Apple's iPhone 4S sets ground for future growth

By Jonny Evans

The iPhone 4S is the biggest-selling smartphone and seems set to remain so for months to come, with Apple [AAPL] kicking Android off its temporary top slot to reclaim its mobile ascendancy, the latest information tells.


You can get 'iSatisfaction'

Apple's device is still seeing "incredibly strong" demand, according to the latest Changewave data. "Among respondents planning to buy a new smart phone in the next 90 days, better than one-in-two (54%; down 11-pts) say they'll get an iPhone," the survey says.

You don't have to be a genius to figure out that it isn't just about initial sales, but about how happy people are with the phone they end up with.

Think about it: in a market as upgrade-savvy as the mobile industry has become, where users customarily upgrade their device every couple of year, customer satisfaction is the most important metric of the lot. And in this Apple's Android competitors aren't performing well at all.


[ABOVE: Why settle for less?]

Better than the rest

Looking at the Changewave survey data above (based on interviews from 4,000 users) and you'll see that Apple's closest competitor, Samsung, produces smartphones which over half of its customers aren't "very satisfied" with. It's not enough.


Because the iPhone 4S leaves a colossal 75 percent of its customers "Very Satisfied". That's a record Apple competitors would love to have, but don't. And that achievement will in future drive ever higher sales for each subsequent Apple smartphone.

Just like the iPod before it, the iPhone will eventually become so ubiquitous that it defines the market it plays in. When people say "motorbike", they also think Harley-Davidson. When people say "MP3 player", they also think iPod. In future when people say "smartphone", they'll also think iPhone.

Please don't shoot the messenger on this, the only fault (it is no fault) is that Apple makes good products. Though there is always room for improvement.


[ABOVE: Apple's testing room as revealed during the antennagate caper of 2010.]

Complex simplicity

So what's the magic that makes an Apple product so much better in use than the competition?

Some say it's the seamless twinning of the software with the hardware, others say it's the excellence in user interfaces, you might even believe it to be the design and high build quality. I think it's a combination of all the above, all tied together by Sir Jony Ive's utter commitment to keeping things simple by design.

During a rare public interview at the Design Museum in 2004, Ive said of the way Apple works at designing its products: "Simplicity speaks of the care of how our products are developed. It's not obvious how hard it was.

"It's not the design team, or the mechanical team, it's the company, and it's because the company does care..." that it makes good products.

Naturally, critics will point to Apple's inevitably well-publicized failings as arguments that this approach doesn't always work. "Antenna-gate" some may mutter. Others will point to the litigation between Apple and others in the mobile space, slamming the firm (inaccurately) for attempting to limit competition by preventing them from delivering similar product features in their devices.

Rest assured, in an industry as volatile and competitive as this has become, there would certainly be other firms prepared to engage in litigation if Apple hadn't moved to protect its patented, in-house designed user experiences.

Tomorrow's world, today

Competitors are jealous. They have so far failed to match that user experience in their devices, and this is why Apple's satisfaction levels are so high. That unrivaled satisfaction response means the iPhone 4S will continue to sell units by the boatload, and means future iterations of the device will be quickly picked-up by a growing population of existing satisfied customers.

This is a watershed moment and testament to the firm's focus. Changewave admits: "Apple has never dominated smart phone planned buying to this extent more than two months after a major new release." And the pattern of high satisfaction has been consistent on Apple's part.

As I observed last summer, Apple's move to introduce its new device just in advance of the Christmas period is extremely savvy. It means millions invested in the device last season (some estimates claim near 40 million sales of the iPhone within just 13 weeks). If 75 percent of these 40 million smartphone users are "very satisfied" with their device, then you're looking at 30 million people who will be picking up a brand new Apple smartphone in the years ahead.


User satisfaction is the key metric. In a Post-PC age, that's the metric which will lead to dominance in all the new tech industries, from tablets to phones, PCs to connected domestic devices.

You can bring all the products you like to market, but they remain one-shot wonders if the people choosing your devices aren't getting their kicks through using them. I don't care how you choose to dazzle with rhetoric about better screens, faster processors, or graphics memory chips, it doesn't matter. A device that isn't as technologically sophisticated as others available on the market will still win if it is a delight to use. That's what the iPhone has. And that's not rhetorical fantasy, it's a reality based on Changewave's own survey results.

Where next for Apple? More of the same. For its competitors the challenge remains the need to focus on the customers and deliver experiences which please them, rather than focusing on market share in an inevitable race to the bottom as competition intensifies and product build quality is reduced in the name of profitability and so-called shareholder value.  

Must try harder

Apple meanwhile delivers stakeholder value, experiences which please the only shareholders who do make sense, the customers who will form the congregation of the Apple church and will drive ever-increasing interest in all its other products.

Rather than rejecting this picture of reality, champions of systems from other manufacturers should turn their criticism at the firms they support, demanding from them Apple-style levels of customer satisfaction.

Why? Why settle for less? If competition really is good for consumers, then it's right to demand those firms parlaying for the dollar in your pocket deliver the best experiences possible, and if Apple can achieve this, then others should. Unless they truly cannot, in which case, why are they in the business at all?

Got a story? Drop me a line via Twitter or in comments below and let me know. I'd like it if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when these items are published here first on Computerworld.    

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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