Too Late

Dan Lyons, writing for The Daily Beast’s Newsweek subsidiary, says “The Verizon iPhone Is Too Late”:

Most important, Android still has one huge advantage over the iPhone — diversity. Android phones are sold by dozens of hardware makers, the biggest being Samsung, Motorola, and HTC. There are lots of different form factors. Slider phones. Phones with keyboards. Big screens, small screens, midsize screens.

The iPhone, in contrast, is a bit like the situation people once had with Henry Ford’s Model T, where you could have any color you wanted, as long as it was black. With the iPhone you can have whatever Steve Jobs says you can have.

The Model T was a massive hit, dominating the market for over a decade: Wikipedia says:

By 1918, half of all the cars in the US were Model T’s.

Lyons goes on to tell the story of why he himself switched from the iPhone to Android: because of Verizon’s superior network service:

Frankly, I didn’t care whether Android could match an iPhone feature-for-feature. All I cared was that I could get a smart phone that ran on Verizon and therefore could successfully make phone calls. But since then I’ve become hooked. I’ve grown used to the Android way of doing things. I’ve built my life around Google programs — Gmail, Google contacts, Google calendar, Google Maps. I love the built-in voice navigation.

So who cares that now Apple will sell its phone on Verizon? For me, it’s too late. Other converts to Team Android tell me they’re feeling the same way. “I’m not going back either,” says Fred Wilson, who runs Union Square Ventures, a venture-capital firm in New York.

So everyone on Verizon is already an Android user? There’s a big difference between the iPhone being too late to get Dan Lyons’s business, and being too late to rack up, say, 15 million Verizon sales by the end of 2011. Given the number of Verizon users who have never purchased a smartphone, his story sounds like exactly the reason the Verizon iPhone is going to be a smashing success.

But Apple’s big weakness is its control-freak nature and insistence that there is only one way to make a smart phone. No matter how many carriers sign on to carry the iPhone, in the long run, Apple has again set itself up to be a niche player in smartphones, just as it is in PCs.

I’ll just point out that he posits as fact that “Apple’s control-freak nature” is a weakness. Control-freak does carry a negative connotation in our culture. Swap in the word perfectionist and it changes the connotation. Where is the evidence that Apple’s control-freak/perfectionist nature has hurt Apple in the market — for phones, for iPods, or for computers? “We’re going to make these decisions for you and offer a limited number of choices” is indeed the company’s philosophy. That’s called design. Apple is indeed more focused on design than its competitors. It’s also been far more successful than its competitors over the past decade, in several lucrative markets.

So I’d say what Lyons calls “Apple’s big weakness” is in fact precisely the company’s biggest strength. And what about Apple’s “niche player” status in PCs? Apple is the leading PC maker in the world, by profit. And their market share has gone up for 19 consecutive quarters, and continues to outpace the industry as a whole. Apple’s “niche” in the PC market today is that for profitable computers.

The worst years for Apple’s PC business occurred when Apple was the least control-freakish: when they offered a plethora of hardware models (Performas, Centrises, Quadras) and even licensed their OS to clone makers.

I can’t decide whether Lyons is really this wrong, or if The Daily Beast makes its writers post eye-rollingly contrarian stuff like this just to get links.