The Case for More Choice in the iPhone Line of Products

Ben Bajarin / June 1st, 2012

There is much to be said for Apple’s current iPhone and iPad strategy being very focused and very limited in terms of product line diversity. Of course you can make the argument that Apple already offers a line of products being the 3GS, iPhone 4, and the iPhone 4S. What I want to explore is why I think it makes sense, or will make sense in the future, for Apple to offer a more comprehensive lineup of current generation iPhones.

There used to be a time 10+ years ago when I was in the minority of computing users who used, loved, and passionately defended my usage of Apple products. Back in the day being an Apple consumer made you feel like you were going against the flow, like you were unique. I used to show up to Industry Analyst meetings or go into the press room of events (before the time of bloggers) and be the only one with a Mac. Now it seems everywhere you go you see as many Mac’s as Windows products and in some locations, businesses, departments, etc., Windows client hardware is entirely extinct.

To be honest I sometimes miss those days where I feel like I was in the computing minority. Where I had the feeling like I had discovered a secret that no one else knew about and I was better off because of it. I know those days are gone and there is simply no going back. I am also extremely happy that millions upon millions of new consumers are coming into the Apple ecosystem and discovering the secret we Apple loyalists have knows for years. But like I said, I still miss those days when I was in the minority. I know there are folks out there who can relate to this.

I have racked my brain on how some glimpse of those days can exist again and the only thing I have come up with is a more robust line of products. Perhaps ones for the super high end, ones for the middle and ones for the low end. Again I see this as similar to cars where a brand like Mercedes-Benz would have their luxury lines that only few would dare go after and aspire to acquire. But Mercedes-Benz also has lines like their E-Class which is more middle of the road when it comes to their price points and the C-Class for entry level customers. The key to the Mercedes brand and the C-Class is that it isn’t the cheapest car on the road in its class but there are those who will aspire to pay a little more because of the Mercedes brand and experience.

I could see Apple doing something like this where they have some designs that truly push the envelope in design and engineering and cater this iPhone and or iPad to the upper end of the customer class. This line could cater to those who want to be in the minority and use these products as status symbols. I am fully aware of the vanity I am promoting but again I am thinking out loud here.

This would ultimately offer existing and new Apple customers slightly more choice than currently available. I know this goes up against conventional wisdom of a simplified line of products but I believe the simplified line works best when a market is maturing but more choice is desirable once a market is mature. The market for smartphones is still maturing as many consumers are still experiencing their first or second smartphone. Consumers needs to be on at least purchase number three or four before their tastes are refined and they start knowing what they want, why they want it, and shopping with those specific needs, wants, and desire in mind. It is when consumers reach this point that I feel they would desire more variation in form and function related to the iPhone.

The key however is to vary the design not the experience or the software. I am simply advocating for some variation in hardware design related to a specific line. It will be key that the software experience remain consistent while the hardware design be free to appeal to different tastes of consumers. This is not uncommon in other Apple products where they offer different screen sizes, colors as in the iPod Nano and Shuffle, and even varying capabilities.

In fact if you think of the progression of products from the first iPod all the way up to today you would find that the varying degree of choice started off limited but then expanded as the market matured. In fact the iPod from 2001 to date, is the example I hope Apple continues to follow. Even as there was no competition and Apple utterly dominated the portable MP3 market, they continued to innovate, differentiate, and never became complacent but rather continued to make the best products year after year–again, all without any competition. (Thanks John Kirk for mentioning this to me)

This is why I think the case can be made for Apple to offer more choice in the current generation iPhone lineup–if not now in the near future. Perhaps it will have something to do with market maturity or even perhaps designing products for people like me who just want something different from the masses. But in my opinion, offering designs that cater to unique segments needs, wants, and desires will be key for Apple to continue to satisfy their customer base.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio
  • shockme

    I think the variations should be a totally Siri-driven bluetooth headset this is actually the entire phone (similar to the Shuffle’s position in the iPod market). The second variation should be HUD goggles similar to Google Glass. A third variation could be a play on the Good Better Best scenario. And finally a version for in the car and in the hope that is totally hands free.

  • shockme

    I think the variations should be a totally Siri-driven bluetooth headset this is actually the entire phone (similar to the Shuffle’s position in the iPod market). The second variation should be HUD goggles similar to Google Glass. A third variation could be a play on the Good Better Best scenario. And finally a version for in the car and in the hope that is totally hands free.

