85,000 reasons why Apple’s iPhone isn’t going to be disrupted

There’s nothing geeks love more than to argue mobile phone platforms. Here’s Matt Blaisdell saying that apps weren’t key to iPhone’s success. That’s true, but now that Apple has apps the world has changed and challengers to the iPhone will find it very tough.

Here’s why: everyone is using a different set of 20 apps. Trillions of combinations. You can see this on Appsfire’s VIP list (my iPhone apps are listed there, along with a number of others). None of us have the same set of apps.

So, to get me off of the iPhone you are going to have to duplicate all my apps (and I’ve gotten several more since doing this list a couple of weeks ago).

Here, let’s play a game. Let’s say that a Chinese manufacturer ships an Android phone that makes me hot and bothered. Something, say, that’s half the thickness of the iPhone, has a screen that’s sharper, and the battery lasts twice as long, oh, and let’s just say it costs $50 less than buying an iPhone.

Would it get me to switch away from my iPhone? Probably not, truth be told. (I do have a second SIM, though, waiting, just in case that I use to test phones).

Why not?

Because I’ve grown addicted to Tweetie. So, now you’ll have to build an app, or get a third-party developer to build an app that works better. Let’s say you do that.

But do you have my favorite game? Tap Tap Revenge?

Do you have Facebook? Do you have Photoshop? Just today NASDAQ came out with a cool new app. Do you have that? And so on and so forth.

Every app is lockin.

I’m not going to be switching anytime soon, and neither are you.

So, what the other manufacturers are hoping is that enough users remain ignorant of all the uses of the apps and that they get enough of them built either by themselves (not gonna happen) or by developers outside the company before Apple just locks in everyone.

Joe Wilcox, on Twitter, says that iPhone users are “beyond reason.”

No, Joe, I just want my Kindle app on Android before I’ll switch. I have lots of books that I’ve invested in that I can read on my iPHone.

Or, I want my TripIt app on Android or Nokia before I’ll switch. My entire flight information is stuck inside there.

Or, I want to watch Leo Laporte’s show this afternoon (or more accurately, listen to it on my Prius thanks to UStream’s app).

Or I want to use Yelp’s app to find a great restaurant.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

If you get me all those, and all the other 85,000 apps, but on a device that is sexier and more fun to use (and more productive) then I’ll definitely be reasonable and switch.

Until then I have 85,000 reasons to be unreasonable. Oh, did you see this app called “RedLaser?” You point your phone at barcodes, and it gives you information about the products you are looking at, including what the price is on Amazon.com. Very cool.

Now I’m sure you’ll say you have an app like RedLaser on your device, right? (I’ve seen similar on Nokia devices, for instance) But do you have all the others I use?

Yes, I’m unreasonable. Let me know when I can stop being unreasonable! :-)

Oh, and I met the guy who runs the iPhone app team (he asked to remain anonymous) and he told me his team approves hundreds of new apps every day. So, that’s HUNDREDS of new reasons every day that I will remain unreasonable. Sorry to Nokia, Palm, Microsoft, RIM, and all the other players.

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

129 thoughts on “85,000 reasons why Apple’s iPhone isn’t going to be disrupted

  1. I'd love to see Google play for real here. But they're taking a psuedo MS approach on this thing and need to lead it more if they really want it to succeed. For example, how about a really rewarding ap development program? Certainly, there are 10s of 1,000s if not more sw engineers out there who would die for a chance to impress Google. The model will have to change somewhat, because no one is going to duplicate the iphone/itunes/app store thing overnight. However, this industry can probably on take one real game changer every 10 years or so (the mainstream users certainly can only digest so much).

    Google has done some good stuff (and a lot of sucky, unfinished stuff), even though they have the resources to take this on with probably another 5 big categories. But they need to be in it 200%. Not sure they're there yet.

    Good news is we have Google/Android and Palm is still here to give it another go. Having lived with the limited Mac sw offerings for years (before that changed) I could certainly support an underdog, if they can make up for those other things in more compelling ways. However, nothing in the Android or WebOS camp has compelled me to even consider yet, and I am waiting.

