To the surprise of no one, today Apple unveiled the fourth version of its iconic device: iPhone 4. While some features such as the higher resolution camera, LED flash, and front facing camera qualify more as upgrades that put Apple back on par with leading competitors, others such as the "retina" display and the gorgeous industrial design will maintain Apple's mindshare and market share growth rates.
Apple is going to sell a lot of iPhone 4s. They'll sell them to those who simply have to have the new new thing (many of whom are iPhone owners already), and to iPhone owners who were off contract and waiting for the new version. They'll also sell a lot of iPhone 3GSs, especially to iPhone 3G owners who can't stomach going without iOS 4's multitasking, and also to those for whom $15/month is a manageable addition but $30/month is not. That's a whole lot of good news for AT&T and Apple's other carrier partners, though that good news is more in the form of loyalty than in net additions to their networks.
What's driving that loyalty? Software. OK, OK, Apple makes beautiful, elegant, compelling hardware. But the iPhone is superior to its competitors because the software is so much better: the OS and the apps. And Apple's customers increasingly invest more in that software, not just the financial investment in the device and the apps they purchase, but the personal investment of their time, data, and content. Go ahead and laugh at the video of Hitler bemoaning the apparent loss of his Bejeweled high score (sorry, video no longer available), people aside from George Costanza care about those achievements. A decade ago AOL was able to delay its growing irrelevance just because its subscribers couldn't easily figure out how to liberate their address book and email library. In comparison to AOL's customers of 2000, today's iPhone owners invest an order of magnitude more information in their iPhones — and that information is more personal.
What I'm saying isn't exclusive to iPhone owners — those loyal to Android, BlackBerry, and even Symbian experience the same fear of dislocation. That's the point — these platforms are increasingly locking in their owners. I won't be surprised the first time I see a "You can have my iPhone when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers" bumper sticker.
Oh, and one more thing… I hope Apple is successful in convincing Cisco, Microsoft, Google, and others that FaceTime is a good standard for video telephony. I have no idea whether it's the best solution, but we have enough video telephony endpoints out there that it's time to make video calling as easy and interoperable as voice. About time we realize at least part of the promise of the 1964 New York World's Fair.