Ya Think?

An article on Forbes.com states that if Apple starts selling the iPhone on Verizon, it could damage the momentum Google has built up for the Android devices.

I’ve said in the past (here and here) that even just a rumor that an iPhone would be available on a particular network could be enough to damage or short-circuit any momentum competing smartphones generate. Obviously, if the iPhone were to be released on a particular network, it would likely dominate that carrier’s smartphone sales while pent-up demand was filled. But the real proof in the pudding would be head-to-head sales after the initial sales surge. Given the power of Apple’s marketing machine right now, it would be hard to predict any outcome other than Apple coming out on top.

Floating a Bomb

I wrote an “experimental” article back in August where I claimed Apple was going to release the iPhone on Sprint. Of course, this was just a hoax, but I wanted to gauge reaction when people thought they could get an iPhone on Sprint. However, the point of the article was that I thought Apple could “nuke” the landscape of smartphones on a wireless carrier if they simply floated the rumor that the iPhone would be coming to that network “in the near future”. I figured that there were (and still are) many people who really wanted an iPhone but didn’t want to or couldn’t leave their carrier. If these people were given a glimmer of hope that they could soon get an iPhone, they would put off purchasing another smartphone in anticipation of getting an iPhone. Obviously, that kind of thinking could be devastating to the sales of other smartphones trying to gain a foothold in the market.

Recently, there have been a lot of articles being written suggesting that Apple is going to release the iPhone later this year on a multitude of carriers. As I’ve written previously, I highly doubt that Apple is going to release the iPhone for any carriers that are not using the same technology as AT&T’s current network (GSM/GPRS) or their future 4G network (LTE). It simply doesn’t seem to make sense for Apple to devote significant resources to creating an iPhone for network technologies that are soon to be out of use. So the flurry of articles recently written make me wonder if Apple is “dropping the bomb” and trying to derail the momentum of other smartphones.

It seems to make sense. While the various Google phones are not really selling all that well as compared to the iPhone, they have gained a fair amount of “mindshare”, meaning that they are starting to be acknowledged by people as a relevant competitor in the marketplace. However a carefully calculated strike could significantly slow down their momentum. Perhaps Apple feels that this is the time to put the squeeze on their competitors. Perhaps it has something to do with the timing of the iPad. Perhaps it means nothing and Apple is not intentionally doing anything. Or perhaps the articles are correct and we will in fact see the iPhone on other networks this year. But I doubt that last sentence.

These Aren't the Droids You're Looking For

The current Droid teaser ads assert a few points. I’d like to discuss each:

iDon’t have a real keyboard: This has been a common complaint about the iPhone since day one. Honestly, I had serious concerns about the iPhone not having a real keyboard myself when it was first released. And when I first used my iPod Touch (essentially the same thing as an iPhone for purposes of the keyboard) I had some difficulty with it. But the more I practiced, and with each update to the iPhone/iPod Touch software, I got much more efficient with the virtual keyboard. Now I feel completely comfortable with it. And I have observed users who are insanely fast typing on the iPhone – with one hand even! I believe that most people who complain about the iPhone virtual keyboard have never used it or have only given it cursory usage.

But it doesn’t really matter what technical people like myself think. As far as marketshare goes, what is important is what the mainstream user thinks. I believe most mainstream users don’t really understand the relative merits of a “real” keyboard as compared to a virtual keyboard. But if a commercial like this makes them wonder about it, they’d just ask their iPhone using friends (of which they have plenty because smartphone users tend to flock together). Those friends would mostly say that they don’t really have a problem with the iPhone’s keyboard. And that would be the end of this argument in their minds. Score: iPhone 1 – Droid 0

Another point often overlooked about the iPhone’s virtual keyboard is that it can be easily customized for each language. So the exact same iPhone hardware that is manufactured for the US market can be easily loaded, for example, with the Chinese language software. This allows Apple to take advantage of massive economies of scale and worldwide ubiquity. Android phones made by many different manufacturers will need to be custom built for each language they support. This will make it difficult for other phone manufacturers to make as much profit as Apple does from each of their iPhones.

iDon’t run simultaneous apps: There’s nobody who appreciates geeky technology better than me (my wife would say there’s no bigger geek). And I certainly appreciate the ability to run simultaneous apps. But really, in using the iPhone, I can’t honestly say that the lack of running apps simultaneously has bothered me much. While simultaneous app usage is great on a desktop, I don’t think it translates quite as well to a handheld device. Apple’s position is that simultaneous apps can drain battery life (more on that later). That argument is yet to be proven with the Palm Pre and Google Android devices, so we’ll see. But once again, what does the mainstream user think? I think that most users have little concept what “simultaneous apps” could do for them, so this argument just goes over their head – and probably turns them off in the process. iPhone 2 – Droid 0

iDon’t take night shots: This argument is pretty specific and could be pretty effective. But how many smartphone users care that their phone can take night shots? Certainly the geekier among us can appreciate this feature. But I believe most users will think, “that’s neat” and not much more. iPhone 3 – Droid 0

iDon’t do open development: Ummm … yeah. Who cares? What does this even mean? Once again, geeky types might get the warm and fuzzies over this, but the average user has no idea what open development means for them. iPhone 4.5 – Droid 0 (I give the iPhone 1.5 points on this one because this argument is just so weak).

