The Value of Software and the Evolution of Handheld Computing

Ben Bajarin / October 1st, 2013

We are witnessing an unprecedented event in the history of computing. The upgrade from iOS 6 to iOS 7 is on pace to become the fastest operating system transition in history.

As I reflect on this reality it brings to light some very interesting observations.

The Value of Software

The first which is perhaps the most interesting is the value iPhone users associate with iOS.

With no other platform, mobile or others, do you see this level of demand on the day an OS comes out to upgrade.  iPhone customers value iOS.  This is significant in so many ways.

I’ve long argued that in the era of Microsoft, consumers1 used Windows because they had to, not because they wanted to.  Windows was used at work, school, etc., so it is what consumers used and bought for home.  Windows became the standard on PCs by default.2

Apple, however, maintains a level of interest in iOS despite the market being filled with viable choices.  The iPhone did not become the single device with more market share than any other device by default.  It has done so, and continues to gain ground, despite the market being flooded with valid alternate choices.  This was a market Microsoft never had with regard to Windows. This is why it is losing in mobility.  When it came to pure consumer markets, Microsoft never really had a fighting chance.

When you look at existing operating systems, it is hard to find any comparison to the demand for iOS.  The only thing that comes close is another OS from Apple, Mac OS X.  Apple routinely drives operating system transitions better than any other computing company. This is significant. It highlights the fact that consumers value Apple’s operating systems not just their hardware.  Can we say the same of Android? Windows? Windows Phone?

iOS differentiates the iPhone. If consumers value it then it is not just Apple’s hardware that is attractive but also their software. From a competitive advantage standpoint, this point can not be underestimated.

Not Just Consumers But Developers as Well

For whatever criticism Apple takes for controlling their platform, they have the best third-party development community of any platform out there.  The quality of applications on iOS and OS X is objectively superior than on other platforms.

What continually strikes me as fascinating is how creative the Apple developer community is and, more importantly, how passionate they are about software development.  I talk to many developers on all computing platforms and it is simply unparalleled.  More importantly, I use each computing platform and continually search for apps to truly push computing and make it accessible to the masses.  I find these apps more often and in greater frequency on iOS and OS X than any other computing platform.

I genuinely get the sense that Apple’s third party development community is interested in advancing computing and wholeheartedly embracing and taking advantage of the computing advancing hardware Apple provides them.

The only community in recent years where I remember this robust of third party developers was the Palm developer community. This is a significant distinction because this community jumped on board with handheld computing on what is arguably the first handheld computer in the Palm Pilot.  I see so many similar traits to the early days of Palm’s developer community embracing and being creative with hand held computing with todays iOS developer community.

The iPhone was arguably the first mass market hand held computer.  I would argue that it is still that product today and will increasingly become so in the future.  This distinction is important because it is also the way the iOS developers view the platform–as a handheld computer.  This is also how Apple views the iPhone.  This vision of handheld personal computing at a mass market level is key to advancing the platform.

The key observation in all of this is that consumers are embracing this vision and value the handheld computing hardware, software, and, to a degree, services Apple offers.  Apple embraces this vision and is laser focused on bringing hand held computers to the masses.  Developers are embracing this vision and creating new and unique software for hand held computing.

This, in my opinion, is the core mountain Microsoft and other competitors must climb.  The problem is, they have never really had an impassioned third party community like the one we see today for iOS.  Android benefits by default because many developer maintain an iOS first and Android second strategy.  The sheer size of the Android addressable market is playing in its favor.  But I am yet to see such a large developer community vested to advance hand held computing on Android either.

My advice to competing platforms like Android, Windows 8, and Windows Phone is to find developers and build a community doing unique and exclusive things on your platform and expose and highlight those things. Just having the same apps is not good enough. For competing platforms to evolve in a meaningful way with handheld computing it will require computing advancing developers on competing platforms. This has yet to be seen.

This is the challenge Apple has set up for competitors.  Apple’s differentiation is not just with hardware, or with software, although it certainly does both.  The more powerful differentiation Apple has over its competitors is its vision. Personal computing and advancing what every day people can do with personal computers has always been at the core of Apple’s vision. Now they are extending that vision to handheld computers. Right or wrong, Apple has a different view and vision for personal computing. Based on their success, I’d say they are on the right track.

