How much has the iPhone changed the people on planet earth? While the iPhone itself isn’t air, water, food, or electricity, the changes to humanity brought about by this sliver of electronics is remarkable.
It’s easy for us to articulate upon the past from the present, or pontificate the future from the here and now, but with nearly 3-billion smartphones on earth, it’s fair and accurate to say how Apple changed the smartphone from 2007 to today, has had an enormous impact on the current ruling species.
Not So Scientific
Allow me to bring to you a perspective on the iPhone’s influence from Kalle Lyytinen, published last week in Scientific American. While acknowledging how the iPhone has impacted people in the 21st century, I took issue with more than a few statements which are tainted by perspective.
When the iPhone emerged in 2007, it came with all the promise and pomp of a major Steve Jobs announcement, highlighting its user interface and slick design as key selling points.
That’s what Steve Jobs lived for and that’s what Apple is known for, but Lyytinen does not have an understanding of design and how design was viewed by Jobs and is viewed by Apple even today.
We know now that the iPhone transformed the mobile phone business, the internet economy and, in many ways, society as a whole.
It’s much easier to look back and create the map than it is to look forward and create a map. One does not require much effort to see the impact of the modern smartphone– as iconified by Apple’s iPhone– on billions of people earth wide.
But technically speaking, the iPhone was not very innovative.
Wrong. Just wrong. What the iPhone did was what Apple always does with disruptive innovation vs. iterative innovation. Apple cobbles together available technologies into a package that often is fully innovative. Look at the original iPhone. Big screen, big battery, easy to navigate applications, easy to use. That was huge innovation back then.
Its software and the interface idea were based on the iPod, which was already reinventing the digital music industry.
Again, wrong. Nothing about the iPhone’s original OS or built-in applications smacks of iPod, and the iPod had already plateaued as the defining music device; music was about to make a massive move toward smartphones and Apple’s executives knew it, took what technology was headed for an Apple tablet device, and moved it toward what became the iPhone.
Google is your friend.
Its [iPhone] designers did not create a telephone with some extra features, but rather a full-fledged hand-held computer that could also make calls and browse the internet.
How about if we look at what Steve Jobs himself said about the iPhone during his introduction in 2007?
- “Well, today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class.”
- “The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls.”
- “The second is a revolutionary mobile phone.”
- “And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device.”
- “So, three things: a widescreen iPod with touch controls; a revolutionary mobile phone; and a breakthrough Internet communications device. An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone … are you getting it?”
- “These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone.”
In essence, without using the same words, Steve Jobs introduced a single device that would work as a media player, a mobile phone, and a Mac in your pocket.
The iPhone, and the smartphone boom it spurred, created a portable personal technology infrastructure that’s almost infinitely expandable. The iPhone changed the game not because of its initial technology and cool user interface but rather as a result of its creators’ imagination and courage.
Despite Google’s theft of Apple’s design, the iPhone iconified and continues to lead the smartphone revolution, which Jobs also described as the post-PC era.
Yet, many continue to rewrite history to fit a specific narrative that does not always and accurately reflect the facts of the past or the present.
For Apple and every other phone company, software became much more important than hardware. What apps a phone could run, and how quickly, mattered much more than whether it had a slightly better camera or could hold a few more photos; whether it flipped open, slid open or was a bar-style; or whether it had a large keyboard or a small one.
I cannot put my response to that in one word. I tried bullshit and spot on. Both seem correct but only within a specific context.
Steve Jobs said it best:
Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
And how it works is that rare combination of well integrated software and hardware. It’s not one or the other. All such devices have both, but Apple redefines design and usage based upon how the software and hardware work together. That’s design.
That said, I understand what Lyytinen means about how software now defines usage in such devices.
The heightened importance of software on a mobile phone shifted the industry’s economy as well. The money came now not just from selling devices and phone services, but also from marketing and selling apps and in-app advertisements.
That’s a bit disjointed because Google’s method of operation was advertising pre-iPhone and Android, and remains advertising, but there is a software economy and Apple leads the way in usage and revenue and profits.
Apple holds about 15 percent of the mobile phone market, but reaps 80 percent of global smartphone profits.
Some say closer to 90-percent because only Samsung makes profits worthy of counting, but the 15-percent iPhone marketshare is a myth and a viral guesstimate. Those numbers don’t add up. Apple itself claims nearly 1-billion iPhone and iPad users (iOS) on planet earth, while Google executives say Android accounts for 1.7-billion users. The former is not 15-percent and the latter is not 85-percent.
Regardless, as with almost everything Apple, the iPhone’s influence on humanity is outsized beyond simple marketshare. Lyytinen’s perspective is a worthy read, off balance in perspective here and there, but highlights the changes wrought from Steve Jobs’ ability to recognize the future and his willingness to bet large acreage of the Apple farm to get there.