I’ve tried to separate myself from my Apple fetishism, and slough off Jobs’ reality-distortion effect and really assess this mornings’ announcement from the perspective of it’s impact on mobile user experience. (Certainly, a true UI critique will occur once we can get a device in hand in *sigh* June.

At the end of his keynote this morning, Steve Jobs summed up Apple’s mobile strategy saying, “There’s an old Wayne Gretsky quote I love — ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it’s been.’” Which felt apropos given the product they had just announced. But, is the Apple iPhone announcement truly a “revolution of the first order?”

My take is that this is not a revolution for mobile phones. No, it feels more like catching up in a major way in an industry that has been behind far too long. Features like push email are best practices (read: Blackberry), not revolutionary. Integrating mail, voicemail, sms, contacts, voice calls, photos, music and video is also not revolutionary, but Apple is able to realize it where others have not.

Why Apple then? Other manufacturers have been working on touch screen UIs. Microsoft released their desktop OS to mobile years ago, why should we expect OS X to be better? The difference is that Apple is the hardware and software developer, and by controlling both sides of the equation, they’re able to craft an experience that offers a level of integration with the tools you already use, essentially bridging the gap between your PC and mobile experiences. One of the biggest hurdles plaguing the mobile industry is misaligned priorities in hardware and software development, complicated further by long development cycles.

Is it a revolution to the traditional Carrier/OEM model, where top-tier carriers are king and manufacturers are subservient? Is it a revolution in technical hardware hardware/software integration?

I’ve written earlier that a successful Apple phone sets a strong precedent to fundamentally shift the carrier/OEM dynamic in the user’s favor. The real lesson is that when you’ve got the brand cachet of Apple you can a) release a mobile handset that is not tied to Cingular’s UI specs or high-margin features, and b) change the carrier’s network to accommodate UI innovation. These are unprecedented and I hope it’s just the beginning for Apple-Cingular and for other carriers as well. (The early evidence is visual voicemail, what Jobs called the “first fruit of the Cingular/Apple collaboration.)

Is a success for Apple a success for users? I’m optimistic that Apple is significantly raising the bar for users with things we’ve long expected from mobile phones — true lifestyle integration, multitasking, media management, longer battery life (16 hours), and intuitive input methods.

This is part one. In future posts Idlemode contributors will take a closer look at the UI itself, and dig deeper into some of the questions at the forefront of our minds: the Cingular-Apple dynamic, developer support, and more thoughts about what this announcement means for the mobile industry.

4 Responses to “The Apple iPhone: a revolution for mobile user experience? Part I of III”

  1. stateron 10 Jan 2007 at 12:19 pm

    One of the first things I considered when I saw the iPhone was the “smudge factor”. I have a hard enough time with my little flip-phone trying to remove smudges… but how bad would it get if had to touch the screen with my fingers?

    Do we think that Apple considered this? Do we think that they did, but knew that people would buy it anyway?

    Another thing that comes to mind, and this is just me being practical… but will this be another super cool/sexy product from Apple that I’ll be forced to conceal in a case because I don’t want to scratch it? That’s been my only issue with the iPod, that is, what is the point of purchasing such a cool/sexy product if a user will just put it in a rubber case. Does this mean that function truly out-weighs fashion?

  2. Joe Michielson 10 Jan 2007 at 2:20 pm

    I find the most interesting strategy revealed by Apple to be one I haven’t seen discussed much in the press: pre-announcing the launch. Unlike Apple’s other consumer devices, cellphones are devices that consumers usually are contractually tied to. While Apple may chalk up FCC clearance as the main driver for revealing the phone, it’s hard to ignore the benefit of giving consumers a 6-months lead time to let their existing contracts expire; allowing them to sign the required 2 year commitment that comes with the iPhone.

    One could imagine the alternate scenario where they launch the product on the same day it’s announced, while some lucky Cingular customers would rush to the stores and then a slow trickle of expiring contract customers would roll in for the next few months, by pre-announcing the phone Apple has almost guaranteed an immediate frenzy of contract-free-customers that will make the furby/tickle-me-elmo shopping mobs pale in comparison.

  3. Joe Pembertonon 10 Jan 2007 at 5:02 pm

    True Joe, that it’s unique in the mobile world, but Apple is known for announcing everything (whether it’s shipping or not) at either MacWorld or at their World Wide Developer’s Conference (WWDC). I do wonder if US phone sales in the +$200 category will slump for 6 months in anticipation. I bet iPod sales will see a drop off also.

  4. Zara Evenson 12 Jan 2007 at 2:24 pm

    Actually, as I had suspected, the pre-mature announcement was not really a marketing ploy at all, rather a last chance opportunity before the FCC made the clearance application public knowledge. Fortune’s Peter Lewis says:

    “In the end, Apple decided to reveal the iPhone several months ahead of its official June launch because it could not keep the secret any more. Apple has to file with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for the permits needed to operate the iPhone, and once those public filings are made, Apple has no control over the release of that information. So, Jobs said, he made the decision to have Apple tell the world about its new phone, rather than the FCC.”

    Link to full article.

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