It has been seven years since the iPhone was first introduced by Steve Jobs, and to this day, the iPhone is still ahead of the competition and is the phone everyone is still trying to beat.
When Steve Jobs first introduced the iPhone to the world, it was at the Macworld Conference in San Francisco on the 9th of January, 2007 – 7 years ago today, despite today being the 10th of January in Australia, seeing as Sydney is 19 hours ahead of San Francisco.
Apple’s original two-hour iPhone presentation can be seen here, and it’s still quite an amazing video to watch, all these years later, with Steve Jobs starting off the presentation by stating he’d been waiting two and a half years for this day to arrive, and that “Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything…”.
As Apple stated in its original iPhone press release, Apple had reinvented the phone with the iPhone, and by the time it went on sale in the US on Friday the 29th of June at 6pm across the US, Apple had managed to make the iPhone even better, by boosting battery life from an estimated 5 hours of talk time to 8 hours, alongside 6 hours of Internet use, 7 hours of video playback, 250 hours of standby time and 24 hours of audio playback.
The talk time alone was double what major competitors of the time could offer, as you can see in the chart that Apple published in one of its follow-up press releases below (press release here).
But it wasn’t just about battery life. What Apple had managed to do was to create a telephone, a widescreen iPod and a mobile Internet browsing device.
Now, it has to be said that Apple wasn’t the first company to create a blend of mobile phone, music player, video player and Internet browser – the other big phone of 2007 was Nokia’s N95, which the company had dubbed a “multimedia computer” at the time, with the slogan that “this is what computers have become”.
Unfortunately, Nokia was only half right, because while computers certainly have become pocket-size devices that look like iPhones, they don’t look anything like the pack-of-playing-card sized, small-screen device festooned with buttons that Nokia delivered with the N95 and a plethora of successors – although Nokia’s Windows powered Lumia smartphones today DO very much look like iPhones.
Apple also wasn’t the first company to deliver a hand-held device with a large screen. Apple itself offered its book-sized Newton device a decade earlier, in the same era as the original Palm Pilot, both “black and white” electronic personal organiser devices that were arguably well ahead of their time.
Microsoft too had its Pocket PC devices that morphed into smartphones, while companies like Motorola and Sony Ericsson also dabbled with large screen devices that look like thicker, more primitive versions of today’s iPhones and other Android and Windows-powered smartphones.
What most of these pre-iPhone devices offered, however, was a dramatically different touch-screen experience . While these devices could be used with a finger, the touch accuracy was quite poor, requiring instead a plastic stylus to be used as both a pen and a pointing device.
With the stylus and the “resistive” screens these devices used, it was possible to tap small on-screen elements quite easily, along with being able to deliver pretty good handwriting recognition, but when the iPhone came along, it blew these stylus-equipped devices out of the water.
The iPhone sported – and still sports – an interface with finger-tip sized icons and touch targets, along with the quickest screen response time – and brought the breakthrough of multi-touch pinch zooming to life, letting you enlarge and reduce webpages just by pinching your finger and thumb apart or together.
It would take at least a couple of years before Android powered smartphones had the same capability, and while others had demonstrated multi-touch at conferences and in demos, it was Apple that brought it to market for anyone to buy and experience for themselves.
Still, let’s not forget that screen responsiveness, which is also vitally important. Indeed, it was only back in September last year (2013) that VentureBeat published an article noting how the iPhone’s screen is still has an amazing 2.5 times faster response time that leading Android devices, meaning that when you touch, tap or drag something on screen with an iPhone, the iPhone still responds noticeably faster than all the iPhone clones out there, like the Samsung Galaxy smartphones and others.
What it comes down to with Apple is a very strong regard for all of the little things, as it’s always the little things that make a big difference. Apple also strictly controls the hardware manufacturing process while writing its own operating system.
Companies such as Palm, which were extremely successful in the mid 90s to early 2000s, made the fatal mistake of spinning off the operating system division and thus losing control of its own destiny.
Palm did this because it allowed companies such as IBM and Sony to create licensed Palm Pilot clones, and Palm felt that if its hardware and software divisions were separate, it would be a better competitor. Unfortunately the opposite occurred, and today, Palm is no more, having been bought up by computer maker HP and then after the failure of Palm’s WebOS-powered smartphones and tablets, shut down.
