The iPhone is 10 years old - congratulations Apple. You’ve seen many authors write about how the iPhone changed the mobile industry or the tech industry or even the media industry from games to music to advertising. Some even point out that the whole mobile tech world had a transformational moment ten years ago, that we could consider the era before the iPhone as the kind of dark ages, and modern enlightenment only arrived with the iPhone, and modern phones all are clones of the iPhone. Not unlike how Jesus Christ changed the counting of time - the time before and the time after. All that would be a valid and fair observation if done by another tech writer. Except not for me.
Because I wrote all that. I said all of it including the Jesus bit, ten years ago. Over ten years ago, actually, in MAY of 2007 because I am the only author to write all that BEFORE the iPhone had sold one copy. Long before the iPhone had become a smartphone, I said all that. And yes, the Jesus bit. This blog is the (unwitting) origin for that term, the Jesusphone. I am literally the only author who can’t write all the above, and not repeat himself from ten years ago. Some other tech writers did foresee how much Apple would change the HANDSET market. Nobody else saw how widely the iPhone would change media, advertising, the computer industry and the internet industry. I did. I told you all this in May of 2007 before even one iPhone was sold. Nobody on the planet is more qualified to write this 'review' of the past decade, because nobody else predicted it BEFORE those ten years, as accurately as I did. If you want to understand, this is the article to read.
This is a long article, about 14,000 words or more than a chapter-length from one of my hardcover tech books. It will take you probably about 20 minutes to read. This is not a light simple silly article of trivial platitudes. We dig through EVERYTHING, every relevant point is here, meticulously addressed. If you want to read the most accurate and most thorough article about the iPhone and the past decade, this is it. This will not be a quick read, so be prepared. But if you want to understand the iPhone, its impact and the near future of tech, then this is worth your while. Remember, I am the guy who got EVERYTHING right about the iPhone ten years ago (nobody else managed that). You owe it to yourself to read this article now with care and focus. Get yourself a cup of coffee before you start.
I not only said that all future handsets would be compared to the then-latest iPhone model, but that even with all handset competitors attempting to out-do Apple’s iPhone - the iPhone would continue to be the most beloved device with the best user experience and best loyalty. That nobody could even catch up to Apple in that critical aspect - being the easiest-to-use. Reading my 10 year old forecast is eerie, like going back in time and literally finding someone who had a functioning crystal ball. Nobody else made as powerful and thorough prediction of how broadly the iPhone would change the world - and yet today, that blog reads like ‘obvious’ stuff. Only if you take the time to read contemporary writing from 2007, can you appreciate how far-out-there I was that year, what a bold, bold, brave, nearly-suicidal blog post that was. And I turned out 100% correct. Many have said it’s my best blog article of all time.
Certainly I was the first to understand the full impact of what the iPhone would achieve in its first decade and why. Not just as a mobile phone, changing mobile phones; but far more broadly, forcing changes in media, advertising and computing industries. Note, I even caught that nuance that the TECH PRESS would become mesmerized with Apple’s hype and fall into various Apple nonsense stories, distorting reality for us. I even foresaw that side to the iPhone. Yes, I even foresaw ten years ago, that tech writers and pundits would start to MISTAKENLY assign changes to the industry that happened by timing coincidence, regardless of the iPhone, be be supposedly caused by the iPhone.
Who else warned you about that phenomenon in 2007? That the iPhone would create a tech history distortion field too, where ‘experts’ would assign contributons to the iPhone that had not been caused by it. I even saw that iHype stage coming (who else said that in 2007?). So I’m not going to say that in this blog. I will rather examine the full impact of the iPhone now, at age 10, its past decade - and keep this article meticulously to the facts, for those among us who still care about ‘the truth’ and want to see where they may have been exposed to some iHype and iHope along the iWay. I will truthfully assign the credit where it is due, and show what all Apple managed to change with the iPhone by itself, and what other changes were achieved by others, but are erraneously attributed to Apple, by mostly ill-informed and in some cases mis-informed tech writers. So lets look at the Jesusphone.
THE DARK AGES OF THE MOBILE WORLD OF 2006
The original iPhone (later rebranded as iPhone 2G) was commercially launched on 29 June of 2007. It was first shown to the public by Steve Jobs on 9 January 2007. Some of the shocks of the iPhone started immediately after the first model was shown. So for us to understand the world BI (Before iPhone), we need to go to year 2006. How was the mobile then, 11 years ago from today? A lot of pundits (mostly from America) will tend to think that the iPhone gave us the smartphone, the mobile internet, digital cameraphones, videophones, musicphones, the app store, mobile gaming and mobile wallets. While the iPhone often was the device to bring those technical solutions to Americans, the rest of the rich world had known all those abilities on their phones well before the iPhone. And the rest of the world is where 96% of the planet lives. Just because some misinformed American journalists think something stupid, does not make it so.
Lets go to the facts. So smartphones? Smartphones were invented by Nokia literally a decade before the iPhone and smartphones already sold TEN PERCENT of all new phones in year 2006. (For contrast, today after 10 years in the market, the iPhone sells just over 10% of all mobile phones sold today including smart and dumb phones - so if you think ten percent doesn’t matter - then the iPhone of today ‘still’ doesn’t matter, but if you think the iPhone has a huge enough footprint to truly matter to the world today - then smartphones of 2006 before the iPhone - had achieved that scale already globally before the first iPhone was even shown to the world). It is utter complete hogwash to suggest the iPhone did anything to spark or build the smartphone revolution. The original 2007 edition of the iPhone was not even a smartphone itself (only the next edition, iPhone 3G in 2008, was the first smartphone from Apple). The smartphone had grown and had a decade of life before the iPhone and major smartphone brands had built various business-enterprise type of devices (far more suited for that, than any iPhone since) such as the Blackberry and Nokia’s E-Series. The only part of the rich world where the smartphone revolution was still lagging, was the USA, and only for Americans, the iPhone did coincide with the dramatic take-off of smartphones.
But what of the CONSUMER smartphone then? Oh yeah. You don’t mean the clumsy QWERTY keypad style ‘smart’ phones of Blackberry, you meant the consumer smartphones used for internet, gaming, music, YouTube. The consumer smartphone! Well. That was not invented by Apple either. Yeah, I know, I know. It seems so ‘wrong’ but if you feel that the first consumer smartphone was the iPhone, then you must be American. For Americans it was so. For the rest of the world, we knew years before the iPhone that consumer smartphones were hot new gadgets and we wanted them and we bought them. From Nokia. Consumer-oriented smartphones that were not even SOLD in America. The first pure consumer-oriented smartphone was released by Nokia five years before Apple’s first smartphone. It was Nokia’s gaming phone the N-Gage. Nokia then expanded the consumer-oriented smartphone into a while series (the N-Series) which was roughly as big by year 2006 as the enterprise/business oriented E-Series side of Nokia’s smartphones.
If you come from the computer industry, and want to make the distinction from 'smartphones' that actually the iPhone enabled the pocket computer - ok, I understand your point-of-view. Fair argument. So was Apple first to do the pocket computer-phone then? No. It was Nokia's N-Series, which Nokia had started to market as 'multimedia computers' two years before the iPhone arrived. And yes - Nokia sold MASSES more N-Series 'computers' as smartphones than Apple's iPhone for years to come even after the iPhone launched. The computer revolution that went from desktops to laptops to our pockets - was not invented or driven by Apple, it was invented and driven - by Nokia and the N-Series. All the computing stuff you assign to it from apps to internet surfing to networking.
The only market where N-Series was glaringly absent - was the US market and that may explain why American pundits never saw these amazing multipurpose digital wonders. The N-Series smartphones of 2004, 2005 and 2006 had the full internet (not just WAP), were all on 3G (the iPhone was not 3G), with cameras up 5MP by the time the iPhone launched (Apple at 2mp), including LED and even Xenon flashes, and of course, inward-facing selfie cameras. When Apple was trying to grow up to become a proper smartphone some day, Nokia was busy adding maps and GPS onto its phones, so their consumer phones could be used in cars to provide TomTom style navigation services for consumers too. The consumer smartphone? Was literally invented by Nokia and fully popularized by Nokia long before the iPhone arrived. Even year 2010, Nokia outsold Apple’s iPhone by more than Two-to-One ratio! No, the iPhone did not bring us consumer smartphones: Nokia did that. The only continent where the iPhone brought smartphones to consumers was the lagging North American continent.