  1. I make a distinction between business consumers and mass market consumers []
  2. I understand fully that there was a market in the early 90’s where passion for Windows existed particularly around Windows 95. Microsoft in those days was genuinely focused on brining computing to the masses, only the masses could not afford computers. []

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
  • Neil

    I disagree with this article. Yes, it’s an amazing feat but primarily one of engineering, not consumer preference.

    This is just anecdotal but I suspect it played out millions of times. About a month ago, I emailed a bunch of people in my family and told them not to upgrade to iOS 7 but to wait until I bought new devices this year so I could support them (I never upgrade to a new iOS on my existing devices because it hurts the eBay resale value, but I replace my iOS devices every year because I use them daily for work).

    Guess what. Everyone ignored my advice, not because they don’t take my advice but because I didn’t explain what upgrading meant. I assumed too much knowledge.

    When the dialog appeared, they all upgraded without knowing what they were doing. And then they all called me wondering what happened to their iPad/iPhone — exactly what I tried to prevent. I told them that they’d have to wait until my new iPhone 5s arrives before I can help them. I emailed them some iMore and Macworld articles in the meantime.

    Long story short, many — perhaps most — of iOS 7 downloads derive from Apple’s ingenious software update technology, not because of consumer demand. This is an impressive feat, but different from the thesis of your article.

    • benbajarin

      We can certainly go back and forth on that point. I have anecdotal data from friends and family on Facebook (perhaps one of the only few good uses for FB left) who all feel different. Interestingly some didn’t love the new look but over time all agreed it was better and now they really like it. Others loved it from the beginning. Either way it is a discussion point.

      The developer part though was the real crux of where I was going. I think many take for granted what is happening with computing and too many expect a dumbing down of computing due to cheaper products. I think that would be unfortunate. My point in this section was having a dev community that takes advantage of innovation and pushes hardware innovation forward with the software they create on it, is a key to the ecosystem. And it is one that doesn’t exist on other platforms.

      • Neil

        It’s 2013 yet we still can’t edit comments. When will someone disrupt Disqus?

        Anyway, my first sentence should read, “I disagree with your assertions about the reasons for the mass adoption of iOS 7.”

        I agree with the rest of your article about developers. Sorry I wasted your time. We’re on the same page except that I think most consumers upgraded because a dialog popped up on their screen.

    • Idon’t Know

      Completely wrong of course. People love iOS, apps, the app store, and are excited to get iOS 7.

      Nobody is having some huge learning curve with iOS 7. Wonder what happened to their iPhone and iPad? Right.

      • Neil

        I specifically characterized my data as anecdotal. I also own a media company that helps “normals” understand technology so I have a lot of experience with such people. You make a blanket statement that all 200+ million people upgraded because they were excited about iOS 7 and none of them are perplexed. Please provide some data. Or is this just your gut feeling? Do you provide iOS support for people ranging in age from 7 to 91 like I do?

    • Glaurung-Quena

      An anecdote on the other end of the spectrum: my mother always clicks “no” when something asks her if she wants to update software.

      • Nangka

        Haha.. Yes. I have clients who’d say no to everything on their devices. Like turning off LTE, iMessage, find my phone, etc. I asked them how are they going to locate their iPhone/iPad if its lost then.

  • FalKirk

    “I’ve long argued that in the era of Microsoft, consumers1 used Windows because they had to, not because they wanted to.”

    One of Microsoft’s great failings was, and is, to confuse ubiquity with popularity. Windows was tremendously successful. Microsoft assumed that this meant that it was tremendously loved, as well. It wasn’t. The moment consumers COULD get away from Windows many of them jumped at the chance.

    I watched Steve Ballmer’s farewell appearance. He still doesn’t get it. He’s like a parent who thinks that his ugly child is beautiful. I admire his loyalty. I pity his inability to set aside his delusions.

    • Will

      Funny how history is re-written. Windows 95 was impressive and WANTED by users, with huge lines on launch day. Windows was successful, don’t see a point denying that.

      • steve_wildstrom

        This is true. People lined up to by Windows 95 at midnight. But it is the only time it happened in Microsoft’s 35-year history.

