Despite the flashy camera bundle and waterproof design, the new iPhone 7 is disappointing as it lacks any real innovation to make it a smarter and a more capable tool for daily tasks. I don’t necessarily expect the Tenth Anniversary iPhone 8 to be any different in this regard, because the direction of innovation has been missing the real need: hardware innovation has plateaued in its consumer value while software innovation has been seriously lacking.
The new designs with faster processors, longer battery life and other features are the state-of-the-art, but they don’t amount to much help for the consumers to move beyond the basic tasks on the iPhone. The fault is not just with Apple as the entire industry including the app makers are missing innovative new solutions.
Hardware innovation has plateaued in its consumer value while software innovation has been seriously lacking
We need new tools and platforms, including new OS, which makes the smartphone significantly smarter and easier to use, and empower the users to get everyday tasks done quickly. A bigger camera, a new color, slightly bigger size, curved corners, etc. are just not going to cut it.
The Problems is that the over the last ten years the smartphone has not evolved meaningfully from its initial function. The main use cases of entertainment, content, communication, and retail (that were already available on laptops and tablets) became much more convenient and accessible by the smartphone. This was a major development but unfortunately, smartphones didn’t move much beyond that, while consumers are now hungry for much more capable tools. The first new functionality was mobile pay but beyond that, with some notable exceptions, few applications have emerged that let consumers use their mobile phone in a new way to get things done. Applications that allow you to control household devices were the first group that showed some promise. Smartphones have also been proven very useful in areas like ordering transportation and finding your route, thanks to their mobility. Now it’s time to move beyond these few functions and expand the use of smartphones into every other area of our daily life, at home and work. In fact, the majority of time spent on smartphones, over 60%, is still on content and entertainment, and the rest is mostly on communication. Smartphone are not being used as smart devices by the masses, yet. They are just smaller and fancier computers, with better apps which take advantage of the smartphones mobility.
Smartphone are not being used as smart devices by the masses, yet.
But it doesn’t have to be this way as the hardware is highly capable with many built-in sensors and yet it is not being used to its potential capacity. With the massive processing power and advanced features in today’s smartphones, surely we should be able to do more than send text and read Facebook posts. Furthermore, the smartphones have massive amount of information about us, our activities and preferences, and yet very little of this is used to help us get things done. This points to a huge opportunity in the next 10 years, but first, let’s look at where the problem lies. iOS 10: Little new since iOS1 If you look back to the original iOS, little has changed in a fundamental way that makes the phone easier to use. With the notable exception of Siri, everything else has been incremental. Just take a look at the original iOS 1 and the latest iOS 10. If you look at the evolution of iOS versions, the vast majority of changes were only improvements to the functionality of an existing feature. Granted these improvements were cumulatively significant and made the iPhone more useful, but for the same initial tasks. Taking photos has become significantly better experience now, but it is still taking photos. Texting has improved massively, as now you can text anyone, and send them pictures, videos, emoji, etc., but it is still texting. You can now make in-app purchases; Spotlight search is better; there is control center and you can do copy and paste. None of these features were there in iOS 1, but they haven’t changed what we can do with iPhone, they only made what we could already do faster and better. If you take a look at the full feature list of iOS version, and remove all the incremental changes, you are left with and incredibly small list of new capabilities (see chart below)
In the past 10 years, there has been a total of only seven new functionalities added to iOS/iPhone
Basically in the past nearly 10 years, there has been a total of only seven new functionalities added to iOS/iPhone, of which only two, Siri and Apple Pay, have had a meaningful impact. So what are some of the innovations that can meaningfully change the iPhone for consumers, making it a truly smart device? Here is my wish list, an incomplete one, but an attempt to get this discussion going. iPhone Wish List None. Current hardware is more than sufficient for now. Please work on the other areas noted below.
iOS Wish List The entire interface needs to be changed with something that makes app use and discovery much easier. In fact, it should be task based, not even app–based. We also need a significantly better app management system that eliminates the many screens that we have now.
The Smartphone is not just a computer for us any more, it is our everyday tool, has sensors and it can interact with us. It can remember what we do and learn from those. iOS needs to take advantage of all of these and become highly personalized, making iPhone a device that knows me and what I need. Siri needs to play a crucial role in all these changes. While Siri has improved and is now marginally useful, it is still used only by a fraction of people and even they use it minimally (70% of users use Siri only sometimes or rarely). Siri needs to not only be improved in its understanding of user commands, but also be integrated with the apps (a small step on this is coming in iOS 10) so that users can launch and interact with the apps through voice. It also needs to significantly improve its output function (reading back to you), which is currently minimal. Siri has to become the main interface for the new iOS. Here are a few examples of commands I wish I could ask Siri today:
“Find a service station for my car [know the make] that is open on Saturdays and is less than 30 minutes away” “Order some Pepcid from Walgreens, also order some soap and napkins from Safeway” “When did I last order a camera from Amazon” “Get the recipe for baked pasta that I bookmarked yesterday” “Find an app that can go through my pictures and find all of our beach shots of last summer” “Check to see if the garage door is open” “Find a thriller for me to watch which is like Bourne series and has at least 70% plus rating on Rotten Tomatoes”
App Wish List There are also many areas that third party developers can innovate. Here is my wish list
1. Home. To be able to control many things in my house with simple voice commands
2. Personal Assistant. Voice driven inquiries, assistance for finding places, getting to appointments, and communicating with others. Here are some examples:
“What is the best pizza place that I can get to in the next 20 minutes, in the direction I am traveling”.
“Send a text to Bob that I am running 10 minutes late”. [should know that it’s the Bob with whom I have a meeting on my calendar next]
“Send an email to Jane to see if we can move tomorrow’s appointment to Friday same time”.
“When was the last time I met with Steve and what did we discuss”
“Show me the proposals that Eric sent for today’s meeting”
“Find out the best electric shavers that are under $300 and show me the review for the top three”
3. Personal Data. Voice-enabled inquires on various sources of personal data, from financial to health care, to past experiences and memories. I like to be able to ask my phone things like:
“when was the date of my last appointment with my doctor”
“what was my cholesterol in my 2014 blood test”
“How much have we paid in fees to Citi last year”
“What was our best performing holding in our account last year”
“How much did I pay for tickets to London last year”
“Find the picture that I took of everyone while we were in NYC last year”
In ten years, we would ask: is that all your iPhone could do? Really?
The path to software innovation is clear and these are only a few examples. With innovative solutions we can unleash a power in our smartphone that will be orders of magnitude higher than what we are getting now. I have no doubt that in ten years from now we would look back and say: is that all your iPhone could do? Really?