iDon’t customize: Really? I think the iPhone is pretty customizable. But hey, I’m just an average user (well, not really, but close enough). I think the mainstream user would find this confusing. What exactly is customizable? “Oh well, I guess I’m just not smart enough to know what that means so I’ll just ignore the Droid”. iPhone 5.5 – Droid 0

iDon’t have widgets: Honestly, I had to look this up. I wasn’t quite sure what Android widgets were (they weren’t part of the first Android release). And yes, I’m a super-geek as my wife would attest. So if I wasn’t clear on the whole widget concept, how is the average user going to know? Basically, once again, this goes over users heads and possibly turns them off to the whole Droid concept. iPhone 6.5 – Droid 0. Ironically, one of the concerns about widgets is that they may drain battery life, which leads to the next point.

iDon’t have interchangeable batteries: Yet another argument that has been around since day one of the iPhone. So far it hasn’t seemed to hinder iPhone adoption. I theorize that this is because the iPhone’s battery life is more than adequate for most users. Other users can fairly easily charge their phones at least once during the day (the iPhone seems to charge quite quickly). And for those who really need more battery life, there are third party products that can augment the iPhone battery. I believe that most users who own phones that have interchangeable batteries never purchase another battery.

Apple has proven with their MacBook laptops that by designing a battery that isn’t user interchangeable, they can increase the runtime as well as the lifetime of the battery. This is often overlooked by those that argue against the iPhone battery. Sufficient runtime and lifetime of a battery can negate the need for interchangeability. On the counter, if the software is not efficient (simultaneous apps and widgets?), it can increase the likelihood of needing an extra battery.

So far I’ve been fairly harsh on this ad, but let me state what I do like about it. It is clear and concise and plays on the perceived strengths of the Android platform. It isn’t the “100% You” blather that T-Mobile is putting out there, and it isn’t the touchy-feely existentialism that the Palm Pre phone ads portray. Combined with the “pick your network” ad campaign, this looks good for Verizon. The question is just how good?

Overall, I think this ad suffers from the same problem as the Palm Pre ads – they seem to be written by geeks for geeks. Sure the iPhone has a lot of geek appeal, but Apple knows they don’t need to sell to that market. The iPhone has been successful precisely because it targets the mainstream in features, ease of use, and marketing. It seems the other guys haven’t yet figured this out. Until they do, I don’t believe they’ll have much success.

You Can Pick Your Friends …

I’ve observed that Verizon has been running an ad campaign for a couple of weeks subtly attacking the iPhone. The campaign basically claims that Verizon’s network is superior to AT&T’s network by such a large margin that you should forget about any phone that doesn’t run on Verizon’s network. As they claim, “before you pick a phone, pick a network”. Obviously, the underlying message is “forget the iPhone – it doesn’t run on Verizon”.

I think this is actually a very good campaign because the message is clear and Verizon is playing on the perceived strength of its network. It can definitely make people think twice about buying an iPhone if they have any qualms about AT&T’s network. The question will be if the message resonates with enough people to put a dent in iPhone sales. I believe it boils down to whether or not people are more swayed by the marketing of a network or the marketing of devices. Personally, I think it is pretty clear that the mainstream is more apt to gravitate to an exciting, fun device than the relatively boring technology of a wireless network.

I think Verizon realizes this, however. What should not be missed is that Verizon has recently started the Droid campaign. It seems that Verizon is attempting a one-two punch at the iPhone. 1) our network is much better, and 2) we have devices that are better than the iPhone. I’ll write more on the Droid campaign in another article. The question for now is whether Verizon actually believes that Google Android phones are better than the iPhone, or if they are using this campaign to pressure Apple into releasing an iPhone on their network. Likely, Verizon knows that this strategy is their best chance of success either way.

If Verizon grows its customer base large enough with this campaign, they are in a much stronger position to negotiate with Apple, if they feel they even need the iPhone anymore. If enough customers switch away from AT&T (and the iPhone) because of their network, or if Google Android phones start to develop a significant enough following on Verizon’s network for Apple to notice, then it puts pressure on Apple to develop iPhones for Verizon’s network. The risk to Verizon is if this campaign isn’t very successful, it cements the iPhone’s dominance in the market and puts Apple solidly in the driver’s seat in any negotiations.

But Sir, Nobody Worries About Upsetting a Droid

A couple of weeks ago, Google and Verizon announced a partnership to co-develop a series of phones based on Google’s Android platform. Just this weekend, a marketing campaign attacking the Apple iPhone was launched promoting the Verizon “Droid”. Thus, many are prognosticating, the opening salvos been fired in the first serious competitive threat to the iPhone.