The original iPhone did not offer 3G, it did not have a flash, its camera was a puny 2MP, and it had no selfie cam. It didn’t even record video, nor even support MMS. Can you imagine trying to surf the internet on a 2G phone? A PREMIUM phone, one of the most expensive on the market, that only did 2G. When all rival flagship smartphones from SonyEricsson, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, Palm etc did of course do 3G. The original iPhone 2G was a seriously incomplete phone and full of flaws. Inspite of all those faults, I not only catalogued all the faults - inspite of those - I said even with them the iPhone will transform the industry!
IT WAS NOT THE BEST OF PHONES, IT WAS NOT THE WORST OF PHONES
Note how rare that insight is. There were mostly two types of reactions to the original iPhone in 2007. Some - like many rivals of Apple - focused on the faults and thought the iPhone was a failure or doomed. The others - mostly West Coast iFanboys - refused to see the faults and thought that the original iPhone was perfection. I saw the faults - clearly identified them and said Apple will need to fix those - but inspite of those, I still said the iPhone will transform the mobile world. Because of my realistic evaluation of the iPhone and my insights into the international global handset market, I was able to accurately forecast the early regional markets for the iPhone - including that the original model would not even be sold in Japan (the most advanced mobile market then and today).
But lets look at year 2006. The world had 2.7 Billion mobile subscriptions (38% per capita) with 2.2B unique mobile phone users. The industry was growing at break-neck speed and worth $624 Billion (already larger than global television or global PC industry and more than twice the size of the internet industry). Since 2006 the mobile industry has grown to 7.8 Billion mobile subscriptions (tripled in size in a decade). The unique mobile phone user base is at 5.2B adding nearly 1.5x more users than it had a decade ago. Those 3 Billion new mobile users do not use iPhones. They buy Huaweis or Samsungs or cheap local phones in Africa, India and China. They are not even in the market for an iPhone. In India - the biggest growth market in smartphones this year - Apple’s market share is about 2%. It is irrelevant to the mobile revolution that is happening in the Emerging World. Yes, the iPhone’s appearance and growth did coincide with global mobile explosion, except that this revolution had been going on for a decade prior to Apple joining our industry, and then continued in markets where the iPhone is irrelevant, up to today.
In that time the mobile industry went from $624 Billion dollars in value to $1.7 Trillion (ie $1,700 Billion) dollars in value - growing by 1.5x and adding yes, one Trillion dollars of new annual revenues. How big is the ADDED part? The ADDED part alone is twice the size of global TV industry, or twice the size of the global PC industry, or twice the size of the global advertising industry. Or five times the size of the internet, as an industry. That is how much mobile - the fastest-growing giant industry of the planet’s history - grew in the past decade. We grew so much, the growth alone is two television industries, added together! What Apple was able to do, was not power this new growth in Nigeria and Indonesia and Turkey. What Apple did instead, was bring the Apple goodness to Americans - who ALREADY HAD MOBILE PHONES (by Motorola, Palm, Blackberry etc). Apple got to about 35%-40% market share of the US market. Then in Western Europe Apple got to about 20%. If you want to say Apple contributed to the world growth of mobile, they cannibalized the ‘home’ markets of the big tech brands like Nokia and Motorola; but where the growth was - Apple is nowhere to be found! That is where we now find Samsung and Huawei, not Apple. Apple attacked the rotten old core, especially the nasty US market where telcos/operators/carriers were abusive to their customers. Apple took THAT market and its profits. Apple did not contribute in any meaningful way to the GROWTH of the industry.
Lets return to year 2006. About 950 million new mobile phones were sold per year and just under 10% of those were smartphones. Only 7% of the phones sold in 2006 had WiFi but 12% had 3G. Half of all new phones (of all type, not only half of smartphones) sold were cameraphones. 640 million people worldwide were already surfing the ‘mobile internet’ which included full HTML browsers such as on ‘featurephones’ of Japan and advanced smartphones in Europe and Asia; and more limited mobile internet offerings such as WAP. But make no mistake. Apple today has 650 million active iPhone users, 10 years later. Before it sold one unit, the world already had 640 million mobile internet users. Apple did nothing to launch the internet to mobile phones. Any ‘expert’ or analyst who suggests Apple contributed to the internet being in our pockets is just a lazy incompetent writer who is bullshitting you. The only place where Apple brought the internet to pockets - was the USA. The ACTIVE user base of internet from a mobile phone was already twice the size of the total USA population, BEFORE the iPhone even launched!
Lets continue. What about mobile data services? 90% of mobile phones in use or 2.4 Billion used voice calls in 2006 in other words already 1 in 10 mobile phones of 2006 were ‘beyond voice’ users of only data services. (Today 3 out of 10 mobile phone accounts generates zero voice traffic). The world’s most popular digital service of all time, then and now, was already in world-domination mode when the iPhone launched. That is SMS Text Messaging which had 1.9 Billion active users in 2006 (today it is 6.0B - contrast that to say 2.0B Facebook users and you understand how massive the scale is for SMS). Mobile phones were already the bestselling gadget in human history by 2006 (950 million sold that year) where today it is at 1.9B sold per year. Make no mistake, the mobile revolution was fully ongoing already in year 2006 and Apple was, if anything, late to the party. They didn’t invent any of this and most of it was going to become massive - much of it already WAS massive well before the iPhone.
NOT INVENTED HERE
But Steve Jobs showed us the iPod on his iPhone in January 2007. Yes he did. And that too was a late entry to a large global market that Apple was on the verge of missing. Media playing phones were also not invented by Apple. In year 2006 the world sold 170 million musicphones (some smartphones, some ‘featurephone’ dumbphones like the original iPhone itself). Nearly one in five new phones sold in that year was a musicphone. Before the iPhone had been shown to the public by Steve Jobs. One in five! The most famous of these of course was the SonyEricsson Walkman series of musicphones that were later acknowledged by Apple’s Oppenheimer as the explicit reason which forced Apple to move past the iPod digital music player and launch their ‘iPod Phone’ ie the iPhone. Apple had to risk cannibalizing its own highly profitable iPod music player. (As it obviously would do). The iPhone was Apple’s response to SonyEricsson eating their music player market with a mobile phone! (Not my words, so said Oppenheimer; although obviously I made this point repeatedly in year 2006 as we were awaiting the rumored Apple iPod-phone).
You will read from many analysts that Apple invented or created the first app store. If they added ‘first for the USA’ then that would be true, but first smartphone app store? Not so. Not even close. That would be.. Nokia 5 years before the iPhone did it. Nokia first launched what would become known as the ‘Ovi’ store, as the game catalog store for games (=apps) to its consumer smartphone the N-Gage. The Nokia N-Gage game app store was deployed explicitly to bypass carrier billing so that the games would have fast and global reach even in markets where the carriers might want to be a barrier, and Nokia wanted its game developers to get maximum reach for the N-Gage (so yeah, lets not forget, the N-Gage gaming platform as a global commercial vehicle, was a failure, with N-Gage only lasting two editions and then the N-Gage game apps store only was left and migrated to the N-Series as its app store, eventually renamed the Ovi Store). If you were in any way under the illusion that Ovi Store was a failure, then you must think Apple’s App Store is a failure today. Because even in year 2010, two years AFTER the iPhone added its app store support, Nokia’s Ovi store was still the second largest app store on the planet, far bigger than say those on Google’s Android or Microsoft’s Windows or Blackberry or Palm. Today the biggest app store by apps is obviously Android but Apple is second biggest. If you think being second biggest is good enough - that is what Nokia managed still two years AFTER the iPhone (globally, with Ovi) and obviously when Apple launched the App Store, Nokia’s was the world’s largest app store. The Ovi store was a failure only to the degree the Apple App Store is a failure today. You can’t have it both ways, either both were successes or both were failures. Nokia’s Ovi was second bestselling app store in 2010 (two years after Apple launched its own app store) and Apple’s App Store is now the second biggest in the world behind Android.
If you bicker about Nokia that most of its early apps were games, hey come on! This is exactly the way Apple did its App Store half a decade later, where still today, most of the viable apps are.. games. It is a game store, the Apple iPhone App Store. A videogame store online. So the idea that Apple broke the carrier/telco stranglehold on services by providing a new alternate sales channel where the carriers would not be in control, then no again, that was also Nokia’s N-Gage and its app store.
