Five Years Later and the iPhone is Almost an Adult

Leaving a path of transformation, creation, and destruction in its wake, the iPhone launched five years ago, forever changing the computing landscape. Still, revolutionary as it has been, the iPhone’s life has barely begun.

The original iPhone

Initial Impressions

Though it first launched on June 29, 2007, the iPhone was revealed to the world six months earlier in January of that year. I had not joined GottaBeMobile at that time, but from my personal blog, I recognized the “ass-kicking” it represented and called out the changes it would have.

Multi-touch widescreen: Anyone can roll out a device with a touchscreen. Apple’s delivering one that responds to multiple points of contact. As far as I know, that’s a new development for a handheld computer, and it opens a ton of data manipulation possibilities, the least of which is expanding and contracting images.

No question about it. The iPhone forever changed the way we interact with data. Since then the touchscreen slate has become the new standard in phone design, tablet computing is hot, and Microsoft is going all-in on a “touch-first” experience with Windows.

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Automatic screen rotation: On a tablet, this would annoy me. On a handheld, this is a killer feature. Switch from landscape to portrait layout just by turning the device. Highly valuable when viewing photos and switching to phone from watching a video. Sounds like a very intuitive form of interface.

That was an understatement. The same accelerometer that allowed the iPhone to change screen orientation led to a whole range of motion controlled apps once software developers were allowed in. Motion control became an absolute standard in mobile computing.

Mac OS X designed for a small screen: I have written a couple of posts pushing the idea that handheld computers should run operating systems designed for small screens, such as Windows Mobile, rather than systems intended for larger screens, such as Windows XP. It is my opinion that if Microsoft wants to push a full version of Windows, like Vista, on a small device, they need better support for small screens. The same holds true for Apple, except Apple has stepped up and done it by streamlining a version of OS X that works on a small screen the way Windows Mobile does, except it has the superior stability and power of OS X. It’s like my dream come true but in Apple form.

Many people forget that what we now know as iOS was introduced as a stripped down version of Mac OS X. Regardless of the names, iOS and OS X are built on the same core operating system, an approach now being adopted, five long years later, by Microsoft for Windows and Windows Phone.

Bottom line: Aside from offering “merely” competitive wireless connectivity, the Apple iPhone exceeds every other handheld computer by a huge margin. Furthermore, by running a version of OS X, it has vast potential for applications to fill its shortcomings, and it already has a big accessory aftermarket because it’s an iPod.

How often do you see the word “vast” used in an understatement? The application market for the iPhone is astronomical in its impact on the industry. Every aspect of software from development to distribution has been permanently altered by it.

That said, however, it has one major shortcoming; it is not a standalone device. Like the iPod, it is intended to sync with a Mac or PC. No direct downloads from the iTunes Store. Probably no podcatching, though I’m sure that would be easy to add in. That’s hardly a fatal flaw, since it clearly did not hinder iPod sales, but I feel there was some potential missed there. Perhaps in the future it will be more independent. For now though, it must settle for simply being the most advanced mobile phone to date.

Yep, definitely limitations of the time and, double yep, all these shortcomings have since been patched. Oh, and there was one more thing…

…anyone else look at this iPhone and see a small Tablet PC? Just upsize the hardware, software, and physical dimensions, and it turns into a Mac tablet with a multi-touch screen and phone capability. C’mon Apple, your foray into the tablet market is an expansion away.

Boom.

The “Final Blow”

First impressions are one thing. What about the changes leading up to now? Let’s jump ahead to March 2008 to the release of the iPhone Software Development Kit. While others declared it a death blow, I foresaw more ass-kicking to follow.

…we can expect a counter-strike from Intel, Microsoft, Nokia, and the others. But we can already predict what Apple will fire back in return: 3G/4G connectivity, the iPhone Nano, and the end of AT&T’s exclusivity.

Yes, the SDK launch was a massive pummeling, but the final blow? No, that’s at least a little more than four years away. And even then, who knows? Whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, right? Interesting days await.

While I did not specifically anticipate Android’s arrival, I knew something was coming. Certainly everyone else was trying to do what Android did, but none had any real success. What’s more important is, a little more than four years later, my predicted “final blow” is almost here.

We started towards it with 3G connectivity, lower-priced older iPhone models, and the end of AT&T exclusivity, but we’re not quite there yet. With T-Mobile on board, the next iPhone is expected to launch with 4G LTE on all major U.S. carriers (and most smaller ones), while the iPhone 4 is expected to drop to free-on-contract. The cheapest and fastest iPhone models available on all carriers. That is the “final blow” I’ve been anticipating. Finally, after five years, the iPhone’s childhood can end and a new era of adulthood can commence.

What’s Next

Yes, that’s right. “Commence.” This “final blow” may end one stage of the iPhone’s life, but it also marks the start of the next one.

The old competition is beaten. Palm is dead. RIM is in disarray. Nokia is on life-support with transfusions from Microsoft. The iPhone did not beat them alone, but it set the events in motion. That era is over.

A new challenger arose. Android filled the void among carriers left out of the iPhone’s exclusivity. It grew quickly, thanks largely to the absence of direct competition with the iPhone and the failings of the old guard. Now, as the iPhone reaches all carriers, the competition between the two can truly begin.

Future threats are materializing. Voice interaction is the new battleground for mobile dominance. There are signs that Amazon and Facebook are eager to enter the fray. Samsung is growing more Apple-like in their in-house software production. Google’s Project Glass takes the mobile computer to the next step before implanting it in your brain. Microsoft has finally regrouped to mount a serious challenge. The toughest battles for the iPhone are on the way.

The challenge ahead is daunting, but the iPhone has one advantage in its pocket: Every challenge that lies ahead for the iPhone exists because of the iPhone. The iPhone truly has transformed the mobile computing world over these past five years, and the next five promise to be mind-blowing by comparison. Interesting days await.

  

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