The smartphone industry has matured, so the initial emphasis on hardware as a significant differentiator on devices to entice users, and being a major income source for suppliers, is constrained. Besides, as the general smartphone user base increases and becomes more informed, expectations exceed hardware dependent features; user experience increases in relevance. Alongside, to an extent, actual and prospective smartphone users are unpredictable from asserting their agency – suggesting that the validity of initial expectations are diminishing and rather becoming misapprehensions.
One common example is the assumption of Android being attractive solely to techie types. However, from my experience in the field, and I’m privy to a significant amount of old ladies and self-described technophobes who couldn’t care less about smartphones, yet own Galaxy phones or others from a number array running a variant of Google’s open source OS. What’s more interesting, is that come upgrade time, eventually, they’ll want another one, typically because they’ve had one prior and are more familiar with the user interface.
On another hand, besides user-focused considerations; additionally, the shift towards a service orientation, opposed to the initial product focus of the consumer tech landscape generally, contributes to increasing attention towards value propositions on smartphones through the software route.
Since software differentiation is becoming increasingly relevant, this article briefly explores the idea from the vantage point of Apple’s iOS, as perhaps I’m biased in considering it to be currently the most compelling smartphone operating system. I’ll attempt to highlight some compelling attractions of the platform and illuminate iOS’ unique platform strategies.
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Why iOS dominates: Why do people like iOS?
Firstly, to deal with the biggest elephant in the room – yes, I find it ironic that a mobile OS committed to simplicity, hence can be considered ideal for the everyday person, is still one that is conveyed on products most of the populace can’t afford. After all, even in the West, the demographic that can’t afford a $400 emergency is rather startling, even when considering the employed.
Yes, there are and have been iPhones like the 5c, SE, and more recently SE 2020 – all offered lower than the typical iPhone price-point. However, these were and are still more expensive than their similarly spec’d Android devices, especially when considering the technological specifications quantitatively.
Moreover, such devices haven’t realised the most market success – suggesting prospective buyers of iPhones are drawn to the more premium options; after all, iPhones were synonymous with a premium brand identity at conception.
In a study I had conducted and published on here some years ago, I found this sentiment to be the case in the Nigerian context; there is concurrence in my experience in the United Kingdom also.
It has been historically justified that Apple’s case is an instance of a technology service company implementing a unique approach intentionally and sticking to it; i.e. there is less emphasis on responding to the market, as opposed to wanting to dictate the trends within – apparent in brand communications, amount of products being released, and how the iPhone is typically positioned.
These circumstances have however been changing slowly over time. For instance, in 2020, the iPhone came in four variants; and a few older devices are still available. It appears Apple is becoming more flexible and responsive as concerns the market, but not necessarily regarding giving users freedom on their devices.
Below I make a case of how their software approach to improving user experience can be beneficial in this regard. In any case, there are still appeals that draw a rather stable user base to the iPhone.
Timely software updates
Personally, the benefit of timely software updates and support longevity is a very compelling differentiator of iOS opposed to the competition. Over the years, Apple has typically provided ample support for their devices; including through Apple care. However, more significant is that software updates are available to devices even more than 3 years old, as long as the hardware can support it and it doesn’t tarnish user experience. No Android manufacturer currently offers such longevity through software, at least to my knowledge.
Therefore, I wager that such device future proofing is a significant proposition for the iOS user, especially those who aren’t concerned with typical network upgrade cycles in the West. On the other hand, in emerging markets where phones are typically bought outright, this also increases iPhone’s appeal; as the minority base can hold on to supported devices longer. While the latter is not necessarily beneficial to Apple’s short term market growth, it is to grow and maintain a formidable service base for the future.
Large catalogue of apps
On another hand, the availability of a large pool of quality apps on iOS is additionally an enticing proposition to users; considering that some of the Apple competition such as Microsoft and Google spend a reasonable amount of resources developing their services and associated apps for the platform. In some cases, the iOS variant is additionally more functional and stable, compared to on the native platform (e.g., Android or Windows).
On a related note, some observers and commentators within the consumer tech arena have highlighted that through such high grade apps and services, users can transform their iPhone to a very Google centric device, if they choose to; interestingly, with less liability to privacy and security – especially considering the expected updates in iOS 15 currently around the corner.
Asides the above considerations, I opine that where Apple’s exploitation of software to better user experience is mainly across different, miscellaneous implementations across the OS.
Uniform user experience
Besides the commonly cited ecosystem benefits, such as the advanced communication functionality of iMessage, these ubiquitous intangibles such as: quick jump to top of a page by touching the top of the screen; the expansive functionality of an easily accessible control centre; quick searching across device with Siri suggestions; the ability to uninstall most preloaded apps; 3D Touch (and it’s less enticing upgrade due to hardware limitations); and a general uniformity to the OS and apps, afforded by a consistent graphical user interface – are just some ways iOS engages user experience through the software route.
This is by no means to imply that the typical iPhone hardware is inferior. From a quantitative standpoint it might appear so; however, this myopic view disregards benefits of system optimisation.
Wrapping up now
In conclusion, Apple has long committed to leveraging the software route regarding meeting and improving user experience on iOS.
The efforts should continue to pay off even with the arena’s shift to services, as products themselves take the back seat. However, there are areas for improvement Apple can tap into, even considering their closed system philosophy.
For one, device customisation can be opened up more to the user, while still being able to maintain decent control. Proper full system theme’ing on devices comes to mind here. Perhaps Apples own theme section with a selection from sanctioned creators? This suggestion in itself would seem silly to Android users, however I’m attempting to meet the Cupertino property half way, considering decisions are bound by the walled garden after all.
Perhaps, I’m just thinking out loud. After all, we mostly tend to forget how revolutionary these devices we’ve come to take for granted actually are. It’s amazing how we’ve come from the static massive computers to ubiquitous ones that shape our experiences everyday. In this regard, software looks to be the future for compelling user experience, especially considering contemporary developments in AI.