that made it a star among consumers: it’s beautiful design. The simple, yet chic and elegant design of the iPhone made it easy for anyone to integrate it into their life, no matter what their personal style was; the iPhone design is an unassuming and artful masterpiece. But, there’s a problem with this: people don’t want to live in a museum.
Aesthetics have always played an important role in Apple’s design culture, and while this makes for an appealing fashion trend, it does little for the iPhone’s practical use. The truth is that the iPhone is the most fragile smartphone on the market. Seriously, it’s a pussy. A few minutes on YouTube will produce video after video after video of smartphone durability tests which often find iPhones shattered at the slightest tap to its glass face or underbelly. For comparison, I saw one video in which a guy took a hammer and nail to the curved screen of a Nokia Lumia 900 and pounded away at it, only to emerge virtually blemish free. WOW. In each review, it becomes clear how other smartphone companies have grown wise to the value of durability amongst users—most of who carry their smartphone everywhere and use it more than their home computer.
It’s true that people love beautiful things. But, beauty without strength is a cause for concern and people have enough daily troubles without having to worry if their most vital instrument will become a paperweight because they accidentally dropped it one day.
It’s not a difficult concept: people and their lives demand durability. People want a phone that can kick ass and take an ass-kicking. While people admire the fragility of masterful artwork, the inspiration of clean design and impeccable fashion sense, they also love hammers, steel-toed boots, and double coated polyurethane strap-on dildos.
THE BOTTOM LINE: iPhone 5 needs to incorporate a design that is AT LEAST comparable to the durability of some of the industry’s leading smartphones.
THE OS EXPERIENCE: YAWN
The iPhone franchise has been toting the same damn tile-based OS experience since it launched in 2005. Though tried and true in its form, and certainly upgraded from time to time as needed, it’s starting to feel a bit, well, stale. Perhaps stale isn’t exactly the right word, but something about the iOS experience seems a bit too restricted when you consider the more free-form feeling of other Android based phones.
It’s a silly thing when one has to admit that boredom (not necessarily a lack of instrumental use) drives one’s disinterest in a product. As a child of the information age there seems to be this sense among my generation—and indeed those in the technology industry—that if things aren’t changing, we’re not making progress. Change and new experiences help us to identify progression through the identification and creation of new desirable experiences. Once our technology does what we want it to, we next long for it to do things in ways that amaze us and in ways that we WANT them to do those things.
While I can imagine that the iPhone’s simple and linear OS experience is somehow tied into the preservation of battery life and the efficient use of processing power, one’s imagination tingles with joy at the idea of a more free-form iOS experience.
THE BOTTOM LINE: iPhone 5 should attempt created a new OS experience which is familiar, yet provides the refreshing feeling of a more free-form user atmosphere.
SCREEN SIZE: PRIVATE MOVIE THEATER
I’m just going to come out and bitch about it: Why are smartphone screens getting bigger? This ridiculous trend of smartphone screens getting bigger absolutely baffles me. At what point does it cease to be a portable and convenient smartphone that fits in your pocket? When does it become another cumbersome personal computer?
And there’s the rub. The truth is, more and more, people are coming to view their smartphone as something more than just a phone. As internet, data, and texting packages become cheaper, and as the Apps market continues to grow, users have come to accept their smartphone as their personal computer. This paradigm shift in the perception people have about their phone is most driven by the Apps market. The Apps market is creating new demand for more processing speed, better cloud data systems, and of course, bigger screens. You see, back when people wanted their cell phones to be phones, they wanted portability. Yet, now, as the Apps market has shown consumers a new way to think about their smartphone, they have come to demand something different of their smartphone: people want their smartphone to be a personal computer. Because of this shift in perception, a smaller screen is not only undesirable, it’s not longer practical as the use of mobile applications begins to dominate user time.
THE BOTTOM LINE: iPhone 5 needs to feature a competitive screen size that’s large enough to satisfy a user experience that takes place mostly in Apps.
So, I’m definitely looking forward to the new iPhone 5, but trut truth be told, if at least some of these improvements aren’t made in addition to a beefy processor upgrade, I’m not sure if my love affair with Apple can continue in the smartphone bedroom.