What Apple did right with the iPhone

Alan Patrick sums it up nicely:

“In fact its indicative of the industry’s malaise that Apple made such a big splash by making a phone that merely “did” the ‘Net easily, loaded applications quickly, and had a decent size screen. Hardly revolutionary technology, but they came as a shock to the mobile industry. Putting the user’s need first – how totally innovative!”

Just like the old saying “Only Nixon could go to China”, I often think “Only Apple could do the iPhone” – not because the technology is wildly novel, but because only someone as ballsy as Steve Jobs could force the telcos to not mess things up. Jobs’ real genius was forcing AT&T to accept unlimited Internet that really meant unlimited, not allowing any walled gardens in access, and refusing to carry network-specific applications.

In other words, remembering that “the customer” is the end user – not the networks.

There’s an interesting parallel here with Microsoft, too. Although Microsoft has always sold plenty of product direct to end-users, for years there’s been a very real sense that its actual customers were IT managers and directors – hence its focus on features in Windows for them, occasionally at the expense of the people who actually have to use the machines.

Microsoft is, I think, realising that this isn’t a wise approach anymore: That even though its bread and butter remains the enterprise market, that market is now, at least in part, driven by the desires of end-users. The iPhone has proved to be a stealth weapon for Apple in the corporate market, with IT people being hassled to support it as a way of accessing corporate mail and so on. This is a horrific idea for Microsoft – any appearance of the Apple logo in corporates rings big alarm bells in Redmond.

The interesting question – and one I’ll leave open – is if Microsoft has the ability to turn its focus around, and target consumers rather than IT managers. In my limited experience of Windows 7 so far, I think the answer might be “yes” – but until I’ve had a good long play, and run into the inevitable “gotchas”, I’ll reserve judgement.

  • http://jearle.eu @jearle

    I think the reason Microsoft has started to change the focus is because CEOs are now of the generation that uses computers instead of having their underlings do it for them. CEOs can make grand over-arching decisions on platforms and some of them like Macs. Vista gave them an excuse to recommend non-Windows machines, and if the replacement is more like NT4 and less like Win98, they'll switch to Mac.

    Or, I could be just guessing.

    Whatever, the reason, Microsoft do have to start winning back (warning! Buzzword alert!) mindshare.

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk ianbetteridge

    I don't think you're wide of the mark, actually.

  • http://www.ballantyne.com Robert Ballantyne

    • With the Mac Plus (a computer that required an unavailable wrench to open, and that worked with a laser printer to create the concept of desktop publishing), • with the iMac (which was just the Plus concept updated for the end of the millennium, • with the iPod, and • with iPhone. There is a pattern here: a knowing how the current technology and complete systems can be arranged so as to delight (not just serve; but create something that is thrilling, cool, and compelling) the real market. It is not just the hardware, or the software, or the distribution system. It is imagining the whole picture and visualizing the strategy to implement it. The culture of MS has never been to serve the public. MSDOS was a re-packaged CP/M for IBM. Windows was a me-to reaction to the Macintosh. As long as the current leadership is running MS, there is no way that firm can 'get it.' My concern is that if Jobs is not at the helm of Apple, that company may end up with just another dot-com CEO. We saw what happened at Disney.

  • Nat

    The point is the consumer smart phone market is much more lucrative than the enterprise one will ever be. So M$ is chasing the money

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=690068237 Brian Hayashi

    People assume that Apple has always had the Midas touch. They have forgotten the Newton and its wireless sibling, the Marco. I have a Marco. It doesn't even make a good space heater. But what Apple learned with those failures has paid off in spades with the iPhone. Microsoft today is where Apple was then — in the middle of a midlife crisis.

    IMHO successful platform plays come about because of an abundance of great software. Developing on the Windows OS made a lot of “Microsoft Millionaires” and today that's what's happening with the iTunes app store. I'd argue that both the iPod and iPhone have become successes because of the ability to keep adding content, whether music or movies or apps.

    I expect that Microsoft is at this moment developing a “Surface” store where people can buy or lease content and apps for its touch interface, which has been quietly rolled out on a subsidized basis in select upscale hotels.