An iPhone Arms-Race to Nowhere

Chris Davies - Aug 31, 2009
An iPhone Arms-Race to Nowhere

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, there is a line from the Red Queen, in which she states, “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” In evolution, this is a theory that is also known as an “arms race to nowhere”, in which two different species evolve in tandem, one after the other, in an infinite loop. The reason, is because as one system evolves, then the other must evolve with it, just to keep pace.

And so the system is unending and essential for the survival of a species.

It’s no different in the technology ecosystem. In fact, it’s a lot more evident there, as we can see the fruits of these evolutionary developments as clear as day. We watched as the iPhone became the iPhone 3G, and while it may not have been leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor in a lot of ways, we witnessed the 3G become the 3GS. And in turn, we saw almost every other major phone manufacturer develop phones to counter the iPhone. You’ve heard of them: the mythical iPhone killer.

And yet, perhaps it’s not the original equipment manufacturers (OEM) who are striving for this pivotal title. More often than not, at least here in the United States, the title of an iPhone killer is sought after more by the carrier. Sprint’s first foray into this tangled web could have been the exclusive Samsung Instinct. T-Mobile’s attempt, while belated, was the G1, manufactured by HTC. And Verizon, the network juggernaut, looked to Research In Motion (RIM) to hopefully take the crown with the release of the BlackBerry Storm.

But did any of these first attempts succeed? The media, and probably the mass of Americans in general would tell us that they didn’t. In fact, most of them would tell us that they failed miserably. The iPhone is still just as legendary, still just as loved (and hated) as it ever was, and even if Apple continues to release minor updates and no physical changes, the end result will be the same: mass consumption.

But, truth be told, it probably is the OEMs who are aspiring for bigger and better things.

And so, the manufacturers are called upon by carriers all over the world, and probably more so here in the States, to make something breathtaking and revolutionary. But, why should HTC, RIM, or Nokia care? They still have their fan base. Even in today’s market, there are still die hard Windows Mobile fans; there are still Nokia evangelists; and people who would rather die, than be parted with their BlackBerry.

The truth is, the evolutionary arms race to nowhere, within the technology ecosystem, means the ultimate victory for the consumer; because even if the BlackBerry fan doesn’t care about the iPhone, its features, or even its App Store, you can certainly bet that RIM does. They don’t want you to eventually see that the iPhone 3GS can do this, that, and has an app for everything else, while your BlackBerry Tour’s lasting feature is a physical keyboard or the Storm has a screen that clicks. They’re upgrading their Operating Systems (OS) to look flashier, to do more than ever before, because of the iPhone’s impact on the market.

We’ve seen the evolution of these changes, these aspirations from the manufacturers, even as it looks like Apple is perfectly complacent keeping the iPhone right where it is. HTC released the Hero, which brought Android to a whole new level. And, from out of nowhere, Palm released the Pre, which for some, gave the iPhone its first run for its life. And as Apple continues to produce mobile phones, you should expect the rest of the world to watch and create their own devices in its reflection. Not its shadow, because each of those other devices have their own appeal and draw. None of them can be labeled a disaster, simply because they do not ascend to the level that the iPhone has ascertained in such a short time.

In the end, as consumers, we cannot forget to look at every aspect to a phone. Physical sex appeal of a device is one thing for sure, as no one wants to be seen walking around with an ugly phone in their hand. But, that can only go so far. Manufacturers shouldn’t be sitting idly by, waiting to see what the next “great” thing Apple creates is. Instead, they should be doing their own innovations. We should expect more out of them on a constant basis. But, as the Red Queen Effect shows us, we need to wait for one species to evolve, before we can expect the others in the ecosystem to follow suit. The Arctic Hare, in trying to stay alive while the Arctic Fox hunts him, evolves to run faster. The Arctic Fox must evolve to catch the speedier hare, or it will lose out on that food supply.

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