Friday, 16 January 2009
Did Apple kill the mobile industry?
This post has been prompted by a comment made recently by a colleague of mine: "Apple killed the mobile industry".
I couldn't believe my ears and it developed into a heated discussion about the benefits and impacts of seismic industry shifts. Before continuing, it's worth noting that the person who made the comment both has a long understanding of the mobile industry and is tremendously well respected within it.
My instant reaction was to defend a company who have got it right more than most. Early disclaimer: I'm not the complete Mac evangelist (having always owned a PC) but when it comes to the iPhone I'm pretty vocal about where they've got it right. And let's face it, they have got so much right; a genre-busting mobile package containing a wonderful UI wrapped up in a beautiful product design. The iPhone has 'pazzaz', certainly more so than any product released into the mobile arena before.
Having spent the best part of six years working on mobile, and being something of a stickler for great UX, it was immensely refreshing to - at last - be able to really move away from the poor experiences of the past (yes they were mostly poor!) and instead begin to offer something approaching a rich mobile experience.
The net effect is that Apple have left the mobile industry fumbling around in the dark. Motorola, as we have known it, probably won't exist in two years time. Even the giant - Nokia - is biting its fingernails trying to figure out how they were so easily trumped & how Symbian might combat the threat from another newcomer (Android). And the operators? Every single one is simultaneously attempting to eek the last remaining (considerable) pennies out of ringtones and downloads, while scratching their heads wondering what the new business model is in an 'open portal' world. Chances are there will be some big casualties there too ...
It's a messy situation, brought into focus by a company who took a simple problem (poor browsing experience on mobile) and created an excellent solution. So Apple have revolutionised the mobile industry. But they key question for me was: how could someone with decades of mobile experience suggest that the industry got anything other than exactly what it deserved?
His answer was pretty concise: they've done what others have done in the mobile industry for years - overpromised. This made me think about the iPhone marketing push. It was pretty clear: The iPhone gives you the entire web in your hands. Well, yes it does. But here we get onto the the key question: is it a good user experience? The simple answer to that question is: no, no, no.
It takes about an hour to realise this once you own one. The web isn't made for a small screen - even if that screen is made by Apple. Apple did overpromise and I'm guilty of buying into it too. I was hooked. I saw the ads. "Wow! New York Times full website & the Guardian looking great. And so quick too. They've really done it!".
Of course, the truth is very different. The best experience on mobile comes from companies that understand this (it's why I work for a mobile start-up - Mippin). To get the best user experience you have to offer a service that's optimised per device - and that means the iPhone too.
Disruption is a good thing - kudos to Apple. I still love my iPhone, but it's not perfect. I certainly don't think they 'killed the mobile industry' (I still prefer to use the words 'stimulated' & 'revolutionised') - but they are guilty of peddling an enormous falsehood that the web left untouched 'works' on mobile.