The iPhone 5 is the best mobile phone ever made, in my opinion. And the iOS platform has the best mobile apps.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t add up to the best phone experience anymore.
What Apple lacks is the best experience with using Internet-based services. And Apple will fall much further behind on June 26.
Here’s what Apple needs to change in order to offer the best overall mobile phone experience.
How the smartphone market has changed since 2007
I’ve used nothing but Apple iPhones for the past five years and I’ve bought every new iPhone Apple shipped. I even stood in line for a couple of them.
Android fanboys are always pestering me to try an Android phone. When I did, I couldn’t stand the user interface or the available handsets.
In the past few months, however, the Android handset makers have been stepping up their game.
Meanwhile, the best Android user interface out there is the one made by Google.
The Android world is producing great designs, great feature sets and great platforms.
However, these three attributes never appear on the same device.
The Galaxy S4 has the best feature set of the Android phones, including one of the only cameras that comes close to the iPhone’s in picture quality, at least in bright light. In fact, it’s hard to think of any technology or sensor ever put into any handset that isn’t in the S4. But the plastic handset design is fugly as hell.
The HTC One has a beautiful handset design and materials — it looks like an Apple phone in an alternative universe in which Apple made phones to look like MacBooks. But the camera isn’t as nearly as good as the iPhone’s in bright light.
The Nexus 4, which is made by LG and sold by Google, has the best Android user interface because it’s Google-designed and therefore Google-centric. The distance between the user and making things happen with Google Now is almost non-existent, as is the distance between one Google service and another. One shocking example: swipe your thumb from the bottom of the screen and up one inch, say “Google: Navigate home” and you’re getting Google Maps turn-by-turn directions in about two seconds after your thumb started moving. Plus, the Nexus costs only $300 unlocked. Unfortunately, the Nexus has a crappy camera and less-than-best components all-around.
Of these three Android phones, the worst phone handset gives the best experience because the user interface is optimized to access Google’s killer Internet-based services rapidly, including Google Now, Google Search, Google Maps, Gmail, Google+, YouTube, Google Drive and all the other usual Google suspects.
Note that Google’s version of all these services are significantly better than Apple’s alternatives, except for the social network and video service which Apple doesn’t have.
Yes, you can use all things on Apple, but the integration with the phone and with each other is far higher on the Nexus.
Of course, some Apple fanboys will want me shot for treason. I would have agreed with you a month ago. But I’ve been using the Nexus 4 as an experiment for the past three weeks, and I can tell you as an iPhone loving fanboy that the Nexus was something of a thrill to use because of the integration of Google apps — especially Google Now.
Here’s the event that changes everything: On June 26, Google will start selling an unlocked “Google Edition” of the Samsung Galaxy S4 on the Play Store for the same price as an unlocked iPhone: $649.
This phone will be plastic and ugly and, as an Android device, offer an inferior user interface and App Store. But it will provide a much better overall user experience because of the integration with and of Google services. (A “Google Edition” of the HTC One is rumored.)
This is the new reality that Apple must come to grips with: The days when Apple had the only great hardware and App Store are over. And the days when hardware and apps determined the overall user experience more than services are also over.
Apple has got to step up its game around making the iPhone a better delivery mechanism for the Internet’s best services.
Specifically, here’s what Apple should do:
1. Partner with Google again.
The only winning move in a thermonuclear war is not to play, according to the 1983 Matthew Broderick movie, “War Games.”
Yes, Apple is still mad that Google got into the mobile platform racket. But if Apple is more committed to loving users than hating Google, the company will re-embrace Google in a big way. For starters, integrate more Google services into Siri, bundle YouTube and Google Maps again out of the box and give Google+ equal billing with Facebook and Twitter in integrated social sharing features.
In general, Apple should be focusing on how to get more Google in iPhones, rather than working on how to keep Google out.
2. Improve Siri faster.
Siri is falling way behind Google Now, especially in the areas of service integration, voice-initiation, raw performance and agent-initiated information delivery.
If Apple forces users to choose between the best agent experience and Apple, many will choose the former.
3. Fix iCloud.
Apple’s iCloud has too many problems and outages and is far harder for ordinary users than services like Dropbox or Drive.
Yes, I know iCloud isn’t just a simple cloud storage and sharing service. But if Apple can’t make it more reliable and easier to use, then they would be better off simply offering the storage and sharing.
4. Get a social network.
We’re entering an age of universal social sharing, cloud computing, integrated services and wearable computing. The secret sauce of these trends is the all-purpose social network that provides identity, platform and service integration. The all-purpose social network is the future and Apple doesn’t have one.
Yahoo bought Tumblr and is integrating Flickr. Google is integrating everything into Google+. Facebook is getting aggressive with expanding that service as the do-everything platform.
Apple is the only major Silicon Valley company without a social network.
The iPhone as a service
Apple making the best phone and offering the best App Store won’t save the company from the coming age of mobile services. It’s like having the best theater seating and the best projector but no speakers as “talkies” come into vogue.
Apple has got to focus more on providing iPhone users with access to the Internet’s best services. If they don’t, Apple will not be able to provide users with the best phone experience.