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I phone, you phone, we all foam at the mouth for an iPhone

Ok, the familiar jingle doesn’t quite translate, but there’s every indication that Apple’s iPhone is just as popular as ice-cream.

In just a little over a year and half from its launch, the iPhone has achieved a 32% market share and holds an unassailable lead as the world’s trendiest and most sought after device. No other gadget has the status of an iPhone.

It has also been a veritable financial success for Apple having sold 4,4-million units in the last quarter alone. For the 2008 year, Apple exceeded their own sales expectations, delivering 13,7-million of the tasty little treats to satisfied customers around the world. The iPhone now accounts for 12,3% of Apple’s sales and stands in third place in terms of income generators for the company. The iPod and laptops are one and two respectively.

So what is it exactly that has made the iPhone the most talked about tech gadget since … well, the iPod?

No doubt, clever marketing has helped. The manic media frenzy that kicks up every year around Steve Job’s keynote delivery at the Macworld expo is enough to ensure a couple million sales from hype alone. Sales of the iPhone however, have continued to grow, indicating a genuine value to be found in the product beyond the media flurry.

I believe the reason Apple have been successful with their iPhone is that they understand the timeless fundamentals of what makes a product appealing. In fact, this been the bedrock of all their successes.

Consider this. The iPhone is not the most functionally extravagant device on the market. It has essential smart phone basics such as email on the go, web browsing capabilities and great multimedia capabilities, but it’s not exactly going to tie your shoe laces and bring you coffee in the morning.

What it does have going for it are the three timeless and universal essentials for any product: Looks, usability and convenience.

Oscar Wilde said “It is better to be beautiful than to be good, but it is better to be good than to be ugly”. Take good and translate it as functional and now you know who the real brainchild of Apple’s development strategy was.

If you are going to be carrying a device as personal as a cellphone around with you everywhere you go, it makes sense that it is pleasing to the eye. What’s more, the iPhone has managed to tap into that immense vault of human motivation … what is it that this device says about me? In the same way that dogs and their owners tend to look alike, if I am carrying around a glamorous iPhone, I can’t be that ugly can I?

Once the honeymoon phase of just having bought your new iPhone begins to fade and you realise it spends most of the time in your pocket anyway, it better have something else going for it. Usability is the most important quality of any technological application or product. It is not the obscure and obtuse, albeit often technically very impressive, functions that make a device useful to end users. It’s the small things you have to do twenty times a day, every day.

I have a Samsung i780 and its a wonderful thing that the Windows 6.1 mobile operating system enables me to install Garmin (and a whole range of other) software on it, but the most I will ever use that is once a month. The functionality that really becomes important is how quickly I can type an SMS.

In this respect Apple is king. I’m not 100% sure but I suspect that is it is the proprietary software designed specifically for their proprietary hardware that enables Apple to make their iPhone and iPod (and all other products) so exceptionally usable. Nothing else compares.

The digital “slide to unlock” mechanism on the phone is just one example of how incredibly responsive and agile the phone is in response to user input. Whether flipping through your music collection, scrolling through a calendar or typing an email, the user experience of the Apple iPhone is unequaled.

I believe this was the reason that Nokia took such a big lead in handset sales at the dawn of the cellular era, because their operating system was so simple and easy to use. Their subsequent decline from top dog and loss of market share is a direct result of how slow and unresponsive their phones have become as a result of being loaded with too many applications.

Perhaps Nokia have something to learn from Apple even though they still lead them in the smart phone market. These things aren’t written in stone.

As far as the iPhone is concerned, Apple have been very smart setting up the App store. The iPhone Sdk allows for the quick and easy development of any number of iPhone applications to make the end user’s life simpler and easier. Functions from posting your Facebook pictures with less hassle to checking the weather can all be downloaded to your phone from the App Store.

All in all, if you imagine a caveman or cavewoman shopping for a new rock, what is it that is going to make him or her choose one rock over another? Obviously it depends on the caveperson in question, but if they fall anywhere within the population average they are going to be looking for three basic things: looks, usability and convenience. This is what Apple has packaged so neatly into the iPhone and it’s because they understand very well that we are all just cavemen and cavewomen living in a high-tech world.