May 12, 2010

Do You Really Care About the iPhone 4? I Don't.

Amidst all the debate around Gizmodo's revelations around Apple's next generation iPhone and the methods by which they obtained access to the device, little was said about whether the device itself warranted the attention that was received. It seemed more people were excited in the idea of a scoop, and the fact that Apple probably didn't want us to be seeing the iPhone before it was ready to ship, than they were about the features themselves.

In addition, the debate around what is next for the iPhone is as much about the potential to gain new carrier relationships than anything that can be developed on the hardware side. What has happened, in a few short years since the phone's 2007 debut, is that the iPhone has become a mature device - one that isn't going to dramatically take our breath away and demand an instant upgrade with each iteration. Even as an iPhone owner who may consider upgrading when the time comes, there is no breathlessness around said scoopage, and I won't seriously be interested in the device unless it's available for sale.

One of the big benefits of Apple's resurgence is that the company's products are commonplace and pervasive. While it doesn't seem all that long ago that one had to go out of their way to buy a Macintosh or find fellow Mac users, the iPhone platform is seen as the market leader, and has gained its own fair share of challengers looking to chip away at its feature lead and customer share. Android, led by Google's focused efforts and those of its partners is gaining share, and the functionality differentiation between the two devices is decreasing.

While one should not assume that Apple is standing still, and they clearly demonstrated their intent to extend their lead with the April introductions of iPhone OS 4, the iPhone hardware and functionality itself has reached the maturity level once seen with the company's iPod line. With each iteration, we knew we could expect a smaller form factor, improved menu items, and more hard disk space. With the iPhone, we can again expect an improved form factor, potential speed improvements and more hard disk space. That brings the window of speculation to the origin of the CPU and the potential for a front-facing camera.

Hold me back.

For the most part, Apple has shaken off its position of challenger, and its product lines have become rather predictable. Just as we don't get too excited about incremental megahertz upgrades on the company's laptop and desktop lines, or wait in line overnight for monitors that have improved pixel counts or screen margins, the iPhone line has achieved a position where whatever is best now is great and whatever is better tomorrow will be just fine too.

At the end of 2009, I said you would have to be insane to buy a new iPhone now because of three things: 1) AT&T, 2) Android and 3) Apple. I still believe AT&T is a major roadblock in anybody getting excited about the current, or next generation, iPhones. I believe we have seen Android is a serious challenger and one to be considered, especially if you are not married to the iTunes store. And now, we have a better idea as to the schedule of the next device, which will probably arrive at the end of the summer.

In the five months since that post, the roadmap and phone family from Android has become a lot more clear. If you like the Nexus One, it is available, as are the latest updates to the Droid. If you are an Android fan, that platform is seeing more innovation today, updating more quickly and with more options. If you are an iPhone fan, you probably have seen enough from Android to make a good decision as to what's next for you. If you think AT&T is the devil, you haven't gotten enough data to say whether you will have an alternative from Apple and any amount of cameras, or lacking screws, or flash memory on the next iPhone isn't going to change your mind.

Last year, I told you I learned to stop chasing Apple rumors. Not only are most of them not true, but the ones that are true are typically mundane. You want a great rumor? Find out what the next iPads look like, as that platform will change pretty quickly. Discover a new product line that hasn't yet been introduced. Find out if Apple will ever get serious about the Apple TV. But the lure of the next generation iPhone isn't even enough to make us blink any more. We know they update on a pretty regular cycle and they'll just make it strong enough to make it appealing.