Can the iPhone change the face of the U.S. mobile-phone industry?

Can the iPhone change the face of the U.S. mobile-phone industry?The iPhone is far from perfect, but it has potential to change the U.S. mobile-phone market unlike any smart phone/PDA/cell phone I’ve used.

Whether you like the iPhone or not isn’t important. What Apple has done is succeed in wresting an unprecedented amount of control from a carrier — in this case AT&T — in designing the device, determining its applications and mindset of use, and how to price the phone and service. At a minimum, the iPhone could impact future design for all phone manufacturers as they offer more features and functions — and a new platform — based on the way people are living their digital lives. At the extreme, the iPhone could inch the powerful carriers in the U.S. mobile-phone industry to update their 1980s business models, sort of like what the iPod is doing to the music industry.

Apple, Nokia, and Google are already working toward breaking down barriers.

For now we accept what the carriers give us, at least in the U.S. And yet we live in a time of personalization, individualization, and niche. The carriers’ answers to these are a choice of phone colors, low-end to high-end models based solely on features and functions, and flair. At least Nike lets me design my own shoes.

Isn’t it time the carriers give us phones designed with today’s interactive lifestyle in mind, not the passive world we’ve just come from? Camera phones and built-in mp3 players are nice, but they are baby steps. Smart phones and Blackberries add capability, but these are far too business-y for average consumers. Using a Blackberry is like putting on a white shirt and tie. Using an iPhone, well, that’s like wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt.

So before I get to a here’s-how-the-iPhone-can-be-improved wish list, let’s take a look at what future phones might be based on our activities and new processes and platforms, not solely on features and functions.

The Content Phone

As much maligned as the iPhone’s Notes application is, I wrote the first draft of this post on the phone. I emailed it to myself, and picked it up here, in a word processor, for editing. Robert Bernocco even wrote a 384-page science fiction novel from his Nokia 6630 cell phone.

Note to carriers: There are people, from professionals to amateurs, who create content when mobile and don’t want to fire up what has become the cumbersome laptop to do so. Give us an enhanced keyboard (real or virtual), a robust notes program, a quality display, and tailor other features and functions with the creator in mind.

The Visual Phone

Of course content comes in many flavors. The visual phone is skewed toward visual creator and artists. It has a quality still camera, video, and mic, and might have minor editing features. More importantly, the phone is dedicated to getting your content where it needs to go easily — a computer for editing or an online site like flickr and YouTube for sharing.

The Audio Phone

Maybe you are a podcaster, a journalist, or a musician. This phone includes a quality internal and omnidirectional mic, with appropriate inputs and outputs, for you to record a solo podcast, or to interview others. When done, you use basic editing tools and upload your creation to your blog and the iTunes Music Store and other podcast directories. Perhaps the audio phone even includes a mixer, like a mini Garage Band, so musicians can capture ideas quickly and conveniently.

The Social Phone

Note to carriers: Face it, we are not just passive, voice-driven customers anymore. The kids and all their texting should be proof enough. We, as a society, are interactive and connecting in multiple ways and our phones should allow for new processes and platforms — phones, after all, are communication devices that we love/hate and cannot live without.

Yet the carriers rely on third-party developers, whether native applications or Web 2.0 “mini apps”, to (barely, if at all) connect us with our MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce, LiveJournal, WordPress, and Blogger accounts, among others. Why not build in social capability? It’s the way we live now.

The Wish List

I could go on — a phone for gamers and one dedicated to travelers needing GPS or geo-location services. But as one engineer told me recently, nothing is going to change until carriers and manufacturers stop viewing the cell phone as a phone. Funny, but Apple seems to be positioning the iPhone as a lifestyle device and, by the way, it’s also a phone.

For now people are solely focusing on improved features and functions. Some suggestions include (from AppleBlog, Engadget, Zoom In, among others):

  • GPS
  • Flash capability
  • Sync-able Notes
  • Cut, copy, and paste capability
  • Push mail (like Blackberry)
  • A memory slot
  • A to do list
  • Video camera and video out
  • Over the air downloads from the iTMS
  • Custom ringtones
  • Terminal client
  • Disk use

No doubt it will be interesting to see where Apple takes the iPhone next and if it falls into the smart phone feature-for-feature trap. It will also be worth following how other phone manufacturers respond and what new platforms are developed. The iPhone opened the door of opportunity. Now it’s time to break the mold.

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

8 Responses to “Can the iPhone change the face of the U.S. mobile-phone industry?”

  1. Noah Everett says:

    I think it has already started to change the industry.

  2. oneup says:

    I think not..Apple has only been so sucessful lately is becoz of the media press they gotten for their product..there are tons and tons of products out there that is way bettern than what Iphone has to a BIG NO!!

  3. David Mackey says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with your post – the iPhone has started a revolution….as have so many other Apple products. It is a magical hubris that Apple has surrounding it. For how much longer it will last, I don’t know – but for the time being we as consumers should bask in the light of its progress.

  4. jackie says:

    Maybe you are right! Apple has so many supporters around the world. From its sales view iphone had changed the industry. Is it not?

  5. Steve says:

    maybe something will come along and bring this all together. who knows, it could even be the 2nd gen iphone.


  6. James says:

    It already has changed the mobile “smart phone” phone industry.

    “I think not..Apple has only been so sucessful lately is becoz of the media press they gotten for their product..there are tons and tons of products out there that is way bettern than what Iphone has to a BIG NO!!” oneup

    Please tell me which smart-phone gets real internet pages?

  7. Lolita says:

    Critics have bashed Apple for omitting Adobe Flash support from the iPhone’s real life Safari browser and with good reason.

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