As to the ‘revolutionary’ 70/30 split of revenues shared where Apple ‘only’ kept 30% of every dollar? That is a LAME American greedy version of what they invented in Japan - where NTT DoCoMo nine years before the App Store, offered a revenue-sharing deal with mobile developers of.... 91/09. Yes in Japan on the largest network, the developer gets to keep 91 cents out of every dollar in that ‘app store’ (in reality web services store but billed via the mobile phone) which is partly why so much of the mobile internet and games and apps took off so fast in Japan but far more slowly in the USA.
Camera? Please lets not even go there. Apple’s contribution to the camera on a phone is to force the industry to go backwards and slow the dramatic growth in camera tech. The original camera phone was invented by Philippe Kahn in 1997 and the first company to make one was Sharp in Japan for the J-Phone network (that is now Softbank) in 2001, six years before the original iPhone. The first Nokia phone with a camera was sold in 2003, four years before the iPhone. A 2mp camera? Nokia had that onboard by 2005, two years before the iPhone.
At no point in Apple’s history has its CAMERA been the industry leader by any camera tech capability whatsoever. Even today the camera sensor is puny, there is no mechanical shutter and of course, thus no real Xenon flash. The optics are cheap plastic and there is nothing as advanced and radical as say optical zoom which rivals have had for years. If you think Apple ‘contributed’ to the cameraphone evolution, then that is only true in the USA and even there, to only a modest degree. Now because the iPhone is CARRIED by artists - a lot of GREAT pictures were ‘snapped’ by the trash plastic that is on an iPhone, then processed by the great software that Apple sticks onto its iPhones. Yes, lots of great pictures - like on instagram or Facebook or Flickr - are shot on an iPhone - but try to print those, their image QUALITY is that of a puny pocket camera. As camera tech, the iPhone is a joke, has always been, and always will be - because Apple insists on the slimmest tiniest phone where it cannot ‘afford’ to do a proper camera hump to get a good-quality large sensor - I mean large by physical size, not pixel count - a large sensor captures more light than a tiny one - onto its phone (like say a Nokia/Lumia 1020). Yes lots of great pictures are taken by the lousy iPhone cameras but better cameras are on rival phones - and FAR better pictures COULD be taken by the same artists, if they switched to say a Sony Xperia for example, and tried on that same spot...
The reason lots of great iPhone pictures exist is .. because ARTISTS love Apple and then they happen to carry the iPhone when the photograph opportunity suddenly appears. Don’t even start on the arguments that Apple make good cameras. They make the cheapest rubbish cameras they can get away with - and then compensate with software. I did the full camera tech analysis in this blog. You won’t find another blog with more camera geek tech writing and analysis than that, about cameraphones, written by any tech writer on the planet (that would be available for free, obviously you could buy a book or report with more...).
Because Americans didn’t see the most advanced phones and did not experience the advanced features and abilities within their home market, when the iPhone appeared and started to deploy those ideas, they seemed astonishing and even ‘magical’. The rest of the tech world outside of America would mostly laugh, knowing full well that the given tech was invented in Japan, deployed there, and globally offered already by Nokia for many years before Apple bothered to do that. The original iPhone of 2007 was so backwards and obsolescent, it was never even sold in the most advanced market (Japan) which had already stopped selling 2G phones that year. Yes, the same phone that American ‘experts’ thought was revolutionary was literally obsolete in the most advanced mobile market! Only after Apple made TWO revisions to the iPhone series, up to iPhone 3G in 2008 and then iPhone 3GS in 2009, did the Japanese market start to adopt iPhones too. Who told you THIS in their 'iPhone Decade' article? Did anyone? Remind readers that in Japan, 2G phones were already obsolete in year 2007 when Americans so fell in love with the iPhone? Did anyone tell you this? Or did they just bullshit you about how revolutionary the iPhone supposedly was in 2007?
I’M TURNING JAPANESE, I REALLY THINK SO
How can I say the world’s only transformational phone could simultaneously be obsolete? I am stating the facts. For AMERICANS it was a radical phone (the original iPhone 2G of 2007). Even for Europeans, that original iPhone was not a hit and only its successor, the iPhone 3G from 2008 started the market success. And in Japan, yes both of the first two models were not advanced enough. So for example 3G, WiFi on mobile phones, the internet browser, better cameras, larger screens, touch screens, inward-facing selfie cameras, flash units for cameras, video-recording ability, MMS, GPS, NFC, mobile wallets, and on and on and on. Essentially all invented in Japan, commercially available there first (if not in Japan, then South Korea first, Japan second); then globally (and/or outside of Japan and S Korea) often also deployed first by Nokia on its top flagships, also years before the iPhone did it. And Nokia’s flagships in the early days of the iPhone sold more units than the iPhone (globally, obviously not in the USA where they were not even on offer) such as the N95.
Nokia had a research unit in Japan and its head designers would either live in Japan or travel there regularly many times per year, to keep abreast of the very latest. I am pretty sure (but do not know for a fact) that this is how Apple’s iPhone development team also works. They know the most advanced market in mobile is Japan - was in 2007 and still is today in 2017 - and they are meticulously copying those ideas from Japan that work. The only thing is, that Apple takes a long time to bother to put it onto an iPhone, as any new idea does add complexity which goes against the ‘pure’ simple design logic that is underneath all modern Apple products. As I have joked for 9 years now, ever since the first upgrade to the original iPhone in 2008 - to see what will come into the next iPhone, look at a 3 year old Nokia flagship.. For nearly every iPhone change since 2008, that holds true. Yes I mean literally true. Of those things that Apple actually mentions in its press releases when a new iPhone is launched, the new features and abilities - they were almost every single one of them, over the past 9 years - already commercially available for several years prior, on a Nokia flagship - from larger screens to better cameras to LED flash on cameras to video recording to inward-facing selfie cams, to 3G to 4G to GPS to NFC etc etc etc. (Except that American tech writers never got to use those advanced Nokia phones)
Apple did not invent the modern smartphone and Apple did not bring new features to the world with its invention either. Quite the contrary, often Apple delayed and delayed with obvious improvements like the phablet-sized screen just recently. If anything on the worldwide evolution into the mobile revolution, Apple has been a roadblock, or perhaps more, a speedbump, delaying obvious changes like mobile payments for example. Back to Japan and year 2007? You think Apple Pay is wonderful? Where did Apple get THAT idea? The Japanese had NFC based mobile wallets already before the iPhone launched. Yes. The mobile world has been invented in Japan and most of the concepts of mobile were commerically popularized globally not by Apple, by Nokia.
ICONIC DESIGN ..BY LG
So then there must be the single-button simplistic large screen touch-screen device FORM FACTOR. That is as iconic Apple design as possibly could be. It is the very ethos of Apple-ness. Simple, to the point of eliminating aspects others consider vital to the functionality (a physical keyboard) and then super-slim, with that magnificently HUGE screen of 3.5 inches in a world where Nokia’s N95 flagship only had a 2.8 inch screen. The form factor we now call the ‘slab’. This is clearly an Apple invention, isn’t it? It must be. Every modern smartphone and many dumbphones mimick this design concept. Where the screen fits most of the phone and is only operated by touch. Surely this is Apple’s contribution to mobile handset evolution!
No it isn’t. You may think it is. Most of the idiot writers may think it is. I don’t go by myths, I go by the facts. These are the facts. LG released a phone design in 2006, which they were setting up to be manufactured from 2007. That phone design was radical, it was entered in numerous international design contests the earliest which had an ENTRY DEADLINE of September 2006. They won just about everything that year, most of those awards say ‘2007 award’ but the first award ANNOUNCEMENTS came in December of 2006. That phone design by LG became known to us as two LG phones, the LG Prada branded luxury phone, and the LG Chocolate consumer phone. Both were the true prototype of what the iPhone looked like. So much so, if you see a black-and-white picture of an LG Prada or LG Chocolate without the logos, and are asked what phone is that, you’d say its the original iPhone. And just like the original iPhone, the LG Prada and the LG Chocolate too, were featurephones, not smartphones.
