The iPhone 10 years on: from innovation to compromise

On the iPhone’s 10th anniversary, we look back at one of the most iconic electronic devices in history

The legacy

Technical specs and design choices aside, one of the iPhone's greatest legacies is the way it changed how we viewed mobile phones. It was a catalyst of a slow market transformation that would take the mobile device into the same bracket as a luxury watch or high-end television. Today, a person's smartphone is often their most expensive accessory and for better or worse, you have the iPhone to thank for that.

Of course the value that people attribute to smartphones today is not just the result of clever marketing; the iPhone started the technological revolution that is the mobile app. Apple announced support for third-party applications alongside the reveal of the iPhone 3G, and with the launch of the App Store a month later, developers were able to sell their work directly to customers - a first for a mobile platform. Initially offering 500 applications, this soon ballooned to 50,000 by the following year - today there are over 2.2 million.

"The technology is constantly changing. Across the globe the rise of Smartphones is not just changing consumer habits, but changing lives - access to information and communication has never been easier, or so fast," adds ADYOULIKE's Lovell. "Smartphones are now essential parts of all our lives - helping us plan everything from work meetings to dinner choices; dating to taxi services, to everything else in between." 

Applications are where the real functionality of a smartphone lies. The first thing we do with new smartphones today is download WhatsApp, Facebook, our favourite travel and weather apps... things we use on a daily basis that have become fundamental to our mobile experience. When Apple made it possible for companies to build and market apps directly to customers, it suddenly opened the door to possibilities never before considered on a mobile device - who would've thought back then that we would end up paying for goods with a tap of our smartphones. It's precisely the lack of app support on Blackberry and Windows mobiles that has meant they've struggled to remain relevant.

The year of the compromise

While subsequent generations of iPhone have refined the original idea, Apple has been criticised for its lack of innovation in recent years. Processors get faster, graphics chip can pump out more pixels, and devices get thinner and lighter, but fundamentally the overall feel has remained the same. Apple reinvented the mobile phone in 2007, and has done comparatively very little in the time since to shake up the market - the iPhone 5 was considered "boring" by some commentators at the time. The most dramatic visual change over the years has been 2017's theme of edge-to-edge displays, removing the last vestige of a physical navigational button. Yet the first example of this came from market leader Samsung, leaving Apple playing catchup and knocking the wind from its sails ahead of its next launch.

For Apple to gain ground over the next few years, it will need to address the issues around component supply. Currently Apple is heavily reliant on Samsung's screen technology and rumour has it that because of demand from rival firms this year, as well as Samsung's own S8 range, it has struggled to source enough OLED screens for its next iPhone. It has also found itself in a legal squabble with Qualcomm, manufacturer of the fastest LTE modem chip on the market, which some speculate will mean a shortfall in hardware that will have to be made up with lower performing Intel modems. It appears the company is making far too many compromises to be the innovative driving force it wants to be.

There's also the issue of Android. Having made a market debut in 2008, it would take a couple of years before the operating system would see market success. The likes of HTC and Google's own Nexus range were its earliest champions, but by 2010 we had the first glimpse of Samsung's flagship Galaxy S range - the Galaxy S8, released this year, is widely considered the finest example of smartphone design. The sheer number of capable devices running Android means that if you don't like a particular handset you can switch to another company and get the same OS experience. If you like iOS, but hate the iPhone design, you're out of luck.

Whereas at one time the iPhone was considered the best smartphone experience available, the market has become saturated with genuine alternatives. Apple is no longer the same disruptive force it was once. Later iPhone versions have been symptomatic of a move to the tried and tested approach, and fans are once again looking for that exciting plunge into the unknown. Whether any new iPhone can provide that remains to be seen.

Main image credit: Blake Patterson. Photo reused under Creative Commons license.

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