The Best Thing About iPhone Is the Stuff Apple Doesn’t Make

The Best Thing About iPhone Is the Stuff Apple Doesn’t MakeAnother year, another iPhone. Since 2007, Apple has been churning these gadgets out like it’s a bodily function. Each iPhone is undeniably better than the last, although sometimes not in every respect.

iPhone fans always say it’s the best phone because it has the best overall user experience, best out-of-box experience, best industrial design, best selection of apps and a few other things perceived as being “best.”

But the iPhone itself is not the best thing about the iPhone platform. It’s the universe of crazy customization and expansion products that support the iPhone. 

iPhone haters say iPhones are copycat also-ran devices, underpowered and under-spec’d, non-innovative and locked down, controlled and limited by Apple’s stifling requirements for usage — and that the people who buy them are mindless “sheeple,” unable to distinguish between marketing hype and reality.

When each new iPhone comes out, there’s an awkward period in the iPhone- and Apple-hating community where a bitter pill must be swallowed. Actually, the iPhone has the best camera. It’s nearly the thinnest smart-phone. It out-performs Android phones on independent performance tests. We’re in that space right now with the iPhone 5.

It never lasts.

Within weeks or months of each new iPhone launch, the Korean companies save the day, and come roaring in with Android phones boasting blazing new specs. Faster processors, more megapixels in the camera, massively bigger screens and cool new features.

The argument never ends.

This strained and bitter argument cannot be resolved because the specs are always changing and, more importantly, the ranking of criteria varies by customer personality. For some people, industrial design, fit-and-finish and high quality materials are all that matters; for others, these things don’t matter at all.

The truth is that Android phones, and even some non-Android smartphones, are comparable to and competitive with the iPhone as a phone, as a mobile computer and as an Internet device.

Android even gets within shooting distance of the iPhone in terms of the variety and quality of apps.

But there’s one thing about the iPhone experience that no other phone — in fact no other mobile product of any kind — can touch.

Why the iPhone Is So Fun to Own

The great thing about the iPhone is all the crazy fun customization and expansion products that third-party companies come up with.

It means that to buy an iPhone is to open yourself up to a world of serendipitous possibilities.

This quality, by the way, was probably accidental on the part of Apple. They haven’t worked very hard to make the iPhone customizable or expandable. But the iPhone invites customization by virtue of its market leadership.

While Android unit sales dwarf iPhone sales internationally, those Android installations are divided among dozens or hundreds of individual handset models, coming in all shapes and sizes. Android is bigger than iPhone only from an operating system standpoint. From a handset perspective, iPhone rules without challenge.

More to the point, in the lucrative, first-world, high-end, big bucks, deep-pocket markets like the United States, Europe and Japan, the iPhone handset du jour is always unrivaled among individual handset models.

So if you’re going to bet your small phone customization or expansion company on a phone platform, iPhone is by far the best bet.

As a result, nearly all the really loopy, goofy, awesome, unexpected and insane customization and accessorization schemes support the iPhone and not Android or other phones.

And that’s what make the iPhone so fun to own.

Let’s start with cases.

The original, plastic-backed iPhones were slippery — like handling a bar of soap. The iPhone 4 and 4S were also slippery and fragile. The iPhone 5’s aluminum backing scratches if you even look at it the wrong way.

iPhones need cases. And because of the dominance of the iPhone handset form-factor, the “cases industry” is almost totally about iPhones.

Yes, I know that major-brand Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S III have a large selection of cases.

But the selection for iPhones is crazy. Wooden cases, rugged cases, waterproof cases, multi-purpose cases, fabric cases, extended-battery or solar cases, wallet cases – even a case that doubles as a 650k volt stun gun.

One new case, called the Sensus iPhone case adds capacitive touch to the back of the iPhone!

Another case called the iBike adds software and a mount to transform the iPhone into a bike computer. (The only downside to the iBike is that it means you can’t use your iPhone as a bike light.)

Cases are just the beginning of iPhone aftermarket customization. The iPhone platform offers unbelievable variety in add-on lenses, remote-control scenarios, toys (including flying toys), audio docks, gaming controllers and hardware, microphones and the list goes on and on.

Kickstarter, the crowd-funding site, is a wonderland of iPhone customization and expansion ideas, including for example the gTar iPhone guitar, or the Helios telepresence robot.

The bottom line is that not only is the iPhone the only phone platform that lends itself to so many customization opportunities, it’s the only mobile product of any kind that offers this level of fun customization.

Apple set out to create a totally unique phone. And they succeeded to some degree. But many of the qualities of the iPhone itself can be duplicated — the multi-touch interface, the app store, the size and weight, the fit and finish.