  2. Wow, not only have you made a substantially misinformed comment, but you've completely discredited VentureDeal (you really should take that out of your name if you want to protect your business). In 2007, there were a lot of early adopters. By summer 2008, iPhone was already becoming mainstream (more mainstream than any smartphone in the US at least, where most smartphone users USED TO BE business users. The iPhone has turned that on its nose. These days, I go out with friends, and half of them are using iPhones (the tech savvy and their spouses, and now in some cases, their children). Maybe it caught you by surprise, because certainly the rise of the iPhone has been meteoric compared to PCs, or Windows.

    Today, you still see most of the early adopters on iPhones and those willing to make a few sacrafices (primarily in ap availability) using Android or WebOS–In fact, I am a major early adopter, but no way would I trade my main device for one of the others, because I rely on a variety of aps (and they do change–because…there's ALWAYS “ANOTHER ap for that”.

    Credibility ruined buddy.

    Interesting article, Robert. Still want to read more about the Prius gadgetry.

  3. Sounds like Apple fans sounded when Windows had whole categories of apps that the Mac didn't have. Oh, it doesn't matter, you'd say, but you knew you were on thin ice.

  4. Or if one of these other phone companies came up with a browsing experience more capable than any out there, you may not need apps anymore at all.

  5. how long till someone clones the iPhone API? What about porting MonoTouch to Android?

    Software lockin is an unstable strategy and is eminitly disruptable. It took Apple 18 months to build an app ecosystem, or there abouts? And they made (and continue) to make app developers do the Objective-C thing, which is probably earning them no great love.

    We shall see…

  6. First let me introduce myself, I am mobile user, have used and tested almost all smartphone making brands including some worldwide unknown ones, i am iPhone and HTC user at the moment.

    iPhone is a cute toy indeed (the power lies in unix core) it works fast it is comfortable i like it a lot too, but i will just say it once – Dont underestimate Microsoft (and all windows mobile powered devices) and Google (android powered devices). You will ask why, and i will explain: Microsoft now has Marketplace and gaining more developers there, also they have something more in their sleeves – Windows Mobile 7 which will be the mobile OS of 2010; Google with their OS made impressive progress for a short time if they continiue this way they may be the dominant mobile OS in few years. I am just skipping Simbyan (IMO far from touchscreen friendly in evry asspect) WebOS (cute but still needs time to develop on it) and Blackberry OS(the one of the most useless OS on the smartphone market) because they do nothing impressive which can attract the smartphone users to their OS.

    So the point of my post is that you are not correct to judge all other mobile OS players this way because IMO iphone will loose users in the next couple of years.

  7. I think there are enough people who don't have iPhones for Android based phones to thrive. However, I think Robert has a point. iPhone users with an investment in apps are not going to suddenly dump all that and switch. At least not without a way to move all my data with me.

  8. Robert, what Google stats are you talking about? Do you mean what percent of mobile browsing is done on an iPhone? I think that's 30-40% — but that doesn't mean that the iPhone is the consumer choice or leader amongst all smart phones. It means that the Safari on the iPhone is the leader among mobile browsers.

    It's impressive, but I think that we need a more complete glimpse of mobile usage. Which handset sends the most email messages? Which sends the most links? Which sends the most text messages? Which logs the most internet access time by apps?

    I bet that BlackBerry, which is the #1 and #3 smart phone by sales, probably out ranks the iPhone by far on key uses. Heck, I bet the Sidekick probably beats out the iPhone for certain uses.

    For me, what makes the iPhone appealing is the multi-touch OS, Safari for iPhone, and internet apps. What makes the iPhone unappealing is AT&T (BlackBerry friends on AT&T suffer dropped calls, lost voice mails, slow email almost as much as iPhone complainers), and the software keypad.

    But I'm a smart phone user already (BlackBerry from corporate work), and so Matthew's point is valid: most of the world is using a non-smart phone and those people can be swayed to rival handsets and carriers for tons of reasons. Most customers buying their first smart phone are not obsessing about the apps. They're worried more about the basic phone features and the basic smart phone and camera phone features.

    85,000 apps is a lot of research for a first time buyer to find something you currently cannot live without.. that you're already living without.

