January 12, 2007

iPhone: Questionable Origins?

Other devices surface on the net that sport an uncanny resemblance to Apple's iPhone and its Multi-Touch interface.

I just saw the Engadget story that reveals that the iPhone looks kind of identical to LG KE850. This is disappointing to us Apple admirers but it's most likely a coincidence. Jonathan Ive (iconic Apple designer) isn't someone who needs inspiration from someplace else. Besides, the shape isn't so distinct that you can conclusively call it a knock-off.

But that's not all. Looks like even the Multi-Touch interface of iPhone is not new either. This time it's Taiwanese manufacturer FIC whose GTA001 Linux Smart Phone, introduced last November, sports an almost identical interface. It's uncanny.

FIC's GTA001

The Multi-Touch interface described here is eerily similar to the iPhone though it's not entirely identical.
[...] they envisage a system where lists can be scrolled with two fingers and options selected with one; maps that can be zoomed using a pinching motion and panned by twisting fingers around as if holding a compass.

Other features of GTA001 remind us of the iPhone as well.
  • Large high resolution screen (2.8-inch 480×640)
  • Powerful OS - Linux in this case
  • GSM phone
  • An "iPod-quality mp3 player"
  • Full-screen, button-less interface

I'm still inclined to give the benefit of doubt to Apple though. For one, they couldn't have managed to create a knock-off so soon even though we now know how secretive Apple was during the iPhone development. The GTA came out only in November last year.

Second, Multi-Touch Interface is not a new invention. It has been worked on since the 80's according to Jeff Han, a NYU researcher who demoed a number of applications of Multi-Touch interface at TED last year. So keeping that in mind, I'll pass this one as a freak co-incidence too. However, others might not be so generous. I can foresee Apple getting some flak for this.

It is well known that Apple "picked up" the Graphic User Interface and the mouse, both inventions it calls its own, from Xerox PARC. So even though it's most likely that both the design and the interface of iPhone were developed at Apple, the company's history seems to be catching up with it.

Past iPhone stories from this blog

Steve Jobs' iPhone: What's the Big Deal?

iPhone: Apple's Most Profitable Product Ever?

January 10, 2007

iPhone: Apple's Most Profitable Product Ever?

Steve Jobs' brilliant innovation and a clever pricing strategy might herald a new era of profitability for Apple.

Apple's recently introduced banner hinting at bigger things

Apple's iPhone, even though high-priced at $499 (4GB) and $599 (8GB) considering the company's recent moderately priced offerings, appears poised to become the most profitable product in its history. The phone comes with a two-year Cingular contract which means Cingular will pay Apple a fixed sum for each device sold - a rebate that is traditionally passed on to consumers except in this case.

Since it's an Apple product which ensures big sales (estimated 10M by end of 2008) and the promise of luring users from other carriers, it's very likely that Apple is charging a hefty sum from Cingular for the privilege of being its "exclusive multi-year" partner. During the keynote presentation Cingular CEO remarked that they signed up without even looking at the prototype.

Apart from this, both Google and Yahoo have products that are being offered with the phone which point to yet another revenue opportunity for Apple. Yahoo is offering free IMAP email apart from other services. Google is offering search and Google Maps. It is somewhat odd that products from both the companies are included since they have largely similar offerings. Initially, I figured that this could be because each have a large subscriber base which Apple didn't want to exclude. But another reason could well be that signing up with both companies doubles Apple's revenue earning opportunity.

Add all this to the premium price and Jobs brilliant strategy becomes clear. Offer a device that is unparalleled in its offerings and more importantly its user experience that solves a long-standing problem, and then charge a world for it.

No one - not consumers and no carrier - would pay this premium if it were a Nokia, Samsung or a Motorola phone. People are ready to accept this only because this is an absolutely remarkable phone in its looks, its experience, its functionality and the brand behind it.

Steve Jobs' iPhone: What's the Big Deal?

The brilliance of the iPhone lies in its experience not its "features."

     Steve Jobs unveiling the iPhone at Macworld
Steve Jobs unveils the iPhone at Macworld (source: Engadget)

Seth Godin, marketing maverick, and self-professed Apple admirer (owned every model ever made except Newton) once said that a world changing idea is rare.
Not getting stuck. Thinking big. Changing the world a second time. Western Union couldn’t do it. RCA did. CompuServe couldn’t do it. Neither could AOL. Lots of companies never even bother to try. Apple, surprisingly, did it three times - personal computers, graphical interfaces, digital music.

- Seth Godin in "What Should Google Do"

Today, Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone and changed the world once again. He changed it by shaking the cell phone industry redefining how we experience phones from now on.

Why is the iPhone revolutionary? After all, none of the "features" it sports - smart phone capability, 2MP camera, photo management, music player, web browsing and email are new. That's correct and this is where it gets interesting - it's not these features, it's the user experience that will drive the revolution.

It's the fact that all these features are brought together seamlessly on the wonderful OS X. It's the multi-touch interface that lets you access them effortlessly. Move through pictures, scroll through songs, access voicemails in any order, browse the web or move around on Google Maps with an ease that's never experienced on a mobile device.

The motion sensing accelerometer that understands how the phone is held and changes the interface accordingly. Simple scrolling through long lists just by moving a finger. A proximity sensor that shuts off display when the phone is held to the ear. The lack of a multitude of ugly buttons replaced with on-screen controls. The way music fades away when you get a call and then starts right off after you're done.

The user experience is the magic of iPhone. It is a slap on the face of current cell phone manufacturers whose blind allegiance to features over experience has led to stagnation in design of mobile interfaces. The industry long outgrew its four-point arrow navigation, select and quit interface. Ever tried to find an old picture buried among dozens of others or an old text message? It'd take a lifetime of clicks to reach there.

With the world relying on their cellphones like never before we needed something really simple and really easy. Yet take up any cell phone today and the four-point arrow navigation would stare at you. Apple has now shown us a better way. In the Keynote today, Jobs said that after the iPhone no one will look at those phones the same way. I couldn't agree more.

Apple's move into cell phones also signifies huge growth ahead for the company. The company has filed over 200 patents related with the iPhone. Jobs mentioned his intent to protect them. The Nokias and Motorolas of the world should be worried. As I write, Apple's stock is up over 8% and that of RIM, makers of BlackBerry, is down by 9%. Palm too is down by about 6%. It's a good day if you're an AAPL investor.

Related links

Engadget's complete coverage of Steve Jobs' keynote
Apple's iPhone overview and Keynote Video
iPhone on Google News

Past Apple posts on this blog

Steve Jobs, an artist of the highest order
Lessons from Steve Jobs' life
On Jef Raskin
Unveiling of iPod Nano
The Great Apple Turnaround
User Experience as competitive advantage