iPhone 4S Underwhelms; App Platform Remains The Key To Its Success, For Now

October 5, 2011

6:57 pm

I’ve been an iPhone user since the first day they were released in 2007. I bought my first iPhone in Palo Alto at the same store Steve Jobs was at earlier in the day; it’s the same store Robert Scoble camped outside of overnight to be one of the first in line to get his hands on one. There was pure excitement and joy around the launch of the first iPhone, especially being in Silicon Valley in the thick of it.

I upgraded to the iPhone 3GS after my initial phone’s screen stopped working just a week or so prior to its one year birthday. Being able to shoot video on the phone was the main driver for upgrading to the new iPhone  – along with the fact that the first version was inoperable.

I’ve been using the iPhone 3GS ever since. I decided to pass on the iPhone 4, initially thinking that something even better was right around the corner and not wanting to fall victim to the constant upgrade culture that Apple was working so hard to instill. The last 6 months with the iPhone 3GS, which is now 28 months old, have been pretty terrible. The iOS software and the apps themselves have become so sophisticated that it’s been difficult to run more than one thing at a time, and the simple apps that are a necessity, like email, have brought my phone to crawl. I decided to take this issue up with Apple’s Genius Bar and was told, and I quote:

“You need to receive less email. Can we remove some of your accounts?”

I laughed at this response. Seriously? Apple’s iPhone 3GS cannot handle my email? I understand I am a power user but come on now, that is ridiculous. Perhaps I should set up an auto-response that says something like:

“Thanks for reaching out to me. While I really want to receive your email and respond to you, my iPhone cannot handle too much email so please stop emailing me. I do hope you are understand. It’s not you, it’s my iPhone.”

That probably wouldn’t win over too many people. Needless to say, I have been limping along looking forward to the iPhone announcement that would allow me to refresh my device and bring me back up to par with the rest of the mobile world. But I have to say, while I am probably going to order a new iPhone on Friday, I feel this release is the most underwhelming release of all iPhones. Maybe this is due to in part to it being 15 months since the last release of the iPhone 4 – and I was expecting an iPhone 5 that would blow our minds. But when you compare it to what I have been using, I welcome the upgrade and will have to solidify my judgment after I have it in my hands for a few weeks. Perhaps I won’t miss the 4G (until the iPhone 5 comes out, that is).

That said, Apple is at an interesting cross-roads with the iPhone. The latest release was an upgrade, but they did not wow everyone. They have sold millions of iPhones and are now giving the 3GS away for free with a two year contract. The competition from Samsung with it’s Galaxy S2, Windows Phone 7 and others makes it hard to say that Apple’s leading the pack in the hardware department.

However, there is one thing that will keep Apple on top for a little while longer, or until Android or another platform can catch up, and that one thing is their developer platform that allows developers to release some of the world’s best apps. Apple has the most apps available, and the bottom line is that apps are the most important thing driving my phone and tablet purchase decisions. If Android was the first place developers went to launch their apps, I’d probably be rocking an Android device rather than an iPhone. Social apps like Instagram, the official Twitter app and others do not currently exist on the Android platform, which makes it difficult for me to make the switch.

So Apple is in a great position – but I am an early adopter, tech gadget power user, and by no means do I represent the norm. There are millions of people out there who just want a solid phone and that is why Apple should be concerned, as the real battle is whether Apple can stay on top in apps (driven by their iOS) while the hardware war rages.

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Frank Gruber is the cofounder, CEO and Executive Editor of Tech.Co (formerly Tech Cocktail). He is the author of the book, Startup Mixology, Tech Cocktail’s Guide to Building, Growing, and Celebrating Startup Success. He is also a startup advisor and investor to startups.

Find Frank Gruber online and follow him on Twitter at @FrankGruber.

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