How Important is the Design of the iPhone 5 to its Success?

Tim Bajarin / August 11th, 2011

I continue to watch with amusement the various pictures and speculative drawings for the iPhone 5. And the rumor mills are working over time trying to figure out what the iPhone 5 might look like. In fact, the folks at MacRumors have one of the best mock up drawings I have seen on the rumored iPhone 5 and, at the very least, it is cool to see what an iPhone 5 might possibly look like.

But how important is the new design really to the iPhone 5’s success? Yes, it could have a bigger screen and maybe even be a bit slimmer, but I contend that the iPhone momentum is already so strong that no matter what Apple does with the design of the iPhone 5, it will be a monster hit and could sell as many as 30 million in the holiday quarter. (Apple sold 20 million iPhones in the last quarter.) In fact, our research shows huge pent up demand from both ATT and Verizon customers in the US and very strong demand for this new phone around the world.

I know that the design of the iPhone itself will make the most news when it is launched but there is an even more important technology that needs to be factored into the iPhones future success. To understand this technology, let me relate to you something that happened when the first iPhone came out.

When the iPhone was launched, I had a briefing from the top executives at Apple responsible for the iPhone. After they showed me its design and specs, they did something very pointed and telling. They laid the iPhone on the table and asked me what I saw. I knew this was a trick question and I could have answered it a lot of different ways. But what I said is that I saw a device with a blank screen on it. They affirmed my answer and went on to say that this is what they want people to see. Although they were very proud of the iPhone design, they told me that by itself and when not turned on, it is just a dumb device. However, when you turn it on and the OS and apps get fired up, that is when the iPhone becomes an iPhone.

From the beginning, Apple built into the iPhone’s success equation an ecosystem of hardware, software, applications and services that together make it the iPhone. Yes, the design of the phone is important. But when turned off, it is not very smart. On the other hand, when it is turned on and the screen lights up, that is when the magic takes place. The hardware is only 1/3rd of the iPhones success equation. And while Apple may tweak the design of the iPhone on a yearly basis and add things like more memory, better communications features, better camera, etc, I would argue that what they do with iOS is much more important to the iPhone’s overall success and increased world wide demand. It is what you can do with the iPhone that matters.

So while you might be hyperventilating about the potential features and design of the iPhone 5, keep in mind that the iPhone itself is only part of the iPhone’s success equation. I believe that what Apple does in the next version of IOS and future versions of their mobile OS is actually much more important to the continued growth and success of the iPhone. It is the software that will determine the real future of this important Apple product.

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.
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