Another 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!
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.