Companies Baffled By iPhone's Success

from the who'd-a-thunk-that-making-something-people-like-works dept

Rob Hyndman points us to a news report on what must have been one of the more bizarre panel discussions at this week’s Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona. It was a panel on the user experience of mobile phones, where a bunch of folks from other companies tried to puzzle out why people liked the iPhone so much, noting that people generally associated the iPhone more with Apple than AT&T (gee… wonder why?) What’s amazing is seeing some of the execs trying to come up with solutions through more careful methodologies:

“One direction, advocated by Lucia Predolin… is to manipulate users by identifying their “need states” — including such compulsions as ‘killing time,’ and ‘making the most of it’ — and fulfilling them subliminally.”

And that, of course, is exactly why no other company designed the iPhone before Apple. They’re trying to overthink things and figure out how to manipulate users, rather than sitting back and saying “how can we build something cool that people like that doesn’t suck the way existing phones do?”

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Comments on “Companies Baffled By iPhone's Success”

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MIkey says:

Re: unbelieveable!!

Ok the iphone is unbelievable I have had one for about 4 months now and I can honestly say it the best thing I have ever bought. This may make me sound a little bit shallow but hey… Its the shit man, nothing else like it and I doubt any company can be as innovative and cutting edge as apple to design something similar.

Erik says:

>> Adobe’s Murarka proposed a more technological approach to
>> improving the user experience, satisfying the mobile phone
>> subscriber through better interface design.

The article skipped right over that one, though it was the only comment that hinted at someone having a clue.

Most of the other quotes pretty clearly illustrated why they’re struggling. If nothing else at least they were good for a laugh.

They did manage to hit on the truth, though the article is unclear as to whether the panelists actually got it.

“deadline consciousness” simply means that users are afraid that actually using the services they’re paying for will cause their bills to skyrocket. Combine that with their admittedly lousy interfaces and you have a recipe for dissatisfaction.

Iron Chef says:

Rambling on

The success to Apple is that their process for product development is the inverse of many other companies.

They start by identifying an opportunity, and then working backwards towards a solution.

Another well known company that excells in Industrial Design has a functional requirement at the beginning- a target retail price.

____ and _____ seem to have very similar approaches.

When it comes to working environment, these companies appear to have other similarities, which lead to a “Cult” like athmosphere. So what is this “secret sauce”? Whatever it is, it seems to trickle down into other parts of the organization. I have a some good imperical evidence.

Anyways, whatever this secret sauce is, I still find these companies incredibly faciniating.

I’d keep rambling but I better stop. If you’d like to purchase these ideas, please consider purchasing a InsightCommunity Dossier.


Iron Chef says:


Can you kindly hire a usability analyst? There’s an excrutatingly long pause, seemingly five minutes long that occurs after pressing the submit button.

This lag is only expected when booking an airline ticket, not when posting to a forum. I understand that you may want to be first to market with something, but this is nuts.

Do you have a GoToMarket strategy that addresses this? Yeech!

If the lag is unavoidable, consider setting up a fancy “Now Processing Your Comment” screen like Priceline/Expedia/Travelocity has when they contact Sabre’s third party middleware systems to book the order.


Anonymous Coward says:

I am still waiting for what I believed to be the true revolution in smartphone.

Iphone doesn’t simply appeals to me because I can’t modify the heart of these software.

Now, OpenMoko and the neo1973 is something what I wanted.

But of course, I am a programmer and a firece advocate of free and open source software. So I simply have different ideas on what a smartphone should do.

Dean Collins (user link) says:


hmmm having seen the lack of progress on OpenMoko over the past year….I think it’s about to be steamrolled by Android.

I was happy to support FIC’s intentions but lets face it having been in this same situation with Savaje 2 years earlier I’m a little tired about companies promising something….and then sitting in alpha mode for far longer than they should.

not trying to say things wont happen but I’ve already moved on to other things.

Dean Collins

Blaise Alleyne (profile) says:

Re: openmoko

It very well may have been, but John “maddog” Hall recently mentioned in an interview that they’re worked to port the Android stack to the OpenMoko hardware as well, both software stacks run the 2.6 kernel.

But yes, alpha for way too long.

They started work before the iPhone was announced though, and it was clearly another attempt at a product that was geared towards what people wanted (no lock in).

Spaghettihead says:

iTouch Mania!

I used to be hardcore Microsoft product. I purchased an iTouch and L.O.V.E. it!

The interface is delicious, the packaging is slick, it does everything I need it to do. I still have a Blackberry for my phone, but would happily trade it. The 3rd party apps on Blackberry just don’t hold a candle to the beauty of those same apps on an optimized screen.

Michael Long (user link) says:

The Apple Ecosystem

The key, to my mind, is simple. You can’t “out-Apple” Apple. They have a huge head start, and an entire ecosystem already in place.

