In 2007, Apple released what the world called “The Jesus Phone”. If Steve Jobs wanted to “put a dent in the universe”, this was the product that really did it. No product before or since had as big impact on the consumer market as the iPhone did when it was released in 2007. Unlike everything else on the scene before, it had no buttons, except one. It had a multitouch display that worked incredibly well. It had a full web browser that was far more powerful and efficient than anything Windows Mobile, BlackBerry or Palm devices had. It had a great email app. It was unbelievable.
Since then, it’s been unable to shake off its Messiah complex.
Every generation swings by, and each generation brings in more sales, more revenue, and more profit for Apple. Until last year, there was a crazy statistic: Each and every generation of iPhone launches brought in more sales than all of the previous generation launches combined. That is – quite frankly – insane.
Samsung may be leading the way in terms of overall handset sales globally, and Android may have a much larger portion of the smartphone market, but there’s still no single flagship smartphone that outsells the iPhone. And Apple still rakes in the majority of the mobile industry’s profits.
If you listen to any interviews with Tim Cook from the past year or so, you’ll hear several mentions of Apple’s focus and drive. Its “North Star”. The company knows exactly where it’s heading with its hardware and software development. Probably for the next 5 years, if not more. It has a clear target, and it will not deviate from it. Market trends won’t push it off course, and certainly don’t affect its decisions or cause any knee-jerk reactions.
It hasn’t made a phablet yet, despite Samsung having had three generations of its popular Note series already. The iPhone still only has a 4-inch screen, which is tiny compared to almost every smartphone on the market nowadays. Do people complain? Not much. At least, not the general consumers. It’s all us tech-heads doing the complaining.
Will the iPhone have a bigger display eventually? Probably. But it won’t be a rushed product manufactured out of sheer panic that it’s losing market share. If Apple is going to release a bigger iPhone, it’s because it’s planned, developed, built and tested and found it to be a great experience. As much as I hanker after a bigger screen, I know my complaints, or anyone else’s, aren’t going to sway Apple.
But it’s more than that even. Cupertino’s designers, unlike most other smartphone makers, only have to focus on one new design every 1-2 years. Last year was the first time since 2009 that we got a brand new design 12 months after the previous one. Ive&Co. can take their time, considering each chamfered edge, the exact color of the glass panels or anodized finish on the back. It can perfect, hone and develop it with great attention to detail.
Another element of Apple’s success with the iPhone is that it’s built entirely in-house. Software and hardware are designed together simultaneously to create an experience that’s refined. The fact that it can design its own processors, displays and connectors goes a long way to ensuring the all-round experience is first class. A small, but obvious, example is the Lightning connector. It’s durable, easy to use, and because it’s got an authentication chip built in, it’s hard to copy without the iPhone/iPad picking up that you’re using a fake/Chinese clone.
Being able to design the chips and the OS itself, means it can be streamlined to be efficient. Android devices – for example – now use Quad-Core processors to power them and make them super-fast. iPhone’s still on dual-core, and that’s predominantly because Siri requires one of those cores.
With software and hardware all being designed in-house, it’s a great device. But when you add those two elements to Apple’s amazing ecosystem of apps, movies, music and books through iTunes, you get something incredible. Any music in my iTunes library is on my phone, any movies I purchase on my Apple TV are viewable from my iPhone. Any apps on the App Store have to meet Apple’s guidelines, to ensure that not to much trash gets through.
Yes, it’s a “walled garden” some may feel to be too constricting. But, for most people using the device, they don’t notice the walls are even there because they’re too busy staring at all the flowers and plant-life. I mean, what’s better: a perfectly tendered garden with all kinds of wondrous beauty, or a completely free, wide-open public park covered in dog business, empty beer bottles and graffiti?
It’s so good, faults are major news
As far as I can remember, there’s not been one iPhone that’s been so bad as to get a mediocre or poor review. Each one is billed as the “top smartphone” by tech critics. Even the iPhone 5c has been well received. Almost every aspect works fantastically, and is in tune with the rest of the components and functions. So much so, that when a fault shows up, it makes the news.
If Apple’s Maps app starts making mistakes, or has poor data, it’s all over the web within a couple of days. If the antenna doesn’t pick up signal when you cover one of the gaps that helps it to work, it’s branded “Antennagate”. If there’s a purple lens flare when you point your camera directly at the sun, you’ve got “Purplegate”. If iMessage or iCloud goes down, the webosphere hurls itself in to a manic state of bewilderment.
Apple loves developers. And developers love Apple (mostly). Since its inception, the iPhone has only ever had two screen sizes. Between 2007 and 2010, it had one screen size with one resolution to develop for. Developers didn’t have to test for varying resolutions and form factors. iPhone 4 was released, with twice the resolution, but in the same size screen and the same ratio. Adapting apps for that was easy enough. iPhone 5 was launched, it had the same pixel density and the same width as the previous displays, but was slightly longer. Again, not too much trouble. And apps not optimized for iPhone 5 didn’t look too bad on its longer display.
Almost 6 years after the App Store launched there are now over 1 million apps on the App Store, and a huge number of devoted developers. But it’s not just the quantity that’s impressive. iOS gives developers the platform to really build some fantastic programs that look and work great. And they don’t have to try a hundred different screens to optimize the app. With millions of people using the same iPhone screen, app developers can do some really great work, and know that the experience for every user is going to be exactly the same.
It’s hard to believe that third party apps weren’t available until the iPhone 3G. But deciding to launch the App Store was perhaps the greatest thing Apple ever did. For everyone.
Is it really special?
I think what I love about the iPhone is that it shows what a company can achieve by not panicking, and by staying true to its principles. It believes in great design, in simplicity, in making your life better through technology. It’s not just going to release a gigantic monstrosity capable of teleporting you to the moon, back in time and with a giant 4k screen a 16-core processor. Experience comes first.
Is it special still? Yes, I think so. I think we’re reaching a lull now that we always seem to reach when a design approaches the two year mark. I remember reading stories and comments about how old, and out of date the iPhone 4s was compared to competition in 2012. Then months later, iPhone 5 was announced, and suddenly Apple was back in the game (not that it was ever really out of it). iPhone 5s is about the potential of two key things: Touch ID and 64-bit processing. They may not be wowing us now, but in a couple of years time, when not having them both will seem unthinkable, we’ll look back at the iPhone 5s as the device that kick-started them.
When the iPhone originally launched in 2007, not many people bought it. Nowhere near as many as bought the 3G or 3GS in the following years. It was expensive, couldn’t send MMS, record video or download third party programs. Does that stop it from being a special device?
What do you think? Is the iPhone still special? Leave your thoughts below or tweet me: @TiP_Cam