I don't think many realize just what the iPhone has done to the high technology and consumer electronics industries. The iPod should have made this change but people, even those that created competing products like the Microsoft Zune, simply didn't grok what made the iPod great. I've found it amazing that, even in the face of massive success, companies like Dell, Toshiba and even Creative Labs couldn't step up and create competing offerings. Let alone anyone outside of that segment thinking, hey, what Apple did with the iPod, we could do with a phone, PC or other device.
The iPhone changed this. While the MP3 player was not really considered serious tech, the cell phone, particularly the smartphone, is seen as a possible future for the laptop computer. Plus, everyone has a cell phone. Apple, by hitting this market hard, has woken up companies around the world and, in some cases, entire countries that thought they owned the global market for these things.
While this might turn into Apple's Pearl Harbor, this month I've had meetings with vendors all over the world that indicate Apple has their attention and the future of a variety of products we touch daily will be forever altered by this focus and effort. It is interesting to note that, based on the early looks at Leopard, I don't think Apple itself realizes the massive change it has created, making me wonder if it will gain the most benefit from it.
Windows 7 and Window Mobile 7: iPhone Influence
With the exceptions of Surface and the Xbox, Microsoft has generally sucked with user interfaces. It provides a lot of potential value in its products but if people don't get access to or use that value, it is effectively worthless. While Vista isn't doing that poorly considering the bad press that has surrounded it, it clearly didn't excite the market as Windows 95 initially did or the iPhone does.
With every OEM looking at the iPhone and now capable of articulating what they want, Microsoft is getting a message it can't ignore: It has to fix the user interface for Windows and the rest of its desktop products dramatically. It also now knows if it doesn't do this, it won't move Windows 7 and, like every company, Microsoft wants sales volume. Finally, Windows is a keystone product, which means if new versions of Windows don't sell, neither will the new versions of all of the products it and others make that run on it.
But the OEMs aren't trusting Microsoft to execute. For the first time in decades, they are working on their own interfaces, which can be layered on Windows to help give a level of experience vastly closer to the iPhone than what we have now. We saw the first one of these from HP on its TouchSmart product. I'm expecting more from others as they figure out that this is the likely path to having a product that could do to the PC segment what Apple just did to the phone segment.
On the mobile side, while Microsoft works to close the competitive gap by enhancing significantly the user interface in its mobile platform, there are firms like HTC with its Touch, and Neonode with the only phone that comes close to what the iPhone Mini is likely to become, both based on Microsoft technology and both utilizing improvements made by their individual owners.
Out of the Box Thinking
When Apple needed a new OS after its own efforts failed miserably, it took an open source version of UNIX and built on it something that now is, in sharp contrast, better than any other version of UNIX and vastly better than its previous OS. TiVo, in effect, did the same thing with Linux, (thanks to the GPL 3.0 thing, bet they regret that), and created what is the gold standard in personal video recorders.
Companies typically have a not-invented-here attitude that keeps them from using the technology that could otherwise make the difference between success and failure. Other companies that have great things often don't realize that licensing the core technology out and assuring the ownership of a segment makes the difference in a market, similar to the historical difference between Apple and Microsoft.
The effective use of all of the tools available to them will likely differentiate the winners from the losers in this fight.
Wrapping up and Formula for Success
There are four simple parts to this formula and I'll bet most who try this don't get all four.
Now we should just wait and see who gets this right on the PC first. I know products that are coming in terms of set-top boxes can hardly wait to see who gets this right next. I think, 10 years from now, we will look back at the iPhone as a pivotal moment. Then again, the entropy connected to creating hard to use, ugly, poorly marketed devices may simply be too great to overcome. We'll see.