One of the predictable responses to my recent writings on the smartphone market and the rise of Android has been a deluge of scornful invective by Apple fans confidently predicting that Android’s 1Q2010 surge in unit share represented a bubble that would pop under pressure from Apple’s “superior user experience”.
Then came the flap over the iPhone4’s antenna problems, and the silence of the fans. Yeah, that’s a superior user experience, all right – huge percentages of dropped calls (including reports that it drops 100% of calls when the bottom left corner is touched), and Steve Jobs telling iPhone 4 users it’s all their fault because they’re holding their phones wrong. The satirical backlash at Jobs on the Internet has been merciless, and completely deserved. Nokia even had the cheek to post a blog entry on the many ways you can hold your Nokia phone.
Now comes Apple’s attempt to spin the problem out of existence. The tone of desperation is palpable. “Oops…” Apple says “…we fucked up the display algorithm for the signal strength meter.” Oh, yeah, that’s a superior user experience all right. It’s Apple, and It Just Works!(tm).
But there’s a story behind this story. Actually, two stories. One is that Apple is lying outright about the scope and nature of the problems. And the second, more important one, is that the fragility of the single-carrier, single-platform strategy for iOS has come around to bite Apple hard. There’s a lesson here for the future.
First, Apple is lying. While I have no trouble believing the iOS signal-strength meter is screwed up, there’s a hardware-design problem too. We know this because the company has posted job openings for antenna engineers. In fact, it gets better. Apple knew there was a problem before launch because it was looking for top antenna engineers before Jobs announced the product. Remember, though, Apple’s user experience is superior! In other breaking news from the Ministry of Truth, war is peace, freedom is slavery, and the Obama stimulus worked.
Second…in outlining Apple’s struggle against disruption from below by Android, I’ve repeatedly used the term “outflanked”. Apple’s single-carrier, single-platform strategy leaves it exposed to single-point failures that Android can recover from more easily because it’s got other carriers and hardware to fall back on. If, say, my Nexus One were to have a problem when you grip it a certain way (and there are reports it does) consumers would correctly identify this as an HTC problem rather than a Google problem. Apple, having elected to own everything, gets to own every failure. And to be hostage to AT&T’s crappy network and its pricing moves.
It never looked very likely that the iPhone line would recover the unit share advantage against Android that it lost earlier this year. Now Apple has taken a serious hit to their brand image and they’ll be lucky not to watch their share drop like a rock. And there’s no one else Apple can blame; they launched the iPhone 4 with serious user-visible software errors and (on the evidence of those job postings) knowing the antenna design was defective. Apple owns every failure.
In the future, the Apple fanboys trumpeting the “superior user experience” among my commenters will be pointed to this post and mocked without mercy. Your god has failed you, even in the terms it set itself as the criteria of excellence. The iPhone 4 now stands for lies and incompetence.