Strong opinions, weakly held

Explaining the iPhone’s success

Every time a new iPhone is released, there’s a spate of articles that analyze the its success as a product. My friend Stephen O’Grady puts the success of the iPhone down to the apps. He’s got a point — the applications available for the iPhone are great. But the truth is that when the iPhone launched, the only opportunity for developers was to create Web sites that were optimized for the iPhone’s Web browser, and Apple was still selling a ton of phones.

Why? Because of usability. The iPhone offered a better experience than any other phone for making phone calls. Checking voice mail, conducting three way calls, and managing contacts are all light years better than they are anywhere else. The iPhone offered better Web browsing than any other mobile phone. Blackberry email is better than iPhone email, but the iPhone’s email experience is better than every other phone on the market.

That was the real secret to the iPhone’s early success, in my opinion. Apple spent a lot of time not only adding capabilities not available in other phones, but also perfecting the things that people were already using their phones to do. It made the wait for real applications tolerable.


  1. The web browser on the iPhone is not perfect, but far superior to that on any other phone I have used, including (by a long, long way) the browser included with Android. I don’t care much about the apps, web apps work fine on whatever phone, but I really do care about reading the web on the screen which was sadly pretty awful on the Android phone.

    I haven’t gotten around to buying a 3GS yet, but I think I will. I nearly bought a Palm Pre but they blew it – my local Sprint store was out of stock and the moment was lost. So Sprint loses a 10 year customer and, if not rabid fan, at least someone who would point out their excellent CDMA call quality, good coverage, and fast, reliable data network. The price of failure to satisfy instant gratification.

    Course, when I went to buy a 3GS at the Apple Store they had them in stock – but there was a line so we bailed. For whatever reason it’s not possible to order one online if you want to add it to an existing plan.

  2. I still consider my Sony ericsson dumn/feature phones easier to use when it comes to placing phone calls, managing contacts (which can be synced thanks to the support of open standards), texting, …

    I never card much about the browser because I can use my phone as a network card/connection for my notebook and use the application there which gives me a far better experience. Browsing web pages or reading documents on the small display of the IPhone is a pain and leads to eye strain (class action coming?).

    Other phones had more functionality (copy & paste) and better and more applications. People were using their phones for phone calls and sending sms messages and neither of this works really well on the IPhone.

    The main reason for the success is … marketing.

    Apple always had a stronghold in the media and media people (being influencers and being influenced by Apple themselves) started to speculate about an Apple phone months before the actual release. Blogs, news pages, news papers where full of Apple phone speculation, gossip, and rumour (and still are), instead of reports about real products. All this marketing was mostly free (for Apple) and more credible than classic ads. Viral marketing is very powerful and Apple has fully exploited the social network it has created (sort of – among media people mostly). Furthermore US Americans are easy to influence which made it much easier for Apple anyways.

    The IPhone marketing campaign is remarkable –it is even more remarkable then the actual product! It will be still studied when the IPhone is long forgotten.

  3. Kind of a sad statement, but the fact is that the bar was really, really low, in terms of UI experience for phones. It was really just a “low fruit to pick” decision from Apple. Smart one, BTW, and I’m thankful for it – sets a new bar.

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