Apple might be one of the biggest hitters in the smartphone and tablet space, but it needs a big re-think of its strategy if it’s going to stay at the sharp end.
Sure, iOS 5 has been a big hit, with record numbers of iPhone 4S and iPad 2 sales plus the conversion of older devices to the new platform, but unless something changes soon the Cupertino brand could begin slipping backwards quickly.
The news that record numbers of iPhone and iPad jailbreaks are now happening (one million in three days) should tell Cook’s crew all they need to know about user trends: iConsumers want more freedom with their Apple gadgets and are starting to look longingly at their Android counterparts more frequently.
That’s not to say that Apple’s got it all wrong up to now; far from it, its success in mobile devices has been predicated on creating a controlled, simple and, above all, usable system, and that should never change.
But smartphone users are moving from buying the iPhone as the de facto gadget to purchase if you’re looking to move into the world of apps to more discerning handset owners – the rise and rise of Android sales is testament to that, and searches for ways to customise the experience on a new smartphone is hitting an all time high.
Inviting the devil to tea
So what Apple needs to do is finally embrace the jailbreak ethos and begin to give users the choice – we’re not talking letting any old title through the App Store or handing over development to hacker forums, but a greater degree of customisation should be number one on the list for iOS 6 features.
There’s no reason why Apple shouldn’t allow users to have alternative homescreens – widget-filled paradises compared to the current rows and rows of icons, or simply just tweaking the way the notifications bar looks to suit a user’s preference.
But Apple wants to preserve the iconic look of its iOS – it’s a pivotal part of the brand presence created by that ‘large screen, home button’ look it’s worked on for so long – but it will need to let go of that idea if it hopes to keep users hooked in the future as rivals offer more customisation.
Installing non-validated apps is a bit more treacherous though; while we’d love to be able to install all and sundry on our iPad, users that don’t understand the dangers and battery-sucking capabilities of apps from the internet will quickly blame Apple for ‘letting’ them ruin their device in some way.
Jailbreaking – not a dirty word
But Apple has to be aware that the jailbreak community has moved from the hacker in a bedroom spending hours and hours working a way to open up their iPhone to a simple process that many users are willing to use in order to exercise a level of control over their Apple product.
That’s not to say it should dispense with simplicity altogether – there are reams of users that can’t be bothered with ‘all that messy Android stuff’ – but customisation should be an option.
Total control over the user experience has absolutely been the right idea up until now – but that’s not going to last forever. The brand has shown its open to popular ideas from other operating systems (pull-down notifications bar sound familiar?) so let’s hope that it can repeat the trick and make iOS 6 just a touch more open source.
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