Is The iPhone Losing Its Edge?
All of the models in today’s homogenized smart-phone market are now on par with each other. They all have the same content, form factor, and functionality, with little to distinguish them. Factors like manufacturer preference, service providers, trendiness, and available apps drive sales. So where is the market going next, and what kinds of new features will we see?
Apple’s next iPhone should be out soon, even though we’re ahead of the typical 18-month cycle. The Apple loyalists won’t care. They’ll buy anything that’s new. Still, the 4S continues to sell well with its Siri voice-activated artificial intelligence. And there are few complaints about its high-resolution 3.5-in. screen, even though most other smart phones have moved on to 4-in. screens.
But Apple hasn’t joined the other major players in the Long-Term Evolution (LTE) ranks. Granted, 3G HSPA is a very good technology, but it isn’t as good as AT&T’s and Verizon’s LTE. The iPhones that Sprint and Verizon sell are still 3G, and their cdma2000 EV-DO technology is just as reliable as HSPA, though it’s slower. Apple doesn’t have near-field communications (NFC) either.
The Rumor Mill
Industry rumors say that Apple is buying a lot of 4-in. touchscreens, so maybe we’ll see the fifth iteration of the iPhone later this year or early next year. If we do, will it have LTE? I doubt it, since Apple doesn’t seem to think there are enough LTE sites to make it useful or have a real impact. I also doubt the iPhone 5 will have NFC unless Apple plans to join the wave of companies getting a piece of the “digital wallet” action. Or some completely new feature could surprise us, like Siri.
Is Apple losing its edge in the smart-phone arena? It’s in second place behind Android phones, especially Samsung. Analysts say that Android phones account for 60% of the smart-phone market, and that percentage is growing. We haven’t yet heard from Motorola Mobility, which is now a formal part of Google. There’s no doubt they have some big plans for another Android phone in the works. Meanwhile, Samsung’s latest Galaxy S III is doing very well in pre-sales orders (see the figure). It’s a great phone. And maybe Samsung’s 5.3-in. screen Note isn’t such a bad idea after all.
What about the rumors of a Facebook phone? With 900 million or so Facebook subscribers, it seems like a natural extension of the mobile social movement, even though Facebook has no hardware experience. The rumors say that some ex-Apple people are working on a phone. Another rumor suggests it will be an HTC phone with Android supplemented and some super Facebook apps. I even heard one rumor about a Microsoft Windows Mobile Facebook phone. Speaking of Microsoft Windows phones, the Nokia Lumina 900 continues to do well at its $99 price. I’m happy to see some alternative products come about.
With RIM dying a slow death and all the potential new smart phones in the works, it’s clear we are headed for some changes. But I imagine that the planners at all the smart-phone companies still lay awake at night worrying about how to make their phone stand out from all the others. Have smart phones already been commoditized? They all look the same and do the same thing. Except for the apps, what differentiates one from another? Who will come up with the next big thing in smart phones? Please let me know if you have any ideas—or heard any rumors.
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