Don’t bitch about this. Don’t try to deny reality. The competition DEADLINE was in September 2006, the first awards were given out in December 2006. The iconic touch-screen slab mobile phone that we associate with iPhone clones today - that design was RELEASED to the public (in South Korea obviously) by September 2006 - four MONTHS before Steve Jobs showed us a prototype on stage - and LG won awards for it, awards handed out already in December 2006. And LG won those awards in many countries from South Korea to Germany. This was a global design masterpiece of the time. Everybody was eager to see how LG would sell it, and LG then told the world, they had secured the brand of Prada to be the launch partner with the phone, to make it a luxury item. Apple did not invent this form factor.
Apple did what they always do - they steal from the best (like the original Macintosh PC, it didn’t invent the mouse - that was invented by Xerox). This is NOT simultaneous invention in parallel. Apple had its own iPod-phone project that was due to release their first phone in 2006 for the Christmas sales market. Steve Jobs was shown a prototype of that phone in the summer - an evolution of the work Apple did with Motorola on their failed Moto Rokr musicphone. The original Apple concept for what became the iPhone - looked like a Motorola or Nokia phone, with buttons and a modest screen. Steve Jobs said no, killed that project, insisted on a total redesign and gave them one year. That total redesign work started in the summer of 2006 and that is when the LG product was already displayed as a radical design out of South Korea. Then Apple inserted the guts of much of the lame tech they had planned for a 2006 phone (2G radio tech, 2mp camera, etc, all already obsolescent for 2007) and added the glorious LG-designed concept for a radical phone FORM FACTOR.
Yes the iPhone form factor is iconic. Yes that form factor changed the world and today every phone is like an iPhone in that way. It is so much superior, that the alternate form factors that existed in droves in year 2006, have all but died by now. But don’t thank Apple for that form factor, thank LG. They invented this look. Every phone we see today traces its heritage of the touch-screen slab form factor all the way back past the iPhone to the LG.
THERE IS ONE THING THAT IS PURE APPLE GENIUS
What DID Apple then do? There is one truly original piece in the iPhone design, that is a borderline gimmic but it does yield real benefits and we all use it today. That was not strictly an Apple invention but I believe the original iPhone is the first mobile phone to deploy this tech. It is multitouch. That we can pinch and expand pictures, using two fingers. That was an honest real contribution in terms of the technology, that Apple added to what others didn’t have. Apple also deployed one of the first capacitive screens to the iPhone (the alternate tech required a stronger push by a finger, using resistive screen tech). With the capacitive screen tech, Apple did away with the stylus (and some complained that this is again too much minimalist-Apple obsession, a touch screen should come with a stylus...).
So you hate the iPhone, Tomi, don’t you? No I don’t. I love Apple and I love the iPhone but I won’t buy an iPhone (never owned one) for the same reason I have never owned a Mac (or iPod or iPad) while I have owned 18 smartphones (11 of those Nokia branded) from 6 leading brands and essentially owned for every generation the most expensive smartphone in the market. I don’t buy Apple products because they are too pure Apple, they are MINIMALIST and far too much automated. I know my Windows PCs get cluttered with junk and need cumbersome updates that mess up everything every time but I want to be in control and have all the options and maximum choice. I don’t want to be locked in Steve Job’s vision of ‘you cannot have two mouse keys’ etc. I love all Apple products and was early on an authorized Macintosh PC trainer in my early PC tech career (which helped me know Windows even better, as it slowly matured into a workable product by version 3.1). I really do love Apple products and greatly appreciate it, that a company has the guts to stand on its vision and be pure to it. Apple will prioritize form over function (single button mouse) and it means a near-tyrannical approach to features and functions.
If I was a Mac or iPhone user, I would often become frustrated with how Apple will abandon industry standard connectivity or functionality (haha, standard earphone plug now in latest iPhone) but that is the price you have to pay, to have the purest, most simplistic (artists would say: elegant) design. All artists love Apple for that passion in technology. Every Apple design is simple, pure, and consistent with Apple design principles. So Apple will ruthlessly remove industry standard elements. It will always prioritize minimization over bulk (why is the iPhone at every generation so obsessed with supermodel-slim design, we are not craving for ‘thinner’ phones? It is this same Apple philosophy; it actually precludes many useful tech that just a little bit more thickness in a device would allow - as I’ve explained on this blog relating to some tech in cameraphones for example).
It means Apple will resist anything that would ruin that purity, such as the unbelievably-long delays until Apple finally relented and gave us its phablet-sized larger-screen iPhones. And it means, Apple will pursue with vigor, any ALTERNATE tech to solve (if even only partially) the given problem. So instead of giving us a larger screen size, Apple went first with ‘retina display’ to try to do the ‘sharpest screen’ instead of the largest screen. This solution was consistent with that purity goal. Or in camera tech, rather than add megapixels, Apple adds more software to try to solve bad pictures into better pictures while keeping the sensor pixel count at a bare-minimum level.
BUT I WOULD NOT WANT AN SUV, I WOULD WANT A SPORTS CAR
Me? I am the total opposite of that. I want POWER, I want features, I want every possible functionality and beyond that, I have a ton of gear from all over the world with bizarre connectivity work-arounds, I DEMAND maximum connectivity. The iPhone is the very antithesis of what I personally use and want. I couldn’t care less about ‘is my phone pretty’ and gosh darn it, I couldn’t care less if my phone is the slimmest. In fact, I have for many generations carried literally the largest, heaviest, bulkiest smartphone in the world (typical of the Nokia Communicator series).
I remember in late 2007 in the USA, we compared the E90 Communicator to the original iPhone, side by side on the table in the USA. The E90 was literally twice as thick. But when I opened up my E90, the iPhone owner was instantly envious of its 4 inch super-sharp screen and all the connectivity magic that the Communicator was always famous for. My American friend asked me, when can he get that phone. I said if history was any guide, Americans will never be sold the Communicator.
So yes, I am the opposite of the type of customer Apple attracts. I could not care less about owning the ‘sexiest looking thinnest phone’ but rather, I want a LARGER screen, a better camera, a faster network connection, and every possible tech feature that you can cram into my pocket. The exact opposite of an iPhone. I want for myself a phone I can customize and one that has every conceivable interface and standard and connector. But I know most people are not like me. Most people will appreciate the simplicity that on an Apple product ‘it just works’. It works always, it works perfectly every time and most of the tech others have in their products is so weird most users don’t even know it exists... (Obviously with my passions for ‘everything’ I am regularly stuck with sudden problems of something not working right... something iPhone owners nearly never experience).
I get it. Apple has a core user base who love it, and a large further base of the consumers who would aspire to own an Apple product some day, once they can afford it (kids) or if they can afford it one day (adults who are not affluent). Apple very wisely does not cater to every price point, so they retain that aspirational dimension, Apple holds enormous desire from its users and massive loyalty on all its products. There is also a very consistent Apple look and feel across all products, so once you become indoctrinated into the Apple iCult, you will know how to operate any other Apple products too. And most of all, the logic in Apple software is the most ‘intuitive’ of any tech. They are by far the easiest to use. So easy, that kids who can’t read or write, can immediately pick up an iPad and use it, and great grandparents who fear tech, will fall in love with the lovely iPhone and become smartphone users because it was that easy.
So don’t think that because I prefer a different design principle, a totally different type of device than anything from Apple, that I could not appreciate an iPhone. It is like someone who loves fast sportscars like a Porsche or Ferrari, being able to appreciate a good SUV like a Range Rover. He would never buy a Range Rover but can still admire, that if you need a totally different TYPE of car, that is an excellent car FOR THAT USE. If you want the simplest phone, get an iPhone. You won’t get a Xenon flash on your camera but there is a nice dual LED flash that is nearly as good. It’s good enough. But it is an iPhone, you won’t need to study a user’s manual to figure out how it works.
THE MOTHER OF ALL LOYALTIES
That is Apple’s greatest strength. Loyalty. That is Apple’s greatest contribution to the industry. That is also the core of Apple’s profits which stem from its loyalty. Back 16 years ago when I was still employed at Nokia HQ as the head of Nokia’s forecasting and consulting department, we were of course very deeply involved in the development of Nokia’s strategy. And back in year 2001 (six years before the iPhone) the only company we feared, for one day to arrive into ‘our backyard’ to be a serious challenger to Nokia, was.. Apple. Apple had just released its iPod. We saw how magnificent that was, compared to any other MP3 players back then. The iPod music player was not another slightly-better MP3 player no, the iPod was a revolution. You could carry ‘all’ your music on your device? Wow, how radical is that? And the ease-of-use of the iPod? We at Nokia did not fear the other tech giants that were obviously going to come to mobile - Compaq and HP were already in the smartphone and/or PDA world, IBM would no doubt arrive to smartphones soon (eventually, as Lenovo). The Googles, Amazons, Microsofts, yes, we saw they could also do smartphones but they were not the threat to Nokia. Apple was. Why? Because part of Nokia’s competitive advantages as it was then the world’s largest handset maker, was that our phones were the easiest-to-use. By far.
