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On doubting the iPhone and making the wrong comparisons

John Gruber already pointed out some flaws of The Register's Lance Davis who doubts the iPhone, but I have an even bigger problem with the line of thinking Davis used in his analysis. He writes:
Remember, the mobile industry is one where some of the biggest companies in the world have tried and failed: Siemens, Philips, Fujitsu. None of them have creditable [sic] market shares. Even IBM put a toe in the water in the late nineties and then stayed away.
Obviously, no one can truly say one thing or another about the iPhone until we all get our hands on one and the market decides whether the device sinks or swims. Until then, everyone is free to say what they want as long as we all take it with a grain of salt. The qualm I have with Davis' analogy is that the manufacturers he cites - Siemens, Philips and Fujitsu - are using Microsoft's Windows Mobile platform on their smartphones. Setting aside the debate about Microsoft's ability to write software for a moment, the more significant factor here is that these manufacturers are using someone else's software on their products, which means they're susceptible to all the circumstances that come with pairing one's hardware with software they have an inarguable lack of knowledge and experience with.

This problem and the limitations it causes have been exhibited often enough in the recent history of PDAs and smartphones that Davis should really know better. It could be argued that Palm's original PDAs never really took off for any number of unrelated reasons, but look at who smartphones are designed for and how they have generally fared: Windows Mobile has never really caught on with any respectable portion of consumers largely because it's designed for business, and the phones suffer from not being able to reach that true nirvana highly specialized devices require: the melding of software and hardware that is designed all under one figurative roof. Palm, however, knocked one out of the business park with the original Treo series because they used the right approach with perfect timing: they designed a PDA and communication device in house, using their own OS and hardware. Same with the recent and rabid success of the BlackBerry: they're highly specialized devices whose software and hardware are designed by one company on a mission to solve many of today's glaring problems with true communication devices. Are you sensing a pattern yet? These devices are designed for businesses, by businesses, while the iPhone is aimed in an almost entirely different direction: it's build by a company whose bread and butter has obviously become products for the mass consumer.

Again, I think pundits big and small can only say so much one way or the other about the iPhone until we can all sign that two year contract on the dotted line and see how the phone fares in the market. That said, I still believe a call for perspective and an understanding of Apple's approach is warranted, because what Apple is attempting with the iPhone has never been done before. Plenty of mobile phone companies like Motorola, Nokia and SonyEricsson have cobbled together various, convoluted versions of their phone OS both to slap on their own devices and, in some cases, sell to other manufacturers. But a true software and OS developer the size of Apple - a company known for their attention to the software experience - has never approached the mobile phone industry with a phone OS and device combo that were forged from the same fire. The iPhone could easily sink or swim depending on any number of factors, but you really can't make an assessment by comparing Apple's approach to the market because no one has approached the market this way before.

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