with a slow news day descending upon us I thought this would be a good chance to
get some ideas I've been having out there. This was sparked by today's latest
wild rumor about an Apple iPhone. Apple has been rumored to be developing some
kind of mobile device for quite awhile now, and with the seeming inevitable
movement of the market towards converged devices and the success of Sony's
Walkman phone line it seems to be more a question of "when" rather than "if"
Apple will release a phone.
Which brings us to the question I proposed in the title of this
piece, what would an iPhone mean? Specifically, I wonder what kind of feature
set it would carry and what it's position in the market would be. Would an
iPhone simply be a an iPod with a cellular radio included? Or Would it be more
like the ROKR or SLVR phones that are simply a regular phone with iTunes added?
Which brings up the question of whether Apple would go the feature phone route
(a la the aforementioned Walkman line) or instead try and turn the iPhone into a
fully fledged smartphone.
It's that last question that I would like to explore, since frankly the other
possibilities are not exciting at all to me. What would go into an Apple
Smartphone? The first answer is iTunes and some kind of picture and video
capability, basically the same feature set that you would currently find in an
iPod. But what else could Apple add to it? Well, in order to make it into a
fully featured smartphone, they would need an extensible OS of some kind.
Without going into what that OS would be (we'll get to that later) lets talk
about some basic features that would need to be included and how they would be
Some kind of PIM management software (calendar, tasks, contacts), a messaging
client and web browser would be an absolute minimum. Of course you would expect
that all of these features could be synced with your desktop, and this brings up
an interesting question. I would certainly expect PIM data to be synced with a
Mac's PIM programs, and perhaps even with Microsoft's Entourage (the "Outlook"
for Mac in Office 2004), but what about the vast majority of people who use
One of Apple's smartest moves with the iPod was to make iTunes available for
Windows, thus opening up a vast market that would have been unavailable to them
if the iPod had just been a curiosity for Mac owners. They have worked to
leverage this market and create a "halo" effect that leads users to the Mac
eventually, but despite some recent growth in Mac sales, it is still an
insignificant part of the market. I am sure that they will become more
aggressive as time goes on and as they establish themselves as the undisputed
leader in mobile media, but for now I expect that a smart iPhone would be able
to sync with a Windows computer.
How this would be accomplished? Would you allow users
to sync with Microsoft software such as Outlook, or would you go the same route
as the iPod/iTunes and port Apple's Mail/Address Book/iCal programs over to
Windows? I would imagine the latter (to continue introducing Windows users to
the Mac experience), and I would also imagine that .Mac would be involved in
some way for over the air synchronization.
We now have imagined an iPhone with a media browser (iTunes),
PIM and connectivity (web and messaging), and it syncs with both Windows and Mac
computers. That's pretty nice, but its still not a smartphone with a fully
extensible OS. Apple may have decided to stop here thinking that they have a
compelling product, but I'm not going to.
Apple has 2 options for a fully fledged extensible OS,
they create their own or they use an existing one and modify it for their needs.
Let's take the first option, that Apple is creating their own extensible OS from
the ground up. The pros of this approach is that Apple, as it likes to do, has
complete control over the software/hardware integration. The OS works the way
they want it to, and they can create a "seamless" experience from OS X to the
iPhone. The cons of this approach are that the OS would have an extremely
limited amount of software available to it and you run the risk of screwing the whole thing up if you get it wrong. I believe that this is the most likely
route, and it would create a new player in the smartphone OS field.
The second options does have some intriguing possibilities. Let's consider the contenders. First is Windows Mobile, we can throw that one
out for obvious reasons. Second is Palm OS, there's a long history of Palm/OS X
integration, but considering the abysmal state of development for the OS I don't
think Apple will tie themselves to a failing contender. That brings us to the
last major player, Symbian.
There are some
very interesting possibilities in an Apple/Symbian partnership. First,
there are complementary opportunities. Symbian controls an overwhelming majority
of the global smartphone market, and an alliance with an Apple iPhone would
probably cement their dominance. The one major area where Symbian does not do as
well is in North America, where Apple's name recognition could quickly vault
them past Palm and Windows Mobile. Finally, Symbian's extremely flexible
framework would allow Apple to create the look and feel they want, while at the
same time retaining access to the large collection of third party apps
Whether Apple creates their own OS, goes with Symbian, or some other solution
I haven't considered, their entry into the world of smartphones will have major
repercussions. Apple has positioned itself to dominate mobile entertainment with
the iPod, and an entry into the smartphone market would be an
extension of that strategy. The market is divided into two major components,
consumer and enterprise. Unless Apple chooses to integrate their new iPhone with
industry standards such as Outlook and Exchange, I don't see them making
significant headway in the enterprise market.
In the consumer market however, Apple could be poised for domination. Take into
account their vast iPod user base, and then assume that the iPhone shares ease
of use and attractiveness and you have an instant hit. Their greatest challenge
in the consumer area may not be from other smartphones, but rather from carriers
who are also positioning themselves to deliver mobile content. I'm sure the
Vodafone's and Cingular's of the world would not be happy with a ubiqitious and
powerful platform that bypasses their control over mobile content. Similarly I'm
sure that media companies already complaining about Apple's ability to set terms
for the price of content will be unhappy about them dominating the consumer
In the end I expect that Apple will come to some mutually beneficial
agreement with mobile operators and content providers. What impact will this
have on other smartphone players? I expect Windows Mobile will end up dominating
the enterprise market with a much smaller share of the consumer market. Palm is
already in a precipitous decline and I expect that to continue. The biggest
loser may end up being Symbian, as their market it very consumer focused right
now (the E-series phones notwithstanding). However it turns out it should be
And what about me? I just made the jump to a Mac, would I also make the move to
an iPhone? At this point I think not because I demand a high level of
integration with enterprise software, but who knows? Let's see what they come up with.