How has the Maya Principle influenced the smartphone market?
Slower wins the race
When we consider iPhones over the years, we can see that not much has changed across generations. From the original iPhone 2G to the 3G to the 3GS, not much changed design-wise. Then we got a design change with the iPhone 4: the edges became flat, the back was changed to glass. The iPhone 5 got a little bit taller: enough to satisfy most people who were wanting more screen real estate, but so much as to make it unfamiliar. Then the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus were released and they have stuck with roughly the same design through today. Apple iterates on their design very slowly, but I am almost certain that every stage of change has been planned out so that they know when they want to hit milestones. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus came at a time when Android phones were carrying enormous screens.
The iPhone X is a special case. Apple has finally created a phone that early adopters can jump onto. It is by no means a finished product: the software is still not perfect, and it could overall do with a bit of polish. But that is why Apple launched three phones this year. In my eyes, they did this so that they could guide us softly into the ‘future of the iPhone’, that future being the design of the iPhone X. I admit that when I first saw the iPhone X, I struggled to place it with other iPhones: it looked strange compared to what I knew an iPhone to look like, and while I was excited that Apple was finally joining the rest of the industry, I also understood why they did not launch just the iPhone X in 2017. Supply chain bugs set aside, the main reason is because they had to make sure not to upset their base too much. The iPhone 8 and 8+ have most of the same features as the iPhone X, but they are in a familiar package. Apple gave their customers wireless charging (finally) and that brought back the glass back. That is enough change for one phone: It is different enough, but not too different. Now that everyone has seen what the future of the iPhone looks like, Apple can focus on polishing the iPhone X to be ready for the majority next year.
Consistency is King
When I ask people why they do not like Android, I hear a lot that they do not like how inconsistent it is. And they have a point. The vast majority of people cannot distinguish between different Android phones very well. They do not really know what makes a Samsung experience vs an HTC experience, for example. And while I would argue that Samsung does have a signature experience, that is only recently the case. Before, the story was quite different. After the iPhone, Android phones started to flood the market, and they were all trying to be a better phone… than the iPhone. The challenge was to convince consumers that their experience was superior to the one that Apple could offer, and they did this by offering better cameras, faster processors, expandable storage, bigger screens, and the list goes on. Soon enough, Android phones were able to do so much more than the iPhone could, but they were still failing to meet the challenge. Everyone was focused on the spec-war whereas Apple was just trying to make a good phone. When development progresses too quickly, it is difficult to establish a brand identity. iPhones have always, at the very least, been good enough. They offer a consistent user interface, which has not changed much since the original iOS, smooth performance, and a nice camera. The phone just works. Android phones are a mixed bag, and this can tarnish people’s idea of what an Android phone is.
I have watched many friends getting their first smartphone and they often started with an inexpensive phone, usually an Android phone. Generally, they got what they paid for. They dump the phone a year or two later, and they upgrade to an iPhone. The experience that they blame is usually not the phone maker, but the Android experience. That experience was bad for them, so they drop the platform, assuming that all Android phones are the same. And we can argue all we want whether this is or is not the case, but the fact remains that Android devices do not offer a consistent experience. This is both a strength, in that it allows for more diversity and more innovation, but it is also a weakness when people have one bad experience and jump ship. As a result, most of the major manufacturers are not innovating at the rate they once did. Now, some of the biggest new developments are coming from companies that are less familiar to western consumers: I think first of Vivo who recently showed off a fingerprint sensor embedded beneath the display.
My purpose with this is to show that when we look at success in the smartphone industry, we see companies succeed when they are able to make an experience, a brand. This thing is what guides development and hopefully allows change to occur, just not too fast. I have been quick to critisize when my favorite companies do not bring the changes that I expected to occur, when the Galaxy S8 did not get a dual camera for example; but knowing about the Maya Principle has helped me to understand why companies do what they do, why Apple’s slow changes have been more successful than more rapid ones. I hope that you too have gained a fresh insight into the lovely world of technology that we live in.