When Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone in January 2007, he made a bold claim that the new product was five years ahead of its time.
He was wrong.
It’s been over nine years and no one has made a better phone than the iPhone. But after all these years, the iPhone’s lead has never been smaller. In fact, it’s razor thin.
This week I reviewed the Galaxy Note 7, the new phone from Samsung that beats the iPhone in a lot of key ways. It has a better design than the iPhone. It has better features people will care about like water resistance and wireless charging. It comes with more storage than you could possibly use.
In short, the Note 7 is one of the best phones ever made.
Things don’t look so rosy for the iPhone. It’s had the same design for the last two years, and all reports indicate the so-called iPhone 7 will look very similar when it launches next month. Wireless charging, waterproofing, and design improvements? Apple has ignored all those features. Besides a faster processor and better camera, it’s hard to imagine a compelling reason to get excited about the next iPhone.
Samsung has outdesigned and outperformed the iPhone with the Galaxy Note 7. Meanwhile, Apple is gearing up to launch a phone that will be very similar to the two models it released over the last two years.
So, why is Apple still slightly ahead?
It’s because of the one thing Samsung or anyone else can’t replicate: iOS.
Despite Google’s best efforts, the Android ecosystem is still a fragmented mess. Devices rarely get consistent updates. Developers tend to make their best apps for it only after the iPhone version. And Samsung’s version of Android, called TouchWiz, actually bogs down Android’s UI instead of improving it.
iOS is the only smartphone OS that guarantees your device will be supported for several years. You’re lucky if you can find an Android phone that’s still getting updates a year after you buy it. Meanwhile, Apple tends to keep iPhones updated for up to four years. If you buy a new Samsung phone, good luck getting anything new a year from now.
Security is another issue. If and when a nasty bug is discovered, Apple can push out a software update to the entire iOS ecosystem at once. That’s not always possible on Android, as we found out last year with that nasty Stagefright bug.
Apple is in an odd place this year. iOS is the only thing keeping the iPhone ahead, while competitors are beating it everywhere else from design to useful hardware features. Samsung has out-engineered Apple in a lot of significant ways. The iPhone’s lead has never been smaller, and it’s running out of time before Samsung figures out the rest of the puzzle and cleans up its software issues.