Updated on January 7, 2011: Thanks to feedback, it has come to my attention that there were some errors in the original post, for which I apologize. I therefore updated the post to correct these errors. As always, this blog reflects my views and opinions and does not necessarily reflect opinions of anybody else. I am personally responsible for any errors I make, and therefore am glad to correct.
When people talk about Apple’s success with the iPhone, they attribute some of it to the huge success of the Apple App Store that has over 300,000 applications that were downloaded over 7 billion times (as of Oct 20, 2010).
Apple’s App Store is bigger, in terms of numbers, than any other mobile application store. But this provides only part of the picture. I think there are actually three key ingredients to Apple’s success with the iPhone – together they make up what I now call “appcessories“:
1. Application Ease
Once you start using your iPhone, you quickly begin installing many applications on the device. Many are free, most are paid. Some even cost a lot of money. Some applications you end up not using, others become indispensable—you don’t see how you could work or live without them. For me, these are iThoughtsHD (on the iPad), LogMeIn, Air Mouse, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, TweetDeck, Waze, Ocarina, Kindle, Converter, Google Earth, Skype, Midomi, WeDict Pro, Amazon, Zinio, a few good games, and a few travel applications. I’ve surely invested more than $100 in applications. Yet the investment is not the key factor that keeps me “hooked” on these applications — it’s the fact that I rely on them. If I ever decide to leave the Apple iPhone and move to a competitor (such as Android), I would need to not only repurchase many of the applications (if they exist for the other platforms), but also I might need to migrate my data to them. By now there are so many of these applications, that this alone would be sort of a little nightmare—and thus helps in keeping me loyal to Apple.
I’ve already upgraded my phone twice (original iPhone -> iPhone 3G -> iPhone 3GS). In each upgrades, I never had to reinstall or repurchase a single application. All my applications and settings seamlessly were upgraded to the new device. In all my previous mobile phones, I’ve never had this seamless upgrade experience. In most other phones, I would likely have to repurchase applications and import settings. Why? In part, because the upgrade path would not be assured.
While it is possible to upgrade Android-based phones since the applications are registered with the user based on their Google account and are cloud-based. That is, when one upgrades a user upgrades their Android phone, all the applications they have purchased are available also on their new phone. A question remains whether the applications support the new device as well, as there is quite a bit of fragmentation of the Android platform. Devices vary by their support for a specific version of Android, screen size, resolution, default orientation, capabilities of the device, and more. While most application vendors try to support the widest variety of Android devices, they don’t often achieve a complete result. That said, this is also true for applications designed for iPhone – they may not run as well, or even at all, on upgraded devices. In both Android and iOS case, this is usually a temporary issue until the app developer updates their application.
Irrespective of whether you are using an iPhone or an Android phone, you do get “hooked” on applications – making migration to the competing platform a challenge.
However, applications are just one of the ingredients to Apple’s success…
You don’t just consume applications on our mobile devices – you also consume music, movies, and TV shows. Many people, especially young people, have vast collections of digital music. Some rip their music from CDs, share with friends, download illegally, or buy from iTunes (or other legal download alternatives). iTunes also makes it easy to buy music spontaneously —especially on iOS devices. It’s so convenient that I now usually choose to buy music on iTunes rather than download music from other sources or purchase physical CDs. This is also true for all iPod users that have music collections that they manage on iTunes. iTunes is not the best application for managing a music collection, but it works for most people, and many have committed to it because of their iPod experience. And this experience is even richer now, with TV episodes, movies, music clips, iTunes University, and thousands of podcasts. iTunes is really good at organizing and making many of these available on your mobile devices.
Thus far, there is no good-enough equivalent on non-Apple platforms to manage all your multimedia. While iTunes is far from perfect, it does a pretty good job. If you buy into the Apple family of mobile products, you can easily migrate your collection to new devices or upgrade them over time. So far, no other competitor offers this.
It is true, however, that there are third party solutions for Android – applications that help you manage your media. Some are really good. Nevertheless, if, perhaps due to the iPad you’ve made an investment in iTunes and purchased DRM-protected content, you are more “locked in” than if you were managing your media collection in other manners.
And now the clincher, an exceedingly important ingredient to Apple’s success with the iPhone:
How long do people hold on to their mobile phone? Usually, it’s between 1.5 and 3 years. How often do you hang on to other consumer electronics devices? I believe it’s usually longer. For example, a TV could easily be used for 5 years. An audio-video receiver can be in good service for about 7 years. An alarm clock on your nightstand? Probably 5 years. A clock radio in the kitchen? about 4 years. What about your car? Most of us keep a car for at least 3 years, probably 4 years on average. These are not well-researched figures – they are my estimate. But you get the picture – we hang on to accessories more than we do to the mobile phones.
Why is this important? Well, suppose you bought an iPod, an iPhone, or an iPad. Then you decide to buy a TV set with an iPod docking station. Or an alarm clock on your nightstand with an iPod dock to charge and amplify your music. Or you buy a clock radio with an iPod dock for the kitchen. Or a docking station for the audio-video receiver in the living room. You might even get a car with an iPhone adapter built in…
I’m sure you’re beginning to get the picture – once we make the investment to Apple mobile devices such as the iPhone, we begin investing also in these Apple-specific accessorories, or what I like to call “appcessories“. We form habits around the apps. We have investment in the multimedia content, and perhaps most importantly, we replace the accessories less frequently than we do the mobile phone. Basically, Apple makes it easy to change devices (as long as we stay with Apple) without losing access to the time and money we’ve invested in their applications, music and multimedia, and accessories. And when it comes time to upgrade our mobile phone, we think about these as major considerations. While some of this is true also for Android, the “accessories” aspect is mostly true for Apple due to the similar form factor (albeit lack of full upgrade compatibility) between the accessories.
That’s one reason why it’s easy to understand the loyalty of Apple users. 89% of iPhone users would like their next device to also be an iPhone whereas only 71% of Android users would like their next device to be powered by Android. This is not just a fad. It is a systematic outcome of having consumers who have invested in appcessories.
Does this mean Apple will always win the game? No. For instance, the non-PC operating system war is a multi-front battlefield. One battle is already raging on the mobile phone front. Two other fronts are now in early stages – one on the tablet, and the other on the TV. In case of the tablet battle front, appcessories are still a strong draw for Apple consumer. However, it’s not clear whether this will hold true for TV, and this will make the TV battle more challenging for Apple than the tablet war. Expect at least the tablet battle for dominance to be fierce in 2011.
As always, I’m very interested in your thoughts. Any application or accessory that you cannot live without? Have you figured out how to deal with this on non-Apple platforms? Let me know.