Yesterday’s sneak peek at the iPhone 3.0 software update contained little in the way of surprises, but it did serve to underline a key point – when you buy an iPhone, you’re not just buying a piece of kit; you’re buying a platform.
Apple’s strategy seems to be one of constant update and improvement to its flagship device. Rather than attempting to coerce users into a upgrade cycle with the devices themselves, the company instead prefers to push out regular software updates every few months that add new capabilities and functionality to the handset. There are very few other companies that do this as willingly, frequently and conveniently as Apple. In truth, the improvements coming to free iPhone 3.0 are designed to plug some holes in the software that should have been fixed a long time ago – copy and paste is available at long last, as is the ability to send picture messages, to type emails using a landscape keyboard and to get push notifications from many applications. These features, and many more besides, have long been available on numerous other smartphones, and Apple’s decision to belatedly address them perhaps shows that the Californian company is starting to feel the heat from other phone makers, who have had to work hard to develop devices that could get anywhere near the iPhone’s initial promise.
Take the Pre, for instance, a make-or-break device for Palm which is turning out to be one of the most hotly anticipated gadgets of the year. Palm has ripped up the rule book with this one, starting from the ground up to rebuild an operating system around the key tenets of mobile computing and social networking, and all in a sleek, easy to use handset that has the blogosphere salivating in anticipation.
Android, too, the operating system developed in part by Google, is looking increasingly exciting and capable, and the next Android-based handset, HTC’s Magic, will offer many of the iPhone 3.0’s features as standard, straight out the box, and possess some of the ‘cool factor’ that the first Android phone, T-Mobile’s G1, has arguably lacked.
“The new capabilities make the iPhone better as a game machine, as a social networking tool, better as a business tool, and better as a browser,” said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. “This can only help Apple.”
Significantly, the iPhone 3.0 update enables iPhone and iPod touch owners to wirelessly play games together or share contacts using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, and to carry out voice chat while playing. It means the iPhone and iPod touch will mount a serious challenge to the dominance of other hand-held gaming devices, such as the Nintendo DS and Sony’s PSP. It will also consolidate the video games market as one of the most profitable for Apple, which takes a 30 per cent share of all sales made through the iTunes Application Store. Game developers will also be able to introduce micropayments into their games, enabling users to pay for extra levels, weapons or features in whatever game they are playing. Likewise other application developers of, say, a guide book, will be able to offer extra cities for download at an additional cost, or extra features not included in the basic version of the application.
The iPhone 3.0 software update is, on the face of it, simply an attempt by Apple to consolidate its market position and continue to raise the bar for its competitors. But dig a little deeper, and it becomes clear that it’s the next step in an aggressive business and marketing strategy designed to continue stimulating consumer investment in the iPhone without the costly need to develop a sufficiently improved handset to persuade consumers to upgrade, instead encouraging users to splash out on more apps and clever accessories.
Apple has shown that “upgrading” its device is as easy as pushing a software update through iTunes; that’s got to be pretty dispiriting for the chasing pack. Whether it’s enough to see off the burgeoning ambition of the Palm Pre, though, remains to be seen.
Originally posted at: Telegraph.co.uk