Home / iPhone / How the iPhone triumphed in business circles – Financial Times

How the iPhone triumphed in business circles – Financial Times

Billions, the television series about a hedge fund manager, played by Damian Lewis, is typical of US entertainment shows, in that Apple iPhones and MacBook computers feature so heavily they almost deserve their own credit.

This Apple-heavy world portrayed on television and in films is often put down to the brand’s popularity among the creative and media types who make them. It simply reflects their normal.

In the real world, Apple computers are not particularly popular, last year hitting 7.4 per cent market share against Windows PCs — and that was a record.

But the iPhone’s success since its introduction 10 years ago next month has been a different story.

In recent years, iPhone sales made up 40 per cent of the US smartphone market. Because they work for years and their looks do not age, most of the billion-plus iPhones sold over the past decade are likely to be still in use — one for every seven people on the planet. Not bad.

It is the first case I can recall of a premium-priced, luxury product becoming mass market. My cleaner has one, even though she would regard a Mac computer as an extravagance.

The iPhone, while remaining expensive, has become the phone to own across class and national boundaries. How has this happened?

Badge of office: Damian Lewis as hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod in ‘Billions’

Its success as a business phone is particularly unexpected. The device has few advantages over rivals as a work phone, but it has become a badge of office for the upscale — or aspiring — executive, even more than the Motorola bricks of the 1980s or BlackBerry at its height in 2006.

Back in June 2007, it looked like a colourful Fisher-Price toy next to the rugged, sensible Canadian-ness of the BlackBerry.

A fun smartphone was a sweet idea, but surely serious people would be turned off by the device they used to conduct business-critical communications also being able to show pictures of their children, videos of their cat and play music?

But the iPhone soon destroyed the incumbent, and has survived the challenge of devices operating on Google’s rival Android system.

I tried to find out how many employers give their staff iPhones over rival devices. Many companies operate a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy rather than hand out company phones, so a meaningful number is hard to pin down. I carried out an informal poll of company executives instead.

One contact who has worked in the UK for two of the biggest US-based internet companies said both were “99 per cent iPhone”, but added: “They are really bad at making phone calls and the battery life is terrible.”

A BBC manager said iPhones were standard issue. A director of a high-street retail company said the same thing. A contact at a global consulting business said it operated BYOD, “but practically every desk has an iPhone on it”. And the iPhone is handed out to staff at the FT.

IT managers have told me that they think iPhones are overrated, and not ideal in businesses where Microsoft Office software predominates. But they are overwhelmingly the BYOD phone staff insist on.

The reasons why the iPhone triumphed über alles in business is not complicated.

Firstly, the Apple ecosystem for music, movies and the rest sucks you in. It works well and changing to Android is a faff. So it is not quite a question of consumers taking delight in their iPhones, but of simplicity.

The second element of the device’s appeal is its image.

Steve Jobs introducing the original iPhone on January 9 2007

In the workplace, an iPhone is a way of demonstrating your nonconformity. Forget that the norm you are not conforming to, the BlackBerry, barely even exists any more. But whereas parking a Harley-Davidson outside the office, turning up in a hoodie or bringing a dog to work may be frowned upon, an iPhone is acceptable.

Mass-scale non-conformity may seem a paradox par excellence — yet denim jeans are worn by billions to project the very same different-but-safe impression.

Could the iPhone’s seemingly unassailable position continue for another 10 years? Or will it inevitably do a BlackBerry?

The iPhone 8 is expected in the autumn and it is difficult to imagine how the new model will maintain momentum.

The Galaxy S8, regarded by many as the best phone ever, makes the iPhones look rather conservative. But the last thing Apple would want is for its 8 to resemble a me-too Samsung.

Whether Apple will be brave — or foolish — enough, to start over on the iPhone’s 10th anniversary with something as radical as the original is anyone’s bet.

My guess is that they will stay safe and the iPhone 8 will still be recognisably an iPhone. As the iPhone 18 may be in another 10 years.

But for it to still be the market leader then would be something truly remarkable.

jonathan.margolis@ft.com

@TheFutureCritic


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