Apple and The Paradox of Choice


Phone Too MuchAhead of the “Let’s talk iPhone” event tomorrow, it’s possible that Apple may indeed unveil two iPhones: a 8GB version of the iPhone 4 and the new “iPhone 4S,” which is just an update to the iPhone 4. That really equates to one new iPhone and a new flavor of the iPhone 4. This approach continues to match with Apple’s iPhone and larger product strategy that less is more. And it’s this paradox of choice that is helping them win the mobile market.

If you aren’t familiar with it, the book Paradox of Choice lays out why having too many purchasing options is actually crippling to consumers. Americans in particular face angst when looking at the seemingly infinite number of options to make purchases. For example, at a local grocery market author Barry Schwartz finds 75 iced teas and 285 varieties of cookies. Then consider the paradox of choice at work for larger and more expensive purchases, such as electronics or cars. Nearly everything is customizable and the stress of making a decision can be paralyzing.

Apple has largely removed this complexity from their purchasing process. In fact, the iPad 2 launch was probably their most complicated iOS product to date. Consumers had to choose a color, size, and what kind of network capabilities they wanted. If they wanted a Wi-Fi + 3G model, they then had to select AT&T or Verizon.

Still, selecting a particular version from those twenty-four different possible combinations is only a decision that must be made once a consumer believes he wants an iPad. Essentially, the choice is a single iPad versus any other tablet. The paradox of choice is at least one reason the latest numbers have 25M iPads on the market compared to 3M tablets of everything else.

iPad 2From a development perspective, the paradox of choice also makes building apps for iOS significantly easier, because in general, there are at most about three generation of devices that need to be supported. But it could be possible to get away with two. For example, at the moment most of the non-tablet market could be covered by supporting third and fourth generation iPod touches and iPhones (i.e., the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4). Since Apple phases out older products, it makes device support fairly predictable.

Even on the design side, there are only two screen sizes, one for the iPod touch and iPhone, and one for the iPad. Of course, there’s Retina display but Apple’s made it more straightforward for designers by just doubling the pixel dimensions. Compare this simplicity against building for Android, where there are many different screen sizes, many different hardware specifications, and little consistency available to developers and designers. This lack of standardization is one reason most Android Market reviews focus on why the app doesn’t work on a particular device instead of addressing actual features of the app.

Ultimately, it’s a win-win for Apple. Consumers aren’t overwhelmed when deciding to “buy Apple” and developers can better support their apps. The Apple philosophy of less is more is apparent in all of their culture and it’s apt considering the subtitle of The Paradox of Choice which reads, Why More is Less.