A Lifestyle Choice . . .

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We asked yesterday if you would prefer an all-in-one electronic Swiss knife that could do everything, or prefer separate components for different functions.

Well, the iPh— (don’t want to get the Cisco people any madder than they are) and its first few offspring look like they’re going to be a tough sell. Not impossible, but a tough sell.

Before we get to your opinions, a few numbers are in order. Over a billion mobile phones are now being sold each year. Apple hopes to sell ten million iPh—- the first year, which sounds like a lot, but will be less than 1% of the total sold. So Apple isn’t exactly reaching for the sales stars.

But we weren’t interested in immediate iPh— sales but rather the concept of having everything in one lump rather than several.

We got an interesting variety of responses, from “Hell, yes” to “Hell, no,” (more of the second than the first), but there was a common theme running through them all, “It has to fit my lifestyle (or at least be very cheap).”

Those who really liked the idea of an all-in-one (a small but significant minority) were people who already carried multiple lumps around a lot, and really found it inconvenient:

More weren’t too hot on the idea, but generally because such a device would likely be inconvenient for them in some way. For example, it’s hard to lend your girlfriend your listening device and keep your cellphone when they’re in one package. People who liked separates tended not to use various functions very often, but when they wanted to, they wanted better results than they got (or thought they’d get) in an all-in-one.

They feared the prospect of “if one thing breaks, it all breaks” in an expensive device. They wondered about the impact of multifunctions on battery life. They were skeptical about how practical computing functions were on anything that small.

There were plenty of other reasons, but they almost always came down to a rather personal reason for not liking the idea. You might say, “Well, DUH, Ed, what other reason might you expect?” but these comments read a lot differently than discussion about, say, people’s PCs. People seemed to want something that more precisely fit what they did or didn’t do (unless they got the phone for nothing) than they do with PCs.

Finally, there was more than a few who didn’t want these devices, together or separate, on sociological grounds. They didn’t want to be in touch all the time, period, because they represented a loss of freedom and privacy:

“I think that over the course of the years, sundry employers have required that I carry cell phones & pagers, so as to be “instantly accessible”. I have always found such “leashes” undignified and unbearable. What am I? A cardiologist? Hardly.”

These folks tended to identify themselves as being older.

Conclusions?

The PCphone being generally accepted is going to be a long haul. It’s not going to be “if you build it, they will come.” It will be more like, “Build it, then give them a dozen years to drift in.”

There’s some signs this is going to be a generational device. Just as Grandma doesn’t have an iPod, people past a certain age will be likely to resist the PCphone.

The iPh— is not going to become another iPod, and nothing else is going to, either. What people want and don’t want from them are just too fractured to see just one or a handful of products dominate this field, and this field is going to take a long time to mature.

Put another way, people seem to view these devices more as phones than computers, and the attitudes about them are phonish. There’s much less acceptance of the “one size (or at least not too many) fits all” paradigm than exists in the PC world, and if the shoe doesn’t quite fit, it had better cost the customer practically nothing.

Some of you might say, “But what about BlackBerrys? Well, BlackBerrys are in a position similiar to that of the IBM PC in the mideighties, the choice for businesses, but not too big overall (there’s only 6-7 million Blackberry subscribers today) compared to that billion+ mobile phones being sold.

You may think I’m making much ado about nothing, but if even the computer fanatics view these devices as cellphones on steroids rather than PCs and/or MP3 players with phones attached, what’s the average person going to think? If everybody thinks these things are phones, those who are best at selling cellphones are likely to win out over those best at selling computers.

And Apple, well, they’re brand new at the first, and never have been too good at the second, so they’re not going to conquer a market this big with proprietary standards and just a few models. Nor is this just an Apple problem, MS has been trying to redo what they did in the PC world with phones, and they’ve barely made a scratch.

No, I think in the long run it’s going to be the Nokias and Motorolas and Samsungs who will be fighting it out long-term in a widened version of the mobile phone battlefield, not the computer people.

Thanks to all who participated!

Ed


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