The iPhone is extraordinary not because of it’s UI but because it’s the tail wagging the dog ..


>>> An update and summary:

For our non English readers, a clarification and a summary. The expression ‘Tail wagging the dog’ implies the lesser entity(tail) influences the larger entity(i.e. wags the dog). Contrast this with ‘Dog wagging his tail’ i.e. the norm.

So .. What I am saying is

The iPhone is cool, sexy etc because it works closely with the one Operator where its launched(namely Cingular in the US). In that deployment, Apple seems to be the dominant partner rather than Cingular if you consider features like Visual voicemail (which is unlike the norm i.e. Usually, the Carrier is the more dominant partner in such relationships). The caveat is, as more Operators deploy the iPhone, either it becomes too complex or it becomes least common denominator. Thus, the jury is out still IMHO. Others like Disruptive wireless have also picked up on this Cingular centric aspect of the story

Long title of blog BUT .. The real title is even longer .. I wanted to say ..

The iPhone is extraordinary not because of it’s UI but because it’s the tail wagging the dog .. But the real question is: How many dogs can it wag?

Let me explain ..

It’s almost customary for bloggers to create a post today about the iPhone. I was actually not planning to do one because the OpenGardens blog is not about the latest news, but rather about independent analysis.

However .. This is an extraordinary announcement .. And not for the obvious reasons (yes, the UI is sexy .. but there is a lot more than meets the eye) .. as I hope to explain here ..

Firstly, let’s start with a hypothetical question: ‘Is a walled garden EVER good?’

Depends on what you mean ‘Good’ of course …

But a walled garden can be good for consumers if the final user experience is VERY VERY VERY superior.

Not just marginally good .. But EXTREMELY good ..

This is where so many others (like most Mobile Network Operators) failed commercially BUT Apple succeeded commercially. In other words, the two biggest successes: The Mac and the iPod have been superior user experiences BUT very rigid walled gardens,

The two go together and all kudos to Apple for delivering a product in the end which the customers LOVE(and that’s all which matters at the end of the day). Yes, there are limitations – such as the PC was a far bigger success than the Mac etc etc .. but no one can deny that overall customers who buy these products, rave about them. (BTW, I own neither a Mac or an iPod! )

Which brings us to the iPhone

If you extrapolate that strategy of total control coupled with an extraordinary user experience on to the Mobile networks, : What do we get?

Two things can happen

a) Either Apple can’t control the whole environment (which naturally includes the Mobile Network Operator), and the product becomes a tepid, half cooked device OR

b) Apple indeed ‘walks on water’ and DOES influence the entire value chain!

I was always sceptical about the iPhone before I saw it because like most people, I expected the former to happen .. BUT this announcement points to the later ..

And that’s why it is extraordinary.

Here is what that means in practise.

As per Ed Burnette /Zdnet

The first supported carrier will be Cingular. What’s the killer app? The killer app is making calls! It’s amazing how hard it is to make calls on most phones. We want to let you use contacts like never before — sync your iPhone with your PC or Mac. Visual voicemail — wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to listen to five of them to list to the sixth? Just like email you can go directly to the voicemails that interest you.

Emphasis mine ..

Two amazing things here :

a) The first supported carrier will be Cingular. Supported carrier? Since when did devices support carriers? Carriers support devices. Not the other way round! Hence, is the tail now wagging the dog?(Not necessarily a bad thing IMHO!)

b) Secondly, I have always wondered – why don’t we have something like the visual voicemail? As a consumer, that’s EXACTLY what I want .. I hate trawling through old voicemail(and worse still – remembering keys to go next voicemail etc etc!). So, it’s fantastic to have visual voicemail ..

BUT guess what?

Supporting visual voicemail implies that the two (device and Carrier) are intimately in bed!

Else, it is not possible to provide such a service(because the voicemail is stored on the network and not the device) .

More significantly, the device(in this case is Apple) is calling the shots! This means, again, the tail(Apple) wagging the dog(Cingular) AND Apple’s influence stretches beyond the device and MUCH deeper into the value chain!

This is the stuff of dreams for device manufacturers i.e. a really close partnership where they call the shots. The closest anyone has come to this scenario is Nokia and that has been a limited in comparison

So, I say that the iPhone is extraordinary not because of it’s UI but because it’s the tail wagging the dog.

But ..

There is a caveat ..

The real question is: How many dogs can it wag?

And herein, could like a problem because as Apple gets into bed with more Carriers, the product no longer becomes a compact, sleek device but becomes one of two things

a) Either a least common denominator device(which means Apple loses it’s cool factor and becomes like any other phone in the marketplace)


b) Something very difficult to manufacture because it varies by market, network technology and a range of other factors. In other words, the device may be Cingular centric, and that’s fine .. but as more Operators come on board, the device will become more complex

So, to conclude

The iPhone is extraordinary not because of it’s UI but because it’s the tail wagging the dog .. But the real question is: How many dogs can it wag?



PS: The photo below(courtesy the BBC) shows Steve Jobs with the boss of phone network Cingular, Stan Sigman. Stan sounds bigger than Steve – but maybe it should be other way round!

Ipod photo courtesy Zdnet

Thanks Nicola Mattina for the feedback


  1. Let me see if i understood (in Italian and have some problems with idiomatic expressions).
    It seems that Apple is going to establish strong relationships with operators to improve the UX and this can be a plus or a minus. So, this factor, that was not the most evident announcement, will determine wether the iPhone will be a success or not. Is this correct?

  2. Thanks for the summary :-)
    I agree with your analysis… I had a lot of experiences with mobile operators in Italy and I came to a conclusion: to produce something new in the mobile arena, you:
    * should not have any relationship with them because theie mind is locked in the short term olygopolistic view;
    * burn Forrester and Gartner predictions about the future of mobile services, because they say exactly what mobile operators want to ear!
    Ciao and kudos for your blog

  3. Hetal says:

    Based on the specs, its a Quad band GSM phone which means it would get to partner with only T-Mobile and Cingular here in the US… No Sprint, Verizon…