Will iPhone’s Features or Lack of Features Decide its Future?

by Chris Howard Feb 18, 2009

The iPhone is an interesting device, loved for what it does do, and yet (by some) loathed for what it doesn't do. Will the latter be the undoing of the iPhone?

Around here we love the iPhone most of the time. It meets enough of our needs to keep us loyal. Looking at what it does do, we see:

- Phone
- Email
- Camera
- Web
- WiFi
- Media player
- App store
- Game player

That's a nice list that keeps a lot of people happy, especially when you add a kick ass GUI.

But lots of people complain about the things it doesn't do. Australia's PC Authority magazine in its latest edition had the gall to rate the iPhone down because of what it lacked, instead giving its editor's choice award to the very expensive (by PCA's own admission), cumbersome to use (by PCA's own adminission) HTC Touch HD because it has extra features (FM radio, full Bluetooth, 5MP camera, higher resolution screen). That's not to say PCA have any credibility, as it demonstrated its lack thereof when reviewing digital SLRs and awarding the editor's choice to the one with the clearly worst picture quality (by their own testing) mainly because its price best. Fortunately, The Age newspaper provided a more rational review of the HTC, giving it only 2.5 out of 5, which when looking at both reviews, seems much more appropriate.

But this leads us to wonder about what iPhone lacks and then how it will affect its future. Here's a few things some people have complained the iPhone lacks:

- Full Bluetooth
- Simultaneous running of applications
- Video recording
- Document editing (eg spreadsheets and word processing)
- Flash playback in Safari
- Physical keyboard
- Picture messaging
- Auto brightness control that works right
- Forward facing camera
- High resolution camera

And, obviously if you'd believe the PCA review, FM radio is a critical functionality of a smartphone that should be added to that list. (I haven't put copy&paste on that list because Apple has said it is working on that one.)

To some people, some things on that list will stop them buying an iPhone. Whereas others will put up with what's missing because of what's on the included list.

Which people will win out in the long run? Will Apple's obstinance in not including features people want be the iPhone's ultimate failing?

We could look at history. You could say "Look at where Apple's pig headedness got it with the original Mac". However, the original Mac did not have a massively successful lead-in product like the iPhone had with the iPod. Some will say "What about Apple ][!!" Yes it was quite successful but commanded nowhere near the marketshare that the iPod did and still does.

Secondly, the original Mac did not have the phenomenally successful App Store to help propel its success.

Looking at more recent history, we can look at the iPod. Didn't you just get so sick of the stories predicting its inevitable doom because it didn't have features, such as FM radio? And every time a new media player came out that had any of those feature it was touted as an iPod killer. And yet they all failed and the iPod is still the marketshare and mindshare leader by a street. Clearly it's not all about features.

So history tends to suggest that the iPhone will come through this unscathed and could indeed become the marketshare leader in the smartphone market - despite Apple's stubborness. But it doesn't stop me being more than a little nervous.

So, how about yourself. Bearing in mind that the iPhone is not the largest seller in the smartphone market, but certainly has the most mindshare now (with every other smartphone compared to it, wanting to be an iPhone killer, even Blackberries) do you think Apple's stubbornness to add some key features will cause its leadersip to be lost? Will in a year or two's time Apple be the wannabe, trying to knock off some new champion, whether it be Android, Palm, RIM, Nokia or someone else? Will the iPhone's included features or missing features decide its future?


  • Other things missing/to be improved:
    - Voice dialing! This is kind of important while driving.
    - Better camera. Yes, even though it’s a cell phone, it would still be nice to have a better than 1MP camera built-in.

    Keith Sheehan had this to say on Feb 18, 2009 Posts: 11
  • While the iPhone is the best smartphone, I agree there are a number of issues/problems/things its lacks that need to be addressed if Apple really wants it to be the every best smartphone/phone.
    - Full Bluetooth; not really needed, I don’t use it on my iPod Touch
    - Simultaneous running of applications; not really needed, we humans can only do one thing at a time, unless you are a woman
    - Video recording; yep totally agree
    - Document editing (eg spreadsheets and word processing); yes needed
    - Flash playback in Safari; not needed, but would be nice as others will have it, unless Apple can come up with something better
    - Physical keyboard; no not needed
    - Picture messaging, yes needed
    - Auto brightness control that works right; yes needed
    - Forward facing camera; I would prefer the camera to be in the middle, with iChat video conferencing, wow
    - High resolution camera; as least a 5mp with a flash
    I won’t be buying my iPhone for a while, until the price comes down and when these issues are addressed

    fonejacker had this to say on Feb 18, 2009 Posts: 1
  • FM radio?? oh please get out of the stone age. in this era of internet radio with x thousand stations available from all over the globe on your iPhone (including your local ones) why in the world bother sticking an antenna in there?

    instead of listing what we want, how about trying to predict what stubborn old Apple will actually give us in June?

    so i predict:

    - an improved camera. not great, but not so bad. video? i wish, but i don’t think so - unless they can feature it with iMovie ‘09 somehow.
    - some version of background processing for apps, although probably limited in scope.
    - an iWork lite app, with editing and direct MobileMe integration. Apple will really hype this, just like iWork ‘09 at MacWorld.
    - Flash? no chance.
    - bluetooth stereo headsets.
    - various UI convenience tweaks, but not voice control.
    - maybe streaming of your iTunes library from home to iPhone (third party apps can stream your music now) - including movies/video maybe.

    so overall theme i think will be tight integration with iLife, iWork, iTunes, MobileMe - the Apple “ecosystem.” in part to encourage more people to switch to a Mac computer too.

