John Gruber linked to a Paul Thurrott post this morning about the apparently delusional Windows Mobile team (prediction: Microsoft will buy RIM within 24 months). What caught my attention, however, was Thurrott’s assertion that the iPhone App Store is “arguably the biggest innovation of the iPhone.” We saw a similar sentiment expressed earlier in the week at USA Today.
No doubt the App Store is great, but I can’t say that any app I’ve purchased is truly important to me. NetNewsWire comes the closest, but still, the iPhone’s “killer app” (god, do I hate that overused term) is its usability. Nothing else comes close. I don’t know anyone that has purchased an iPhone because of the App Store; I know perhaps a hundred people that have purchased one because of its usability. (With Apple aggressively marketing iPhone games, perhaps this will change in the future; regardless, it hasn’t happened yet.)
The other mis-read of the iPhone’s success comes down in the comments, where several people assert that the iPhone is “consumer-targeted,” with the implication that if the Windows Mobile team had simply trained its sights on that “niche” market, of course they’d have something as usable as the iPhone. There are exactly two things wrong with that assertion.
The first is that the Windows Mobile team would know how to develop a consumer product. Here’s something people don’t get: developing consumer software is harder than developing enterprise software. If you’re developing enterprise software, you make money every time the customer calls you with a question. If you’re developing consumer software, you lose money when they call you. That simple fact turns the product development equation on its head: you have to make a product that completely explains itself to people who don’t want to read a manual or take a training class. That Apple developed a smart phone that my mother can use is something that the Windows Mobile team could not have pulled off.
The second is that the iPhone is, in fact, “consumer-targeted.” It’s not: it’s “user-targeted.” Not the same thing. The Windows Mobile team will likely never admit this to itself because it’s easier to accept their fate if they think that they and Apple are aiming at different targets. But iPhone 1.0 wasn’t a product unsuitable for the enterprise by design; iPhone 1.0 was unsuitable for the enterprise simply because a couple of features were left out. That those features have now been added (and that another feature–a keyboard–I suspect will be added in the future) betray the idea that the iPhone is merely “consumer-targeted,” something that will be abundantly clear when iPhone beats Windows Mobile–and probably RIM, too–in that market.