Apple strategy imbalance

For the first time in the short and unprecedentedly sweet history of the iPhone, the new version is being received with reactions also other than enthusiasm. There is still a lot of enthusiasm, to be sure, enough to keep the other smart phone makers from feeling any easier, but there are more doubtful voices and cautious reviews than with any of the previous iPhone launches.

The device itself is not the main reason, though the change of the docking plug is causing some grief by rendering all the previously accumulated accessories obsolete. The main reason for a somewhat reserved reception is the new iOS6 that the phone comes with, and particularly the replacing of iPhone’s most popular app, Google Maps, with Apple’s own maps. Users have already found an array of inaccuracies in the new map – the Economist reports the map showing a petrol station in Piccadilly Circus that no one has ever seen – and a map you cannot trust is not all that useful. The iPhone 5 will probably still sell very well, but something has changed, and many owners of the previous iPhone models have decided to forego the update to iOS6, at least for now.

What seems to have happened, is that Apple has upset the balance. It’s strategy in device design is based on very tight control of what can be done with the things (see earlier posting). This is not something that people like very much, but it has been balanced by the excellence of the product and its user experience, that made most people overall happy with the package.

Now that balance has shifted. Apple has tightened their control still, and thrown out the rival Google’s map product, in order to replace it with their own. Only this time the quality and the user experience are not quite there – the bargain is not working like it used to. The phone is a bit faster and a bit slimmer, and somewhat taller, but neither that nor anything in the new OS has produced a wow effect that would completely compensate for losing the way in maps.

So has Apple lost its direction metaphorically as well as literally? That is too early to tell. No doubt there are a few folks in Cupertino who are reasonably busy getting the map issue fixed, and no doubt over time it will be fixed. Google has had a lot more time to refine its map data over the years, so it is a small wonder that they are ahead.

However, the deal Apple had with the consumers has for the first time gone off balance a bit. Whether this is a temporary tilt, or the beginning of a slide away from the equilibrium, is to be seen.