    Alfiejr had this to say on Feb 18, 2009 Posts: 18
  • @Alfier: lol - yeh, doesn’t it just make you cringe when reviews still rate FM Radio like it’s a must have feature. Blows all their credibility. FM radio is soooo last century.

    I think you’re prob going to be very close to the mark with your predictions too.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Feb 19, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • I would venture to say that you are precisely who Chris Seibold was refering to in his article “What Technofiles Don’t Get About The iPhone.”  Here’s the money quote:

    “That is what is so hard for the tech types to understand. Tech types talk to other tech types and they ALL know the iPhone’s shortcomings. It is a natural thing to think that the rest of the world is in the same spot. But they aren’t. The average person isn’t a tech type, they aren’t interested in the minutiae of (sic) the spec sheet. They just want something that works with a minimum amount of fuss for maximum (sic) returns.”

    Sound like anyone you know?

    tmsmqwx had this to say on Feb 19, 2009 Posts: 3
  • @tmsmqwx: Yes! Sounds like PCA! Otherwise I’m not sure who you were directing your comments at.

    If it’s the article you’re referring to I am surprised as I did say things such as:
    “Australia’s PC Authority magazine in its latest edition had the gall to rate the iPhone down because of what it lacked”

    And (in regards to the iPod’s own lack of features)

    “And yet they all failed and the iPod is still the marketshare and mindshare leader by a street. Clearly it’s not all about features.”

    Further, it’s not just the technofiles wanting some of those features the iPhone lacks. The lack MMS and full Bluetooth are two of the commonest complaints I hear - and that’s from everyday people because they are used to having and using those things. I use neither so often ask “What do you need that for?!” so am sometimes the opposite of Chris Seibold’s technophile.

    I know people who won’t buy an iPhone because it lacks MMS or Bluetooth, and they are certainly not technophiles. Matbe if they were I could convince them the whizzbangetry is more important than MMS or Bluetooth.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Feb 19, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • For many people, our limited understanding makes us want a simple, quantifiable method for working out which phone is best. Remember how VCRs & stereos went through a period of having every button possible on the front, and everyone wanted the one with the most buttons?

    Some features are unnecessary. Some are crucial. Many are never used. Many are too difficult to work out except for the power users.

    As long as Apple keeps including all the crucial features, it could actually leave a lot of features out (that some people will really miss), and still be a roaring success due to the features it does have being so easy to use.

    Greg Alexander had this to say on Feb 21, 2009 Posts: 228
  • Good point, Greg. It’s prob sorta like the 80/20 rule, though in this case, more like 80/80. i.e. give 80% of the features and keep 80% of the people happy.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Feb 22, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • Even if Apple can get 1/3 of people saying “Oh my God this is amazing”, 1/3 saying “oh, yeah I guess an iPod in my phone is okay”, and 1/3 saying “this sucks… it’s easy but it hasn’t got SO many things”.... then they could make a killing.

    My father got the iPhone. It does less than his old Nokia. But he is able to do more on it than he could on his old Nokia. So although the phone does less… iPhone+myDad does more than Nokia+myDad. grin

    And the apps really take functionality to another level.

    Greg Alexander had this to say on Feb 22, 2009 Posts: 228
  • What I do worry about, I guess, is the features that don’t need to be lacking.

    How on earth can Apple justify no MMS and no Bluetooth?

    My wife, for instance, says she doesn’t want an iPhone until it does MMS, because she uses it quite often. Most people can’t receive pictures on their phones any other way than MMS because most phones are not smartphones.

    And Bluetooth? Man, even I’ve been frustrated at times by the lack of Bluetooth connectivity.

    The lack of those two in particular sends a bad message about Apple itself. If someone wants to justify their belief Apple is arrogant, there’s no better place to start than there.

    Apple does seem to arrogantly decide when a technology has reached its end of life. E.g. the floppy disk. But even that was different, because there was a compatibility issue with non-Macs. There’s no such MMS compatibility issue with non-iPhones.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Feb 22, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • I agree totally. It’s one reason I’m pleased the iPhone has some good competitors. It really does drive competition forward and will have to respond to things it misses to continue.

    MMS is the perfect example of ‘why not!?’. Receiving MMS should be so straightforward - whether it comes inside an SMS or becomes like another ‘mailbox’ within email. Send an MMS by writing an email to a phone number perhaps? Same with Bluetooth… just receive it into the mail box?

    We know that Apple doesn’t make their products by tweaking existing products, they start with what they want to do and build something to do it (baring current technology in mind). If you look at the iPhone, it’s not hard to imagine they designed a cool internet & communication device… and they don’t (didn’t?) actually care about being a “sophisticate phone” as such.

    But they do need to look at what the others are doing!... if only to enable communication in the way they decided was unnecessary.

    Greg Alexander had this to say on Feb 22, 2009 Posts: 228
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