Think back to 2001. Yes, Nokia was OBVIOUSLY the one to buy, if you bought a phone to say an uncle or aunt or parent. Nokia was BY FAR the easiest-to-use, and that in turn, led to part of Nokia’s loyalty. We saw at Nokia HQ in year 2001, based on Apple’s past, and especially the new iPod, that Apple would be the most dangerous rival out of those companies who were not yet in mobile at the time. We ‘feared’ Apple. We know at Nokia HQ, that the day Apple entered the phone industry, they would steal our competitive advantage, and become the one phone that was the ‘easiest to use’.
(Incidentally, that is probably why I am the most accurate forecaster of the iPhone - I have known Apple was coming to smartphones literally the first in the world, long before Apple itself knew this - and therefore I have had longer time to think about it - from a Nokia angle, worrying on Nokia’s behalf, while as an independent consultant and analyst, I am obviously still loyal to Nokia, so I watched Apple’s moves with ‘fear’ to see ‘when’ will they make their move. That is why I have had years of time to anticipate Apple’s early moves and ponder them - with my various international tech geek authors and consultants as friends. And to consider Apple’s various steps from Mini and Nano iPods, to Motorola Rokr, to iPod Touch to the various other stages and the evolution to become the iPhone and then beyond. Luck is preparation plus opportunity. I guessed correctly that Apple would come, and I prepared well for that, including researching Apple thoroughly and writing about Apple in all my early books prior to the iPhone).
BUTTONS BABY, BUTTONS
So first huge huge HUGE contribution by Apple to the mobile revolution (and the only technical contribution): make it easy. On the day that Apple launched the iPhone with its one button (in reality two) the flagship phone sold by the world’s largest handset maker, Nokia was the N93 (the N95 had been announced but was not yet sold). So how many buttons did the competition have? Haha. Well. I knew the N93 because I owned one and I still today think it was the most revolutionary phone by technology leaps that the industry had ever seen.
The N93 is the famous contortionist phone, that folded up like a Motorola Razr in one way (clammed up to be small size in the pocket) and opened up like a Motorola to use for voice calls. If you wanted to surf the internet or watch videos, it opened up like a Danger Sidekick (like a book or like a Nokia Communciator, like a tiny laptop) in another configuration, and due to its incredible design swing-hinge-mechanism, it even opened up a third way - like a tiny Panasonic video palm-held camcorder the third way, where you held the cameraphone like a pistol, and the screen opened to the side like videocameras with its viewfinder. The magnificent N93 technology masterpiece of every conceivable tech you could possibly cram inside a mobile phone at that time in 2006. Compared to the original iPhone, the N93 had 3G, it had two cameras (ie included selfie cam). The main camera was 3mp not 2mp. the N93 was a proper smartphone with app store, the iPhone was a dumbphone (ie ‘featurephone’). The N93 did video recording (at DVD quality!) and had an LED flash (the iPhone did neither). The N93 supported MMS for picture sharing and supported video calls, the iPhone didn’t. The N93 had an expandable memory slot (even today Apple refuses to give this utility to iPhone users). The N93 was the first mobile phone with TV-out so you could watch your videos and photographs on any TV screen. It included the FM radio. And if you think Apple’s two camera gimmick to do telephoto lenses on their iPhone today is ‘radical’ consider the N93 from 11 years ago. The N93 was the world’s first mobile phone with OPTICAL zoom!!! Real zoom not the silly digital zoom we all have today. Yes, the first ‘proper’ zoom on a phone was on that N93 in year 2006. Optical quality zoom at 3x zoom ratio. A MASTERPIECE of tech crammed into the pocket. The only obvious ‘shortcoming’ and even that, only with hindsight, was to be the screen - both the size (2.5 inch vs 3.5 inch on the iPhone a few months later) and that the Nokia was not touch-screen.
So have a guess how many buttons on the N93. Guess. Guess a number. Yeah. If you had a normal T9 keyboard that is 12 buttons. Add an on-off button, its 13. A few ‘web’ and menu buttons on top, we’re at maybe 16 or 17. The N93 had....... thirty.... seven buttons! Yes, 37 buttons on a mobile phone! And that is not with a QWERTY keyboard!
Wait. You think that is bad for button overload? Try the Frankenstein? Exactly at the same time as the original iPhone was introduced in 2007, Nokia introduced ITS new flagship phone (never sold in the USA) the E90 Communciator (yes, I owned that too). Oh what a glorious piece of tech ‘kit’ the E90 Communicator was and yes, it had a 4 inch screen already when Apple introduced Americans to a ‘big’ 3.5 inches. But how many buttons did the non-touch-screen Communicator E90 have to allow its users to control its full suite of smartphone functionality. Yeah.. Try to guess. No, guess higher. No, higher still. This had a full QWERTY keyboard and even a Blackberry did about 40 keys with its QWERTY keyboards. So how many keys did you have to master on a Communicator if you wanted its full functionality? 91. Yes. Ninety-one keys! Vs ‘one’ (ie two) on an iPhone!
We could not conceivably continue on the path that Nokia was, because the tech was getting too complex and someone had to say ‘stop’ and push the industry into something new, that was viable for the complexity that was arriving. Nokia’s solution was ‘yeah, we’ll do that tech also, lets add a few more buttons’. Apple said, no, we won’t do that tech unless we can do it with this platform we have - and thus Apple compromised function, at the altar of form. But that obsession with simplicity is what gave us the multi-touch controls we have today on all smartphones, and THAT is thanks to Apple. Apple made incredibly complex and difficult technology easy to use. So easy, a 3 year old child can use it, and so simple, a great-grandparent can fall in love with an iPhone without ever opening a user’s manual. Try that on a Nokia Communciator haha... Even most geeks did not fully know what all that Frankenstein’s Monster could accomplish.
The mobile revolution started long before Apple joined it, and was in full swing by the time of the first iPhone. The early iPhones were just playing catch-up to allow Apple users to even join fully in the mobile revolution (selfie cam, come on! Video recording, why the hell not? If you already HAVE the camera mechanically installed onto the phone and that is just dickishness by Apple not to include the video ability!). But the ‘bolt on’ way to solve mobile phone tech needs had entered a cul-de-sac, and by the E90 Communicator, that was a road leading to a cliff. There was no way out, other than back up, and abandon the button overload. That is part of what Apple did for us. The only reason that all phones today are so easy to use, is Apple’s single-minded determination to keep it simple, make it easy to use.
Exactly like the Macintosh did to the PC world two decades prior. Every single Windows PC today owes its legacy to the original Mac. Apple did not invent the personal computer but transformed the whole industry by refocusing a geeky techy industry to the normal consumer. They did that to the PC, now they did that to the mobile phone. Yes the smartphone revolution started long before the iPhone and even touch-screen type of tech was in use - but nobody made phones as easy to use - and then get that fierce loyalty - as well as Apple. And that meant that ALL RIVALS had to up their games. Palm, Windows, Symbian, Blackberry all rushed to make ever more user-friend operating systems, to try to match the iOS on the Apple iPhone. New operating systems like Android, Meego, bada, Firefox, Ubuntu and Tizen were created as clear copies of the idea that Apple had on the iPhone.
