As it usually does, Apple got the tech world excited this week when it introduced its new iPhone 5.
The magically, magnificent device will be an experience like no other and will provide consumers a 4-inch display and 4G LTE connectivity. In other words, stuff that Android phones have enjoyed for the better part of two years. That is, of course, unless you get a Sprint or Verizon iPhone 5 and want to use simultaneous voice and data.
In all seriousness, though, the new iPhone will be a good step forward for Apple as it does improve upon the existing device. And, if there's anything we've learned over the last few years, it's that the iPhone 5 will not need to be a hardware behemoth to sell well. If the experts are right, this handset will move around 35 million to 40 million units this quarter and upwards of 50 million in 2012.
Contrast that with Samsung's recent forecast of 30 million Galaxy S3s in 2012 and you see that it's still an Apple world with everyone else living in it. Or is it? How does the iPhone 5 affect Google's growing momentum?
How much growth?
Before going any further, I should remind everyone that I'm not an industry insider nor am I an analyst. That said, I follow the Android and mobile space quite closely and have noticed a few things over time. I posit that, going forward, Apple's grip on the industry will become loosened a bit with each iPhone release. It won't be Apple's doing, but rather it's the stuff that happens everywhere else.
As we've seen with previous iPhone releases, Apple was able to extend its reach to new markets, carriers, and consumers. No longer tied to just one carrier in the United States, we now have Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint offering the device with contracts. Toss in a few prepaid announcements over the last few months and you can appreciate Apple's reach.
Looking around, though, there's very little room to grow and tap into a new segment of customer. A cheaper and less feature-rich iPhone may be an answer, but that's unlikely. And while T-Mobile would simply love to offer the iPhone 5, they likely could not add multiples of millions of new subscribers. So in a nutshell, the low-hanging Apples have been picked from the tree.
We also must consider that other smartphone players are getting better with products over time. Samsung continues to build its own momentum, LG keeps pushing mobile boundaries, and everyone is adapting. Sure, Motorola might have confused us with too many Droid Razrs this fall, but it also slowed the overall number of releases and seems to be focused on more consumer-friendly experience.
Elsewhere, the new Sony Mobile may finally get things going in the United States, and we can bet that HTC isn't content with where it sits today. Plenty of boats in the Android waters and the tide looks to be rising.
Much like we saw with PCs in the early 2000s, consumers are getting smarter and demanding more for their money. It's not uncommon for someone today to ask how much RAM and storage is in a phone before making a buying decision. Handsets can be sold, for the most part, on fact tag bullet points.
Yet, this says nothing of consumer experience and ease of use, something at which Apple excels. Android players are creating more customer-friendly features all the time, and when you factor in the features and aesthetics that come with Android 4.0 and 4.1, it's nearly impossible to call the platform ugly.
Getting back to the PC analogy, it certainly feels like we're seeing the same trends that will have Apple fans accounting for a very vocal, albeit, minority. That is, of course, not factoring in the BlakcBerry and Windows Phone operating systems, which are still struggling to gain market share.
So is this the PC vs. Mac battle all over again? Looking at reports from companies like Gartner, comScore, and Nielsen, it's easy to see Android emerging as the "winner" of market share. Apple, however, may not mind as long as it keeps on earning record profits. Remember that plenty of Apple users will buy simply because there is a new model. It doesn't matter if there are only incremental changes, it's the new hotness and you want to be able to show your friends, right?
Preaching to the same choir?
As is the case with every product that comes out of the company, Apple will preach its new iPhone to the choir. Is it a massive, always-growing choir? Of course! But the real question is whether Apple can continue to attract so many new members to its congregation. Android phones are getting cheaper all the time, yet the hardware continues to be rather top-notch stuff. I suspect that Apple will be happy with whatever the sales numbers are and that profit is more of a concern than market share.
Stacking up to Android phones
On paper, there's nothing in the iPhone 5 that puts it far above the competition. The larger 4-inch display and 4G LTE connectivity are two of the biggest, and only improvements over last year's model, yet it's still a matter of catching up to the industry. Android users have enjoyed these features in one capacity or the other for the better part of two years now. In fact, the notion that a phone doesn't come with both 4G LTE and a 4-inch (or larger display) seems to immediately bump it down to midrange. The hard-core Android crowd is used to seeing this stuff in a handset, and the average consumer probably knows that both have existed for some time.
Android phones offer users a few other things today that even the new iPhone 5 does not. Folks who like to be on the cutting edge of technology certainly will be impressed with quad-core processors, NFC support, and much larger displays. Maybe you don't need something as leading-edge as an Nvidia Tegra 3 chip, but like the idea of mobile payments (Google Wallet). Or, maybe you think that 5.5-inch Galaxy Note 2 looks pretty sharp with its massive screen and digital stylus. Love to take pictures with your phone? Perhaps we can interest you in an Optimus G and its 13-megapixel "world-beating (YouTube)" camera.
Apple spent more time talking about the new camera features than it did with battery life or other hardware details. Sure, it's the experience that matters to the consumer base and Apple's is unlike no other. That said, I did not see any particular opportunities for it to take a swipe at Android or other players when it comes to phone specifications. Maybe it's the new post-Jobs way of unveiling a product, maybe it's because Apple understands that it doesn't have something new and revolutionary for this go 'round. Whatever it is, I didn't see anything that would send an Android handset maker scrambling to respond. Along those lines, I'm hard-pressed to find people who saw something in the iPhone 5 that will have them defect from Android.
In the near few months, Apple will see sales of its iPhone soar, and in record numbers. In the longer term, Android will not be affected all that much and we'll likely see the platform pulling closer to 60 percent market share or greater. Less expensive phones, more hardware options, and a wider variety of carrier options will see that Android continues its growth. In other words, it's the same today as it was in 2009.
Android users and new smartphone buyers are going to largely adopt the platform, just as they have in increasing numbers over the last few years. On the other hand, Apple will still pull in new folks all the time, growing its own base. Loyalists and fanboys are going to continue to take shots at each other and claim that it's their grass that is greener. Given that the smartphone industry is growing at such a rapid rate, both players will be content with their piece of the pie.