Remember when the iPhone was different and new?
The iPhone is 10 years old this year and it’s fair to say that it changed a lot of things in the technology industry. It changed the way we connect, share, play, and much more. The product that some people speculated would fail horribly, ended up shaping the entire smartphone industry. To the point now, where the majority of smartphones look and feel incredibly similar.
Believe it or not, there was a time before iPhone and it was slightly mad. There were an incredible amount of phones being produced by a lot of different companies. You didn’t have to wait every September for the latest instalment from your manufacturer of choice. The phones were bold, bright and rather different.
Take Nokia for example, if you’re younger than 14, their name is probably more of a story than a phone company. Once upon a time though, they were at the top of the tree when it came to phones, from the 3395 (3310 to me and you), the N95 to the just absurd 7380. The variety that came from Nokia in such a short space of time was incredible. It wasn’t just Nokia though, phone companies threw new designs, layouts and colours at us every other month. There wasn’t a need for significant power back then because the internet and applications were nowhere near as prominent as they are now (although Nokia had a good go with the N-GAGE). For a time this resulted in phones getting smaller and smaller, with some companies completely sacrificing usability for iconic designs. Feast your eyes on the Samsung Juke and consider using that in todays world.
Then in 2007 Steve Jobs and Apple's design chief, Jony Ive, came up with something we now consider the norm, the iPhone. The iPhone changed the way smartphones would look for years to come, by introducing a brand new smartphone design. A simple rectangular block with the front almost entirely covered with a multi-touch display made from glass. Buttons were located on the top, side and front. This was all encased in a neat aluminium body as you can see in the picture below.
At first there was some resistance to the new design, with industry big-hitters such as then Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, suggesting it would fail and Apple were wrong to prioritise usability over everything else. How wrong they were… The iPhone, whilst not an overnight success, definitely showed Jobs was right and it left the competition, principly handset makers on Google's Android software platform, scrambling to catch up. Documents show that Android weren’t even considering a touch screen before Apple launched the iPhone.
It wasn’t just the touchscreen though. Phone developers changed the whole industrial design language of the smart phone to match Apple’s. Just take a look at what Samsung were doing before 2007. The breadth of their offerings was stunning, including bar-type phones, sliders and flip phones. Soon after the iPhone reveal in 2007, Samsung released the i900 Omnia, a rectangular phone with the front almost entirely taken up by a touch display.
As demands for smartphones grew, so did the units themselves, with larger screens enabling room for batteries and chips that deliver almost desktop computer level performance. The iPhone 7 Plus (pictured below) for example, delivers computing performance that puts it ahead of any MacBook Air ever made.
Apple have now confirmed September 12th for the announcement of their latest devices. Based on speculation, performance may continue to increase at an almost exponential rate, but it's outward design is unlikely to drastically change. There is a valid argument that its success has retarded the industry in terms of the breadth of smart phones physical design. Pre-iPhone, the industrial design and form-factors of mobile phones varied wildly, even from the same handset manufacturer and new designs were released at an incredible rate. There was almost something for everyone. Now, there are only a handful of companies making phones that are worthwhile competitors to the iPhone and in essence, they all look incredibly similar.
All eyes now turn to the new Steve Jobs Theatre for the September 12th announcements, and we can't wait to see what Tim Cook, Ive and Apple have to show us!
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