Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Opposite World

A lot of the web consists of reasonably well-written articles that lead off with sensationalist, often completely incorrect headlines designed to lure people to the site. I'm not a big fan of the approach, but there's no denying it's widely used.

Today, I ran across an article on the iPhone that was rather the opposite. I completely agreed with the headline and the basic underlying premise. Yet, I found myself scoffing (and sometimes giggling) at the rather ludicrous assertions sprinkled throughout what had promised to be a very reasonable and interesting article.

The premise of the article is that you can't beat the iPhone by copying it. Bravo. Obvious, but correct. You absolutely can't beat it that way. But, the rest of the article lauds phones that are basically doing just that and exhorts mobile device manufacturers to produce "almost as good" knock-offs of the iPhone with different form-factors. The disconnect here is hard to grasp. I half-expected the article to be penned by Henry Jekyll.

Here was the first gem of the article:
The first iPhone was maybe not a great phone, particularly feature-wise, but it has been universally acknowledged as a huge step forward in phone design.
What, pray tell, would constitute a "great phone", if not one that changed the industry and which the author himself acknowledged as "a huge step forward in phone design"? Are we judging against something that doesn't exist? Because if something is a huge step forward, it would seem, by comparison, to necessarily by "great" by any reasonable standard.

The article then went on to talk about the Samsung Wave, a phone that has been lauded by both Samsung and every single person that Samsung has paid to talk about it, as a "brilliant new smartphone". Here it is:


Whoo-boy! Ain't that original. That doesn't look like Samsung is copying the iPhone at all. I mean, there are, you see, three columns of icons, not four. And there's a couple extra hardware buttons. Oh, and it says Samsung at the top, and has a slight taper. I'm so glad they're not copying Apple, like even down to the reflection of the phone in the official photo because that would just be derivative. And sad.

According to the article, this phone "presents a challenge to the iPhone…" because it has the same form factor (even though it's not copying the iPhone), has an app store (which isn't copying Apple's at all), and also has similar hardware (but again, they're not, and I repeat NOT copying the iPhone in any way, shape, or form).

Now, the author of this article is a "long-time developer of mobile products", so I guess I shouldn't expect him to get why the iPhone has been a success. I mean, he is part of an industry that had their collective asses handed to them by Apple, a company with no prior experience in the mobile space. But I am honestly wondering is if he came up with the headline on his own. Because, despite all the inanity in this article, I still agree with the headline.

The next gem is this:
The iPhone has not yet reached a level of emotional attachment where it will be bought even when reasonable substitutes exist.
Any person who could say this is somebody who has never spent time with any of the 50+ million actual iPhone users. I'm an iPhone user. I spent a week using the next best phone currently available: the Nexus One. The Nexus One is not a bad phone by any stretch of the imagination, but there's no way in hell I'm going to say "aw, well, I just want a phone, I'll give up my iPhone for something that looks similar but isn't a copy". I am very deeply attached to my iPhone, and so are the vast majority of iPhone users I've met. And it's not just Apple geeks and iPhone devs. I know many people whose computers run on Windows, yet they carry an iPhone and adore it. I know people who hate computers, who love their iPhone. But what is a "reasonable substitute"? A phone with similar specs? A similar form-factor? To put it bluntly: There are no "reasonable substitutes" currently on the market.

So, next, the author says:
The real turning point however, will be when developers stop trying to copy the iPhone’s design, and accept that they can create something unique and cool outside the iPhone’s form factor.
Increasingly, manufacturers are doing just that…
What? The manufacturers like Samsung? Let me know how that works out for you, 'kay?

The article then ends with this amazing bit of wisdom:
In 1997, the dominant phone in town was the Nokia 6110. Manufacturers found the only way to beat it was to create phones with different form factors, costs, and feature bases. From that, we saw innovation and segmentation in three key areas — features, cost, and size. We may just be in for a new wave of innovation.
Wow. Just… wow. What was that quote about people who don't learn from history? Hello? McFly? You just stated how mobile phone companies competed before the iPhone. You just brought up the staid, pathetic business model that the iPhone obliterated. Trying to bring it back isn't going to work. You can't compete on cost and make a profit in the long term. You can't compete on size, because it's already possible to make phones that are smaller than it's practical to actually use comfortably. That leaves, according to this amazing bit of wisdom… features?

