Apple has a problem. No, it’s not a problem making new models of techno-gadgets that we want. Apple does that better than any technology gadget maker. The problem is two-fold: product maturity and product life cycle.
The former is what is taking place with Apple’s iPhone and iPad. That maturity begets longer product life cycles (also not good for Apple) because customers are less inclined to upgrade to the latest and greatest unless there is, indeed, something greater.
Apple, and by Apple I mean the conglomerate of designers, engineers, and executives who determine which features and improvements go into each new model, has an interesting perspective on what constitutes useful features that help sell the product.
Samsung stuffs a mostly vanilla Android version into their smartphones, then adds layers of customized cruft apps which front higher resolution screens, more RAM, and multi-core CPUs– not because they do anything different for the user, but because they’re good selling points. Or, at least Samsung thinks so.
Apple doesn’t bother with higher screen resolutions, scads of RAM, or so many CPU cores that you need two hands to count them. Instead, Apple focuses on a growing string of features with sizzle; functionality which demos well, but doesn’t always make much difference in how we use our iPhones.
Siri is the perfect example. Great demo. Handy at times, but not quite all that cool in real life, and both Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s whatever-they-call-it, have more useful features.
3D Touch is another example. Peek and Poke are easier ways to see what’s hiding behind the screen without actually having to tap into an app to see it. Despite a television commercial campaign aimed at teaching iPhone users what they already have, most iPhone 6s owners have no idea what Peek and Poke do.
It takes time to integrate new innovation into the mainstream.
A good example of that is Touch ID, the fingerprint sensor. A growing number of applications use Touch ID to save you the time of entering a password to access privileged information on the iPhone. That’s a feature with sizzle, capability, and usefulness, but again, ask around to iPhone users and you’ll be surprised at how many know Touch ID exists but don’t use it much.
I’m a big believer in the bell curve, and find that it can be used in many aspects of product marketing to display a spectrum of product usage.
For example, the right side of the curve could display the percentage or number of early adopters who understand the impact of most features and use them accordingly, while the bulge in the center represents the average user who utilizes a lesser number of features and functions, and the lefthand side tail represents users who barely scratch the surface of the devices capability, preferring to use it as a phone, text, camera, and email device, and won’t bother to check out apps, games, or any other functionality.
Apple’s problem lies in getting innovation into use by the mainstream device user, and that is no easy task, despite television commercials, keynote presentations, and a large number of evangelists. Apple seems to recognize that sizzle sells, but not every iPhone owner wants the same level of sizzle. There’s no 3D Touch in the new iPhone SE, but it has the same level of Retina pixel density (326 ppi) as the iPhone 6s.
The iPhone SE isn’t as fast with download speeds at the iPhone 6s, but people on that side of the spectrum don’t care. RAM? iPhone users don’t care. Screen resolution? It’s difficult for most people to see much difference between Samsung’s larger and more accurate screens and resolution with an iPhone 6, 6s, or SE, so it has become unimportant except to those who track such things and make comparisons. The average iPhone user within the center of the bell curve could not care less.
If Apple struggles to get iPhone customers to utilize the latest bells and whistles, how much more difficult is it for Samsung and other premium end smartphone makers to advance the start of the art, and get a sufficient number of customers to care enough to switch. If Apple has such an innovation integration problem, and I believe the company does, then how much worse is it for Samsung and other makers?