Every smartphone today, is about as easy to use as the original iPhone and Apple of course has made their iOS ever better along the way. This is the BIGGEST change to consumer tech in consumer tech history - reversing the button trend and bringing usability, simplicity to normal consumers. Did your other tech authors of their ‘iPhone 10 year’ articles even remember to mention that? And who told you in 2007, ten years ago that THIS WOULD HAPPEN? I did. I saw this already in 2007, that Apple will revolutionize the WAY we use our phones, and that all phones will then be divided into the dark ages ‘Before the iPhone’ and the modern, enlightened age of easy-to-use phones ‘almsot as good as an iPhone’ haha. I told you so. Not five years ago or seven years ago. I told you ten years and two months ago, that this is what Apple will do!
iSHEEP AND iMYTHS
So the other major contribution to our industry by the iPhone was not technical, it was pure BS. It was only glitz, without any substance. That was also vitally important, and I am talking about the hype around the iPhone. This was still the era of Steve Jobs and he was the ultimate master of the staged iChurch event for the iSheep. When Steve Jobs said something was revolutionary and Apple did it first or best, the iSheep all believed him and few bothered to dig through the facts. In reality the ONLY continent where the iPhone at ANY ITERATION was revolutionary, was Apple’s home continent of North America. But every time the iSheep gathered to their annual iChurch event and had their halleluya moments and then stood in iLines for iDays to be the first to buy their latest iToys.
Look at Apple’s first ‘revised’ iPhone ie iPhone 3G of 2008. This is literally from Apple’s press release. Apple boasted of the following changes to its iPhone: 3G, Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, third party apps, multi-task, VPN, GPS. The (subsidised) price was cut in half vs the original. (And yes, even the camera was not upgraded from the 2mp). That is it. When Apple set about to fix the faults of its original severely lagging and even in some markets OBSOLETE dumbphone, to turn it into a modest smartphone, that is ALL. That was it. This is from the Apple Press Release where they celebrate their ‘huge leaps forward’. And the US press was going gaga over it all. Lets break this down. Was the 2008 edition of the iPhone ‘revolutionary’ in ANY way? The iPhone 3G? Lets have the envelope, please?
So lets see how revolutionary the iPhone 3G was in 2008? 3G? The world’s first 3G mobile phone was produced by NEC in 2001 (in Japan, of course), the N2001 on the NTT DoCoMo 3G network (world’s first 3G network in commercial production). That was 7 years earlier. Nokia’s first 3G phone was the 6650 launched in 2003 (literally 5 years before Apple did it - that was for me my first 3G phone literally 5 years before Apple bothered to put 3G on the iPhone - can you see why I am the ‘anti Apple’ type geek who wants the latest tech, and cannot wait for Apple to bother to do it?). 3G was the first item Apple celebrated as its grand leap forward and American press went berzerk over it. How advanced was this for the time? Year 2008, 32% of all new phones sold were already 3G phones! Apple was SERIOUSLY behind in this tech. It was the first celebrated detail in the press release. Apple was copying Nokia which itself was doing what worked in Japan... The only continent where the Apple 3G was exciting, was of course the biggest laggard of mobile tech - North America.
But lets continue. What is next? Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync. Well? Astonishing this would be listed before GPS but hey, its an American company. I am not a big expert on ActiveSync but a quick search showed that Motorola and HP had ActiveSync on their smartphones already in 2005 (three years before the iPhone). Nokia had ActiveSync support at least in the 9300 Communicator in 2006 (two years before the iPhone). And note, this is the second item Apple celebrated. Next up? Third-party app support? Invented in Japan (NTT DoCoMo no surprise) in 1999, Nokia did it first globally in 2003 (5 years before Apple got around to it).
While not drawing attention to the fact, this meant that Apple had migrated the iPhone from a dumbphone (or ‘featurephone’ if you want to be politically correct) to a smartphone. The world’s first smartphone was the Nokia-Hewlett Packard project that gave us the Nokia Communicator in 1997, so Apple was a decade behind on this. And obviously if there was any doubt, it highlighted the issue the whole industry had derided Apple upon, that its original iPhone wasn’t even a proper smartphone. Apple wisely did not draw attention to this defect, as they still needed another year of sales for what now became rebranded the iPhone 2G.
Ok, what else did Apple celebrate out of the iPhone 3G in 2008? Multi-tasking? It was at the very core of Symbian SO from the start (although I am not sure what preceeding early smartphone OS platforms also may have had it, as they tended to be evolved from desktop PC type of platforms via palmtop/PDA OS systems). So lets say year 2000? Apple is at least 8 years behind with multitasking (and then the geeks will rush in and bicker about whether Apple and/or Android will have true multitasking or only some lame work-around, but lets not go there in this already-long-article). VPN? Well, my Nokia smartphones supported VPN from at least 2000, probably had it prior to that. So Apple is at least 8 years behind on this.
Then GPS? Strangely left that far in the press release, but yes, Apple 3G did move Apple to a positioning-capable, real time maps capable device (such as giving you driving assistance and take the business away from TomTom). KDDI in Japan was the first mobile operator/carrier to deploy GPS based services and related handsets in 2001 but a rare case of the pioneer not being from Japan, the world’s first GPS phone was launched by Benefon in Finland already a year prior to that, in 2000 as a safety phone with its tracking capability. So eight years before Apple celebrated GPS navigation on their newest phone in America. Nokia’s first GPS phone was the N95 in 2007.
So that is what Apple hyped for the industry. Two of its achievements were not mentioned, ie MMS support and the upgrade to being a real smartphone. The list of Apple innovations for 2008 were ALL achievements that others had done years prior, and that were all standard parts of flagship phones of major rivals, including every single aspect celebrated by Apple in 2008, was on earlier Nokia flagships. Most had been on Nokia flagships many years earlier. The first upgrade to the iPhone line, from 2007 and the original iPhone aka iPhone 2G, to the iPhone 3G is the biggest SET of technical upgrades the iPhone series has ever had. And in that series, nothing that Apple could claim as its own. In the decade since the original, there is nothing. Just look at the missing pieces from the original, and when Apple bothered to fix those obvious shortcomings and faults.
Lets compare Apple improvements-to-come AFTER the 2008 model iPhone 3G, to Nokia’s OLD rival, the N95, which faced off against the original iPhone 2G in 2007. The one-year-older N95 from 2007 was so far ahead of the iPhone series on most specs, it had a 5mp camera (which Apple only added in 2010), with autofocus (2009) and F 2.8 aperture (2010) and LED flash (2010), recorded video (2009) at DVD quality (2009), with digital zoom (2010), image stabilization (2011), had a selfie-cam (2010), supported videocalls (2010), full MP3 functionality for ringtones (on the iPhone you could not use your own MP3 files as ringtones, yes, still in 2008! from the makers of the iPod, can you believe that?) (came to the iPhone only in 2010), and had VOIP support (2009).
The N95 had a bunch of further tech features and compatibility that Apple to this day has never given us, like microSD support, mini USB support, SyncML, a mechanical shutter on the camera, a proper glass camera lens (and Nokia partnered with Carl Zeiss the optical lens experts too, Apple uses cheap plastic lenses still today), Infra Red support, a user-replacable battery, FM radio, nd Push-to-Talk support. No wonder the N95 vastly outsold the original iPhone 2G. The only two issues where the original iPhone ie iPhone 2G and the upgraded iPhone 3G bested the Nokia N95 were in the screen and being thinner. Even by size, the N95 was lighter than the original iPhone and the iPhone was both longer and wider, but the N95 was twice as thick as the iPhone and suddenly the iPhone was the sexiest slimmest supermodel of the phone catwalks. Note that in the screen, the N95 lost vs the original iPhone both on size (3.5 inch vs 2.8 inch) and the touch-screen ability. On everything else the N95 steamrollered the first two iPhones.
But as we’ve explored on this blog already, ‘screen size trumps everything’ and today’s phones all look like the iPhone and none look like the N95 - even as the N95 outsold the original iPhone worldwide! And nearly every ‘relevant’ and modern technical feature of the N95 was eventually installed into future iPhones (or some software work-around to solve that issue). The latest iPhones look very clearly like modern siblings of the original iPhone, not like a Nokia N95. Meanwhile look at the modern Nokia Android phones that are just now coming out? They look like... an iPhone. Yeah. Transformational phone indeed.
But for all the silly US based hype and utter Steve Jobsish nonsense alternate iHistory (he was the best salesman of our times, probably best marketing man of all time) there was much good that came ouf of iHype. There are more Global Fortune 500 sized companies in the USA than any other country (one third of the 500 largest global corporations are based out of the USA according to Fortune, although China is closing in as China already has a larger total economy than the USA). What American executives needed desperately, based in the backwater-country of mobile, in fact the caveman country of mobile - was Steve Jobs, yes Jobs of Apple - to start to sing songs of mobile. And then to witness how Apple went from a near-bankrupt wreck of a former tech giant (year 1997) to the world’s most valuable company in 2011, powered by mobile. Steve Jobs knew this would be Apple’s destiny and the third era for the company (Apple 2, Macintosh being the first two eras), so when he announced the iPhone, Apple Computer company changed its name, dropping the word ‘computer’ and becoming just Apple. Since then Apple has considered itself a mobile company, as it is. More than half of its total revenues and by far more than half of its profits come from the iPhone.