  9. I sure am not counting Android out. In fact, I predict and hope that Android and the iPhone OS are the forerunners in this shifting mobile OS landscape. I really do not trust MSFT's corporate culture anymore. I believe they have long lost their way as a great company – neglected the consumer (screwed them even by killing Netscape, not updating IE after they killed Netscape until Mozilla managed to evolve). Worst of all, they neglected their shareholders. Android is part of Google and I like their innovative culture.

  10. true, the apps really do make the iphone worthwhile, for google to compete they would need to have a market place similar to itunes with 200,000,000+ proven buyers, that is what i find attractive about launching an iphone app, you are tapping into a market that has already proven that it’s willing to pay for iphone apps

  11. 2 things to think about – first, there are more than enough potential customers that either don’t have an iphone, don’t like their iPhone, or aren’t locked into their apps enough to not switch to make the platform a success.

    second, of the 85k apps, there are most likely only about 100 that are deal breakers. The rest of the list are either crap, dupes, or advertising masquerading as apps -(design and order a pizza -really?)

    And of the 100″ can’t live withouts”, even at this early stage there is either an Android version or suitable equivalents for 40 of them.

    The iPhone doesn’t have to be killed for Android to succeed, Apple lives quite nicely with their sub 10% of the computer market. And android will have a much larger share than that.

    We’ll see in 18 months what you’re using.

  12. Thank you.

    I realize people need to make the choices on what works best for them. For some people, that just might be a Blackberry. Others it might be the iPhone. But please don't count Android out. :)

    A good friend once asked me why I was using a particular piece of software to accomplish a particular task. I actually couldn't think of why I was using it over the alternatives other than “just because”. So I re-evaluated it and found something that was a better fit that actually had the features I needed. So, why do people use the platform they use? Is it because it is the shiniest one? Or do they have reasons like Scoble has listed for him? If so, good. I have my own as well for using Android.

  13. Who said anything about representative? I'm pretty sure Robert is not representative of the typical user either, but for different reasons.

    So automatically my opinion doesn't count? Would you say my wife's opinion doesn't count because she uses Linux too? (She knows nothing about the command line, couldn't install it herself — or Windows for that matter, but once it is set up she prefers it)

    Then you need to count out a lot of iPhone users I know, because they heavily use Linux as well and are system administrators and developers.

    I hope I didn't say anywhere in my post that just because someone uses a Mac, your opinion on this matter doesn't count. I was just sharing my opinion on how I prefer Android.

  14. “Anyone who says that half the apps are “ifart” apps might not know what they're talking about.”

    Or they're exagerating to underline their point. The problem with bundles of vaguely similar apps all selling for silly prices is that it makes it harder to find the great ones, and the “race to the bottom” of pricing might put developers off writing “substantial” apps because they know the plethora of cheap thrills will put people off paying full price for other apps.

    Imagine finding a needle in a haystack. Difficult right? – now if I give you 100 haystacks you might have a lot of needles but you also have a whole lot of hay to sort through to find them. And in both the case of the app store and my haystacks, you have to sort through the hay pretty carefully to find the needles.

    I love my iPhone, I like the app store, but it seems to me at times that by having an app store model and combining it with admission policies that allow “ifart” level apps through while doing things like rejecting some (but not all) dictionaries because they contain profanity (or in the context of a dictionary, are comprehensive works that actually do what they claim) Apple have actually managed to achieve the worst of both worlds.

  15. How about when 'Droid hardware gets fast enough and someone writes a wrapper/emulator for iPhone Objective C apps? I'm thinking of the old 3dfx 'Glide' wrapper or any of the many video game console emulators…all you really need is the will and enough CPU horsepower.

    I personally do not like Apple's walled garden or their heavy hand, but I'm in total agreement with Scoble on the apps – they are why I will have a very hard time leaving the iPhone for one of the sexy new 'Droid phones over the next year or two…

  16. Those 30 or so “important” apps are available on Android as well, or if they are important enough can easily be made available.

