Today marks the 10th anniversary of Steve Jobs’ launch of the most profitable smartphone ever made – the original iPhone.
The granddaddy of all iPhones was a humble farmer – no land (app store) and no fast transportation (3G), but a huge, huge dream for the future. That dream came true, and iPhone today has helped Apple become the most valuable brand in the world, six times in a row.
How did iPhone evolve from its modest beginning to now becoming an unmistakable sign of affluence, and a fashion statement in its own right?
Today, the iPhone is not much different from other truly premium phones, like the ones from Samsung. But before Apple fans draw and quarter me, consider why premium smartphone makers are constantly embroiled in patent wars: it’s because most phones in that price band share similar features and similar technologies and similar designs. No smartphone maker can make every innovation a bold and unusual one. Sometimes, it helps to piggy-back on what your peers are doing – even if you’re Apple.
That’s probably a discussion best left for another day. For now, let’s look at the evolution of the iPhone and how it came to dominate the premium smartphone market around the world.
And There “i” Was – The Original iPhone
When iPhone first came out, it brought a surprisingly large number of changes to mobile phones, that have been preserved as is – more or less – for the past ten years. The grid layout for the icon, the absence of a keypad, the single Home Button and so on. Though the variations are numerous, most smartphones today follow very similar form factors and design principles. One reason for this could well be technological and manufacturing limitations, but for the most part it’s about following a safe and proven formula set by the trailblazers.
The Second Gen iPhones – 3G and 3G S
The next two years – 2008 and 2009 – saw the introduction of 3G connectivity, but more importantly it saw the birth of App Store. Developers finally had a marketplace to sell their apps on and gather a user base for their work. This was probably the most important contribution from Apple during 2008 – practically in line with the disruption that iPhone brought to mobile phones – because it gave rise to an entire sub-segment within software development. Also introduced at this time were turn-by-turn GPS navigation, the push notifications and, with the 3G S, copy-paste!
iPhone 4 and 4S
By 2010 Apple was ready to move to a metal and glass finish and a hardening of lines without losing the fluid design of its predecessors. It was marketed as the thinnest phone in the world, had Retina Display, brought in a front camera for FaceTime calls and introduced multi-tasking of apps. The iPhone 4S brought in additional camera power with an 8 MP rear camera, and was the first time people got to speak to a virtual assistant called Siri. She was way ahead of her time, but it was a bold innovation nonetheless. Unfortunately, the day after iPhone 4S was born, the man behind the brainchild passed away. It was now October 2011.
iPhone 5, 5C and 5S
Over the following two years, many design changes were brought in. The first of these was a larger, 4-inch screen. iPhone 5 also featured a lighter but solid aluminium body, but a lot of the design elements were carried over from iPhone 4 and 4S.
Could it be that this was the first time Apple was scratching for design ideas? It would seem so, to some.
But on the performance front there were major leaps made, such as the reversible Lightning port replacing the classic 30-pin port. With iPhone 5S came fingerprint ID support in the form of Touch ID, the A7 – a first in terms of 64-bit processors in smartphones and the memorable iOS 7 with its major move into flat design.
iPhone 6 and 6 Plus
In 2014 Apple recognized the need for larger screens, and came out with two, much larger phones – the 6 and 6 Plus with 4.7 and 5.5 inch displays. This was also the year Apple Pay was launched, so NFC (near field communication) chipsets were introduced to these phones.
Apple also partially reverted to the curved design that went out with the 4 and briefly made a cameo appearance on the back panel of the 5C. Everything else was merely an upgrade on previous models, but Apple hadn’t mastered the art of sturdiness with larger phone sizes, hence “Bendgate.”
iPhone 6S and 6S Plus
Another year and another S(ame old) model, but a little sturdier because of the tougher glass and aluminium body. 3D Touch and Live Photos came with this model, but the 6S siblings clearly showed that Apple was running low on innovation.
This was a surprise launch into the mid-range smartphone segment – something nobody ever expected Apple to do. Borderline sacrilegious, actually. But the company had recognized a need to expand its market share by offering something cheaper, yet unmistakably Apple. So, they dressed up the 5S, gave it some new colors, tuned up the engine, gave it Touch ID and called it a new smartphone.
And then came 7.
iPhone 7 and 7 Plus
The jury is still out on whether the iPhone 7 actually brings any additional value to the iPhone family tree. “Getting rid of unseemly antenna lines” isn’t exactly the bleeding edge of innovation, but they did manage to bring in some changes, in the form of a dual camera on the Plus model, waterproofing on both phones and of course, and the bold (arrogant/courageous/unnecessary/fantastic) eliminating of the 3.5 mm audio port.
2016 was also the year Apple crossed 1 billion active devices.
So, what next?
iPhone 8 has the burden of massive expectations on its shoulders, as does Tim Cook. Can he re-create the iPhone that Steve Jobs launched exactly 10 years ago today? Can iPhone 8 – or whatever they plan to call it – really deliver the same kind of wow factor that its ancestor did in 2007?
What we know about the upcoming iPhone 8 shows that it will have a revolutionary design, but is Apple playing it safe by also launching two more phones alongside it – or possibly ahead of it – to act as a buffer for a possible softness in demand for iPhone 8? That might, indeed, be the case if the iPhone 7S and 7S Plus make it to the market this year.
Not that we think there will be any lack of demand. After all, it is the 10th anniversary edition of arguably the greatest innovation in mobile phone technology in a long time. But the fact that Apple isn’t pinning all its hopes on a massively successful iPhone 8 is discouraging, to say the least. Prudent, perhaps, but discouraging nonetheless.
But you can’t blame Tim Cook for not having the vision of Steve Jobs. Cook has done a brilliant job over the past five years, nurturing the brand – and the company – and keeping both at the top of the market. I personally think that Apple’s board members made a big mistake cutting Cook’s pay for last year’s iPhone sales performance. The decision seems to have completely ignored the new Apple that Cook is trying to create. Jobs recreated smartphones, but Cook is doing no less by recreating Apple as a device and services company. That’s not easy at all, considering whose shoes he stepped into, but he’s done admirably well so far even though the road ahead is long.
And even if the iPhone 8 doesn’t blow us away, it’s going to sell out like hotcakes on a cold winter morning. That’s the kind of brand reputation Apple has built over the years. Even the most ardent Apple critic won’t be able to deny that fact.
Come what may, Apple is here to stay, and so is the iPhone. Here’s to a great 2017! Okay, you can blow out the candles, now.
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