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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  1. Great article. I expect Apple to follow the iPod route. By the way, what happened to your post about the new iPhone ad?

  2. Damn, I didn’t realize you’d be keeping track. Actually, I just distracted myself — should have that in a day or two.

  3. Apple won’t do an iPhone Mini until it can cost in a processor that can run Retina and Siri, and a decent camera, as does the iPad Micro, aka iPod Touch.

  4. With both the iPad and iPod, they expanded to a family gradually, one addition at a time. iPod 2001, iPod mini 2004, iPod Shuffle 2005, iPod touch 2007. iPad 2010, iPad mini 2012. The marketing team could then focus exclusively on the new addition and settle it in the market before adding another member. Although it would be very Apple-like to grow the iPhone family, expanding to three members in one event could dilute the marketing push for the new products and even lead to consumers being given too much “choice” in one go.

  5. Apple garnishes hatred because it is not a cheap product and for those who are out of reach, they will denigrate it relentlessly. That is human nature. But Apple will continue to be what everyone wants to aspire to and today, even its future designs are being copied before they appear (e.g. Samsung’s “guess” at an iTV). The only thing Steve Jobs did was to push the Apple team relentlessly to make deadlines and that may have slowed some. But that is better for the Apple team who are after all, human.

  6. Ken, I think all three of your ideas may come to fruition, but hopefully only if and when Apple is ready, rather than feeling pushed to do so. The cheap phone could be problematic if not done correctly, and I’m not sure it’s a market Apple would be in a hurry to address, because if it’s just cheap for the sake of cheap then they are entering a market with little profit available. To me it only makes sense if the long term objective is to capture a customer that will someday become a customer of other Apple products, and that doesn’t seem likely if your market is the very low end of the economic scale. Keep in mind they already have a cheap phone if you factor in the iphone 4 and 4s can now be purchased free of charge with contract. I’m also a little afraid of them chasing the large screen market as I’m not convinced this will prove to be a large sustainable market in the long run. I mean how friggin huge can these things get? If Apple could somehow figure out how to turn the unusable portions at the top and bottom of the present iphone 5 into usable screen space, while keeping the overall size the same, I think they would totally negate the present passion for larger and larger phones. Just a thought.

  7. I never meant to imply that Apple should rush any product to market. And I never want to see Apple create a “cheap” product, which would be in conflict with the values that have gotten the company to where it is today.

    When I think about the possibility of a family of iPhones, I’m assuming that Apple has been working on this for some time, for all the right reasons — and that we’ll see it only when the products are ready.

    And again, this is only opinion. I’ve certainly been wrong before!

  8. I think we will see an iPhone mini or iPhone maxi, if not both, at the next unveiling. I hope they also bring out an iPad mini with retina display and 128G storage!

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