What’s next after iPhone ?

 In Articles

In four years, the iPhone has made most of the multimedia portable devices obsolete. During the iPhone launch keynote, Steve Jobs presented it as “an iPod, a Phone and an Internet communicator”, making useless music players and palmtop computers (like PDA). With mobile calendar and contacts synchronization, Palm and other “organisers” were out-dated. With the camera phone, digital compact cameras are getting less and less necessary and with the integrated GPS and compass, no more need of TomTom or Garmin… Apple provides with the iPhone a universal and a must-have Swiss Army knife. The single-task digital devices can be left on the History shelves.
“Power users” are certainly not going to push aside their reflex cameras or their hi-fi system for an iPhone, but for most of the consumers, the iPhone satisfy all their digital needs.

1 Discover and rediscover digital mobile

Haven’t you ever rediscovered golf, your CD collection or the pleasure of driving just buying a new club, a new CD player or a great car? Although the usage did not really change, the desire to play with a new “toy” has woken up pleasure.
The iPhone has revolutionized consumer usage; unveiling functionalities that have existed for years but never got adopted.

Indeed, most of the services available on the iPhone already existed when the first smartphones were launched. In 2002, Orange released SPV: a product available on Windows Mobile, providing contacts, agenda and e-mails synchronization with Outlook. It was also designed to listen to music, look at pictures and play movies, SPV meaning “Sound, Picture and Video”. This product and its different versions also provided the possibility to download applications and use Internet, just like the iPhone does. Nokia and Sony Ericsson also had launched for several years smart-phones based on Symbian N-series for Nokia and P700, P800 and P810 for Sony Ericsson with powerful processors, touch screens, providing quite all the services of an iPhone.

At that time, those handsets aimed above all at the business market, had perfectible user interface, and the data connection prices were at best unclear, at worst prohibitive.

Like often, just a few ingredients were missing to find the perfect alchemy, and Apple found them: First, reinventing the touch interface, that hadn’t evolved since the first Palm Pilot, and was more an adaptation of the mouse UI to stylus. Apple relies on the integration of the best of technologies (capacitive multipoint touch screen) working with a software (MacOS) with refined ergonomics thought for finger use, all that highlighted by an innovative design. The iPhone has become one of the most desirable products of the time. As usual, Apple used already aging technologies: platform 2G, 2 megapixels camera, universal jack plug, and iPod connector to provide a reliable and efficient product. Whereas other manufacturers are competing in a technology race, most of the time at the expenses of consumer experience and reliability.
Second ingredient: selling both the iPhone and a contract that allowed using easily the advanced features of the product. This contract enabled Apple to negotiate with operators a higher subsidy than competitors and to make an expensive product affordable for the customer.
Apple has also reinforced its products attractiveness thanks to some strong choices, securing the product stability (applications approval, no multitask, necessity to have a computer connected to Internet to use it) and its determination to put forward the leaders’ services (Google: Maps, YouTube, Yahoo stock market and weather forecast). At last, and quite ironically after the Steve Job’s announces against third parties applications, its success soared thanks to a late opening to the much pampered developers’ community – iFund launch: fund dedicated to companies manufacturing iPhone’s software, powerful SDK, etc.).

2 Well-adapted contracts, subsidies and critical mass
The hit of a single model allowed Apple to negotiate with operators well-adapted contracts, attractive selling price thanks to large and mandatory subsidy, as well as an aggressive commercial campaign (ATL and BTL, especially in the point of sales). Those elements enabled to reach a critical mass, self-sustaining success. Mac was a precursor in the eighties but never managed to reach this critical mass, remaining at less than 10% of the market.

In the early, competitors were at a loss how to react. Some did not believe in touch-screen devices for non-business markets (Nokia, Motorola, Sony Ericsson and Microsoft), others did not perceive the interest of providing an “End to End” experience, consistent and reliable, and preferred to launch plethoric ranges, without looking at Devil’s details. Hence, Apple took a significant advance, creating ergonomics standards for clients and a necessary platform for software developers.

