It wasn’t a good day for the iPhone.
In its earnings report for last quarter, Apple said it expects iPhone sales to slow down this year. It will be the first time in the iPhone’s history Apple has reported negative sales growth.
And because Apple is the iPhone company, you’re going to see a lot of tech pundits spewing doom and gloom over the next few days now that Apple’s most important, profitable product is no longer growing the way it used to.
But the iPhone is far from in trouble.
Unless smartphones are suddenly replaced overnight by some magical new technology, the iPhone has a long, successful life ahead of it. It’s not because of superior hardware. (Plenty of other phone makers have devices that can match the iPhone’s specs.) It’s not because of superior design. (I actually think Samsung leapfrogged Apple in design with last year’s Galaxy S6 Edge.)
It’s because of iOS.
Smartphone innovation has stalled to the point that it’s nearly impossible for one Android phone to stand out from another. They all have the same apps and basic features. There’s no major benefit to owning a Samsung phone over a phone from Motorola, LG, HTC, or anyone else.
But the iPhone is the only device with iOS, which has run away with the title of the most valuable smartphone platform.
Developers make more money on iOS, which in turn encourages them to make best apps and updates for the iPhone first. And when the iPhone has the best apps, it keeps users locked into its ecosystem when they’re ready to upgrade to a new device, which in turn keeps developers married to the platform. And so on.
It’s not just apps either. Some Apple services, especially iMessage, keep users chained to iOS. iOS also serves as the foundation for other ancillary products like Apple TV and Apple Watch, something Apple’s executives highlighted during the earnings call Tuesday. And Apple keeps its iOS devices consistently updated for years with security fixes and new features. Many Android phones stop getting new, significant updates after a year or so.
iOS is the real rock star. Not the iPhone itself. Great hardware is one thing, but without a powerful platform behind it, that hardware is meaningless. (Look at FitBit, Samsung, and GoPro’s recent troubles if you don’t believe me.)
Apple had a funky 2015, releasing several products and services with questionable designs and curious use cases. Apple Music was full of bugs, and it’s still plagued by a confusing interface. The iPad Pro can’t replace your laptop, despite Apple’s claims it can. The Apple Watch isn’t an essential gadget for most people. The new Apple TV remote is a pain to use.
But the iPhone was rock solid. After all these years, it’s still the best smartphone you can buy. It will probably see a dip in sales this year, and things may still be relatively rocky until Apple refreshes the lineup with a new iPhone in the fall, but there’s no sign of iOS losing its power to Android.
And that’s all Apple needs for now to stay on top.
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