Painted Into A Corner


The highly anticipated iOS announcement at this year’s Apple WWDC conference confirmed the updating of the iOS user interface. Along with showing a refreshed UI, Apple announced additional features of iOS that frankly put it on par with Android and Windows Phone.

While one can debate the merits of iOS looking more like Android, or adding features first introduced by webOS, I think doing so misses the bigger question, how much innovation is left in smartphones?

Apple did not create the first smartphone, depending on who you ask that recognition goes to either Nokia, Palm, or Microsoft. Apple did make the first successful smartphone, and the innovations associated with the iPhone include the on-screen keyboard, a touchscreen that doesn’t require a stylus, and an application store.

The problem is that all of the innovations that Apple added to the smartphone market are confined to the phone, and if you are confined to only the phone there is only so much innovation that can made from it. Consequently, further innovation in the smartphone market must come from areas outside the bounds of the phone itself, and this I think is Apple’s biggest risk.

As evidence I cite Siri vs. Google Now. After Apple aquired Siri and announced it as a core feature of iOS, it was hailed as the next big innovation. Truth is, however, that so far Siri has been demoed better than in actual use. After the initial excitement wore of, most people stopped using Siri, and I doubt adding additional voices to Siri and support for Twitter is the trick for making Siri successful.

In my opinion, the problem is that Apple sees natural language interaction with Siri to be its core feature, and that stands in contrast to Google who sees the primary purpose of Google Now as providing answers to user’s questions, links to Internet sites that may contain answers to user’s questions, and perhaps most importantly, anticipating and presenting information it thinks users will find useful before users even ask for it.

In short, Siri is attempting to be an evolution of the user interface while Google Now, and the underlying Google Voice Search, is an evolution of Internet search. Siri’s weaknesses are exposed as soon as it needs to go beyond the smartphone to Internet servers to which it has either insufficient connectivity or server horsepower to quickly respond to user queries.

Siri’s weaknesses are the result of a company who’s history is in great UI and product design but not in web services. In contrast, Google Now’s strengths are a result of a company with a strong history in developing web services and who has experience with using the power of the entire Internet to answer user questions and provide them information.

As self contained devices, there is little innovation left for smartphones, but as an entry point to the power of the Internet, innovations that include smartphones are only limited by our ability to develop new web services. In light of this premise, which company do you think is likely to provide future innovations, the best product company in the world or the best web services company in the world?

About Frank

Mobile enthusiast and author
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