Apple is defining the smartphone space. Right now, at least at the high end, one phone is massively dominating this space both physically and financially. However BlackBerry, Microsoft, Google, and Samsung are all trying to dethrone the king through a variety of strategies. Only BlackBerry is coming up with truly different hardware, and it may not be different enough anymore. Much as Apple took out firms like Nokia, Palm, and BlackBerry that once dominated this space, Apple itself is vulnerable to the same kind of innovation that it used to surprise these vendors. Looking out at the market I found three phones that, on paper, have the potential to do to Apple what Apple did to everyone else. Granted each would need a ton more backing than they currently have, but they are potentially to the iPhone what the iPhone was to Palm, RIM, and Nokia: a game changer.
Let’s take a look at some amazing ideas. Now, before we get started you may think some of these ideas are stupid because they are different, but we were making fun of screen phones (which weren’t selling well at all) before the iPhone launched because they were hard to type on and there was a lot of concern that folks would have accidents while using them.
The Rufus Cuff
This is what many think the Apple Watch should have been. You see, up until the Apple Watch every major new product from Apple not only had an “i” in the name, but to an extent, they were additive to the iPod. The iPhone added phone capability, and the iPad added size. The Apple Watch not only wasn’t additive, it does less than the iPod does and it needs an iPhone to work (the iPod worked with both Macs and PCs).
Well, the Rufus Cuff is basically what you’d get if you put a full iPod on your wrist, but it runs Android (basically an iOS clone), and it goes back to the original iPhone screen size of 3.5”. Designed mostly for folks who are really active and need their phone to be more securely attached to them and far more robust than a typical iPhone, admittedly the initial design is a bit bulkier than I’d like.
But the concept of a fully functional phone attached to your wrist should appeal to the GoPro crowd and you can imagine climbers, pilots, runners, bike riders, and free runners (Parkour). With a Wi-Fi connection you can leave your phone at home and still make and take VoIP calls. As we move to more ubiquitous Wi-Fi networks, much like folks are cutting the cord to their cable service, future users are likely to cut the virtual connection to their WAN provider potentially saving a ton of money.
The Dragonfly Futurefön
Apple’s biggest likely exposure is someone creating a single device that encompasses all of Apple’s lines. This is because Apple grows by convincing you to buy yet one more thing and consolidating a product isn’t only not in their vocabulary it isn’t in their economic best interest. The Dragonfly Futurefön hits Apple where they live because not only is it a Windows/Android hybrid, it can morph from phone, to tablet, to full on PC much like a transformer.
This is the device for someone that just wanted one connected device, one cellular data plan, one thing to carry, and yet wanted to easily switch between the different modes as needed without changing devices. Basically this is a Windows Laptop that folds into an Android phone and probably pisses off Apple, Google, and Microsoft at the same time.
Granted it is a tad thick all folded up but you can separate the phone component from the rest and still have less carry weight by far than you would have with a laptop, tablet, and a smartphone. And the blended device costs $799 which is in line with a fully configured iPad and hundreds less than it would cost you to buy an iPad, iPhone, and iMac or Windows PC.
Just imagine what it would be like to go to a meeting where everyone opens their laptop and you unfold yours. That alone could be worth the price of admission.
The Portal Phone by Arubixs
One of the biggest problems with the screen phone design is that it is fragile. I doubt there is a person on the planet that hasn’t dropped their phone and had that “oh crap” moment as they watched their screen crack. We carry our phones and use them everyplace but they are designed more like fine china than the military grade hardware we actually need especially when we give these things to our kids. iPhones in particular seem to focus so much more on beauty than survivability that it is rare we even seen an iPhone that doesn’t have its beauty and svelte design wrapped in some relatively massive plastic or rubber case which is far less attractive.
Well the Portal phone by Arubixs (don’t ask me how to pronounce that I don’t have a clue) is a flexible rubberized waterproof phone for humans because we often do drop things, we get caught in the rain, and I’m sure there are few of us that have accidentally washed our phones with the laundry. You have two choices when making something robust: either make it so it can withstand any force by fighting it, or withstand any force by being flexible and passing it on. The Portal phone does the latter; in fact, if the only reason you were to get this is because you put your phone in your back pocket, phone breaker, it would still be a good reason to switch.
If one of the biggest defects in the iPhone is that it is fragile, the Portal phone takes that defect head on and provides yet another sharp contrast between where phones are and where they should be. I’ll bet that if we started with a clean slate for a smartphone back in the 1990s and developed the phone based on how it was actually going to be used we’d be closer to the Portal than the iPhone in design.
Personally if you have a kid or a spouse that is hard on things you’d probably rather both have the Portal than any shipping smartphone today—let alone Apple’s.
No one is ever going to beat Apple with a better iPhone just as no one was ever going to be Microsoft with a better desktop or laptop PC. What is needed is some creativity, someone that is willing to take a risk that something different could actually be something better. Apple took the largely failed screen phone design and made it the new world standard. Perhaps someone else can take the phone and make it more wearable, more transformable, or far more robust and flexible (and also wearable) and create an even better smartphone future than our iPhone present. It is ideas like this that likely keep Tim Cook up at night, they likely should be keeping his competitors up more as well if they really want to take the market back from Apple.
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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