iPhone: “Good Enough” is Nowhere In Sight

A central tenet of disruption theory is that the threat of disruption occurs when products start to overshoot the market. Back in 2012, Horace Dediu posted “Is the iPhone good enough?” and offered a way to measure whether or not the iPhone has reached this point.

Horace suggested measuring sales of the newest model against the year-old versions that Apple sells in parallel at discounted prices. I am not currently aware of any data for this, but there are other ways (although not quantitative) to see whether this is the case. For example, you could look and see if the excitement over new products is high or not. You could see if the average selling price is increasing or decreasing. You could look at whether the new features are being used by the general public (and not just a few enthusiasts).

Judging from the record launch weekend sales of the iPhone 6s/6s plus which were just announced by Apple and from the glowing reviews of the new 3D touch feature, it seems that the iPhone has managed to escape becoming “good enough”. That is, they have discovered new features that customers truly want, and more importantly, their customers still trust Apple to deliver significantly better experiences with each new release. Of course we are only looking at the launch weekend, when sales are mostly supply constrained, so what we have right now is not a very good indicator of consumer attitude. It still seems very positive though.

Contrast this with the situation on Android where average selling price is falling, and each new Samsung Galaxy S release is getting less attention with each coming year. This is what you would expect from a market that has reached “good enough”, and sure enough, we are seeing Samsung being disrupted by low-end entrants. There is a stark difference here.

So back to Apple. Many pundits were worried that Apple would not be able to deliver a phone that would excite customers over new features, after picking the low-hanging fruit that was larger displays for the iPhone 6/6 plus. This does not seem to be the case. It seems that the innovation engine inside Apple is still running very strong, and that they still have ideas for new features that customers will be eager to upgrade for. That is to say, although pundits may declare smartphones to be “good enough”, Apple has stuff in the labs that will raise the bar when introduced. As long as these features keep rolling out and capturing the imaginations of consumers, “good enough” won’t come to the iPhone.

This also means that if Samsung (or any other Android OEM that aims to sell phones profitably) successfully copies the iPhone’s new features, then they will too manage to escape the “good enough” trap. That is the challenge though. Without controlling the software, Samsung will have difficulty getting traction with something like 3D touch.