Here’s an early review of the iPhone. I’m not actually a fan of the iPod though it’s amazing how large its market share is in a market in which it doesn’t have many strong natural monopoly advantages – just ‘first mover’ advantages. It doesn’t record radio so I buy other machines (which are less easy to use).
I’m in no hurry to buy an iPhone either. Still I read the review with relish. And it’s remarkable to think what an amazing guy this Steve Jobs is. A bit like John Maynard Keynes really, who managed world influencing things three times in his life. Keynes has the Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919), The General Theory (1936) and the management of the English war economy through to his influence over post war reconstruction from 1943 till his death in 1946.
Jobs has the Apple II, the Mac, the iPod and perhaps the iPhone which if the review is correct is on a par with these achievements.
But to look at the iPhone as a laundry list of features and bugs is to miss the point (though if you did, the former would commandingly outweigh the latter). The iPhone isn’t just the gadget du jour, it’s a fresh new platform, an exceptionally powerful mobile computer that’s still in its infancy. There’s a full version of Apple’s desktop operating system in there. The Palm and the Treo, et al., were merely harbingers of the era of true walk-around mobile computing that Jobs has just inaugurated. Hail to the chief.
Apple and its partners are just beginning to figure out how to develop for this thing. Look at the iPods of five years ago. That monochrome interface! That clunky moving touchwheel! They look like something a caveman whittled out of a piece of flint using another piece of flint. Now imagine something that’s going to make the iPhone look like that. You’ll have one in a few years, and it’ll be cheaper, too. If you’re not ready to think different, then think ahead.
And (though I know the analogy I’ve made above is a little ridiculous) allow me one other indulgence. One of the themes of these achievements of Jobs relates to a little obsession of mine that Troppodillians may be familiar with. I think we routinely underestimate the value of (qualitative) feedback between economic agents. Well three of Job’s great leaps forward (and most obviously his second and greatest leap – the Mac and his realisation of the power of the graphical user interface) excel not in the way in which they directly do what something else before has not done – but in terms of the way in which they relate to the user. He is an innovator of systems and of interfaces between agents – more particularly between us people and our machines.
Further, I guess many producers of goods and services like the idea of ‘insanely great products’. I guess the folks at Mercedes and BMW think that way. Maybe they always did. But Jobs’ great good fortune (and ours) was that he was born at a time not only of sharply rising affluence, and so preparedness to pay for insanely great products, but also at a time when making something insanely great need not cost more than making it OK (did someone mention Microsoft?).
Of course Macs do cost more than PCs and iPhones cost more than your average phone right now. That’s partly because our friend Steve is taking his cut – because he can. But at least in the case of the Mac this strategy of charging a hefty premium for good design was a mistake – a mistake that Jobs may well not have persevered with had he remained at Apple (but who knows).
My point is that Steve’s genius and the grand talent of his hirelings will be amortised in no time and so in a few years sold back to us for the near zero marginal cost it takes the company to roll out another copy.