    1. But they AREN’T being made available and that’s the point! Are you going to do it? Well then who is?

  17. Right, the iPhone has a huge head start with apps. even tho Android will eventually offer equivalent versions of all the same popular apps, it will be a year behind until its installed base can catch up – and it's starting about 60 million units behind (counting the Touch too).

    not only does “app inertia” lock iPhone owners in, there is also the larger Mac ecosystem that surrounds it. certainly iTunes, maybe AppleTV and MobileMe (all Windows compatible). for Mac users there are also the iLife conveniences. once you have all this working – and it works good – starting over with another setup just doesn't make sense.

    should note there is also a Google “cloud” ecosystem. most of which works with the iPhone well (but not Voice). all of it should work great with Android. so if you are thoroughly Googled, Android will lock you in there.

  18. Just as a point of interest, in its last quarter Dell made $472 million profit. While that's not anywhere near as good as Apple, it's a long way from “the bottom”.

  19. Anybody who says that half the apps are iFart apps have no idea what they're talking about. These are typically scared fools who are belittling what they don't understand. Just take a look at the apps located at http://www.sunlightlabs.com/contests/appsforame… — this is a list of IMPORTANT apps which are focused on making us become more involved citizens. These apps can actually help us achieve a REAL democracy in America.

  20. Wrong. I loved my iPhone, had it for six months and had several apps I loved, but I dropped it in a heartbeat when my employer offered a crappy 8830 Blackberry at no cost.

    Bottom line, the apps are nice, but NONE of them are “lock-ins” that can be unlocked with better, cheaper, and/or faster tech.

  21. Diego Sana did´nt pay attention when Apple said to program web apps (or he was whining about how stupid it an idea that was ?)

  22. Love the Appfire link for discovery of new apps, although I see a lot of overlap with my own. I agree that I'm much more likely to switch networks (if given the option) then switch platforms. But there are plenty of non-iPhone users out there looking to upgrade that will seriously consider Android options, including those wishing to migrate from Windows Mobile or BlackBerry.

  23. Haha – Scobleizer you´re right. It´s like when the emperor Joseph II explains to Mozart that his new compossion has”…. too many notes” and Mozart replies “Which ones, majesty ?”

    Nice post by the way (I think you´re right)

  24. This was the same point I wanted to make. Firefox has had a great impact on the browser-world, but still hasn't overtaken the most convenient option (IE on PC/Safari on Mac) and is being followed by a much lighter option (Chrome).

    But you (Scoble) also note that apps aren't the only factor in the iPhone's success, which clearly has the exclusivity feel, the slick interface, and entirely coolness of it going for it, not to mention it doing stuff that people want, like phoning, browsing, listening to music, GPS, etc. Apps are in there somewhere, but they certainly aren't the first reason why people buy the phone.

  25. I believe that was the way Microsoft made its monopoly. I really don’t like Windows OS, in fact, I live thanks to so may problems with microsoft products. But even with all those issues, people are afraid to switch because they are used to windows applications. Big companies doesn’t switch because they invested millions in training, support contracts and licensing.
    I have about 15 paid applications, and I don’t plan to lose those because a new fancy phone.
    The different is that even before the App store, the iphone was already the best phone and it’s getting better and better every day (from my point of view, I respect those who prefer another brand). So even if other company came out with the same amount of applications, I will stay with the iPhone because they are the one that are changing all the industry.

    Even if half of that are crappy applications, the half of 85,000 is 42,500 applications, that way more that any other app store in the world. so if you excuse is that half of the applications are crappy ones, what about the other half? Please, just say you prefer other brands, or you are stuck with other phone, or you just never saw a real iphone in your life and that is ok, but don’t try to convince other people pick your choices.

  26. 1. Android phones will be sold for $100 UNLOCKED. How come? Well that's simply cause 25 manufacturers are making Android phones, and in fact it only costs $100 to manufacture one of these 3.5″ smartphones.

    2. You will never see real VOIP apps on the iphone cause Apple and AT&T and other iphone carriers around the world are corrupt and they hate VOIP. The carriers feel VOIP is their worse enemy. You won't even see fake VOIP apps like Google Voice on the iphone.

    Android will have real SIP, Skype and other real VOIP apps. Which means that with a $100 Android phone, no need to EVER pay for voice and sms.

    3. Android does multi-tasking which matters. You want your phone to ring on incoming VOIP calls you want it to do sounds on incoming IM, RSS, and any other pings and updates from any other number of really useful apps. The iphone does none of that cause it's just not made right.

