What Impact does Apple's Licensing of Its Platform Have on the future of Electronic Products?
Recently, big in the news, Apple’s iPhone sales blew past the undisputed leader Nokia with $11.9 billion (with a “B”) in iPhone sales as compared to $9.4 billion in Nokia sales. As of 4/26/2011, the average sale per device works out to about $660 for the Apple products to the average selling price of $94.77 per unit for the Nokia. What does this say about electronics and their place in people’s lives? It tells me sexy sells.
What is all of the excitement about Apple’s iClass of products all about anyway? In four words, “capability”, “flexibility”, “easy user interface”, “portability”. These four central features enable people to use these platforms in ways that are revolutionary if not downright disruptive. This paired with consistency and ease of use associated with Apple’s platforms command top dollar.
Let’s look at what this means for companies who sell electronic products. Literally everything from consumer products to lab or medical instruments are or will be affected very soon. Whether these companies believe Apple’s platform is a plus or a minus, it is definitely a force to be reckoned with and all companies that sell electronic anythings need to recognize and plan.
There are hundreds of thousands of software applications that have been developed and made available since 2007, when Apple first made this a possibility by licensing software developers through its iOS-licensing program.
There is an equivalent but little known program for hardware developers and manufacturers. Starting with the release of a new operating system in June 2009, the MFi (made for “I” class of products iPod, iTouch, iPhone, iTV) license. This program has not yet resulted in many products short of typical simple peripherals such as chargers, earpieces etc. that utilize the full capabilities of this platform. These new external hardware devices are required to be part of the ‘Made for iPod’ (MFi) and Work With iPhone licensee program
This is about to change! The development of everything from sophisticated instruments to high-tech solutions for home, yard and auto will leverage iPhone, iTouch and iPad. Although the MFi program has been in place for a few years only a relatively small number of qualified developers and manufactures have been granted these licenses. As these hardware developers gain experience products that utilize this technology will burst on to the market just as the software applications have in recent years.
Having a product Apple-certified is a huge plus in ever more competitive markets. Users know and appreciate the consistency and ease of use associated with the Apple interface. The certification can offer an instant “Wow” factor for a product … and consumers associate it with quality.
Apple mentions medical devices as a strong user of these new capabilities, but many and varied are other uses that have skyrocketed in the market such as game controllers, precision instrumentation and point of sale systems. The External Accessory (EA) Framework is what provides for the communication between external MFi devices and an application on the Apple device’s iOS.
While the framework can appear to be simple, the implementation of communication between an iOS application and an external device can be complex. Genuine expertise is absolutely necessary in the development of these enabled products!
At this point it is clear that the versatility of this platform is much more than the latest cute apps. Electronic product developers that have been qualified, the few that are MFi licensed, are utilizing what amounts to a stable and advanced hardware platform, Apple’s authentication devices, technical documentation, test labs, and technical support to create some of the most innovative and downright disruptive products there are. Consumers are accustomed to the diverse functionality and simple interfaces with giant capability they get with their mobile applications. Innovators are designing, developing and building feature-rich, high-impact interactive electronics.
Originally developed for the iPhone, (Apple’s mobile devices operating system) iOS was expanded to include their other “i” devices, iPod Touch, iPad, Apple TV
MFi product developers link any number of types of devices to this iOS architecture resulting in a seamless integration of external hardware devices connecting via the dock connector or wirelessly over Bluetooth using an iOS framework called External Accessories to communicate with the “i” devices. This means that external, sensors, controls, and in fact almost any other type of function imaginable. Whoa! That opens up some doors doesn’t it?
What can be done with these opened doors? Think way beyond the battery charging, Bluetooth headset, and gadgetry we have all seen in the last 2 years. We can improve the quality of amputee’s lives leveraging with Apple’s iOS platform with a user interface that communicates from the user’s iPhone to an intuitive and “intelligent” artificial limb. For the user, the function of the limb is both dynamic and interactive. For the clinicians, crucial data is collected from a variety of sensors on the artificial limb and provided clinic so they can analyze several variables and make any essential adjustments, lowering patient discomfort and medical costs in parallel.
Or, consider a unique safety instrument currently under development that will benefit high-voltage line workers. This system leverages the Apple iPhone as a warning and communication portal for a new patent pending multi-function Ground Potential Rise (GPR) monitor. The iPhone receives information form the sensors in the equipment, which alerts high-voltage transmission-line workers of adverse conditions that may require them to modify actions or protect themselves.
A floodgate of imagination opened up when the ability to swipe a finger to make user-interactive electronic products perform previously unknown functions became possible by licensing the world’s best-known mobile platform. Electronic products capable of interacting with iPad/iPhone/iPod are already hot marketplace items and the demand for MFi external hardware devices will most certainly amplify in a similar fashion to the software applications that precede them. The development of these trailblazing electronic products has them ferociously taking ground. Smart companies will pay close attention to this trend and how it will impact their industry. Really smart companies will get ahead of their competition by leveraging it.