May 13

The iPod-ization of iPhone

It happened to iPod — time for iPhone to get the family treatment?

For months, we’ve heard that Apple isn’t the innovator it used to be.

iPhone has fallen behind. Samsung is now the real innovator. iPhone 5S is an also-ran before it’s even launched.

Of course, Apple’s “problems” are more perception than reality. But perceptions do fuel momentum, and the negative buzz about Apple has been (a) tarnishing the brand and (b) driving the stock price lower. So what’s Apple to do? Will we really have to wait until 2014 to see a major upgrade to iPhone?

We can’t predict the future. However, we all know the past — and you’ll find some important clues there.

Back when the very first iPhone was about to launch, it was assumed by many inside Apple that iPhone would follow the path of iPod before it. The first year or two would be devoted to evolving and perfecting the device — and then the iPhone line would be expanded to address various types of customers.

iPod’s biggest years came after it had expanded into a family of products.

Given that history, and given the growing demand for certain variations on the theme, there’s a good chance that the next iPhone will actually be a family of iPhones:

iPhone Mini — the most affordable iPhone
There has been much anticipation about a cheaper iPhone, primarily targeted at developing countries. Yet it’s extremely hard to believe that Apple will ever follow the “cheap” path. Cheap is a blatant violation of the company’s divine teachings. No scrimping on quality allowed. What Apple can easily do, and remain true to its values, is create a slightly smaller iPhone (the pre-iPhone 5 size), perhaps in a plastic case (like iPhone 3GS), driven by a less-powerful processor. It wouldn’t be “cheap” to the degree that some are theorizing, but it would be a lower-cost alternative. This would keep quality high and have greater appeal to the more price-conscious.

The new iPhone — now in colors
Obviously, a new iPhone will have a raft of new features. But if there’s one thing in Apple’s history that can be counted on, it’s the introduction of color to jazz up a maturing product. It happened to iMac (although it was ultimately re-jazzed to no color at all). It happened to iPod with several models. And there’s every reason in the world it should happen to iPhone. Color is personal, and our phones are more personal than iPod ever was. Color will make the new iPhone instantly recognizable as something new — even if it comes in the same old body. (Hedging my bet: if color is in iPhone’s future, it could come in this model, the more affordable model, or both.)

iPhone Max — bigger is better
No way! Apple will never make a bigger iPhone! Uh, right. And Apple will also never make a smaller iPad. Sure, Apple has made a big deal about keeping iPhone perfectly hand-sized. But it is extremely market-savvy and more than willing to expand when it sees a trend. The fact is, a lot of people are responding positively to the larger screens offered by Samsung and others. Apple can either watch as its competitors peel away a significant chunk of its business, or it can make an Apple-quality product and give customers a choice of different screen sizes within the iPhone ecosystem. Just as it expanded the iPad line.

The smartphone audience has grown exponentially in recent years. The simple reality is that different people have different needs. Creating a family of devices would widen iPhone’s appeal as it squelches the perception that Apple is somehow losing touch.

Creating a new family of iPhones would also allow Apple to stage a supremely buzz-worthy event. No symphony orchestra required.

Expanding the product line was the right move at the right time for iPod. This is feeling like a highly appropriate time for iPhone.

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