The best you can do, I think, is to focus on the niches that Apple isn’t covering, and by providing something that a given set of users may want more than a phone with an iPod. Gamin is doing this by marrying their best-of-class GPS technologies with a phone. Nokia created the N93 with strong photo and video elements, hoping to appeal to photographers and others who want or need a decent camera with them at all times.

Combine a phone with a nice touchscreen, and license the Kindle DRM for Amazon. Create a portable phone/book reader for book lovers.

See: The Apple Ecosystem

intelligence says:

Only reason for iPhone's success

The one and ONLY reason it is successful is because it is Apple. Their unholy demon band of marketers have made the ignorant think it is the only phone that can browse the internet, and the hellbound Apple fanboys buy it because they hope it will contain a sample of Steve Job’s manjuice.

Apple hatred aside, the reason for it’s success isn’t the failure or lack of features from other phones, it is marketing – pure and simple. How many people have heard of the HTC Touch, Palm Treo 700w or other smart phones? Mostly only the few who are already experts and already have Blackberries etc – where there is very little market.

What Apple did is nothing more than shed light on it’s (relatively inferior for many reasons other than my unadulterated hatred for Apple) do-all device when the other companies were trying to make their do-all better in one way (be it style or ease of use) than the others – forgoing marketing COMPLETELY.

The iPhone was not successful because of style, it was not successful because of compatibility, it was not successful because of integration and it most certainly was not successful from expandability. It’s less powerful in all of those points than the $40 cheapoid Motorola phones you can get, but it was marketed to be better than sex.

drjones says:

Re: Only reason for iPhone's success

You have got to be kidding. Most of the iPhones marketing was FAN driven. Apple didnt do half of it.

It does what a huge segment of the phone using population want, while most other phones try and fill up their spec sheet with features most people dont use or even understand. I dont know where you’ve been if you think most of the other companies arent putting the same kind of marketing behind their phones.

James yu says:

Re: Only reason for iPhone's success

that is entirely wrong. The reason the iPhone is successful is that Apple understands that the hardware serves the software, the software serves the user experience, and the user experience serves the emotion. Apple simply understands how to create a product that really serves the users needs.

Their marketing is a secondary factor.

Other smartphones... says:

Re: Only reason for iPhone's success

Actually a lot of iPhone owners, such as myself, have owned many smartphone devices. Motorola MPx200, HTC Wizard, HTC Hermes. All packaged with Windows mobile software. I USED to be a Microsoft fan, but will be sticking to Apple from now on, even with slighty higher prices. Microsoft has lost touch with what it’s users really want. I now use my macbook for everything, and unfortunately my 2.4 Core 2 Duo Vista PC for quickbooks.
As for being the only phone to browse the internet, mobile internet explorer would browse the internet sure, but display html in a confusing mess unless you wanted to keep scrolling back and forth on a tiny screen. The iPhone’s internet capabilities are second to none. I can really do anything on my phone that I could do on my laptop.
Internet aside, the OS and processing is just far more superior to any windows mobile device that I have ever used. Third party apps are great and plenty and with the SDK coming out within the month its just a matter of time before we see “bejeweled” and bluetooth GPS apps available.
Don’t be mad that apple creates great products for consumers and has the smarts to effectively market the product.

yoshi says:

Re: Only reason for iPhone's success

Its successful because it works and its not a pain to use. I’ve owned four blackberries, a Palm Treos, two devices based on windows moble, and at east a half dozen razrs over the years and the iPhone is the only phone that doesn’t make me want to throw it against the wall in frustration.

Its speedy, intuitive, and the web browsing is still second to none (although a couple of other devices are figuring that out).

Petréa Mitchell says:

Here's one reason

This week’s Economist has a special report which mentions in passing that the District of Columbia is experimenting with iPhones to replace its unreliable police radios. Does $400 each sound like an expensive solution? Well, the police radios cost SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS each.

Here’s the start of the report, and the section with that quote (it’s about a third of the way down).

Yeah, it’s the first time they’ve sounded cost-effective to me, too…

Jono says:

I can’t believe that some people can be so ignorant. The iPhone is an unbelieveble device that has a few flaws but compared to most phones out there on the Market they are very little. Apple got around so many things that other companies have just lest the same for years. I know that the iPhone is amazing, because I am posting off one right now (which you can’t do on any other phones)

The Man says:

IPhone still lacking

I had an IPhone and found that without the 3G speed it was very limited. I also was a bit disappointed that it had no video (not huge deal). The draw back was that I could not use it with my Sling Box Pro (remote access to my entertainment devices at home). It is required to work with a windows device. I bought the HTC Tilt and to be honest; other than being a bit thinker, it is by far a more superior phone with absolutely no flaws. IPhone is for the yuppies of the world. Real phones are for us.