Today, smartphones now exist beyond the iPhone and all manufacturers intensified their creativity to compete with them. Google and Android have been finally providing a real convincing alternative, developed thanks to reliable products, cheaper than the iPhone. Google benefits from the support of leading players like HTC, Samsung, LG and Sony (previously Sony Ericsson). Microsoft, with Windows Mobile 7 (and soon 8), seems to be able to offer a new mobile experience really innovative and thought to be mass market, with the brand new support of Nokia. The ultimate player in this smart-phones ecosystem is a new player in the mass market: RIM. Relying on Blackberry’s fame, they provide a messenger Blackberry community- targeted service that seduces many young people. He now seeks to bounce on the upscale market.
Those ones make the market today.

3 So, what will your next mobile phone do?
First, but it is not new, it will phone! And innovations in phoning are not over.

It will also be the aggregator of your digital life. The address book will include Facebook events, your friends’ and acquaintances’ pictures and blogs. You will access to your videos, pictures, documents, music stored on line, in the “cloud” or in your computer, and a part of them will be available offline.
Finally, it will be your interface with “real” world: at home, but also in mobility, you will be able to control your hi-fi system, program your DVD recorder, open your shutters, set the temperature, fill the fridge, etc. Possibilities will only be limited by the processor power, the screen size, and the developer’s talent. The software will be able to improve thanks to updates and applications.

The all-software domination is going to put an end to the hardware battles, and will probably give path to a concentration of players. That will allow integrated-hardware former suppliers to focus on service and software that will run on the few standard platforms of the market. At the other end of the chain, design-makers will try to differentiate by other ways and design will be decisive. The hardware battle will no more be horizontal, between different products, but vertical, between similar products but more or less aesthetic.

The main battles will then be close to computers or handsets a few years ago:
• Design. Even for computers, design is key. Design could be split in two parts: industrial design (size, keyboard, buttons, weight…), and aesthetic. Apple is excellent in this domain, and has made all their new success with it. The real renewal on Apple with the iMac is design, not OS. The success of MacBook is also mainly due to design – the battle is not over! In handsets design, HTC, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, and even the others have their word to say, with different positioning.
• Screen size and quality (High Definition, flexible, foldable, beamed, 3D, etc.). This will be the main innovations in the following years, allowing new form factors, and real breakthrough, solving the today impossible compromise between handset and screen size. 3D would probably become a standard, even if limited to certain usages like gaming and TV. Touch screen sensitivity will be better and better, especially in low end.
• Processor speed. The battle will continue, with dual core (and evenquad-core), video chipset, allowing more and more powerful applications for image and video editing, 3D gaming, etc. What is tricky here, is that, whit a given OS, everything is supposed to be possible. In fact, it is not really the case. Low end smartphones have not enough power to run efficiently demanding applications such as film playing or editing, handling big files – a magazine in pdf can weight 40 MB and be very slow on some platforms.
• Memory has still room for improvement, to store your entire collection of high quality music, pictures and video
• Communication. 3G, Bluetooth and WiFi are the today standards. LTE will arrive in the next years, allowing mobile broad band enabling cloud usage. NFC is a success only in Japan, but should arrive in US and Europe in order to facilitate payment, identification and CRM. Apple seems to be on hold on the subject, but Google is pushing, looking at synergies with advertising. RFID and DSRC could be integrated for road toll payment. Here again, the value added will be through the combination with identification, data connection, GPS and other sensors: account management, security, etc.
• Sensors. They have been a key enabler in smartphones success, allowing a lot of creativity. Photo capture has not reached a ceiling, with better quality, especially in low light, better image treatment, quicker response, etc. The iPhone 4 gyroscope has not become a standard, as the advantages are not obvious compared to compass and accelerometer.
• Software integration. The possibilities are huge, from better OS integration (battery life management, etc.) to innovative software with new UI in photo and video editing, and should take advantage on all technologies integration (cf. Apple patent on video enhancement). The copy and paste from PC world is not enough!
• Battery life. This is one of the major issues today; no smartphone is able to be used several days without being charged. Battery capacity, software optimisation and possibly solar cell to charge the battery all the day long…
• Accessories. Speakers could be better as symbolic, but value added will come from a set of accessories enabling new usages, especially in the professional world: credit card readers, bar code scanners, etc.

To be continued !