Let’s face it: the iPhone is a single product monopoly floating above a sea of flailing and drowning competitors. Nothing about that statement makes any sense. Yet every word of it is absolutely true. One product cannot be a monopoly amid a multitude of competitors. Yet no iPhone competitor has anything approaching the iPhone’s mindshare and profit-share.
The iPhone 6 was the clear winner in the smartphone race this cycle. And the 6s/6s+ are stacking up to be even more dominant than their predecessors. Here’s how the usual Android suspects are dealing with the onslaught:
The iPhone’s weakness is a competitive opportunity, even if that weakness is only perceived. When the iPhone 6+ was first introduced, the manufactured scandal was all about the durability of the phone. In particular, there was a lot of noise about the larger phones being particularly susceptible to bending.
While a few bent phones were produced, most phones can bend under similar pressure that produced bent iPhones. It didn’t matter. Competitors from LG to Blackberry quickly started taking potshots. Naturally, Samsung joined in the schadenfreude.
But it is never enough to simply point out a competitor’s weakness. Since that time, Apple has strengthened the aluminum they use, and shored up the weakest spot on the phone. Competitors talked while Apple improved.
Apple’s latest invention is a retractable motorized iPhone screen protector. It will activate when a drop is detected. Until this becomes a standard issue, the best iPhone 6 screen protector is one of those highly durable, easy to install tempered glass overlays. Apple is clearly targeting durability as a premium feature with their 7000 series aluminum and magic screen shield.
The competitor to watch in this space is Motorola. They are rumored to be working on a set of Droids with unbreakable screens. That would be something to brag about.
The iPhone 5s crashed through the status quo with Touch ID. In the usual pattern, the fingerprint reader was mocked, then covered with FUD, before finally being copied badly, then well. Now, a smartphone competing at the high end is DOA if it shows up without one. Furthermore, it has to function exactly the way Touch ID does, or be considered inferior.
Fortunately for Android users, the fingerprint company that Samsung didn’t buy, is providing Touch ID-style fingerprint readers for all the manufacturers. That means they can come close enough to what Apple is doing to counter the biometric advantage.
But what’s need is for an Android manufacturer to come up with something better. Microsoft is throwing everything at the wall, including face recognition: a technology already tried and abandoned by Android phone makers. We are still waiting for the next big thing in biometrics. It can’t just be a better fingerprint reader.
Greater than 6
Catching up with the iPhone 6 is irrelevant. The iPhone 6s is already out, and making a stir in its own rights. 3D Touch is the new, marquee feature that will change the way we all interact with smartphones. I say, “we all” because Android manufacturers are sure to create their own version as soon as possible.
In fact, Samsung (the fastest follower) is already working on it. eWeek reports that such a feature might be coming for the Galaxy S7. Others are sure to be close behind.
But Android’s competitive problem isn’t the 6 or 6s. It’s the 7 and beyond. Reactionary updates are not the way to win mindshare in the tech world. Android makers have to look beyond the 6, and start competing with the 7 and higher.
The winner of the smartphone race is not the one that catches up with Apple. It’s the one that leapfrogs Apple. The world needs to be talking about the innovative feature on the next Android phone. You know, the feature that Apple will spend three years trying to copy.
It hurts Android when OEMs slavishly copy Apple’s design language and feature set. It reinforces that the only smartphone that matters is the iPhone. To truly compete with the iPhone, it has to be something that is in no way an iPhone. It’s time for Android OEMs to step up.