Are we a week away from a revolution?

Next friday, at 6pm, local time, the iPhone goes on sale. I’m guessing you already knew that.

But will it revolutionize the mobile industry, as Steve Jobs has claimed?

Here’s my list of ways in which the iPhone may change the mobile industry.

1. The iPhone may make the smartphone a mass market success. The iPod was not the first MP3 player on the market. In fact, when it was released, some were unimpressed. But, the product clearly had a huge impact on the category and the consumer electronics industry as a whole.

Before the iPod, MP3 players were for geeks. They were complicated – requiring running cables to a computer, installing software, ripping music off CDs you own, downloading songs. And doing those things was far from intuitive for your average businesswoman or soccer dad. In fact, I would argue that pre-iPod, walking down the street with an MP3 player was a badge of geek-credibility.

Apple changed all that. Using the iPod still required connecting a cable to a computer, installing software, ripping music off CDs, downloading songs to the device, but Apple made it simple. And Apple made it cool to be seen with an iPod.

The market for MP3 players almost immediately expanded from billions millions thousands of technology wizards who had previously bought a portable digital music player to virtually everyone on the planet who could scrape up the cash.

Sure – Apple captured a huge chunk of that growth. But everyone else benefited too. And new segments emerged almost overnight providing additional cool accessories for MP3 players.

Today, there are smartphones on the market. Some of us have been using them for years and wouldn’t dream of reverting back to a simple feature phone. But the vast majority of the world looks cross-eyed at a Treo or Windows Mobile device. “Why do you need that pen thing to work your phone?” “I just want to make a call, how do I do that?” “Which part do I put to my ear?” “Why do you keep plugging your phone into the wall, I thought you were all about wireless?”

My hope is that Apple will change all of that. My hope is that Apple will raise the bar so that all smartphone designers start working on a phone that my wife might actually want to use. My hope is that Apple will break through the fear and confusion and help people hunger for the value and power that’s available in and through a smartphone. Maybe Apple can even make it cool to have a smartphone!

2. The iPhone may make listening to music and watching TV/video on your phone mainstream. Similarly, it is obviously already possible to listen to music and watch the TV on your cellphone. It’s not even that hard. But, relatively speaking, hardly anyone is doing it.

It used to be a novelty to see someone walking down the street talking on their phone. Not anymore. Today, it’s a novelty to see someone walking down the hall watching video on their phone. Will Apple make this a mainstream activity?

We’ll see!

3. The iPhone may bring full web-browsing to cellphones. Web browsers on cellphones are very common. But the capabilities of these browsers range dramatically from text-only browsers on simple feature phones to full graphical versions of common browsers on smartphones.

But even these “full” browsers are lacking. Their screensize limitations make it very hard to use most websites. And they don’t support common capabilities (Javascript, AJAX, full CSS, multimedia plugins, etc.) that make modern websites so usable.

The iPhone changes all that. Unfortunately, the iPhone is burdened with a slow Internet connection, which I fear will make that full-browsing experience more painful than productive.

My hope is that the iPhone will force other smartphone makers to step up to the full web experience, but with a real 3G (or 4G!) connection.

4. The iPhone may disrupt the industry’s handset-subsidy model. Today, when you buy a cellphone in the US, you buy it from a wireless carrier who pays some or all of the cost of the phone, and in exchange you agree to use their monthly service for two years. The good thing is this makes cellphones more affordable. However, some think that locking you into a carrier for two years is a bad thing.

The iPhone is not subsidized by Cingular AT&T. Consumers pay full price for the phone. But, not only do they need to sign up for a two-year plan with AT&T, but they also need to sign up for an iTunes account with Apple. Not exactly the freedom that subsidy-fans are hoping for.

I’m guessing that it will take a different revolutionary force to change the industry’s subsidy model.

Bottom line, will these changes revolutionize the industry? Probably not. These are evolutions that will, honestly, benefit the industry as a whole. Sure, some companies will suffer, and those that fail to adapt to changing consumer demands may not survive. But I’m excited to see how Friday’s release will push our industry to the next level, with new consumer excitement, new consumer enthusiasm (and willingness to spend), and hopefully a strong response from the industry to new consumer expectations.

Power up!

One Response to “Are we a week away from a revolution?”

  1. […] forward-looking innovation that elevates the playing field for all?” – reminded me of a piece I wrote almost two years ago, just as the original iPhone was about to hit the […]

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