  • Donald Michael Kraig

    So you want to vary the design, but not the experience or software. That’s called a different case, and there are already hundreds of different cases available.

  • Donald Michael Kraig

    So you want to vary the design, but not the experience or software. That’s called a different case, and there are already hundreds of different cases available.

  • Rich

    Ben, I’m uncertain whether your method of determining when a market is mature is correct. It could be, but how did you arrive at that metric?

  • Rich

    Ben, I’m uncertain whether your method of determining when a market is mature is correct. It could be, but how did you arrive at that metric?

    • benbajarin

      I use a method, which I only briefly outline above that uses the law of diffusion of innovation paired with my companies 30+ years of adoption cycle methods. Knowing the point when consumers have had enough exposure to a product to have refined the why and what they want generally takes two full product cycles.

      Interestingly this process is shortening with consumer products but the key to to asses the broad mass market knows exactly what they want.

    • benbajarin

      I use a method, which I only briefly outline above that uses the law of diffusion of innovation paired with my companies 30+ years of adoption cycle methods. Knowing the point when consumers have had enough exposure to a product to have refined the why and what they want generally takes two full product cycles.

      Interestingly this process is shortening with consumer products but the key to to asses the broad mass market knows exactly what they want.

  • Leland

    The phone is not the goal of the “iPhone product”, though. It’s all about the content that resides on it — not only music and videos, but all the apps, from games to health care to office productivity. It’s why the hardware is so minimalistic. The hardware only exists to run apps. How would you change the hardware design without adding unnecessary complexity that the apps won’t take advantage of?

  • Leland

    The phone is not the goal of the “iPhone product”, though. It’s all about the content that resides on it — not only music and videos, but all the apps, from games to health care to office productivity. It’s why the hardware is so minimalistic. The hardware only exists to run apps. How would you change the hardware design without adding unnecessary complexity that the apps won’t take advantage of?

  • Leland

    Let me add on a bit —

    Comparing iPhones with iPods is, IMO, misguided. iPods (not including the touch) have no apps to speak of. All they need to do is play music. They can be different sizes and shapes, and they can have different degrees of complexity, all for different needs. I’d use a shuffle for going on a jog, but I’d take a Classic and my entire library on vacation. The content — music — still comes out the same, no matter what form the hardware takes. Nobody’s going to play Infinity Blade on an iPod nano, nor are they going to take notes on a Classic while shopping for a car. Their hardware can be designed completely differently because they won’t ruin the experience of using the content.

  • Leland

    Let me add on a bit —

    Comparing iPhones with iPods is, IMO, misguided. iPods (not including the touch) have no apps to speak of. All they need to do is play music. They can be different sizes and shapes, and they can have different degrees of complexity, all for different needs. I’d use a shuffle for going on a jog, but I’d take a Classic and my entire library on vacation. The content — music — still comes out the same, no matter what form the hardware takes. Nobody’s going to play Infinity Blade on an iPod nano, nor are they going to take notes on a Classic while shopping for a car. Their hardware can be designed completely differently because they won’t ruin the experience of using the content.

  • J P

    How about a 4.5″ + sized screen version, for those of us who won’t upgrade to the new 3.99999″ version because the screen is still too damn small?

  • J P

    How about a 4.5″ + sized screen version, for those of us who won’t upgrade to the new 3.99999″ version because the screen is still too damn small?

  • Abhi

    I think the fact is that Apple is now a mainstream technology brand and is on the road to becoming ubiquitous, as Windows was, if it isn’t already. Offering a more comprehensive lineup of products may help but would be an unusual step for Apple. Rumor has it they are already going down this path though with an iPad mini type product. In any case, I think we will of necessity start seeing other smaller players start offering more exciting and unique products that really push the envelope and that will once again make techos like you and me feel like we are “in the know”.

  • Abhi

    I think the fact is that Apple is now a mainstream technology brand and is on the road to becoming ubiquitous, as Windows was, if it isn’t already. Offering a more comprehensive lineup of products may help but would be an unusual step for Apple. Rumor has it they are already going down this path though with an iPad mini type product. In any case, I think we will of necessity start seeing other smaller players start offering more exciting and unique products that really push the envelope and that will once again make techos like you and me feel like we are “in the know”.