That’s why it’s ironic that the most unique and best thing about the iPhone is not what Apple designed and created, but what third-party after-market customization and expansion companies have created.

The joy and promise and excitement about the iPhone is really all about customization and expansion stuff.

Related
  • jspinell

    This is a wonderful article, and definitely a refreshing read amidst all the usual arguments for or against this device or that. It’s nice to explore one of the other aspects of tech.

    I will say, however, that I think Apple put at least some degree of effort into this aspect of their product when they updated iOS 3 and beyond to allow accessories to communicate with and control the iPhone/iPod Touch. I do agree though that the magic of it all, just as in the case with App Store, lies in the hard working individuals who create such awesome gadgets.

  • wesleyvercammen

    I wil read this article as soon as i have time…

  • rlowe

    Wow this guitar looks really badass.

  • cultofubuntu

    A very misleading and typical fan-boyish article. With iPhone 5 Apple has introduced a new connector which doesn’t do anything new (in fact does less things) and it makes all those accessories and connectors in your cars and equipments useless. The proprietary connector which won’t work with 3rd party connectors have made all those accessories useless. Why you did not point out that fact and are misleading readers?

  • markrlangston

    A wonderful and intelligently crafted article. And although Apple just hit the reset button on the entire industry with the lightning connector that won’t stop the inventive spirit of the case and connector industry. They’ll find new and exciting ways to utilize the connector and the new form factor.

    And thanks to Bluetooth and AirPlay the Apple connector has become less necessary than ever before.

  • Bob Smogango

    I don’t know of ANY legitimate, well trained professional guitar player that would actually buy this thing.. This should be classified as one of those “Made for those that don’t want to do the work necessary to learn” products. Personally, I think it is kind of a joke product and I don’t think it will have a long term success in the field of educational tools for the budding guitar player. Same thing with Guitar Hero. That’s just a stupid game for kids that just want to ACT like they can play, when they really can’t.

  • Bob Smogango

    Cool products? I think the Zooka is kind of a cool product. Inexpensive way to add better speakers to an iphone, iPad, iPod (w/BlueTooth), laptop, or even a desktop.

  • christophirefl

    I don’t know of ANY legitimate, well trained professional guitar player that would actually buy this thing.. This should be classified as one of those “Made for those that don’t want to do the work necessary to learn” products. Personally, I think it is kind of a joke product and I don’t think it will have a long term success in the field of educational tools for the budding guitar player. Same thing with Guitar Hero. That’s just a stupid game for kids that just want to ACT like they can play, when they really can’t.

    You’ll be surprised. Jordan Rudess the keyboardist for Dream Theater uses an iPhone an other iDevices live on the stage. Now would you call him lazy. Like the article says: It is not the product per se, it’s the cleaver use some cleaver musicians and other creative folks give it. And that Rudess is indeed as his nickname says, a keyboard wizard.

  • imnu

    The new connection might well mean that the number of 3rd party devices will decline. Most firms will struggle (financially) to make 2 different versions of devices, supporting connections for both old and new devices. I guess that it is likely that the licencing fees for connectors will be too high for them to include in the packages. Lets not forget that not only might one need a backward compatible connector, old i-device owners will need a forward compatible connector.

    I suspect that many of the audio/video streaming type devices will still pay for the right to call themselves “iphone compatible” but will turn to bluetooth and then also stress the ability to support other platforms.

  • Paul Burt

    A very misleading and typical fan-boyish article. With iPhone 5 Apple has introduced a new connector which doesn’t do anything new (in fact does less things) and it makes all those accessories and connectors in your cars and equipments useless. The proprietary connector which won’t work with 3rd party connectors have made all those accessories useless. Why you did not point out that fact and are misleading readers?

    A very misleading and typical fanboy-ish comment.

    We don’t know the full capabilities of Lightning yet. Apple is bringing more accessories out in the next couple months that have the same functionality as the ones available for 30-pin devices. The Lightning-to-30pin adapter is supposed to restore most, if not all, functionality that the plethora of 30-pin equipment provides. We won’t even know for sure until third parties start pumping out Lightning compatible accessories. Why are you misleading commenters with ill-informed facts?

  • csman

    “In addition to iphone, the Helios will also work with Android and Windows Mobile phones, as there is no hard connection…”

    The point being most of the products you mention are made for iphone only for PROFITABILITY purposes, not because the platform is so awesome that anything can be integrated.

    For real integration of a computer system into real life, look at QNX. And yes, there is a platform based on QNX that is being created and will bring real integration with the productive things we do.

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Mike ElganMike Elgan writes about technology and culture for a wide variety of publications. Follow Mike on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

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