For an innovative company like Apple, they often perplex customers and analysts with their feature design choices. Especially in the iPhone. I remember well denigrating the original iPhone, on my blog, and publicly in conferences. It didn’t have a replaceable battery, a decent camera, camera flash, or a physical keyboard, and it only sported 2G connectivity.
Of course history proved me wrong. Not only did the iPhone absolutely dominate the smartphone market, but they fundamentally changed smartphone design. Despite a decade of the Palm, Windows CE, and Blackberry devices, 2007 marked the shift to all premium smartphones sporting capacitive touch screens as their primary IO interface. Over the following years all competitors scrambled to create an app store on the phone, making it easy for customers to buy applications. But none have toppled the dominance of the App Store.
Even so, it remains that iPhone’s, and Apple products in general, often don’t lead with emerging technologies. They weren’t the first with 3G, 4G, and now with NFC. Why is that?
1. Customer experience is king
There is a reason that Apple has fans, from the rabid “campers in the launch queue” to the busy “it just works” executive. A great experience that doesn’t depend on technical knowledge.
Putting a connectivity technology into a phone before widespread adoption would cause a frustration and annoyance that is the antithesis of the Apple experience.
2. Don’t follow the crowd
As mentioned above, the original & current iPhones don’t sport features found on many other phones. Even today, you can’t replace the battery on the phone. This is one thing that sets the company apart. Whatever you say about Apple, you can’t say they’re a “me too” company. Even when they do choose to make something others have made; and let’s face it they weren’t the first company to make desktops, laptops, MP3 players, smartphones, or slates; they revolutionise the design.
3. Invest in technologies that will become standard
There are too many emerging technologies and competing standards for Apple to make a long term bet too early in the design phase. How much did it cost Microsoft to adopt HD-DVD on the Xbox 360 instead of Blue Ray? Even Blue Ray hasn’t taken off like DVD did. Apple has simply ignored both of these formats betting on the longer term future of downloads.
Because of the first, two principles, Apple considers emerging technologies carefully, waits for the adoption of a dominant standard, then revolutionises the design.
Near Field Communication – Close, but no cigar
Let’s face it NFC is still not that widespread. Even where it is in shops, adoption is really limited. And there are hardly any consumer electronics devices actually in the market, let alone peoples’ homes, that have a significant benefit with NFC.
My technology friends would disagree with me of course. And the geek in me agrees with them. NFC is really cool technology, and it would be wonderful not to have to carry a wallet with bank cards, or even a house key.
I could rig that up at home, which puts me as 1 of less than 100k people in Australia that could.
But there are 23m people in Australia, and these are the Apple market.
Watch this space
I have no doubt that NFC will find widespread adoption. It’s based on RFID, which is used in a number of industries from manufacturing & logistics, to toll roads. The one emergent consumer adoption of the technology is in the automotive industry. Already my bike has keyless ignition, and the technology is growing beyond just the premium market.
Like all new technologies though, there’ll be teething problems. Already you can get cases in Asia for Android phones that stop people stealing from the bank cards on your phone. And what happens when your phone battery goes flat when you need to pay for fuel, or unlock your house?
But like pairing on Bluetooth, security on WiFi, and privacy on Facebook, I’m confident we’ll overcome these.
What about the next iPhone?
I reckon it’s still only about 50% odds that the next iPhone will sport NFC. Not only do we need to see more widespread adoption of NFC, we need to see this in the USA. Whether we like it or not, this is still Apple’s primary market. Those of us in the Antipodes will probably gnash our teeth in frustration.
But then we have about 6-9 months until the release of the next model, and in tech, that’s an age.
I am interested to hear from those with Android and other phones that do have NFC though. Do you use it a lot? If so, what for?