Howbad (user link) says:

Read the manual

All someone has to do to understand iphone success is to read the manuel. The iPhone manuel is a 8 page long foldout paphlet, a sentence or two per page, and for most all of us that never read the manuel, not necessary.

I always loved reading and rereading my old Motorola Razor manuel which is a 68 page book. Trying to figure how to do most anything on the “stupid” phone, and then after figuring it out, only a few days later forgetting what key strokes got me there and having to go back to the manuel.

iPhone success is totally based on the fact that they saved so much money on the manuel, no more no less.

His Shadow says:


Anonymous Coward on Feb 16th, 2008 @ 6:50am

I am still waiting for what I believed to be the true revolution in smartphone.

Then you don’t actually know what “revolution” means.

Iphone doesn’t simply appeals to me because I can’t modify the heart of these software.

So that’s one of you. Would you hazard a guess at how little Apple cares about you as a demographic, and how little said demographic matters at all?

stacey says:

why the iphone is successful

Because it is easy to use. My 2 1/2 year old daughter knows how to unlock it and watch you tube videos. She saw me do it to entertain her a few times and now she can do it herself. I don’t have to run to my desk to look up the temperature that chicken is done, it is in my pocket. How do I get to my meeting – Google Maps tells me. The camera could be a little better, but otherwise this thing is perfection.

yoshi says:

Re: Business Use

The iPhone won’t make inroads into the corporate world due to “lack of security” (I doubt you don’t even know what security features the blackberry has.) It will make inroads when it integrates with exchange and/or lotus notes. Once that happens – you will see demand skyrocket in companies. Unfortunately the security features have always been secondary for mobile devices in the corporate world (although that is slowly changing.)

Besides the blackberry does only one thing well – e-mail. I owned four of them over the years and was glad to give the things up.

Ken Hanscom (user link) says:

iPhone's not perfect, but....

The iPhone is not perfect. There are several usability and functions missing — however, for a V1 — it’s pretty good and to the point of the author — it does not suck.

When comparing our iPhone with my Blackberry I can tell you that while I am not yet ready to trade for an iPhone — the most annoying things about the blackberry (the slowness of the processor, the lack of of a really good browser — although mini Opera is better) are solved for really well on the iPhone.

Anonymous Coward says:

The only reason it has been successful is because it’s “cool” to have one. That’s the only reason. And yes I have played with one and even hacked, unlocked, and sold one. It’s a waste of money IMO. It is nothing more than a fashion accessory just like the iPod’s and stupid Macbook Air. My WM6 HTC Excalibur serves me well and will continue to do so.

Dick Fer says:

Cell phone companies

The reason the phone is successful is the interface. Have you ever used one of the VZW phones from Verizon? Every frickin’ think costs $9.99 to $19.99 a month to use. Web browsing, music, TV, whatever it is, it’s expensive and worthless. And the interface sucks. And people wonder why Verizon is so slow at introducing phones? Lowly Sprint is 6 months ahead of introducing CDMA phones. Verizon has to order the phone manufacturers around so they can cripple the phone so the users can’t do ANYTHING without Verizon charging $10 a month. It’s horrible. I’m sick of it, and I work for a telecom manufacturer. AT&T caved in to Apple, and I think the world is seeing what the public really wants. I highly doubt that the carrier executives will pull their head out of the sand and wake up. They’re all about maximizing revenue… not making a phone that will win them the most market share. It’s too bad. Verizon does have a nice network. AT&T, Sprint, and Tmobile have big holes in their coverage. If Verizon would just quit trying to nickel-and-dime people to death, their customers would be MORE likely to stay. Instead, AT&T is now building out their 3G network, and Verizon subscribers will have no reason to stay.

Lyinggod says:

Not for Techno-Geeks...except....

The iPhone and Touch, just like the rest of the Apple line, are not designed for Ubber-geeks. They are designed to be effective and easy to use. Obviously, more tweaking can be done with Windows, if you want to dig deep and monkey with it. You can do more with the wintel hardware, if you want to monkey with it. The same can be said with various automobiles, spend a lot of time and money under the hood and you can end up with a wild, tricked out ride. Sometimes, you can actually drive said car and use it in normal life.

For most people, they want a car that they can just buy and use. One that is easy to use and immediately driveable. These are the same people that Apple designs their products for. Yes, they look cool and work well out of the box. No, you can’t really tweak them much. This is what drives ubber-geeks mad. They want to spend all their time under the hood. Since they cant do this, they raise a holy ruckus over the “obvious failing” of Apple.

Who cares what the noisy ubber-geeks think. Apple doesnt. Ubber-geeks are the opposite end of their targeted demographic. They target their products towards people who just want something easy to use, effective, and intuitive. Not power-users, not ubber-geeks, just normal people.

