Four years ago ZURB's own Bryan Zmijewski was heard on the floor of MacWorld hollering above the din with a grave prediction for Apple, "It's gonna be a flop! It's gonna flop!" He was referring to the first release of the iPhone. You could say history hasn't been kind to that prediction.
I was thinking back to that today because I'm about to take the plunge from feature phone to smart phone. I sit squarely with the late majority
on the Verizon iPhone because I hate using everyday products with chronic squeaky wheels. The net result isn't worth it.
Apple's iPhone has been a successful failure for four years. Its innovation succeeded wildly in the smart phone market (even spurring the tablet market), but it failed at being a good phone. It hamstrung people with bad service for a long time. That sucks.
Bryan and I shared the same concerns when the iPhone's ability to deliver a great experience when it came out. We actually weren't quite wrong on either of them:
- Lack of tactile feedback
- Too complicated to design everything right
Lack of tactile feedback
People fundamentally crave a physical response to their touch
. By ignoring tactile buttons or keypads, Apple left open a market opportunity
for other manufacturers. This decision worked for Apple because it kept their product offering focused so they could deliver a touchscreen interaction with unprecedented quality to overcome that basic human need. They did it so well, I've heard people say without irony, "When I tried the iPhone, I thought I'd touched the future.' That's a remarkable achievement. Touche, Apple. "
Too complicated to design everything right
The relentless editorial discipline of their product designers also proved us somewhat wrong by creating a product that was simple and powerful to use, rather than complicated like their competition. Apple succeeded in designing the smart part of their smart phone very well.
But creating great experiences is not the domain of designers alone, it has to be a cross-disciplinary effort within a company. Here we guessed right--Apple screwed up on something very obvious, the phone part. While some of this failure is well-documented on the hardware side, the lion's share of the blame falls of business development--they hamstrung their customers with a crappy service by getting in bed exclusively with AT&T.
The people cost of the iPhone's success
Over New Years with friends in a remote part of Northern California, we realized iPhones outnumbered other phones 6-2. It became obvious when the two of us with Verizon feature phones were the only people who could actually place a simple phone call. I was amazed how deeply frustrated my friends were with their iPhones. It was obvious they had a powerful love-hate relationship with the device.
Research by ChangeWave has shown AT&T drops a much higher number of calls
than its competition, a gap that's actually been widening recently in comparison to Verizon. They attribute AT&T's relatively low churn rate with customers to the love people otherwise have for their iPhones and describe "an unprecedented level of pent up demand for the iPhone among Verizon subscribers. If Verizon were ever to offer the iPhone, the evidence points to it having a profound and likely transformational impact on the industry."
We have to wonder what the pent up frustration with AT&T looks like when customers have the opportunity to switch. As our recent Verify test showed, while people don't like change, 60% would still choose Verizon over AT&T
Is the iPhone experience great? I think it's mixed. Apple made an awful compromise on service that gave people a partly miserable experience too. For my part I hope it was worth the wait now that the phone part of the iPhone has finally arrived.