Apple’s iPhone Is An Entry Level Smartphone, For Better or Worse

I took the HTC One out on the town this weekend as my new primary smartphone. In one location I used the IR blaster to change the TV from the New York Rangers hockey game to SpongeBob Square Pants. It was a funny trick that caught the eye of more than a few people in the establishment, who immediately wanted to know what kind of phone I was carrying and how I was able to “hack” the TV.

I didn’t hack anything, of course. When nobody was looking I just turned off one TV and ran HTC’s TV setup program. I suddenly had control over the whole system, each TV at my disposal. But more than a half dozen people immediately wanted to know more about the phone and if it was “better than an iPhone.”

“I think so,” I replied. “Check out everything you can do with it.” I showed off the 4-ultrapixel camera and its Zoe capabilities. Then I showed them a highlight reel of a puppy I had been playing with earlier in the morning. The response was always the same: “so, I need to replace this iPhone, do I buy that?” One person asked, referring to my HTC One. “I can’t do any of these cool things with my iPhone, I’m so tired of this thing,” another responded. “I guess the apps are cool, but I mostly just use apps on my iPad.”

Here at TechnoBuffalo we’ve discussed an ongoing problem with the iPhone, which was reiterated in those interactions I had this weekend: the device is popular because it’s so easy to use and has a ton of applications. It’s a double-edged sword, though, because Apple might not be able to switch the software too much or add too many features if its userbase can’t use them. The One and the Galaxy S4 have amazing new features that many might not use, but they are exciting options for people who want to “do more” with their smartphones. In a lot of ways, the iPhone is limiting and limited.

It’s the entry-level smartphone; the choice I tell most people to buy if they don’t want to deal with complicated software or are purchasing their first smartphone. I recommend it to my parents and the parents of my friends, but I recommend the new, more powerful smartphones to my friends. I know my buddies like to geek out with their phones. They want highlight reels and the odd ability to trick everyone into watching SpongeBob instead of a sports game. They want newer technology that makes a smartphone fun and exciting to use again.

I’m sure the iPhone 5S will pack tons of new features, hopefully NFC, a fingerprint scanner and wireless charging, but I wonder if Apple will add in these seemingly gimmicky features that, really, aren’t gimmicks at all. I don’t think Apple wants to go down that road, and that’s part of the company’s success. It sells millions and millions of smartphones because they’re easy to use, it has a huge app store and, ultimately, the devices work perfectly well for a large user base.

Clearly HTC and Samsung are on to something, though. Both companies are pushing the boundaries of what we can do with our smartphone while Apple plays it safe.

I do worry about that approach, however. I remember when everyone carried a BlackBerry and they couldn’t wait to upgrade to an iPhone. Now it seems like most of my friends carry iPhones and can’t wait to try something else. Hopefully the iPhone 5S changes that, but I’m not so sure it will.