For a former computer company that was on the brink of bankruptcy, to have a magical ascendancy to become the most profitable company on the planet and its most valuable company - powered by one new tech - that is EXACTLY what American management needed to see and learn. They too could grow like Apple, if they too embraced.. mobile. If one third of the planet’s largest companies are lost thinking the future will be run on the internet or on nonsense American tech standards like CDMA or on weird American tech ideas like Push-to-Talk or with a hodgepodge of separate stand-alone devices like netbooks or TomToms and Xboxes, they needed to SEE the iPhone. Now nobody suggests with a straight face that stand-alone digital cameras have any growth market left. Nobody would build a business out of pagers, or digital calendars, or pocket calculators. The short-lived fad of tablets faded and the smartwatch nonsense has already subsided.
The future belongs to smartphones and the main argument now is, will Augmented Reality still need phones or will it live beyond phones. Even the most experts among the ‘reality’ folks now admit, VR will be the niche market and AR will be the mass market. And AR at least initially will be powered by smartphones (witness Pokemon Go). From mankind’s economic revolution, the biggest impact of the iPhone was not your grandmom falling in love with the iPhone or the family toddler playing with Teletubbies on the iPad. No. It was the CEOs at the various US industrial giants. Today they all believe in mobile, look at Starbucks, look at Walmart, look at General Motors, look at JP Morgan Chase, look at Procter and Gamble, Pepsico, Disney, McDonalds, Macy’s or Mondelez (ex Kraft Foods). Look at the American travel giants from hotel chains to airlines. Look at the big payments guys from Amex to Visa. They all were sceptical of mobile, now they all are true iBelievers. If they had not gotten the iReligion in the past decade, they would soon be bought out by Chinese, Japanese (Softbank, anybody?), British etc companies who DO get mobile (or say, Mexican - see Carlos Slim and his mobile telecoms empire). Facebook was lost in the internet space until it studied why social media companies in Japan and China were so obscenely profitable. It was mobile, of course (my readers knew all this). Now FB is the fifth most valuable company on the planet (powered by mobile). Duh.
And once you ‘discover’ mobile, it doesn’t matter how long you toil with the silly ideas of an app (remember Martin Wilson’s idiom: the iSyndrome is the mistaken idea that an iPhone app is tantamount to a mobile strategy). That is part of the growing pains to discover the real power of mobile. Unless you do games (and we can count social media as a kind of game) then any other mobile power comes from the real reach of mobile - using the tech that reaches every pocket. SMS text messaging, mobile voice, the internet, MMS, USSD and the camera (including now selfies). Then you can add newer functionality via some widely available STANDARD tech like say QR codes or NFC or WiFi. An app is a specialist solution for your most passionate consumers but not a mobile strategy. And nowhere should the app strategy start with an iPhone iOS app, as Android reach is almost four times larger today.
But that is not for this article. It doesn’t matter where that iRoad leads (to SMS, obviously, and from SMS to MMS and the mobile web, obviously) but what the rest of the world knew, and American executives had to be told, was that there IS an ongoing mobile revolution under way. Steve Jobs did that with the iPhone. There, a simple pretty sexy device, like the second edition iPhone which could take apps - THAT could convince ‘generic’ execs of the future of the mobile internet in every pocket. That was not possible with something as cumbersome as the Nokia N95 or E90 Communicator of that time. Once we had American giants energized into the mobile race, gosh we have then witnessed rapid adoption of mobile - best perhaps shown by Starbucks which already reports 28% of all US coffee sales are paid for by their mobile wallet app.
This was vitally needed, necessary. American companies had to be awoken from their slumber and shaken to understand how rapidly mobile was eating THEIR world. They now believe. Look at smartphone-operated locks in hotels; look at the driver’s licence on a smartphone! Well, some still only iBelieve but that is a train that only goes one way. They will discover the reality of SMS, MMS, mobile internet and the rest, sooner or later, even if they still toil in the aftermaths of disease that is the iSyndrome. As Kraft Food (aka Mondelez) taught us: “Leave no phone behind!” ANY smart mobile strategy starts with ‘every pocket’ and that means SMS. Exactly how we just now witnessed Uber last week, adding SMS suppor to their popular app. It is what all major experts of the industry have been teaching for years already (and this blog said it first, right when the Apple App Store launched in 2008).
So indirectly the iPhone caused a revolution outside of the mobile industry. Television, music, gaming, magazines, newspapers, advertising; and the whole computer industry and its adjacent internet industry - all were energized by Apple’s iPhone. Some of their leading companies outside of the USA (say BBC in TV or Warner Music in music) did already believe in mobile; but the big US companies, they were awoken by the iPhone. We needed that as an industry. Media, advertising, computers and the internet. Who told you this would happen - and be caused by the iPhone? I told you in May of 2007, before any of them had touched an iPhone. I told you the Jesusphone would actually change the world for those industries, as it did. Nobody else saw that huge effect BEYOND mobile phone design and market.
So we had the most accurate forecast of the iPhone ten years ago on this blog. In the past week or so, many have written about that past 10 years in most of the tech press. How many of them bothered to talk about the NEXT ten years in mobile phones? Will there be a ‘second’ iPhone revolution? I think it’s pretty safe to say: no there won’t. Apple is exceptionally good at utterly revolutionizing an industry - see the PC industry before or after the Mac; the MP3 player industry before or after the iPod; and the mobile phone industry before or after the iPhone. But even for the Mac, now three decades later - there has not been a ‘second Mac’ revolution. Instead, the PC DID go through a second radical change - from the desktop to the laptop - and Apple had nothing to do with THAT revolution - that was created by Toshiba, inventor of the modern laptop form-factor - and Apple actually resisted laptop form factors for years until finally accepting that form and giving us the ultra-slim iconic Macbooks.
Apple is VERY good at reinventing an industry once, but it has never been able to reinvent the SAME industry twice. And not always is Apple commercially successful when it tries (Newton) nor is it always able to transform a total industry when it tries (Apple Watch). Yet inspite of that, no company is as good at disrupting others as Apple is - witness music sales and iTunes or tablets and the iPad. When I say Apple has not done it twice (neither has any other company in any other major global industry once it is in mass market stage) if ever there was one company that MIGHT do it - that would be Apple. But don’t hold your breath. With most tech, there comes a point when it reaches its ‘equilibrium’ form factor, which is sustainable and will no longer be disrupted by revolution, but rather only by incremental evolution. This happens with most tech.
WHEN WE HELD COURSES TO TEACH DOS
I think with the desktop PC the Mac was the one revolution needed, to turn the geeky cumbersome PC into a consumer device you don’t need to go to school to learn to use. And for modern consumers using a PC or tablet it is incredible to even understand, still only 27 years ago it was normal to take a course in HOW TO OPERATE a personal computer. Not how to use an app on it. How to OPERATE the PC. How to use something that was called ‘DOS’ (Disk Operating System, by Microsoft, how most PCs ran before Windows and before the Mac).
Yes. Before you could go to study how to use a word processing application to write letters or a spreadsheet to do calculations, you had to know how to turn the computer on and off, and get your programs to run. I used to teach at such DOS classes. How to use a computer! They were that difficult. There was no way our grandparents could do their banking on a computer, if they first had to be taught how to turn it on, and how to turn it off. The Macintosh was a vital step in usability that truly transformed that industry. There could be no true consumer PC market before something like Apple’s idea of the Macintosh was invented (by Apple or else, by someone other). And while the Mac and Windows PCs have of course evolved since, the revolution was the original Macintosh PC in 1984. All PCs can be categorized by whether their design is from before the Mac (ie DOS style cumbersome PCs) or after the Mac (Windows PCs especially after Windows 3.0). Same can be said for the iPod music player and the iPhone. This is actually what happens in most consumer industries. At some point the geeky cumbersome tech solution becomes suitable for all consumers. It may not be obvious at the time, but something is the ‘final bottleneck’.