Two years ago I wrote an article for iTWire, which noted that the iPhone as then 5 years old, while asking whether it was still 5 years ahead.
Over the past few years, competitors have certainly tried very hard to compete with the iPhone – you might remember all the talk of “iPhone killers” from the past few years.
You may also have heard that Android-powered smartphones from a range of manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, Motorola, Huawei, ZTE, Sony, HTC and many others have, in aggregate, sold in far greater quantities than the iPhone, and this is true.
The thing is that these Android devices range from dirt cheap and quite under-performing sub-$100 devices through to top-end devices costing around $1000 and everywhere in between.
Where Apple’s iPhone offers a uniform, consistent performance across the range and across various models, Android smartphones offer so many performance levels, screen sizes, battery lifetimes and other varying specifications that “fragmentation” has occurred, making life for Android app developers a lot harder – and much less profitable – than for Apple iPhone and iPad developers.
Indeed, it is perennial Apple-copier Microsoft whose Windows Phone OS has done the most to most closely copy Apple’s iPhone, but given Microsoft was late to the next-gen smartphone game (despite having prior-gen Pocket PC smartphones years before Apple’s iPhone was released), Android powered smartphones have emerged as the main challenger, with companies such as Samsung having the most success in creating worthy iPhone competitors, alongside other notable efforts from HTC, Sony, LG and others.
The iPhone – and iPad – still lead in the software (app) space, with Apple announcing only three days ago that its App Store offers “more than one million apps” for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, alongside 500,000 apps specifically designed for the iPad (and by extension, the iPad mini), across 24 categories in 155 countries.
Apple’s app sales totalled over $10 billion in 2013 alone, with $1 billion of that purchased just in December 2013 – quite a remarkable achievement – backed up by third-party app developers having earned more than $15 billion from App Store sales during the App Store’s life, which started in 2008, a year after the iPhone was first introduced.
So, is Apple still ahead of the competition?
At the moment, it certainly is. While competitors have tried outdoing Apple with larger screen sizes (that are, unfortunately, more difficult to hold in your hand than the smaller-sized iPhone), alongside features such as built-in FM radios or features such as head-tilting to scroll web pages that unfortunately don’t work reliably 100% of the time, Apple has focused on the features that matter – features which make life easier for consumers.
An example of this is the 4-inch screen the iPhone 5 and 5s currently offer. This is in stark contrast to the 4.7 to 6-inch and larger screens that Android smartphones offer, but as noted, this makes the phone harder to hold and operate with one hand.
Of course, a larger screen makes web browsing, game playing and many other activities easier, but then that’s the reason why Apple has the larger screened iPad and iPad mini – and it’s the reason why this year, 2014, is the year everyone expects Apple to finally deliver a larger screened iPhone model, despite the handling inconveniences this demonstrably brings.
Indeed, Sony has just announced a compact, high-end Z1 smartphone – an Android phone with top-end specs but with a smaller, iPhone-like screen.
Samsung also offers the Galaxy Mini range, but fails by not including the top-end specs that people want.
You have to ask why companies would bother releasing these smaller screened devices if supposedly everyone wants larger screens.
Of course, smaller screens mean lower prices, but with Sony’s high-end but compact Z1 finally entering the scene, it’s clear that bigger isn’t always better.
Apple’s iPhone 5s also introduced a 64-bit processor for ever faster operation while getting developers to ensure they have more powerful 64-bit apps ready today – a good year, two or three ahead of the Android and Windows based competition, alongside the extremely useful “touch fingerprint sensor” that makes it vastly easier to keep your iPhone secured with a 4-digit (or longer) passcode while being able to effortlessly unlock your phone with a fingerprint.
Yes, the touch sensor doesn’t like it if your finger or thumb tip is wet, and sometimes it takes a couple of goes for the fingerprint to register, but it’s vastly more reliable – and genuinely enjoyable and useful to use – than Samsung’s head-tilt page scrolling feature that most users end up simply turning off.
Apple has also made great advances with its camera lenses and even its camera flash, offering a twin LED flash lights that can deliver up to 1000 different lighting combinations for photos that look right when taken with a flash, rather than looking too brightly washed out, as can happen with flash photography – especially on smartphones.
So… Apple is still ahead of its competitors 7 years after the iPhone’s original introduction, and if current Apple CEO Tim Cook’s predictions of 2014 being a “big” year are anything to go by, the best, as always, is still yet to come!