Friday, January 30, 2009

Freakonomics Approach to iPhone Success

There have been a plethora of blog entries on why the iPhone is successful, and of course countless long meetings up in Redmond, Sunnyvale, and Canada (RIM). Of course I am split between my hometown rivals Apple  (from Cupertino, where I went to high school) and Palm  (from Sunnyvale, where I grew up). But the fact is, I now own and use an iPhone, despite my years of having a "Palm Desktop" shortcut on my now bare desktop.

So why is the iPhone successful? I'm going to take a stab at it Freakonomics style, by looking at the seemingly small things that can make a big difference. What was seen with the iPhone was a big launch for the original, but no where near the traction that the 3G hit the ground running with. This is shown much more clearly with the recent Engadget post about "Days to a Million". Did the public really care that much about GPS? Who even knew much about 3G vs. Edge last June? I highly doubt it was the small cosmetic change. Essentially, it was a re-grand opening. With a new price (and a higher AT&T bill). This re-grand opening allowed people to get in on the hype all over again, and this time, with a multi-country launch, it was much stronger, reaching the 1 million mark in about 3 or 4 days. So what am I attributing part of this to?

The bounce-back feature. This is one of the features that Apple is actually planning to sue Palm over, as it is part of their huge portfolio of patents concerning the iPhone and Pre wars. As the lawyers describe in their analysis of the patents, the bounce-back feature when scrolling to the end of the page (in contacts, email, a web page, music...) is a well known iPhone feature. As is the swishing between pages of Apps, though that was somewhat rare in the original iPhone unless you happened to add webapp shortcuts. But still, you could slide around the Springboard. What I find is iPhone owners do this quite consistently even if they're not emailing or texting someone as Blackberry addicts are. So regardless of whether they have a need to use their phone, since it looks cool and its distractingly fun, they're using them. This puts the device in the face of "dumbphone" users and entrances them. Many may say since Blackberry users are constantly emailing people even from the airport terminal, this has the same effect. But I think not - these people look tethered to their devices because they have to, whereas iPhone users are so delighted by the swooshing, flipping, and bouncing, that they are practically a guerilla marketing campaign. 

This brings me back to the multiple launches. This phenomenon caught my eye back with the original iPhone, and by the time the 3G came along, I felt very compelled to buy at least an iPod touch, and I did. I swooshed and bounced for a while, till I realized I could swoosh and bounch and flip much more comfortably on my phone than with two devices in my pocket. The second launch allowed me to do that, because I felt like it was a new product (though I have the original iPhone), and those mesmerized by these simple animations on their friends' or coworkers' originals when and bought the 3G. 

Do you think this was a significant contributor to the iPhone hysteria? Or a contributor at all?

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