  • Nomad

    “they continued to innovate, differentiate, and never became complacent but rather continued to make the best products year after year–again, all without any competition. ”

    Hardly…My sansa clip is better than a shuffle/nano and is considerably cheaper. How is refusing to support a microSD slot continuing to innovate?

    • FalKirk

      “My sansa clip is better than a shuffle/nano and is considerably cheaper.-Nomad

      I’m glad you like your sansa clip, but a subjective opinion – no matter how strongly held or expressed – is not a fact. The facts are that Apple’s iPod line continues to dominate sales, market share, profit share and every other meaningful category in the MP3 sector.

      “How is refusing to support a microSD slot continuing to innovate?”-Nomad

      If you think a microSD slot in an MP3 player has anything to do with the definition of “innovation”, then there’s simply no talking to you.

    • FalKirk

      “My sansa clip is better than a shuffle/nano and is considerably cheaper.-Nomad

      I’m glad you like your sansa clip, but a subjective opinion – no matter how strongly held or expressed – is not a fact. The facts are that Apple’s iPod line continues to dominate sales, market share, profit share and every other meaningful category in the MP3 sector.

      “How is refusing to support a microSD slot continuing to innovate?”-Nomad

      If you think a microSD slot in an MP3 player has anything to do with the definition of “innovation”, then there’s simply no talking to you.

  • Nomad

    “they continued to innovate, differentiate, and never became complacent but rather continued to make the best products year after year–again, all without any competition. ”

    Hardly…My sansa clip is better than a shuffle/nano and is considerably cheaper. How is refusing to support a microSD slot continuing to innovate?

  • Sendtopriesty

    Disagree.

    Design should be the same.

    They need to offer 2 size screens. One pair of gloves does not fit all.

    And they also need to give you choice in UI. 1. This is my first smartphone – basic features 2. I have a few years of smartphone use – all features with some customisation. 3. Advanced user – fully customisable capability

    If they can do that then apple will go onwards and upwards as opposed to following blackberry.

  • Sendtopriesty

    Disagree.

    Design should be the same.

    They need to offer 2 size screens. One pair of gloves does not fit all.

    And they also need to give you choice in UI. 1. This is my first smartphone – basic features 2. I have a few years of smartphone use – all features with some customisation. 3. Advanced user – fully customisable capability

    If they can do that then apple will go onwards and upwards as opposed to following blackberry.

  • Leland

    Ben, on the surface, today’s article contradicts what you were saying back in April:
    http://techpinions.com/the-case-against-a-4-inch-iphone/6484

    What kind of hardware changes should be made without also changing the screen size, then?

  • Leland

    Ben, on the surface, today’s article contradicts what you were saying back in April:
    http://techpinions.com/the-case-against-a-4-inch-iphone/6484

    What kind of hardware changes should be made without also changing the screen size, then?

    • benbajarin

      If you read much of what I wright you notice I will do this from time to time as I have these debates in my head where I explore all sides of an argument. However, I didn’t necessarily say vary the screen size just the design. It could be as simple as aesthetics and materials.

    • benbajarin

      If you read much of what I wright you notice I will do this from time to time as I have these debates in my head where I explore all sides of an argument. However, I didn’t necessarily say vary the screen size just the design. It could be as simple as aesthetics and materials.

  • FalKirk

    “There used to be a time 10+ years ago when I was in the minority of computing users who used, loved, and passionately defended my usage of Apple products.”

    That statement is true for me, as well, but in my case that “10+” needs to be changed to “25+”.

  • FalKirk

    “There used to be a time 10+ years ago when I was in the minority of computing users who used, loved, and passionately defended my usage of Apple products.”

    That statement is true for me, as well, but in my case that “10+” needs to be changed to “25+”.

  • FalKirk

    The Case For Less Choice in the iPhone Line of Products.

    There are the obvious reasons:

    – One manufacturing process;

    – One marketing campaign; and

    – One standard device to develop for.

    These three things give Apple a huge advantage over their competitors. Costs are dramatically lowered (it’s been estimated that the iPhone costs half as much to make as the new Lumia phones made by Nokia), marketing is more effective because it’s laser focused and OS maintenance and software development are, relatively speaking, a piece of cake.

    But I think that if we want to understand why Apple does what it does, we need to go beyond the obvious. Apple is an extremely successful company but they are not an extremely emulated company. In fact, the exact opposite seems to be true. Sure, Apple’s designs are copied and everybody envy’s what Tim Cook has done to streamline and enhance Apple’s supply chain. But Apple’s core philosophy is still alien, perhaps even anathema, to accepted business practices.

