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.