iPhone: the second generation is the first generation

When they write the final story on how Microsoft’s attempt to unseat RIM on mobile devices was foiled by the iPhone – and make no mistake, the plink of “pwned” was just heard all across Puget Sound – one overlooked facet will be the implied upgrade.

I replaced my Samsung Blackjack with an iPhone right around launch day, and when I did, I assumed that Apple would continue to improve my iPhone: that when I sync’d with iTunes, I would occasionally get new features, new applications, etc.

It’s not obvious why I thought that would happen. My Mac doesn’t get free upgrades. My iPod gets firmware updates occasionally, but they don’t add new features. Steve Jobs didn’t say anything, there were no press releases, legitimate leaked reports, or anything else. Oh, and one other thing: phones don’t upgrade. We’re used to them being hotfix-for-emergency-only, like your printer or your HDTV.

When I talked to others, they were sure of it too. They were waiting for the announcements of this or that new feature, and we all assumed that our phones would get it. Why did we all think our phones would be upgraded? Something “told” us that. Maybe it was the unconscious reaction to the iPod firmware update process inside iTunes; maybe it was a belief that Apple “got it”; maybe since this was more like a computer and computers get free upgrades… but they don’t. For some reason, we believed in an upgrade.

Well, we were right. Over the last nine months, we’ve seen minor improvements to a bunch of applications, new features like customizable home screens and web clips, and the rollout of the iTunes store. This week, Apple announced and made available the beta of the iPhone 2.0 software, with the features necessary to make the phone enterprise- and developer-ready. It seems reasonable to assume that the 6,8,10 million iPhone owners will have the same software as anybody who buys the phone one year later. For those who didn’t want to buy the iPhone because they wanted to wait until the “second generation,” well, it turns out that for the most part, the second generation is the first generation. (This is especially true since the hardware has proven to be quite reliable.)

Compare this with the Samsung Blackjack. The Blackjack released in November 2006 with Windows Mobile 5 (WM5); Microsoft had already pre-announced features of WM6 by then, and released WM6 in February 2007. (Wikipedia compares the versions; major differences included Office Mobile, Exchange address book support, & HTML email.) There were hundreds of threads at places like Howard Forums with people building hacked versions of WM6 for the Blackjack (and similar devices like the T-Mobile Dash and Motorola Q), speculating on when it would be available, which carriers would allow which versions of WM6 for which phones and when, etc. Microsoft and AT&T (the Blackjack carrier) said nothing for months. It took until January 2008 – 2008! – for the Blackjack to support WM6. In the interim, dozens of phones were released with WM6.

So basically, you buy a Windows Mobile phone, that’s the phone you have. They make the OS better, you probably have to buy a new phone (or just wait a long time). WM phones, like iPhone, are mini-computers with mini-OS’s – making them non-upgradeable as the default plan of record was just one of Microsoft’s mistakes. (It looks like WM6 added Windows Update, but we don’t know if that’s just for hotfixes or for actual improvements.)

Apple got this right – the iPhone is a living, breathing device, improved consistently. When inevitably that stops – market pressure, hardware limitations, or impunity – we will still have seen more during the first 12 months of this device than any previous mobile phone.

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5 Responses to “iPhone: the second generation is the first generation”

  1. Marty Says:

    While I don’t disagree at ALL, I would just point out that my old T-Mobile MDA – aka HTC Wizard, which came with WM5, and got all of one, maybe two, updated from tmo during its product lifecycle, with no actual improvements – is now my primary mobile phone again, running a version of WM6 built by a third-party individual, and is now more stable and more usable than it ever was running the official software.

    Is it a pain in the ass to upgrade? Hell yeah. Do I think Apple does things better? Ayup.

    But I just won’t switch to AT&T or be without a phone after a post-unlock upgrade bricks it. Sigh.

  2. Scott Ruthfield Says:

    Right – there are a whole bunch of people hand-building software for Microsoft phones. In 2008. Six years after they started shipping the OS.

  3. getluky.net » Blog Archive » Marketing via Myth? Says:

    […] a while now, this post by Scott Ruthfield has had me pondering how a company makes it customers feel like its products are living, adapting, […]

  4. www.scottru.com » Blog Archive » New Digs Says:

    […] the meantime, everything I’ve written – about gnomedex, the iPhone, tech, and other nonsense – is (and will probably remain permanently) at […]

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