    Is there another company in the world who, if they were standing in Apple’s shoes, would not have long ago created many additional products and rapidly expanded the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad lines? So the question is: “Why does Apple stand alone? What do they know (or think they know) that the rest don’t know (or refuse to acknowledge)?

    If anyone knows the answer to those questions, it’s probably Apple CEO Tim Cook. And at the recent AllThingsD conference, he may have left us with some valuable clues.

    TIM COOK: “Make the best, not the most. … Our north star is to make the best product. Our objective isn’t to make this design for this kind of price point, or for this arbitrary schedule, or line up other things or have X number of phones, it’s to build the best.”

    Don’t focus on market share. Don’t focus on profit share. Focus on making the best product(s) available. I’d actually take that one step further and say that Apple doesn’t so much focus on making the best product available. Rather, they focus on creating the best user experience available. I think there’s a big difference between focusing on product features and focusing on user benefits. And I think Apple not only knows that difference but they thrive by exploiting that difference.

    TIM COOK: “(F)ocus is key … you should do only a certain number of things great, and you should cast aside the rest.”

    I think that focus is one of the key ways in which Apple separates itself from its competitors. Yes, Apple could sell more phones if they had a greater variety of phones. Yes, Apple could expand its footprint if it sold a wider variety of products. However, every gain in profit or market share comes at the price. Apple (and seemingly, Apple alone) is not willing to pay that price.

    TIM COOK: “(H)oning the key technology of the product. Steve was always focused on that. Always expecting the very best. Apple has a culture of excellence that I think is so unique.”

    This may sound the same as “make the best” but I think that it’s subtly and powerfully different. Apple tends to leap, then iterate. Leap, then iterate. Apple created the iPod in 2001. They did eventually branch the product line but what they mostly did was to upgrade the product over and over and over again. Same with the iPhone and the iPad.

    Every other company that I can think of would have spun off a variant of the iPhone or the iPad. Apple, instead, spent all of their time, effort, attention and resources on polishing their existing product(s). And it shows.

    TIM COOK: “(Steve Jobs told me) not to focus on the past. Be future focused. If you’ve done something great or terrible in the past, forget it and go on and create the next thing.”

    Good advice right? But let’s take a closer look: “If you’ve done something great…in the past, forget it and go on and create the next thing.”

    Say what? Forget something you’ve done that’s great? Are you kidding me? Isn’t that exactly the opposite of what every other company in the world is doing? Isn’t it the CEO’s job to protect his or her existing business lines, doing everything in his or her power to build “moats” and other defenses around them?

    Apple is the only company I know that disrupts itself. Three quick examples. First, the iPod Mini was Apple’s best selling iPod. Apple discontinued it and replaced it with the Nano. No one was asking for that. No one wanted it. In fact, customers protested the move. Apple did it anyway. Second, the iPod was Apple’s bread and butter – the device that saved the company and rocketed it back into contention. Yet Apple’s iPhone swallowed the iPod whole. The iPod line diminishes in size and value each and every quarter. The iPhone mortally wounded what was then Apple’s premiere product. Third, the iPod Touch and the Mac were thriving under the halo effect of the iPhone. Yet Apple cannibalized (or at least they risked cannibalizing) them both with the introduction of the iPad.

    TIM COOK: “Here’s the way we’d look at it. Not just at this, but other areas. We’d look and ask, can we control the key technology? Can we make a significant contribution far beyond what others have done in this area? Can we make a product that we all want? We think we’re reasonable proxies for others. So those are things we’d ask about any new product .”

    That’s about as concise a statement regarding Apple’s product strategy as you’re going to get. Everyone who wants to know if Apple is going to build a different iPhone; everyone who wants to know if Apple is going to build a seven inch tablet; everyone who wants to understand how Apple thinks and works should read that statement over and over and over again…

    …and if they were smart, they’d start doing what Apple does.

  • FalKirk

    The Case For Less Choice in the iPhone Line of Products.

    There are the obvious reasons:

    – One manufacturing process;

    – One marketing campaign; and

    – One standard device to develop for.

    These three things give Apple a huge advantage over their competitors. Costs are dramatically lowered (it’s been estimated that the iPhone costs half as much to make as the new Lumia phones made by Nokia), marketing is more effective because it’s laser focused and OS maintenance and software development are, relatively speaking, a piece of cake.

