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iPhone Debut Rivals Harry Potter Mania... But Will It Last? (Or, Why the iPhone Is Not a Phone)

by Paul Paetz  |  
July 17, 2007

As I wrote this article, two days before the official launch of the iPhone, the pitch of media, pundit, and public anxiety over perhaps the most anticipated new product since Windows 95 had reached a level only Steve Jobs could properly describe—Insanely Great!

At the time, Technorati said there were nearly 189,000 blog postings that talk about the iPhone (in English; there are nearly 305,000 in all languages). Compare that with 39,170 that mention Motorola's RAZR, a phone that was the previous biggest smash hit and which literally put Motorola back in the cell phone business after years of decline.

Every major media outlet has weighed in. The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, every computer- or telecom-related industry trade journal has reviewed it. Virtually everyone who's been privileged to receive one of the media samples for review has said it's cool—so cool it almost lives up to its hype. Prospective iPhone customers started waiting in line outside flagship stores in New York Tuesday morning. Like the launches of with videogame consoles or Harry Potter books. But unprecedented for a phone.

So does all this mean runaway success—is the game already won? Or will there be an equal and opposite reaction when possibility and excitement about the future gives way to reality, and inevitable issues arise with service, availability, bugs in functionality, and unfulfilled expectations?

Apple fanatics say it will be successful in the long term because it is ultra-cool, easy to use, a breakthrough in design elegance and software sophistication. Naysayers say nothing could live up to this level of hype, and that when things die down sales will appear lackluster no matter how good they are. Virtually everyone notes the stupidity of getting into an exclusive deal with AT&T and warns that this could be the albatross around the iPhone's neck.

Almost all of the speculation and predictions are based on visceral and emotional reactions, influenced heavily by the reality-dispersion bubble that surrounds Steve Jobs, and by the majority belief that "better" wins.

But if we run with that notion reductio ad absurdum, what exactly does "winning" mean? Assuming that the consensus is that the iPhone is a better phone, does it have to achieve market dominance as a late entrant the way the iPod has in the MP3 player space? Surely it doesn't have to match iPod's 80% market share within five years! There are over a billion mobile phones already in use around the world. Is a 10% or 20% market share strong enough to be considered successful? (The RAZR's share is only around 5%.) Is this even the right yardstick to use?

The iPhone Will Be a Disruptive Winner

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Paul Paetz is a disruption consultant with the Disruption Group (

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