Business Insider ran what I thought was a very interesting Android vs iPhone survey asking users why they chose one platform over another. I agree with their “takeaway points” from the resulting data, but I was particularly intrigued by two of their extended conclusions in regard to the Android onslaught:

  1. “It increases the pressure on the iPhone 5 to be a humdinger of an upgrade.”
  2. “App selection is not as important as most people think.”

Anyone waiting for iPhone5 to be a ‘humdinger’ will likely be sorely disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it will be an epic announcement. But like the iPad2, the iPhone5 will merely be an ‘evolutionary’ rather than ‘revolutionary’ upgrade. Very little about the iPhone hardware platform has changed over the years. With the exception of A-GPS and a digital compass, there hasn’t been much added since the 2G era. Sure, there have been faster processors, more memory, and better displays, but does this really count?

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad2 in March, he made light of the Android manufacturers’ obsession with “speeds and feeds” – the pursuit of bigger-better-faster. But bigger-better-faster is ironically what the iPhone hardware upgrade cycle is relegated to. Perhaps it is just me not being able to “think different”, but there’s only a few hardware innovations that I can think of that could be added to an iPhone:

  • Dual-band GSM/CDMA
  • NFC/RFID for eWallet transactions
  • SDR (Software-Defined Radio) for AM/FM and more
  • Thunderbolt or USB3
  • HDMI out like the iPad2
  • IR transmitter to mimic TV learning remote
  • Environmental/telemetry sensors
  • Geiger counter?

Which is not to say that the iPhone5, or for that matter the 6 or the 7, will not be killer. But the real magic comes from the underlying iOS operating system, not just the hardware. And because that iOS foundation is often compatible with the older hardware, every iPhone usually benefits if Apple introduces a revolutionary new notifications scheme, speech recognition engine, or virtual keyboard alternative. Apple’s vaunted “user experience” doesn’t come from the hardware, it comes from the iOS & apps that so seamlessly integrate with the hardware. The ‘humdinger’ will be the iOS 5.0 announcement, not the iPhone5 release. The iPhone5 “speeds and feeds” improvements, coupled with the iOS/app ecosystem, is what will keep people coming back.

Which brings me to the 2nd BI conclusion: apps don’t matter as much. I agree that an escalating AppStore/Marketplace numbers game has decreasing intrinsic value to most users. In that sense, apps are not as important. After all, when you get to critical mass (50,000? 100,000?), most needs have been addressed and it just comes down to whether it is 10 apps or 1000 to choose from for any particular function.

But there still is the matter of app quality. To a discerning user, there may be considerable difference between the 10 existing Android apps and the 11th that only exists for iPhone. There are many lauded iOS apps such as Tweetbot and Flipboard that have not yet made their way to other platforms. So in this regard, app selection does indeed matter. And as long as the AppStore continues to attract quality business/productivity tools (rather than yet another fart app or Angry Birds cheat), it will continue to be a superior selling point.

Basically what the survey ultimately indicated is that there is very little openly declared brand loyalty, and people admitted that they will gravitate to what is best for them. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all if “what is best” is indeed clouded by brand loyalties.

And the challenge for the Apple marketing machine is squarely laid out for them. If their user base is already saturated and they have no continued growth over time, they’ll eventually find themselves in the same situation as RIM. They can’t count solely on iPhone fans to upgrade to the latest and greatest model. They will have to attract feature-phone owners and continue to erode into the smartphone competitor base. And to continue expanding this reach, they will need to crack the toughest nut of all: how to win over the 55.7% of non-iPhone users who openly declared that they ‘hate’ Apple, and that nothing could entice them to change sides.

BI promises a follow-up survey to determine the various reasons for that rather intense acrimony (arrogance? DRM? closed systems? Steve Jobs?). That is one poll result that I am eager to see.

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