We need to remember this, as ubber-geeks, when we think we need to blast the “too simple” apple products. They are not designed for us. They are designed for “normal people”. It doesnt matter that Apple didnt try to fit every last little bit of bloated feature into their products. It only matters that it works extremely well for the market it was designed for. The “I just want it to work” market.

For the .05% of power tinkers, thats what Windows type products and the Honda Element cater too.

HamNSwiss says:

Re: Not for Techno-Geeks...except....

If you think these things can’t be tweaked, you need to jailbreak one and see the HUNDREDS of apps that one can use to get the very best out of the phone. With the SDK releasing soon, it only gets better.

Yes, it’s not perfect, but if it were, there’d be no room for future upgrades… Duh.

Kevin says:

The iPhone is successful for two reasons...

…or rather they came at their success from two angles. Firstly, and most importantly, they told the carrier that the carrier wasn’t going to dictate the terms of the deal. As pointed out, the carriers like to dictate phone designs to the manufacturers because it lets them cram in “revenue generating” features that users may or may not want, but their only purpose in being on the phone is to be an additional monetary stream to the carrier. That’s like try to sell a house with a pay toilet…you’re already bought the toilet, why should you have to pay to use it. The same goes for most phone services/features.

A prime example of this is Verizon Wireless’ VCast service. Most people don’t want to watch video on their tiny phone screen. If they DO want to watch video on their tiny phone screen, they don’t want to have to pay extra to do it. Verizon looks at mobile video as a revenue stream. Apple looks at mobile video (a la YouTube) as an included feature. By going through YouTube you have access to a far wider range of video clips than is available via VCast, and that will appeal to a wider audience. People don’t like to be told what to do or where to go. It’s actually the difference between the “Walled Garden” version of the Internet and unfettered access to the Internet.

People want to do all sorts of cool things with their phones. They just don’t want to be nickel and dimed to death to do it.

But the other, far more important factor in the iPhone’s success is that Apple has Steve Jobs. Now, I’m no Apple fanboy (I have three PCs running Vista and Ubuntu, I don’t care for Macs, and my smartphone is a Windows-based XV6700), but one thing that Jobs does really well is act as an idiot filter. Apple has Jobs to stand up in front of a room full of engineers and say “You idiots! This thing is crap! Take it away and redo it and don’t come back until you have something useful!” Jobs (and probably many Apple engineers by now) understands what it takes to make things useful and appealing, and they have high standards in that area. Jobs says “I want a phone that does A, B, C, and D, and does it in a simple and integrated fashion.” A company like Verizon says “I want a phone that does A, B, C, and D.”

Smeagolpoet says:

Of course people like the iphone, ipods and other apple products have the popularity factor, and as long as young people are driving the tech industry, popularity and brand names are going to be vastly important. Besides, when you think about it, the public actually WANTS to be minipulated. We like it when we have cool-looking, easy to operate technology in our pockets.

Kraw says:

Had a WM "smartphone"

3 different HTC’s, and have a Blackberry (yech).

I got the iPhone for it’s ease of use and only paying $20 a month for data (yes, I know all about media max etc). I got tired of wondering when ATT would notice the mediamax on a pocket PC phone and change my plan.

The iPhone is 100x easier to use then wm5. I can hand it to my wife while I’m driving and she can navigate the net with ease. She couldn’t even figure out how to make calls on my HTC phones.

So yes, it’s not the most tech phone out there, but it’s a perfect compromise with a low monthly cost for data (at least on ATT)

4-80-sicks says:

I dislike Apple very much. I will never own any of their products personally. I don’t like their products, and I don’t like their politics. The public face they put on is rather different from their actual practices in many cases.

But anybody who denies that their Apple’s interface design for their computers, MP3 players, and phone, and the different applications on those various hardware devices, is bar none the best for most of the public, is simply fooling themselves. That is the key to their success. Marketing and all of that is important, but secondary and supplementary. Features don’t matter when it’s not easy and intuitive to remember how to use them, as evidenced by the posts of many people here. Even price doesn’t matter, much.

sam stave says:

Totally missed the point

EVERYONE misses the point of the iPhone;

First of all – the phone itself still sucks in a lot of ways;

-Keyboard is still hard to get used to
-Auto-correct is horrible, doesnt remember common words etc..
-Phone is TOO SLIPPERY without a phone condom, and too sticky with it (drop the slippery version, hard to get condomed version from tight pocket)


There is one reason why i ahve an iPhone at all:


Jesus christ how hard is this to understand. Take a look at the black jack by samsung, razr chocolate or ANY other phone. The screen is TOO SMALL and sucks.

BlackJack is a perfect example; Screen is small and crappy and non-touch screen – even still – there is a top and bottom “button banner” on 80% of the screens in the blackjack and the banners consume nearly 20% of screen real-estate and add no value.

There are a lot of things that the iPhone lacks, but a nice large touch screen is the number one feature a phone, any phone, needs.

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