    Finally, Sales of Android phones is accelerating. Iphone sales are definitely slowing.

    Next year iphone sales will be nill and Android will dominate.

  27. The same for me…To have and use an iPhone is a kind of luxury that a lot of people can benefit for; a kind of democratic luxury which allow time saving, stressless life…So why change ??

  28. Hmmm… Remember the PalmPilot? Apps and all? Didn’t get many users locked for very long, despite the fanatical following. Let’s be honest with ourselves: few of these apps are essential to us iPhone users (we were living well without them before, thank you) and we are all prone to new fads. I believe that the iPhone will not be displaced by another phone hoping to be better than Apple at this game, but rather by a new technology or a new paradigm. And I am ready to bet (reasonably) that this is not going to take that long. Let’s double check tomorrow. That’s in 5 years.

  29. Too true Scobes. I think folks who don’t use an iPhone don’t ‘get it’, about the Apps. Whatever big A did with the phones, these can be replicated (accelero, dynamic brightness, etc etc). It’s the APPS that gave ‘em a leg up big time, back when nobody was really looking.

  30. No. Web Apps suck. Just ask Pre users.

    Users want native Apps. Just ask Google – the number-one almighty web-app creator – who complained about Apple not yet approving its own native apps for the iPhone. How hypocritical and humiliating this has been for Google.

  31. Apple has sure delivered the results. It all depends on what “market” you are talking about.
    In the “smartphone” market, Apple is dominating and game-changing like no other phone before.
    As a niche player, Apple's iPhone has as MORE PROFIT as Nokia.

    Apple does NOT generally play the “market share” game. That game is played by bottom feeders like Nokia and Dell. Look where that has gotten them. Yes – to the bottom.

    Apple just makes THE BEST product with the HIGHEST profit. Those 91,000+ Apps are just one huge feature that makes the iPhone the best phone.

    The iPhone has certainly made an explosive entrance in the smartphone market. From Zero 2 years ago, it has completely overtaken Windows Mobile in marketshare.

    When taken together with the iPod Touch as the OS X Mobile Platform, the iPhone, with over 50-million sold, is the fastest selling mobile platform device. It is selling FASTER than the Nintendo DS.

    Despite being a small player, iPhone users take up much of the mobile internet activity – 50 + %. This certainly shows how other phones suck as internet devices. Despite the larger number of other devices that can access the internet, the user of those devices don't use their internet browser. Only on the iPhone is this useful.

    Apple may be a small player, but it certainly is the tail that wags the entire dog.

  32. IF they are not iFart apps, most apps are worthless copies of other apps. I can get an automatic system to make an iphone app for $5 on certain websites, a useless app that basically lists some random blogs RSS feed or something worthless like that. That should not count as an app, because in fact this app produces thousands of copy apps which are all basically one app.

  33. We can't just write the Iphone off as a walled garden and assume the Apps can't be used on other devices. We should be focusing on building better tools and processes for developers to port their apps from the Iphone to other devices and OS's. Over time we can slowly break down the walls.

  34. I agree that Apps are a lock-in but with the mobile web still in it's infancy eventually web apps will evolve to be available as a standard across all handsets surely!

  35. I like this article a lot Robert. I think your argument particularly holds for the type of people of who don't read tech blogs i.e. the majority of iphone owners.

    It is easier for geeks to say they would switch as soon as something “better” comes along on Android or whatever else because they are more willing to invest the time looking for an alternative to the apps they use on their iphone.

    Your argument particularly resonates with me because I like Chrome but cannot switch to it as my only browser because I love feedly on Firefox. Having said that over time, undoubtedly the most successful apps will increasingly be found on other mobile platforms. Shazam for instance is now pushing to be on as many platforms as it possibly can be.

    App lock in is certainly another reason why the rest of the mobile market is severely playing catch up and will be for a little while yet. What does go in the rest of the markets favour is that iphone users are really still early adopters in the smart phone market, there is a vast untapped mobile market worldwide that is yet to switch to smart phones. It those people that the other mobile manufacturers should be targeting not iphone users like you and me.

