In Praise of the iPhone and iOS
How well do you remember the smartphone back in 2006? Chances are most of you didn’t really care about them or owned one because they were either too expensive or just too difficult to operate effectively. This was the era of predominant QWERTY keyboards, soft-keys, small 2.4-inch screens at a QVGA resolution, EDGE data speeds, limited storage, scroll bars, and terrible browsers. Smartphones weren’t about the consumer. You’d judge them by how fast you could switch between tasks because they were mainly focused on the business user. In times when smartphones keep getting bigger, most people have forgotten that back then the order of business was to make devices smaller in order for business users to not consider it a chore to carry them.
I still remember when Steve Jobs announced the first generation iPhone back in Macworld 2007. Probably the most interesting part was when he featured a “Business 101” graph describing what the smartphone and feature phone were on a scale of smart and easy to use, and how the plan with their new iPhone was to create a leap-frog product that wouldn’t resemble its competition, and at the same time, be both smarter and easier to use.
The iPhone marked a complete paradigm shift in how phones were designed, fitted with software, and sold. This was not a business phone in any way. It took Apple more than a year to even fit Microsoft Exchange services into the device to make it more attractive to business users. This was a phone for “the rest of us”, just like Apple’s computer marketing would tout back in the early 90s.
Back in 2007, I recall how I couldn’t care less about the iPhone. I was a strong Windows Mobile enthusiast that had already bricked a couple of Pocket PCs playing around with ROMs, and succeeding with others. I felt it was logically impossible for Apple to ever succeed with a strategy where they weren’t following industry trends, and where they planned to compete with just one phone. Five years were enough to prove me wrong, up to the point where I’m now using my third iPhone.
So if I were to compare our past articles where we praise both Android and Windows Phone, our praise of the iPhone has nothing to do with why we praised its competition. iOS alone would’ve been pointless without the device that made it popular, so we’ll focus on both this time. The iPhone, as a device, is indeed completely different in just about every way. It lacks a removable battery, expandable storage, a large screen, amazing battery life, a wide selection of OEMs or designs, and it even lacks 4G LTE. So if it’s so widely under-spec’ed in comparison to the other choices that are available, you’d wonder why has it become so successful? The answer to the question lies in simplicity.
A simple game changer
My praise to Apple’s iPhone has to do with how they figured out consumer psychology before launching their first product. They truly did their homework much better than everybody else. They understood that the device had to be natural, simple, practical, reliable and beautiful to appeal to consumers. They also understood that selling a user experience that was solidly backed by a complete ecosystem would give their only phone a better chance to compete, than if they simply focused on selling phones on their own. And finally, they also knew that even business users are, in a way, consumers that would also follow the trend.
Many may debate as to why lots of the competing devices look so much like the iPhone. In my opinion, a lot of that doesn’t have to do with these companies trying to copy the iPhone, but instead that the design is so simplistic, that you’d even question if a phone should look any other way.
Apple’s single tool of success was to launch one product well and spend the following year improving it. Back when screens were 2.4-inch, they were the first to offer a 3.5-inch screen. Today we can’t even think about a phone without basics like a proximity sensor or an accelerometer, but that also came with the release of the iPhone. They were the first to successfully offer capacitive multi-touch, a truly smart virtual keyboard, paper-like Retina Display resolution, and if we begin talking about Siri, the list game changing features could just go on.
Simple Hardware & Software
Apple’s bet was so risky and smart that even their most reluctant competitors have followed:
We all remember how Steve Ballmer mocked it, and now we see that Windows Phone has shifted to follow the same principles of simplicity and beauty. We’ve also seen how Android OEM’s struggle to find UIs that are intuitive enough for their end user in order to differentiate from others, even though that leaves many UIs resembling iOS in almost every detail.
Now this is not a blind praise to my platform of choice. iOS is in no way perfect or even as powerful as its competitors. I spend my day with two phones and that includes a Samsung Galaxy Nexus. What I praise the most is that they knew their device wouldn’t be perfect when they launched it, and they prepared it to be somewhat future-proof by filling in all the gaps with software. They haven’t stopped aggressively closing their gaps of imperfection every year. Even updates on iOS are fairly simple. I don’t think any of you remember that the iPhone originally couldn’t cut, copy and paste. And the best
part is that rarely do we see fragmentation become an issue whenever legacy hardware can support the changes, where as with Android and Windows Phone 7, it’s all about the OEM and nothing about you.
iOS is in no way Open Source either, which is the tool many haters use to bash it. It’s just funny whenever people forget that open source doesn’t necessarily mean open to the user. Is there anything open about the Verizon version of the original Galaxy S using Bing as the search engine you couldn’t change? Is there anything open about having a phone filled with bloatware only a power user can remove? Is there anything open about your dependence on both your carrier and OEM for your phone to get updated? And before you tell me about how easy things become on competing platforms once you root them, remember iOS also has a solid Jailbreak community. The point here is not about how power users can make the best out of their device, it’s the fact that Apple deserves praise over how they’ve managed to get carriers out of your device for anything that’s not their either good or bad signal.
While many of you may debate whether you’re getting more or less for your money when you purchase an iPhone, I’m inclined to see my glass half full. My iPhone 4 took a beating, suffering many drops to the ground, and I was still able to sell it to a good friend for a solid price because it had no dents or scratches. Apple clearly doesn’t sell cheap hardware, and ironically, neither do they sell expensive software. Apple’s app store has by far the broadest selection of Apps of any ecosystem out there. But numbers aside, try to buy Angry Birds on Windows Phone 7 and you’ll notice that you can easily buy another three games for that same amount of money on the iOS App Store.
A simple future
iOS is no longer an iPhone-centric operating system. It’s clear that Apple’s bet on the future stands over iOS’ shoulders. The iPad, the Apple TV, the iPod Touch and even the iPod Nano all use a variant of iOS. OS X Lion looks more like iOS than ever before. The only reason why that is, is because their first experiment worked. iOS was the tool they used to bridge the gap between technology and what’s natural to us as human beings. Twenty years ago it would’ve been insane for anybody to consider computers in the hands of children or senior citizens, and now we see iPads in the hands of just about everybody. Apple’s future has everything to do with a natural user interface, and iOS has become the facelift that Mac OS needed to appeal to a mass number of consumers.
You may probably not see this now, but eventually computers will be like trucks, just as Steve Jobs once said. They’ll still be around, and many will still use them for specific needs. Now, every time somebody asks me if they really need an iPad, my response is always to ask them if they really need a computer if all they do is just send email or browse the web. It’s clear that iOS has paved the way for many of us to see computers differently, and as history has already proven, this also goes to Smartphones as the sales of feature phones begun to decline with the release of the first iPhone.