    But I think that if we want to understand why Apple does what it does, we need to go beyond the obvious. Apple is an extremely successful company but they are not an extremely emulated company. In fact, the exact opposite seems to be true. Sure, Apple’s designs are copied and everybody envy’s what Tim Cook has done to streamline and enhance Apple’s supply chain. But Apple’s core philosophy is still alien, perhaps even anathema, to accepted business practices.

    Is there another company in the world who, if they were standing in Apple’s shoes, would not have long ago created many additional products and rapidly expanded the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad lines? So the question is: “Why does Apple stand alone? What do they know (or think they know) that the rest don’t know (or refuse to acknowledge)?

    If anyone knows the answer to those questions, it’s probably Apple CEO Tim Cook. And at the recent AllThingsD conference, he may have left us with some valuable clues.

    TIM COOK: “Make the best, not the most. … Our north star is to make the best product. Our objective isn’t to make this design for this kind of price point, or for this arbitrary schedule, or line up other things or have X number of phones, it’s to build the best.”

    Don’t focus on market share. Don’t focus on profit share. Focus on making the best product(s) available. I’d actually take that one step further and say that Apple doesn’t so much focus on making the best product available. Rather, they focus on creating the best user experience available. I think there’s a big difference between focusing on product features and focusing on user benefits. And I think Apple not only knows that difference but they thrive by exploiting that difference.

    TIM COOK: “(F)ocus is key … you should do only a certain number of things great, and you should cast aside the rest.”

    I think that focus is one of the key ways in which Apple separates itself from its competitors. Yes, Apple could sell more phones if they had a greater variety of phones. Yes, Apple could expand its footprint if it sold a wider variety of products. However, every gain in profit or market share comes at the price. Apple (and seemingly, Apple alone) is not willing to pay that price.

    TIM COOK: “(H)oning the key technology of the product. Steve was always focused on that. Always expecting the very best. Apple has a culture of excellence that I think is so unique.”

    This may sound the same as “make the best” but I think that it’s subtly and powerfully different. Apple tends to leap, then iterate. Leap, then iterate. Apple created the iPod in 2001. They did eventually branch the product line but what they mostly did was to upgrade the product over and over and over again. Same with the iPhone and the iPad.

    Every other company that I can think of would have spun off a variant of the iPhone or the iPad. Apple, instead, spent all of their time, effort, attention and resources on polishing their existing product(s). And it shows.

    TIM COOK: “(Steve Jobs told me) not to focus on the past. Be future focused. If you’ve done something great or terrible in the past, forget it and go on and create the next thing.”

    Good advice right? But let’s take a closer look: “If you’ve done something great…in the past, forget it and go on and create the next thing.”

    Say what? Forget something you’ve done that’s great? Are you kidding me? Isn’t that exactly the opposite of what every other company in the world is doing? Isn’t it the CEO’s job to protect his or her existing business lines, doing everything in his or her power to build “moats” and other defenses around them?

    Apple is the only company I know that disrupts itself. Three quick examples. First, the iPod Mini was Apple’s best selling iPod. Apple discontinued it and replaced it with the Nano. No one was asking for that. No one wanted it. In fact, customers protested the move. Apple did it anyway. Second, the iPod was Apple’s bread and butter – the device that saved the company and rocketed it back into contention. Yet Apple’s iPhone swallowed the iPod whole. The iPod line diminishes in size and value each and every quarter. The iPhone mortally wounded what was then Apple’s premiere product. Third, the iPod Touch and the Mac were thriving under the halo effect of the iPhone. Yet Apple cannibalized (or at least they risked cannibalizing) them both with the introduction of the iPad.

    TIM COOK: “Here’s the way we’d look at it. Not just at this, but other areas. We’d look and ask, can we control the key technology? Can we make a significant contribution far beyond what others have done in this area? Can we make a product that we all want? We think we’re reasonable proxies for others. So those are things we’d ask about any new product .”

    That’s about as concise a statement regarding Apple’s product strategy as you’re going to get. Everyone who wants to know if Apple is going to build a different iPhone; everyone who wants to know if Apple is going to build a seven inch tablet; everyone who wants to understand how Apple thinks and works should read that statement over and over and over again…

    …and if they were smart, they’d start doing what Apple does.

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