How to Make An iPhone Killer -- The Dragonball Z Way
Everybody wants to make an iPhone killer. Companies are coming out of the woodwork to fashion their own Android-based phone. Hewlett Packard paid a billion dollars to buy Palm for its mobile operating system. Microsoft is betting the farm on its own variety of mobile operating systems.
But no matter how sophisticated the smartphone market gets, no matter how much more market share the Android operating system attains, there's no single phone manufacturer likely to supplant Apple from the gross numbers of devices sold that run its iOS operating system.
And that's all the phone manufacturers care about. Motorola, Nokia, Sony Erickson, Palm, RIM (Blackberry), Samsung -- they all want to be where Apple is. That's why they all keep announcing their own versions of iPhone killers.
All this in-fighting reminds me of Dragonball Z.
Now, I must admit right up front that I'm not a Dragonball Z fan. I don't even know that much about Dragonball Z. But what I do know about Dragonball Z applies directly to these smartphone wars we're experiencing.
About 10 years ago, Dragonball Z was a fixture on Cartoon Network's Toonami block of programming. I would come home from work and my wife would be glued to the Toonami programming day after day, following the adventures of these little homunculus guys in search of balls. All I could figure out was that these guys constantly challenged each other to fights in order to gain the privilege of fighting somebody even bigger. The show was about that and, of course, balls.
Here, as I could see it, was the typical story arc:
Episode 1: A villain challenges one of the homunculus guys to a fight. The homunculus loses.
Episode 2: Another one of the homunculuses challenges the villain to a fight. The homunculus loses.
Episodes 3-12: See Episode 2.
Episode 13: The beaten homunculuses all decide it's stupid to fight the villain alone and team up to fight the villain. The villain loses and the homunculuses gather another ball.
I know that's probably simplifying the series all out of proportion, but that's basically the way I saw it. After a few months, I started wondering aloud why the homunculuses didn't all just get together in episode 1, but that's like asking why they didn't have more guards at the Watergate Hotel at the beginning of the movie All The President's Men. It wouldn't have made for a very long movie.
But the comparison between this Dragonball Z arc and the current smartphone wars is apt. Each of the cellphone manufacturers is acting like a Dragonball Z character -- talking big, but with little to show for all that talk. Most of them rely on the crutch of a free operating system to hold down expenses, but are saddled with a committee mentality when deciding how to use the materials they have at hand.
They're not interested in just beating Apple -- they want to beat everyone else as well. So when they finally bring out their great, new mobile handset, it gets talked about for a month, then immediately forgotten once a competitor brings out their own version of an iPhone killer the next month.
This market cannibalization even occurs within the same company. Remember that Motorola's original Droid phone was briefly the best-selling new smartphone when it was introduced in November 2009? That's less than a year ago. With more than a million Droids in the wild, that original device is already obsolete. Motorola has since brought out two more versions, the Droid X and the Droid 2, relegating the original to the scrap heap.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but all of these phones require a two-year contract with a carrier. With a new Android phone coming out every month, and new phones soon coming that run Palm's webOS and Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, aren't we becoming inundated with smartphones? The tech pundits fawn over every new iPhone competitor that comes along, but most of us don't have our employer buying every new smartphone that comes along.
So the iPhone competitors are following in lockstep with the classic Dragonball Z arc that I've outlined. Thus, the only way for them to come out with a true iPhone killer -- a mobile device that will truly beat Apple's iPhone in every category -- is to stop fighting each other and join together.
That's right. Create a smartphone consortium like Europe's Airbus. Decide on a single operating system. Get the exclusive on a super-sharp touchscreen. Put cameras in the front and back. Make app development simple and profitable. Make the hardware upgradeable. Create a universal port that feeds to USB, Firewire, HDMI and a format to be named later. Add GPS, gyroscopes, motion senors and proximity detectors.
But those features only bring the device to parity with the iPhone. This new consortium is going to have to do a lot more.
- Give the user a configurable dashboard on the initial screen so they can get at-a-glance access to the information they don't want to dig for. For some people, it's the weather forecast, for others it's the latest tweets or stock quotes or bus schedules.
- Don't let the carriers place a lot of self-serving crapware on the device. Keep the user interface consistent.
- Give the devices plenty of memory, but also include plenty of cloud storage as well.
- Do deals with everybody, not just the four wireless phone carriers. Bring out Skype phones, XBox 360 phones, PS3 phones, Tivo phones, Comcast phones, Starbucks phones.
- Make phones of widely varying sizes. Clip-on, voice-activated phones are going to be bigger than you can ever imagine.
We're just in Episode 4 of this story arc. There's a lot of heartache for the iPhone competitors if they maintain this track. Can they fast-forward to Episode 13? Can they find the balls?
Disclaimer: I admit it. My wife owns quite a few shares in Apple stock. So why am I giving advice to the enemy? Just stupid, I guess.