It is no shocker people are busting blocks lining up for the new iPhone around the world and that the shipping times for new phones are moving deep into October in many channels — after all, Apple has created a highly unusual, artificial case of pent-up demand by being the last major smartphone vendor to release a phablet.
For two years, Samsung and others have been able to make hay in the jumbo phone market without having to compete against the leading phone brand in the world. Major electronics companies rarely elect to stay out of a hot product category voluntarily, so there are few precedents to what is going on: Basically more than two years of pent-up demand for iPhones with larger displays is now finally being released.
But on the software side, the launch of iOS 8 has created a genuine surprise. It turns out that what consumers have really been dreaming about is new keyboard apps.
iOS 8’s support for highly differentiated keyboard apps has triggered an astonishing download frenzy — by Friday morning, all of the top 3 paid iPhone apps were keyboard apps (Swype, Fleksy and Color Keyboards), while the top 2 free downloads were SwiftKey and CoolKey. This means that no fewer than five keyboard apps dominated all other types of apps in the iPhone market.
Who could have predicted that there is such a hunger for not only one or two, but for five different keyboard apps? Fascinatingly, the iPhone keyboard app market has already fragmented to clearly delineated ecological niches, as if we were dealing with a flock of Galapagos finches.
SwiftKey focuses on adaptive auto-correct; CoolKey offers a wild array of colors and sounds; Swype brags about being the most accurate keyboard. Fleksy, meanwhile, tries to pull off the trick of combining the claim about being the fastest keypad with a large color/theme palette *and* some gesture-based typing features. Specialists, generalists, free downloads, premium apps — today, the iPhone app market is completely dominated by the fierce competition among half a dozen apps trying to redefine the keyboard software market overnight.
This is what makes the iOS app market the most compelling software market in history — it is massive, lucrative, but also highly idiosyncratic, because it remains defined by Apple’s ability to suddenly change the way iOS devices work and how they support various features. It is hard to think of another major industry where competitive parameters can change so profoundly overnight. This is the ultimate test of developer creativity, speed and commercial insight: How do you exploit new OS versions optimally and fill hot new product niches before competition?