Apple needs more than a cheap phone to wipe out Android

A Galaxy Nexus, a Nexus 4 and a Nexus 7 side by side

iPhone 5C: if Apple produces a cheap phone, it could wipe out its rivals

Mic Wright (@brokenbottleboy on Twitter) says that if Apple launches a cheap iPhone tonight (the rumoured iPhone 5C), it could do serious damage to both Android and the new Microsoft-owned Nokia handset business:

It wants to produce a phone that is rugged enough to appeal to African consumers, modern enough for tech-savvy Chinese buyers and cheap enough to capture even more market share in Western markets.

If we do see the “iPhone 5C” tonight – and I do think it’s a strong bet – it will be a major headache for Android phone makers of all stripes and the newly minted Mokia (Microsoft + Nokia) alliance. Apple’s big gap in iPhone dominance is the lower end of the market where cheap phones available free on contract from day one are keeping Nokia and the less high-end Android models afloat. Samsung is ably battling and often beating Apple in the premium market but if Apple launches a compelling iPhone that can be offered free-on-contract and for a very, very low unlocked price, it will run the table.

I’m not so sure. Apple’s iPhone platform has other weaknesses besides price and lack of a presence in the low end. There are a number of technical features in Android (I don’t know about Windows Phone because I’ve never used it) which will keep its users keen even if Apple produces a cheap iPhone. The most obvious to me is the interchangeability of keypads, the simplest of which are vastly superior to Apple’s which has barely changed, if at all, since launch in 2008. They offer a range of gestures, typing without lifting your finger (commonly called swiping after Swype which pioneered it on Android, but even the standard Google keypad has it now), considerably faster predictive text, long-pressing for punctuation, among the advantages over Apple’s feeble autocorrect that I can think of off the top of my head. That feature alone would rule out iOS devices for me, whatever the price.

Another major advantage is choice: there is no chance of being able to get an iOS phone from any manufacturer other than Apple, which still means there’s a lack of competition in the iOS space even if it competes with incompatible Android and Windows Phone devices. You’ll also still be stuck with their design decisions, including the single button, instead of the different designs available when you buy an Android phone or tablet. There is consistency in iOS devices, but if you don’t like what’s consistently on offer, it’s not much good. In addition, Android generally offers good quality screens (you’d need to look very carefully to see the dots on my Nexus 4’s screen); iOS devices either have ultra-high resolution Retina screens or really poor quality ones, as on the iPad mini, which really does not do justice to the system font.

Of course, I’m a confirmed Android user who recently paid £200 for a new Nexus phone (albeit when it was reduced), and Apple still have a brand advantage that neither Google nor Android, nor any manufacturer of Android handsets or tablets, has. However, quite a number of people have already tried both and preferred Android, and there is a grapevine on which the popularity of both devices and apps spreads (three others started using SwiftKey on my recommendation, for example). Apple has plenty of fans who are loyal to the brand or find its user interface preferable, but it won’t win over Android users without bringing some of the elements of its user interface up to date. (Having seen Apple’s page for iOS 7 in which the new and improved features are described, the word “keypad” is absent as a simple Ctrl+F search will demonstrate, so it seems they’re not interested in updating this crucial feature.)

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