        • Will

          So? Why do you dismiss it? Windows was THE consumer tech product to own in the 90s.

          • steve_wildstrom

            I don;t dismiss it. The original point was about passion. And with the exception of Windows 95, I can’t recall Microsoft ever generating much consumer passion for any product. Consumers certainly bought Microsoft stuff and used it, but they didn’t love it.

          • Will

            I don’t see the point of this.

          • Space Gorilla

            I lived through that launch. People were genuinely excited at the promise of a version of Windows that was finally really good, easy to use, didn’t have to be futzed with constantly. Microsoft used Start Me Up by the Stones to promote it. This would be the version of Windows that wouldn’t have all the same problems! Start me up! I’ll never stop! So, yes, there was a lot of real excitement, but not for the reasons you seem to believe.

          • qka

            People were excited about Windows 95 because they thought it might be as good as a Mac. Windows 3 certainly wasn’t.

            Microsoft disappointed them, again.

          • Will

            Right… because the Mac did so well back then

          • Space Gorilla

            The Mac has never done well, even today it holds a very small market share, and yet it is a strong, profitable business for Apple, and the Mac dominates the segment it is targeted at. Why does Apple’s success upset you so much?

          • Will

            My original comment was about Win 95 not Apple. How people dismiss MS’s successes in many areas by reading history as they see fit to suit their goals. It’s not Apple that upsets me here, it’s people yelling “Windows sucks” because it’s cool.

          • Space Gorilla

            No, you’re clearly bothered by Apple’s success, the sum of your comments make that plain. I wonder how old you are, maybe you weren’t using Windows in the 90s. It was pretty bad, even Windows 95, trust me. Nobody liked it, we tolerated it. I used Macs, but I had to teach some courses on Windows, and all my clients used Windows. It was just headache after headache, and lots of money spent on IT. You should dig up some of the cost studies from back then, the average TCO when you included IT support, ridiculous.

            Hmm, maybe the hobbyist nerds did love Windows, it gave them something to fiddle with, so probably there was a minority that did really dig it. And IT firms loved Windows of course, it was money in the bank. But normal people, nope.

          • Will

            I am fine with Apple, the world needs as many profitable companies as possible. What I don’t like is people claiming non-sense like “people were basically forced to use Windows because … insert some conspiracy theory… and we all just loved Apple in secret before but couldn’t speak up”. Right…

            Windows 95 may have been bad but it was the best we had. Not everyone could afford the many thousands for a mac that had fewer and inferior software.

          • Space Gorilla

            Well, good thing I never said anything close to “people were basically forced to use Windows because…” The key point, as you seem to acknowledge now, is that consumers never had a positive association with Windows (aside from a small group of nerds of course). Microsoft didn’t/doesn’t seem to understand this and it is one of the reasons they aren’t succeeding in mobile touch computing.

            I spent the extra money on Macs way back then because I valued my personal time. Most people don’t figure that into their purchasing decisions, but as a business owner I knew it was a real part of the total cost. Macs were always actually cheaper in the long term. But I’m not getting sucked back into that ridiculous discussion.

          • Will

            Well at least we have some points in common. I mostly agree with you anyway even though this has digressed quite a bit

          • Space Gorilla

            I should also note that it was obvious to me that using ‘Windows’ in any part of Microsoft’s mobile effort was a mistake, because I’m aware of the negative consumer association with Windows. I thought ‘Metro’ was a hell of a good idea, get away from ‘Windows’. But Microsoft made the same mistake most nerds make, thinking that consumers actually loved Windows. They did not.

          • Will

            Ah true… I actually liked the Metro name. It sticks. They really need to move on.

          • Space Gorilla

            Yes, I agree. But they won’t move on. Microsoft, culturally, truly believes that consumers love Windows and Office.

          • Will

            Um… no it didn’t, it was a pretty successful product. And the Mac was pretty terrible before OSX.

          • Will

            It doesn’t matter. Windows was something that allowed PCs to become mainstream. Apple or anyone else were not able to do that

          • Space Gorilla

            Windows wasn’t truly mainstream, we’re only seeing that now with mobile touch and the market is an order of magnitude larger. The success of Windows was not driven by consumer purchasing (which is part of the reason comparisons to Mac vs PC are foolish).