  36. Mobile strategy – iPhone should factor but certainly not dominate.

    Apple’s push into the mobile market has been interesting – some say a game change – they have certainly shaken the market up, but have they really delivered the results? If only they had sold as many devices as column inches that they have achieved.

    There seems to have been a global obsession with the iPhone. From the moment of first launch back in the summer of 2007 the iPhone has been headling, the fixation still continues today. Apple has yet again demonstrated that it is a remarkable media machine. The iPhone receives a disproportionate amount of attention from the media, mobile industry and businesses alike.

    Rather than being an explosive entrance the iPhone has seen a very steady growth to date and is likely to continue to do so. The iPhone today has very low single digit penetration in every market that it is sold. Since launch we believe that globally Apple has sold in the region of 34 million devices. If you are to factor in devices upgrades it could be safe to suggest that 2/3rd of those devices are active, or just over 20 million. In the UK that would mean less than 1 million active devices. Apple is a very small player.

    An interesting element is that iPhone users make up a high percentage volume of mobile Internet activity. A sign of where the market is going. The masses will become prolific users of mobile Internet services. A stimulant the increasing number of devices that provide simple access the mobile Internet and lower costs associated to mobile data consumption. The majority are unlikely to be iPhone users, they will be owners of devices from one of the top five handset manufacturers.

    Talk mobile to those looking to develop a mobile presence they all seem fixated with developing an iPhone application as a priority. This is equivalent to the Blackberry effect from three to four years ago. Despite the disproportional cost, those developing applications had to deliver Blackberry variants as a priority as that was the device the Executives typically used. The iPhone is a showcase opportunity, to demonstrate what can be done and gain engagement. It is not a mass market play. For those looking to develop a mobile strategy the iPhone should factor but certainly not dominate.


  37. The other lock-in, which got me from day one, is that the iPhone syncs perfectly with my iTunes library. Heck, I put up with the Motorola ROKR and RAZR with built-in iTunes until the iPhone came out.

    Also what a few people are missing here is that it’s not the number of apps that are available, it’s a huge combination of factors that go with that.

    For example, I have a significant amount of money invested in apps on the iPhone, switching platforms means re-investing in new apps…if they even exist.

    I’m always amazed at how often I’m thinking about something, and discovering that, yes, there is an app for that…and that’s often the solution to the issue at hand. A great example of this was when I was at a party and we were arguing about what we thought an object was in the night sky. The host of the party went to his computer, a couple of other people pulled out phones and started Googling, and I went to the app store and downloaded an app that showed what you could see in the sky based on your GPS location. I got the right answer first this way.

    With this many apps available, there are bound to be apps that may only be killer for a small subset of people, but sometimes all it takes is one.

  38. Actually, you can put more apps on your iPhone than the number viewable on the home screens. I currently have 308 apps on mine. I used to pick and choose and only load as many as I could see, but now that iTunes will allow you to arrange the order in which app icons appear on your home screens as well as letting you use Spotlight searching on your iPhone to find the hidden apps that didn't make the cut on one of your home screens. With the 3G, there seemed to be a performance hit if I kept a bunch of apps installed. With my 3GS, I have all 308 apps installed and the only performance difference is when it comes time to restart my phone.

  39. I think you are perfectly correct, but that the situation is slightly more complicated than you think.

    First, iPhone has by no means tapped into the entire potential of the market, the majority of people out there are not locked in by apps, and will be happy to try one of the many android-powered devices coming out.

    Second, the apps is exactly why I, beeing a developer, believe android will be a long-run win. I can’t wait to stop working on iPhone apps, I and know many iPhone app developers that feel the same way. Frankly, Apple are douchebags to us developers. The development tools for iPhone are a joke compared to what google offers for Android (I know, beacause I’ve built apps for both). Objective-c is more cumbersome and error-prone than java that Android uses, meaning shorter development time on Android and in effect lower cost to market. The list goes on.

    What it comes down to is what you are saying in your article – whether it’s too late or not. iPhone is not gonna go away, and I think we’ll see som healthy competition for a good while. But there is plenty of space for more modern phones on the market, and several major manufacturers are switching to Android.

  40. I wonder how many of the people arguing against this point are among the same group who used to say Macs sucked because they didn't have any good apps?

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