The author so obviously doesn't get it. He's almost as far away from getting it as is it's possible to fucking be. As long as the mobile device industry keeps thinking like this, they will continue to play second fiddle (and third, fourth, and eighth fiddle) to the iPhone (and any other company that does get a clue).

Here's a hint: It's the fucking user experience. It's not the features, processor speed, or form factor. The iPhone had less features when it came out then the Palm and Windows Mobile phones that were already available, and it wasn't any cheaper or smaller. The iPhone became a sensation because it was easy to use and intuitive. You never had to train yourself to its idiosyncrasies. You never had to learn how the desktop computing paradigms were mangled down to fit on a small screen. You just picked it up and used it, and it was fun.

Make your phones easy. Make them fun. Make them as stress-free as possible, even for the stupidest, most un-tech-savy users. If you make phones that are easier and funner, you just might get yourself back in the game. But as long as you think of phones as a commodity with your whole "feature, cost, size" crap, you're going to keep on sucking hard.

But, hey! At least y'all got headline right.


joe.morris said...

Wowsers! You hated that article!

I agree with your points, but why single that one out, there are so many expert opinions around with really obvious, badly written blogs.

Part of me thinks we are all listening to the wrong people.

Don't said...

Jeff, I've been reading your blog for ages, it's been a great place to learn about iPhone development, especially your OpenGLES tutorials (which I really enjoyed following and which I think you could turn into a book - which I would happily buy), but lately it just seems to have degraded into a giant rant and finger-pointing exercise against anyone who thinks different.

Ghulam Mustafa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ghulam Mustafa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ghulam Mustafa said...

After reading the last few articles, I'm convinced that your convinced that the only phone that can impress you after iPhone 3Gs is iMightyPhone :)

p.s. love the blog

David Avraamides said...

Jeff, I generally agree with your position here but that's beside the point. I added your blog to my RSS feed to learn about iPhone Development but lately it seems to just be a place for you to rant about Apple's competitors.

So I'm removing you from my feed.

John Blackburn said...

That article struck me the same way: insultingly stupid and dangerously clueless.

Funny it's about Samsung's "originality" too, since I covered exactly that many months ago when they released the Instinct, which was also touted for its originality despite being an obvious and risible copy of the iPhone. Worse, they obviously hadn't a clue what makes the iPhone's design great:

Comparing home screens: Samsung Instinct vs. iPhone

enuhjie said...

It's posts like this that annoy me as a mac/iphone user. The tone of this post is exactly what people are referring to when they use the term "fanboi".

Obviously you're free to say whatever you want on your own blog, but I am also free to choose other authors when buying books.

Dennis Yarborough said...

It's lame, but understandable why long time mobile developers who have believe that the barrier to entry to develop for the iPhone is more than they care to endure would trash the iPhone every time they have an audience. It's their belief that it's easier to trash the iPhone than to buy and book and learn how how to add it to their professional arsenal.

Michael said...

David Avraamides - but iPhone Development is also about knowing what others are doing and how we as developers and Apple as a manufacturer can evolve our products. If Samsung had creative something ground breaking then I would want to know about it and I'm 100% sure that Jeff would have written about it

Jeff's article was absolutely fine, he make it clear at the beginning what it is about.

At the end of the day he is free to write what he likes and express his opinion as he see it; and you are free to remove his feed (as you have chosen to do - so does that mean I'm talking to myself lol)

See ya around.

Rob Eberhardt said...

Well, I enjoyed the rant. Carry on.

Burnsoft Ltd said...

Keep ranting Jeff. I come here for your take on the world and your coding expertise.

clmotl said...

Until you guys are paying for Jeff's time, I think he can write/rant about whatever he wants :)

No one is forcing you to read the rant articles either.

Terry Westley said...

Ditto for the iPad.

I've lost count of geeks criticizing the iPad because it doesn't meet their expectations of computer complexity such as having multi-tasking.

Apple has demonstrated with the iPhone that it is the user experience that sells products, not geeky specs and features.

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Morten said...

Great article. And you're right, they just don't get the part about the user experience. I can't count the number of times I've been extremely irritated just trying to text using a Nokia phone. PS, I'm keeping you on my rss feed.

brinkka said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I think I will leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.
By :

h4ns said...

What youre saying is completely true. I know that everybody must say the same thing, but I just think that you put it in a way that everyone can understand. I also love the images you put in here. They fit so well with what youre trying to say. Im sure youll reach so many people with what youve got to say.

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