There are many, many articles on the web that talk about nearly every angle of this topic ad nauseum. So I won’t rehash any of those articles. For me, what this “battle” will come down to is which business model resonates with the market better. The iPhone model: where Apple has tight control over the entire platform from hardware to software. Or the Android model: in which Google develops the software platform and leaves it up to other vendors to implement the hardware.

Up to this point, the iPhone has succeeded exactly because Apple was able to develop a device they had total control over, resulting in a very easy to use product that brought smartphone features to the average user. It will be interesting to see if Google’s model of more open development will result in devices that are as slick or polished, are as easy to use, and that will create the type of affection among its users that the iPhone has. It will be this, not tech specs or marketing campaigns, that will determine which smartphone will be the dominant player for the next several years.

Head in the Clouds

A lot has been written in the last few months about “cloud computing”. Basically, cloud computing is the generic term for computing services and applications that are hosted over the Internet. They can be as simple as web-based e-mail services such as Yahoo Mail or Gmail. Or they can be more complex and full featured services such as Google Apps, which provide on-line word processing or spreadsheet software. Other companies such as Microsoft and Apple are taking steps to offer cloud computing services and applications.

If one were to read all that was being written about cloud computing, it wouldn’t be difficult to draw the conclusion that the future of computing is in the clouds – and that future is right around the corner. However, before taking that viewpoint, I have a few things for you to consider.

The reality is that “cloud computing” isn’t really a new concept. It has existed for years in various forms and names. Companies called Application Service Providers (ASP’s for short) have been around a long time providing hosted applications. Another name for cloud computing is Software as a Service (SaaS for short). Whatever it is called, the bottom line is that your software is hosted somewhere on the Internet, and not on your own servers or computers. This can be great if you or your employees are highly mobile. As long as they have an Internet connection they can access their software and data, virtually from any computer available. However, the fact that access to applications and data is completely dependent on an Internet connection can be a huge liability. It should be pretty obvious that if your Internet connection goes down or is not reliable, then you can’t access your software and data. Or if the service you are dependent on has problems, as both Google Apps and Gmail have done this year, you are out of luck as well.

In my mind, cloud computing will have its fit with highly mobile workers and some large organizations, but it will not filter down into the mainstream or small business until Internet services become a lot more reliable or redundant Internet services become extremely cost effective. As well, not all applications, such as digital media, are yet a good fit for cloud computing. So I foresee that while that the future may indeed be at least partially in the clouds, this future is going to take some time to get here.

The Bing is Dead. Long Live the Bing.

It is being reported that the new search engine (excuse me, “decision” engine) from Microsoft, Bing, lost one point of search market share in the month of September. This was the first time Bing has lost market share since it was introduced in June. Also noteworthy is that Yahoo also lost a point in September.

Bing’s share went from 9.64 to 8.51 percent while Yahoo’s went from 10.5 to 9.4. One way to look at these numbers is that Bing is right up there with Yahoo. Another way to look at these numbers is that Google had 90% of the share in September.

So depending on your viewpoint, this could be really bad for Bing or no big deal at all. Supporters of one side or another will spin this as they see fit. To me this also seems to correlate with the amount of advertising Microsoft does for Bing. It seems that I’ve not seen as many Bing commercials lately, so it’s probably not surprising that less publicity equals less market share.

Bada Bing!

I’ve seen a few of the new Bing.com commercials. I think they are interesting and clever commercials until the end when they reveal what the commercial is for. The first time I saw one it certainly got my attention but I had no idea what the point of the commercial was until the very end, which is likely what they were after. Then they reveal the service and it sort of makes sense, but my question is what exactly is “search overload”? Is this a real concern for people? Or is it a solution looking for a problem? (Just in case, I started a support group for those suffering from search overload on Facebook). And I also question the idea of a “decision engine”. Honestly, I can’t say I’m often looking for a search site to make a decision for me. I’m usually searching for information, not decisions. If I am looking for information to make a decision, the decision comes after I have enough information. Does bing.com make decisions for me? If so, do I really want Microsoft making decisions for me?

Regardless, the commercials, reportedly part of a $100 million campaign, will serve the purpose of introducing the bing.com site to people and likely getting them to at least try it. The question is will bing.com be compelling enough to break people’s Google habit?

In testing the site a few times, my initial impression was that it wasn’t that much different than Google. In fact, it has a downright similar layout. The things that made bing.com different than Google seemed superfluous and a little confusing. Perhaps with a little more practice I could take advantage of Bing’s features a little better, but if the point of those features aren’t brain-dead obvious and simple to use, then people are going to miss them, ignore them, or worse be confused by them. And as they say, you never have a second chance to make a first impression. If people don’t get excited by bing.com immediately, they will likely not think again to leave their familiar search engine.

Is it just me, or does anyone else think of that annoying Janice character from Friends when they hear “bing”? Also, will it flow off the tongue to use “Bing” as a verb, as we do now with Google? I googled it – I binged it. Go google it – go bing it. I’m not sure.

Seth Godin posted an article on his blog about Microsoft trying to become the next Google. It’s a good read.

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