Cutting Room: Apple – holy desirable


So. It’s semi-official, iPhone popularity has reached its zenith and we’re now about to inhabit an Android world. 

At least that’s the view of tech blogger Pat Phelan. Yet our money remains firmly on Mr Jobs’ Jesus Phone as keeper of the Aspirational Brand Holy Grail.

You only have to see the world-wide hubbub last week over the fact that a prototype fourth generation iPhone had escaped the Apple Gulag to see how the Celestial Aura of Brand Goodness still illuminates the path of everything with the famous fruity logo on it.

Alleged details of a new iPhone were blogged in reverential tones about a (gasp) forward -facing video camera, and a (swoon) higher resolution screen, AND a flash for the main camera.

Hold on.

Wait a second. In fact, hold the phone. This stuff is all old hat. There is barely a self-respecting mid-tier phone from any mainstream manufacturer that hasn’t had these features as a minimum spec for years.

Yet when Apple comes out with the mundane the world loses its grasp on technical reality and comes over like a school girl at her first boy band concert.

Why should this be so?

The fact of the matter is that when Apple re-invents the most simple feature, everyone thinks it is cool. Take video calling. It has been around for years. No-one uses it.

What’s the bet that if Steve Jobs touts video calling as the ‘coolest thing’ at the next stage-managed Apple event he will be met with screams, yelps, hoots, and general sycophancy from the assembled geeks, who will agein deify Jobs again  the saviour of all things techno.

Take this example: there’s nothing new about downloadable applications. They have been a feature of Symbian and Windows Mobile for years. Yet listen to the excitement about the App Store.

The fact is that Apple invents nothing new. It does however have a Jobsian genius for taking existing technologies and gift wraps them up  in a luscious and simplistic way that is irresistible to millions of people who just want to ‘use’ stuff.

This is the magic of Apple.

What should other vendors and developers learn from this?

Well, no matter how innovative Android is, it still needs Apple to create the demand and expectations for a brilliant phone operating system.

Where does this leave the traditional manufacturers of mobile phones? Are they forever doomed to dwell in the suburbs of Apple Land?

Or will the likes of Nokia and Sony Ericsson and Motorola again emerge as the de facto choice of informed buyers?

Certainly the jury is still out on Nokia. With just about every other manufacturer signing the Andoid pledge, Nokia remains aloof from anything non-Symbian or MeeGo (nee-Maemo).

There is a view that Nokia is going to have to bite the Android OS bullet at some stage to survive. However Nokia’s conundrum is that it has invested the family inheritance in proprietary software. Had Apple and Google not appeared on the scene Nokia would be awash with cash from billions paid to it in OS royalties.

Or maybe not. There is a view that, like IBM, Nokia lacks the ability to think outside its own box.

Can we imagine that Nokia would have ever launched iTunes or an App Store if Apple had never existed?

The point is that, no matter how good you are at developing technology, unless you can package it a way that makes it a game-changer you will invariably fall by the wayside.

The conclusions for mobile manufacturers are clear. 

Lesson One is there is no reward in being the first choice of the nerds.
Lesson Two is that technological advances on their own mean nothing unless they comes with a promise of ‘coolness’ and user-friendliness.
The iPhone (4G or otherwise) seems to be a pretty humdrum and nondescript hunk of plastic and silicon.

It’s the promise that it has the keys to the kingdom of coolness that will again set the bar for the others to follow.