“There’s an app for that”—or so all of Apple’s current TV ads for the iPhone would have you believe. Gone are the days of showing off unique core features like smooth multi-touch and Visual Voicemail and the beaming testimonials from theater directors and happy business users. Apple’s television marketing now focuses exclusively on the advantages that the App Store brings to the platform—and that could become a problem.
While you can argue that Apple’s competitors are rarely able to match the company’s knack for good design and usability, you can’t call them lazy—duplicating the App Store’s wild success is now dead-center in their sights. Google’s Android Marketplace is open for business, RIM recently opened the BlackBerry App World, and everyone from Microsoft to the carriers themselves are working on a way to claim “there’s an app for that” too.
Pretty soon, you may not be able to buy a phone (be it smart or otherwise) without having access to an App Store knockoff. Sure, RIM’s App World requires PayPal and lacks a bit of Apple’s polish, and the Android Marketplace only recently started allowing commercial apps. But the competition is catching up and there’s no shortage of customers for whom a “good enough” experience is, well, good enough. Pile on the reality of a tough economy, some of the iPhone OS’s debatable shortcomings (like a lack of background apps and handicapped Bluetooth), and AT&T’s high service premiums, and Apple’s current ad series may quickly lose its distinctiveness amid an expanding sea of good-enough competitors.
It might be time for Apple to get back to basics when it comes to advertising the iPhone. There are many other key features that make it such a valuable device: Visual Voicemail is still a winner, for example, and it’s a good bet that most consumers have not yet tuned into the wonders of easily syncing their contacts and calendars with a Mac or Windows PC (courtesy of software they are probably already running—iTunes). A fusion of App Store and iPhone OS-based advertising couldn’t hurt either, as multi-touch is getting used in some extremely creative ways by third parties.
If the App Store advertising has not yet sufficiently permeated the minds of the masses, the upcoming release of iPhone OS 3.0 and the many new features it brings could still be a good opportunity to get back to the iPhone’s roots. Additions like slick copy-and-paste, fast phone-wide search, and perhaps even video recording will complement the existing capabilities of Apple’s i-devices quite well. Those features all deserve some time in the disembodied finger spotlight alongside App Store offerings.
Competitors are catching up to Apple’s vision of an expandable, upgradeable mobile device platform. Switching advertising tactics to include both the existing and new fundamental features of the iPhone OS could help Apple to hold onto the commanding mindshare they’ve carved out in the smart phone market.