Are kids fed up with their iPhones?

Posted by Rob Enderle

Nokia apparently believes kids are fed up with Apple's wildly popular iPhone. If you ask me, this controversial claim is incredibly reminiscent of Steve Ballmer insisting the iPhone would have no real chance of succeeding in the mobile market.

Then again, what if Nokia and Ballmer are right? I’ve actually been reading up on a hypothesis known as "confirmation bias," a theory that suggests we humans tend to avoid seeing trends which conflict with our own positions.

Are kids fed up with the iPhone?Obviously, the prevalent opinion is that the iPhone is both the mindshare and market leader - and will always be. 

But we all know products that were hot in the ‘60s, 70's, 80's, and 90's are mostly gone now.  

For example, 8 track tape players were all the rage in in the 60's, at least until the 70's when cassette players went big. In the 80's and 90's? Atari, Commodore, and the Sony Walkman. So let's think about this for a moment from an historical perspective. Why wouldn’t we assume an end of life for the iPhone - particularly since the iPod seems to be drifting into the end of its game? 

And what about Nokia's claim that Windows Phone is the heir apparent to Apple's iPhone? Well, let's think about the name of the product and the fact that it is a phone. And yes, Nokia may be both right and wrong here.  

What do Kids Want?

Whether we are talking about the 50's of yore or the current generation, kids want to be unique, and not just from the each other, but from their parents. This sentiment typically manifests itself in what they wear, how they cut their hair, and how they accessorize (I’m sure glad heavy piercing has fallen out of favor, as that really just freaked me out).   

The funny thing? In every generation (mine included), kids think they are so unique, with slicked back or long hair, facial hair, lack of underwear, tats, or pants down to their knees. As adults, they realize they  were not only different, but more often than not, looked like idiots.

Now this is something our parents, spouses, kids, and peers will torture us with for the rest of our adult lives. If you aren’t there yet, oh what fun you’ll have, and I’d recommend burning all the pictures you have of those years. The web is going to be a bitch for some of today’s kids once they turn into adults and have web browsing kids of their own. Frankly, I’m really quite thankful most of my pictures were never scanned.  

So, while kids have no problem holding the same phone as their peers, they sure as hell don’t want to have the same seemingly out of date and ancient personal technology that their parents have. And yes, parents seem to love their iPhones. In fact, I’ll bet a little part of their growing independence dies every time a kid sees their dad or mom answer what looks to be the same exact phone they have. Really, it’s just so un-cool to look like our parents when we are kids.  

In Need of a Different Phone

My working assumption is that smartphones, like every other piece of personal gear, is a part of a young adult’s image and that they really don’t want to look like their parents. However, the problem is that Apple and most phone companies are run by adults and these adults don’t get the need for distinction or difference.

More importantly, adults don’t grok the need for a phone that is the signature device of the pre-adult set.   The last company that seemed to understand this was Danger and the Sidekick was successful against the Blackberry which was an even more obvious parents phone than the iPhone is. The Sidekick played well with kids and young stars who often heavily customized the phone with jewels and color treatments making it uniquely theirs (it also became the most likely handset to be stolen).

Of course, Microsoft bought Danger and proceeded to kill the Sidekick in favor of the Kin Phone after wasting an estimated $1B on the doomed device.   Up until that point, I’d thought that Microsoft couldn’t screw up anything more than they did with Zune. But hey, was I ever wrong, because the Kin set a record by failing shortly after it launched.

While the Kin was conceptually a fine idea, it was simply under resourced and poorly thought through like many of Microsoft’s efforts over the last decade. Yes, Redmond frequently comes up with iPod level ideas in a steady cadence (they had the iPod, iPad and iPhone ideas first), but just can't manage to execute them properly. This is why much of last decade was highlighted by Apple wiping the floor with
Microsoft, especially in the mobile sphere. Boy, if there ever was a company that should learn from its mistakes…

Wrapping Up:  In Search of a New Sidekick

Essentially, kids want to be different than their parents. Yet, there probably isn't a brand more associated with parents and authority than Windows. Then again, kids don't want a device that is identical to what their parents carry around.

Now, you could argue about whether or not the Sidekick boasted a more efficient design, but you can’t dispute the fact that it wasn’t vastly different than what parents of the generation carried. Then again, it was wrapped with services that were uniquely priced for kids from T-Mobile. 

In short, if Nokia wants to take advantage of this opportunity they will have to distance themselves - and I mean by light years - from the Windows brand, perhaps by using their unique UI option. Plus, of course, the Finnish-based company will also need to design a form factor that doesn’t look like an iPhone or a typical Android device.