In the beginning—the niche PDA market
For a quarter of a century our publishing company has written about the practicality and fun of carrying a personal computer wherever you go. We started by writing about the original laptop from HP. Then in the 90’s we changed our focus to handhelds (miniature laptops), and then in the 2000s to PDAs (Pocket PCs).
From 1990 to 2005 HP, Microsoft, Palm, Psion, Apple (Newton), and others continually reinvented the pocket-sized computer. Throughout those years a relatively small but loyal group of consumer and business visionaries loved the productivity and entertainment possibilities of any time, any place computing. However, pioneering giants like HP, Microsoft, and Palm remained frustrated despite their many technological and marketing innovations: the PDA continued to be a niche market product.
Enter wireless—everybody can use a phone
When Wi-Fi and cellular radio were added as features to handheld computers, PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) became communication devices. That is, PDAs became “smart” phones that could not only call, but e-mail, text message, and browse the Internet. Suddenly, these niche devices had mass market appeal. It seems that communicating with others by voice and electronically is a far more universal human activity than stand-alone personal computing.
Consumers began to enjoy smarter phones from a variety of manufacturers, and they gradually became comfortable using the PDA features on their phones, such as e-mail, calendar, music playing, photography, and the Internet. Professionals and more recently the U.S. president became addicted to their Blackberry for e-mail. Large organizations with sophisticated needs adopted Windows Mobile smartphones.
iPhone launches and becomes market leader
Remarkably, in the two years since it was introduced, the iPhone has emerged as a market leader in the smartphone arena, with the competition now in catch-up mode. To understand this success, let’s first define what the iPhone is.
The iPhone and iPod touch are user oriented, Apple controlled, open platform, entertainment and communication handheld computers.
Understanding each adjective is key to understanding the iPhone’s ascendency. To explain the iPhone’s success, I will contrast Microsoft’s approach to its mobile operating system development, which we chronicled for 11 years in our magazine, Smartphone & Pocket PC.
Apple designed the iPhone with the number one goal of creating a great user experience. On the other hand, Microsoft focused on enriching the feature set and power of its Pocket PCs and Smartphones.
For years Windows Mobile touch screen devices have been able to do almost everything the iPhone can do now, and more. However, Apple made the iPhone’s built-in features much more intuitive and accessible to the every day consumer. Apple’s user interface innovations can be summarized in a word: simplicity. For example, the iPhone touch screen is for touching (no stylus); there is one button (rather than a plethora of keys and buttons); there is a flat menu scheme, rather than a hierarchical and complex one; a single application runs at a time; plus there are other simplifications that are mentioned below.
Microsoft and Apple both needed partners to create success. Each chose a different philosophy. Microsoft created standards and then opened the environment up to software developers, hardware manufacturers, and cellular service providers. This means that any company or organization can create and distribute Windows Mobile software for any Windows Mobile device. Any hardware company can develop a Windows Mobile phone, which can run on any cellular network throughout the world. This open approach results in plenty of hardware and software innovation, and a wide distribution and great variety of Windows Mobile devices.
On the other hand, Apple built the hardware and chose the network (AT&T in the U.S.). It selects and sells all third-party software through its own iTunes store. For the user this tighter control means a more uniform experience, less compatibility problems, and automatic operating system updates. Apple’s approach means less flexibility and market penetration, but greater over-all end-user satisfaction.
For over 10 years Windows Mobile developers have been using Windows tools to create great mobile applications. (For the past eight years our company, Thaddeus Computing, orchestrated Best Software Awards for Windows Mobile software (Smartphone Mag.com/awards). Last year we brought together 90 expert judges who nominated 900 programs from a database of 18,000 pieces of software in 150 categories and then voted for the winners. We are considering doing the same for Apple App Store software. E-mail me if you are interested in participating.)
In less than a year, Apple has inspired almost as many applications as are available for Windows Mobile. From a user’s point of view, it is incredibly convenient to have all software available in one place. Thanks to iTunes software on the iPhone and desktop, iPhone software installation is fast, easy, and uniform. Furthermore, due to competition and a single focal point, the iPhone software prices are considerably lower then Windows Mobile prices. At the same time, it is advantageous to developers to have one distribution point. With volume, some developers have done extraordinarily well in a short time even with $ .99 apps.
Apple married the iPod with phone technology, thus designing the iPhone as an entertainment machine from the ground up. That fact gives Apple a huge advantage in the consumer market over Microsoft and other competitors. The iPhone has universal appeal thanks to music, movies, YouTube, photography, the Internet, and now games, all on a gorgeous screen on a fun and easy to use device.
Further, the iPhone has become a focal point for games. Game development on every computing platform represents the cutting edge of technical and user interface innovation. These advances will open up the iPhone platform to other non-gaming uses, further expanding the iPhone’s appeal.
As CEO’s and other professionals within an organization enjoy the power and fun of the iPhone, they naturally will put pressure on the IT department to adopt the platform. Interestingly, Microsoft’s original strategy when it launched the Pocket PC was to encourage consumers to embrace the Pocket PC and then use it at work.
The ability to talk, easily set up and use e-mail, and browse the We with the fully-functional Safari all make the iPhone a winner as a communication device. Again, these features can be found on Windows Mobile devices. However, communicating is just easier and more obvious on an iPhone.
People get attached to powerful computing and communication devices that are always with them. The fact that the iPhone is fun, cool, and addicting increases that attachment.
As can be seen in this issue Microsoft, Palm, RIM, Nokia and other smartphone vendors are not standing still. But neither is Apple. It will be fun to watch future developments, especially since we will be the beneficiaries of this competition
In the beginning—the niche PDA market