15-year Smartphone Anniversary: 9-Jan

The iPhone redefined and encapsulates what everyone wants in their pocket. It set the bar. It’s strange to think that 30-year-olds are practically tech veterans in terms of understanding how the iPhone is entering the business scene. 20-year-olds can’t remember graduate life without them.

15 years ago Steve Jobs revealed 3-innovations-in-1 in his indomitable style. It’s worth reminding ourselves of the sheer innovation leap presented to the world in 2007: “we’re introducing a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone and a break-through internet communicator device…..  An iPod.  A phone.  An internet communicator…. These are not 3 separate devices.  This is one device…. And we are calling it: iPhone”.

Video: Steve Jobs launching the iPhone revolution on 9 Jan 2007

Figure 1: Steve Jobs explains Apple’s UX breakthroughs for customers

To quote CNBC in the run-up to Covid in Dec 2019: “it’s possible to look at the last 10 years as the iPhone decade — when smartphones went mainstream, created billion-dollar corporations, rearranged existing industries and changed the world.”

Figure 2: Apple’s advent of mass-market smartphone/GPS drove On-Demand:

Unquestionably, it’s the most impactful consumer tech product over the past decade

apple analyst Gene Munster, cnbc, Dec 2019

The iPhone has created arguably as many new industries as it destroyed.  Ride-hailing companies Lyft and Uber are collectively worth more than $60 billion, and they exist only thanks to the always-on GPS location and high-speed wireless connections that became common with the iPhone.

For sure many can raise their eyes today at the mention of an iPhone.  They may prefer to mention other manufacturers and their own competitive product: an Android variety or some other smartphone.  But the iPhone remains the revolutionary product. All competitors follow a similar path. They look and feel broadly the same as the Apple design: slick, slim and a seamless experience for users across all generations.

Figure 3: Apple set the bar for all smartphones today.

On this anniversary, we share 3 take aways below: sensible science prevailed, swathes of the public joined a veritable tech journey, and the initial ‘fake it until you make it’ Steve Jobs launch for which we remain grateful 15 years later.

Years of research and development delivered game-changing success

At a time when pseudo-science and political interventions confuse people’s respect for science, it is fantastic to see an example in which years of proper research and development trumped widely-held truths: 

  • Many betted against touch screen keyboards versus fixed plastic keyboards of Blackberrys, Nokias and Palms.
  • Many thought a device for personal life (music, books, movies) could not meet the needs of the business blackberry world.
  • Many believed a mobile-first device cannot deliver desktop class applications and business-grade connectivity.

Figure 4: Steve Jobs explains the desktop technology packed into the first iPhone.

  • Many IT managers were of the opinion that business would not be influenced by iPhones.  In 2017, Microsoft issued the full Office 365 suite for business iPhones and iPad devices.

It’s got all the stuff we want… [it] let’s us create desktop class applications and networking… Not the crippled stuff you find on most phones.”

Steve Jobs, Apple launch of iPhone

On each count naysayers have been proven wrong.  Now it is great to see top FTSE and NYSE businesses grasping and organising B2B benefits from the resulting technologies and innovative software available on the Apple App Store.

Technology is a journey

Over 15 years, we can clearly look back at legacy moments related to the iPhone.  Many overlook or certainly have forgotten the earlier iPhones limitations.  Like any good tech progress, it’s a journey:

  • 24 months after iPhone launch to introduce the App Store. Until then you very much got what you’re given by Apple managers..
  • 24 months to upgrade 2 megapixel to 3 megapixel photos
  • 24 months for video recording
  • 36 months for a high-definition display…. And the list goes on.
  • 36 months for selfies with a front camera

Figure 4. Selfies introduced new styles, branding techniques, companies and spawned new industries.

Fake it until you make it?

While the iPhone experience receives some of the highest user reviews year after year, the New York Times revealed just how close to the sun Apple flew to introduce such a new and complex technology to the world. Steve Jobs presented “the golden path” to make it look like it worked:

It worked fine if you sent an e-mail and then surfed the Web. If you did those things in reverse, however, it might not. Hours of trial and error had helped the iPhone team develop what engineers called “the golden path,” a specific set of tasks, performed in a specific way and order, that made the phone look as if it worked.

New York Times

The debate will rage on between the healthy balance between solid products and investor expectation management. But as far as this ‘fake’ launch may be concerned, we are grateful the launch succeeded, the product thrives the test of time – and new products build upon this marvellous achievement.

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