One of the gifts I received for my birthday was a 2nd-generation iPod shuffle. It's a triumph of minimalistic design, a near-perfect marriage of functionality and aesthetic. (I really like it.)
But the media are currently in an almost religious frenzy over a different Apple product: the iPhone. A lot of the coverage has seemed like it was lifted straight out of Apple's
In reaction to this media love-in, I spent rather too much time today trying to convince anyone who would listen (including my long-suffering brother) that the iPhone will be a flop. I marshaled what I thought were some pretty good arguments. But a Google search of "iphone will flop" reveals that I was scooped! Back in December, CNET News.com editor-at-large Michael Kanellos published an opinion piece titled "The Apple phone flop". He predicted that:
As with any Apple product release, it will be ushered into the world on a wave of obligatory gushing. "It's the greatest advance in communication since cave painting," some will proclaim. ... It's predictable. If Apple got into medical devices, people would come out of Steve Jobs' speech proclaiming "The iBag is the easiest, most user-friendly colostomy device I've ever encountered."But won't the iPhone do for cell phones what the iPod did for MP3 players?
The entire strategy ... is based on what I call "iPod magic." Apple succeeded with the iPod, the theory goes. Therefore, they can break into other categories and turn them upside down.(At that time, the MP3 players on the market had very little memory, small screens, and what Kanellos described as "cheesy navigation".) But what about cell phones?
But the iPod looks like it may turn out to be a non-repeatable experience. Look at the historical record. When the iPod emerged in late 2001, it solved some major problems with MP3 players.
Cell phones aren't clunky, inadequate devices. Instead, they are pretty good. Really good. Why do you think they call it a Crackberry? Because the lumpy design and confusing interface of the device is causing people to break into cars? No, it's because people are addicted to it.In addition, Kanellos made some other arguments I hadn't thought of. Of course, he was writing this more than a month ago, so he only had rumours about the iPhone to go on. In particular, the name of the new phone hadn't been released: nobody imagined that Apple would pick a name that was already taken. And then there's the rather hefty price tag: the cheapest iPhone will set you back US$500. (I'm not alone in thinking this could be a deal-breaker.)
Samsung has scoured the world's design schools and hired artists on three continents to keep its phones looking good. Motorola has revived its fortunes with design. KDDI, a Japanese carrier, has a design showcase in the teen shopping area of Tokyo just to be close to trends. And Sharp doesn't skimp when it comes to putting LCD TVs on its phones.
Apple, in other words, won't be competing against rather doltish, unstylish companies like the old Compaq. The handset companies move pretty quick and put out new models every few weeks.
I have occasionally (ahem) been described as a techno-geek, and I'll admit that I can get pretty enthusiastic about new technology. I also own an iMac G5, which I quite like. But I think the time has come to upset the Apple cart.