          • Will

            The market is not an order of magnitude larger (you realize that is 10 times larger, and there are literally over a billion traditional PCs in the world, maybe more).

            What’s your point anyway? That Windows never succeeded? Talk about apologetic reasoning…

          • Space Gorilla

            It doesn’t have to be 10, and conversationally the phrase is used to mean X times larger. Of course Windows was successful, but nowhere near as successful as the mobile touch market will be. Also, the success of Windows was not driven by consumers the way the mobile touch market is. Windows was never a great product that consumers loved. This is a big part of Microsoft’s problem, they don’t understand why Windows succeeded, they actually believe it was because Windows and Office was loved by consumers.

          • Will

            Present success of mobile does not invalidate the previous success of PCs. Nobody is keeping score. Investors move on to other companies, new millionaires appear from different companies, people buy other stuff, the world moves on.

            I do agree people didn’t love Windows specifically, the way they love their phones. But they did love a new computer and consumers did buy them simply because Pentium 4 was cooler/faster/whatever than Pentium 3. I remember those days. Windows took the opportunity.

            There was NO real competition, no person would buy anything else because there was NO ALTERNATIVE. Why is that MS’s fault? Don’t start talking about a 4000$ Apple computer or Linux machine… pathetic attempts

          • Space Gorilla

            I used and purchased Macs from 1984 on, they weren’t really that much more expensive, no need to exaggerate. But you’re right, the default choice was a Windows PC. But as you’re beginning to understand now, that’s far different from consumers actively choosing to purchase a product. When given a choice, consumers are not choosing Windows. Microsoft’s insistence on ‘Windows Everywhere’ was/is a huge mistake.

          • Will

            I’m not beginning to understand anything. MS took an opportunity no one else did. Give it the damn credit.

            Non-techy people didn’t know or cared what an OS is. At the end of the day it sold well, PC is synonymous with PC running Windows today and PCs became mainstream because of MS, since everyone could finally afford a computer.

            By all accounts it was successful. No need to dismiss it as “invalid win” because people didn’t really want to buy windows. It doesn’t matter.

          • Space Gorilla

            “I’m not beginning to understand anything.” Yes, I see that now. Of course Windows was successful, but understanding the why/how of that success matters. Microsoft truly believes that consumers love Windows, and that is not true.

          • Will

            Nobody said they were and it is not relevant. There is nothing to understand from what you argue

          • Space Gorilla

            Hmm, you really don’t know why it’s important for Microsoft to understand the success of Windows?

          • Will

            For Microsoft. Not this conversation.

          • Space Gorilla

            Understanding the success of Windows has implications far outside of Microsoft.

          • Will

            So?

            You do know I was responding to you, right? “you really don’t know why it’s important for Microsoft to understand the success of Windows”.

            YOU mentioned “important for Microsoft ” and contradicted yourself a comment later.

            Do you really just comment for the sake of contradicting me? I bet you’re gonna say no…

          • Space Gorilla

            That you believe I contradicted myself really says it all. Your view is far too narrow, that’s why your analysis fails.

          • Will

            Right… So expand my view if you please. Why wouldn’t we consider Windows successful?

          • Space Gorilla

            Uh, Windows was successful, as I said. This is getting weird, you’re only hearing what you want to hear.

          • Will

            Then stop arguing for no reason.

            Also, you didn’t make it clear:

            “This would be the version of Windows that wouldn’t have all the same problems! ”
            “Windows wasn’t truly mainstream”
            “Windows was never a great product that consumers loved”

          • Space Gorilla

            All those statements are true. And?

          • Will

            You gave the impression that windows was NOT successful, the whole point of this conversation

          • Space Gorilla

            No, *you* inferred that I said Windows was not successful. I said nothing of the kind. You have trouble *listening*.

          • Will

            Then why are you arguing with me if you agreed this whole time?!

          • Space Gorilla

            I do not agree with you, but the subtlety of that seems lost on you.

          • Will

            Right… That’s called trolling

          • Space Gorilla

            No, your failure to understand subtle and complex analysis has nothing to do with me, or trolling. You are a hammer in search of a nail.