Look at cars. Henry Ford was mass-producing cars already, but it wasn’t until the 1912 Cadillac, that the ‘modern’ car was born, that was usable by all. Why? It had electric ignition! For the first time, even your weak grandma could start the car, without cranking the engine-crank to start the engine. Simply by turning the ignition key. A secondary electric motor was attached to the main gasoline engine, as the starter motor. This would be run off a battery. And by adding the battery, the car could also have lights both outside (to show the road) and inside the cabin - allowing also night-time operation and safe operation in heavy rain etc. All the other parts for the car already existed - engine in the front, all passengers and the driver sitting inside, with a roof on top, and looking through a windshield (all things that most horse-drawn carriages did not have). The engine was in the front, with passengers sitting in the middle and the luggage stored in the back. Cars had four wheels, a gasoline-powered internal combustion engine, a gear box, steering wheel, etc. The front wheels turned for the car to turn (rather than back wheels or all wheels turning). Almost all parts needed for modern cars already existed for example in a Ford. But the IGNITION changed how a car could be operated by anybody.
The automobile was invented by Daimler & Benz. The first mass-produced mass-market success of the car was by Henry Ford. But the first MODERN car, that anyone could use - that was thanks to Cadillac. The usability changed totally in 1912 and today every car with an internal combustion engine has a separate electric starter motor and battery, and you have the ignition (usually by key but now increasingly simply by button). Since 1912 we have had evolution in cars, they got smaller, more powerful, more fuel-efficient - but the engine is in the front, the people sit in the middle, there is a roof over your head, the luggage is stuck in the back, the steering is by steering wheel, the front wheel turn etc etc etc. The modern car form factor was ‘set’ in 1912. Since then we have only had evolution - not revolution - we have had evolution for 115 years in a huge giant industry worth $1 Trillion dollars of new car sales annually. But (nearly) every (passenger ie mass market) car today is still the same idea - engine in the front, driver and passengers in the middle, luggage in the back, roof on the top, windshield in the front, steering wheel turns the wheels, front wheels turn, the engine is a combustion engine (now slowly shifting to electric engines but those also existed 100 years ago) - and the ignition is by ignition key or button, and via a separate electric motor, which draws its electric power from a battery. The modern car can draw its lineage directly to the Cadillac of 2012 but not fully to the Fords or Daimler-Benzes prior to that year.
Or look at passenger airplanes. The first plane was invented by the Wright Brothers. Eventually some planes had a passenger seat. Then they started to put passengers inside (while pilots stayed outside) and planes became larger, with two propeller engines or more, and then planes started to be made out of metal etc. And there was gradual evolution where you really had to be pretty ‘brave’ to take a flight, which was very likely to give you air sickness because of the bumpy ride. Until we got the De Havilland Comet in 1949, as the world’s first jet-powered passenger plane. The Comet had a pressurized hull - that could fly higher in the thin air - so there were not nasty air bumps shaking the plane, and for the first time, passengers didn’t need air sickness bags anymore. Being a passenger in a jet airliner was no longer the ‘adventure’ flying like with Amelia Earhart and the early pioneers of flight. Like with the Mac and PCs or the Cadillac and cars, suddenly ANYONE could ‘dare’ to take an airplane flight. And with the jet age, global air passenger travel exploded and killed off the rival intercontinental travel mode - passenger ship ocean-liners.
Ever since the Comet, all modern airliners are jet powered with pressurized metal hulls that fly above the turbulence. But a second airline revolution never happened, the airline industry has only slightly evolved to ever larger planes but nothing that isn’t a direct descendant to the De Havilland Comet. That is why I think the mobile phone handset form factor is now ‘set’ to its standard form, and we will not have a new ‘second’ revolution of phones, not by Apple and not by anyone else. All changes to mobile phones will only be incremental evolution and most mass-market phones still ten years from now will have a large touch screen, and will be seen as direct descendants of what we have now in our pockets similar to how a modern car is a descendant of the Cadillac of 2012 or the modern widebody jet is a direct descendant of the Comet of 1949.
And I predict the same is with the mobile phone handset since the iPhone of 2007. The usability form factor is set as the standard form for most sold phones, as touch-screen operated ‘screen size trumps everything’ devices, which look like siblings or clones of the original iPhone of 2007 (ie siblings of LG’s iconic design from 2006). I cannot foresee a radical re-invention of the mobile phone form factor from now into say the next decade. We will eventually see the phone physical technology essentially ‘disappear’ as the miniaturization will shrink the technology to ever smaller tech. But it will not have vanished by 2027. The mobile phone of 2027 may be the size of a credit card or its tech might be the size of a sugar cube, but it will still be with us, operated by some type of touch-screen (possibly virtual touch screen) and it will have a screen for us (possibly projection screen) but it will be evolution from what the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy of today looks like. There will not be a ‘revolution’ device in this path.
What will be the role of the iPhone then, into the next decade? Don’t expect Apple to invent anything for us into our pockets. Apple is not what is called a ‘fast follower’ what often the second-largest player in the industry tends to be (like Samsung used to be, when Nokia was the biggest). Apple instead resists change and is a SLOW follower. They are the last to deploy any new tech simply because of their very ethos of ‘keeping it simple’. They prefer to take the heat, of consumers begging for something, to avoid over-cramming the iPhone to be too big, clumsy and cumbersome. So they will become the bellweather for the industry. The moment Apple deploys a tech on the iPhone - that tech is mature for global use. Look at phablet screens, at NFC, at mobile wallets, at GPS, at 4G, at fingerprint scanners etc. When Apple does something expect a huge response by others to mimick apple (like dual cameras now). And when Apple postpones some ‘obvious’ tech (like say waterproofing) look how early adopter companies will react - Samsung even removed waterproofing from the Galaxy flagship one year, thinking it was a dead-end evolution path - until its customers revolted and forced Samsung to bring waterproofing back. So any tech that Apple ‘endorses’ will become the standard globally, near instantly, for mobile phones. That is Apple’s new role as a tech benchmark. Not the company that leads, but the company that ultimately endorses any tech. (They are ‘the Decider’ to borrow from the Daily Show parody of then-President George W Bush). And if you can’t get Apple’s love - you will wither and suffer - witness Java.
Apple currently sells about 11% of all mobile phones on the planet (when dumbphones are included. Of ‘just smartphones’ Apple sells about 14%). The global handset industry is slowly inching towards 2.0 Billion devices sold per year, it may not ever quite hit that level, judging by current sales trends and affluence levels, as well as the lengthening replacement cycles. We may be just at about the peak level that may remain in the 1.9x B level for many years even maybe a decade to come. And Apple’s role? If they can do 200-220 million of those, and take the cream off the top, as the phones with the highest average prices and the biggest profit margins, Apple will smile all the way to the bank. But that does mean, that where Apple would have about 11% to 12% market share globally, Google’s Android will have the other 88% to 89% by year 2027 and the relationship will be almost identical to how Apple Macintosh PC market was globally against Microsoft Windows PCs. The vast majority of the world’s manufacturers - and apps - will be on Android. The big boy will be Google. But Apple, if it doesn’t lose sight of serving its iFans, will remain the most profitable tech company on the planet. Into perpetuity. Just don’t think for one moment, than an iPhone App will get you to the world. It won’t. Android will.
What we as tech geeks will sit and wait for, is what will Apple’s next revolution bring. It won’t be the phone business but what will it be? They failed to revolutionize the wristwatch industry but nobody is infallible and even if Apple Watch is such a flop that Apple is afraid to release their modest sales numbers - they did provide a lot of enthusiasm to the smart wearables industry and no doubt influenced it at least as much as the Newton influenced PDA development. Apple is making money on its Apple Watch accessory device so its not a commercial failure either. It just didn’t change the world in the ways that the Mac or iPod or iPhone or iPad did. Lets hope the next tech that Apple gives us, once again does that. I did once suggest Apple should do to cameras, what it did to MP3 players and phones. The sales volume Apple could get out of iCamera would be far greater (with far bigger profits) than they could out of Apple Watch or any Apple TV ideas.. Or maybe they will reinvent the car for us? After a hundred years, maybe Cadillac’s concept is due for a revolution?
If you want to understand the size and details of the mobile handset industry, get my latest TomiAhonen PhoneBook here, that has all the latest numbers and came out seven months ago.