          • Will

            Yeah yeah… Complex analysis my ass… You agree but you don’t agree. Which one is it?

            Should I remind you what this conversation was about? What I was commenting about all along? Whether or not windows was a success.

            You comment for the sake of commenting without carrying about a resolve.

          • Space Gorilla

            Was that English?

          • benbajarin

            Let’s move on and bring this back on topic. Thanks.

          • Space Gorilla

            Yeah, apologies, I should have ended it ages ago.

          • benbajarin

            Let’s move on and bring this back on topic or end. Thanks.

  • Hosni

    “The more powerful differentiation Apple has over its competitors is its vision.”

    Agree 100%.

    However, that explains why your “advice to competing platforms” would accomplish little. Attracting app developers won’t provide Samsung or Google with a consumer-centric vision of mobile computing. To them (and other smartphone/tablet companies), innovation means adding a feature that’s cooler/bigger/faster.

    • Idon’t Know

      Google only cares about obtaining and selling as much of their suers activities as possible. Everything else, UI, look, and feel, quality, security, apps, all a distant second to their main goal.

      • Will

        In return, you get tons of free software you wouldn’t get otherwise. Besides, no one can target YOU particularly to sell you stuff.

  • Just Curious

    Ben, you say that “For whatever criticism Apple takes for controlling their platform, they have the best third-party development community of any platform out there. The quality of applications on iOS and OS X is objectively superior than on other platforms.”

    Could you provide some support/evidence for this claim? Not disputing, for I agree, but would love to see some sort of support. Thanks!

  • DarwinPhish

    “[Microsoft] have never really had an impassioned third party community like the one
    we see today for iOS”

    Go back about 12 years or so. Microsoft had lots of dedicated developers and VARs who spread the Microsoft/Windows gospel. These 3rd parties built many amazing systems and solutions on top of Microsoft’s platforms and Microsoft provided them with lot of tools and support.

    Microsoft’s problem is that many of the actions they have taken over the years has severely hurt their relationship with developers and VARs. This coupled with a more alternatives are what is limiting Microsoft’s progress now.

    • Space Gorilla

      All my clients were using Windows in their businesses in the era you’re talking about. I don’t think I’d describe anything back then as “amazing systems and solutions”. What I mostly encountered were huge IT costs.

  • Will

    Based on the title, I honestly thought this was going to be interesting… but it only talks about Apple devices…

    • benbajarin

      Apple is leading hand held computing and that can not be denied. Google doesn’t care about apps because any time using an app is a time not spent using Google search or some other service that makes money. I’m not comfortable giving our hand held computing future over to an advertising company.

      Microsoft, I hope, gets relevant in this space. They are the only other company at this point who can take a holistic approach to advance computing. Unfortunately they are clueless and developers are genuinely un-interested in their platform.

      • Will

        Leading in what? Making money? Hardware? Software?

        It all comes down to what you consider important. In my book, Google is leading because the future will be determined by services, not products. Every single device in the world has some sort of Google in it. Not to mention Android usage…

        It’s just an opinion though.

        • benbajarin

          100% agree services are the future and absolutely acknowledge Apple sucks at that (to a variable degree iTunes is ok). I’ve stated this publicly many times that they have to get better at services. I know Apple knows this but doesn’t mean it will be easy.

          That being said we are still in a hardware and software value cycle. The means of innovation in hardware is no where near exhausted. To push the boundaries of computing forward we still have many innovations in hardware left to bring computing into new eras.

          We can not give up on the long road hardware innovation paired with software innovation will bring. Services will come naturally along that path at some point in the future.

          This is about a vision for personal computing and making it accessible and relevant for those who value it.

          • Will

            “Services will come naturally” – I respectfully disagree but I see your overall point

  • Drem

    Finally got an enough time to read this article with such intriguing headline and it turned out disappointing as typical panegyrical ode to the “almighty Apple”…

    • benbajarin

      Google’s vision is that the computer is in the cloud. Apple’s and to a degree Microsoft’s is that it is in the hand. Unfortunately Microsoft is not relevant to the discussion and right now Apple is in a spot to move the goal posts with regard to hand held computing.

      Google is doing some solid stuff with Moto but a lot more needs to be done there but I don’t feel Google prioritizes the hardware.

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