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Remembering iPhone Two Years Later

iPhone Greeters

Two years ago today, Apple launched the original iPhone. In June 2007, I described using Apple’s smartphone as “life changing.” Despite my grumpiness about iPhone battery life and 3G call quality, I stand by the description.

I covered the launch for eWEEK, writing post “The iPhone Moment” (Two months ago tomorrow, I was laid off from eWEEK, as editor of Apple Watch and Microsoft Watch). At Apple’s suggestion, I went to the company store at Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, Md. for the launch festivities.

No event I ever covered as a journalist stands out like the original iPhone launch. I’m a studier of people, culture and society. The launch event delighted with its eclectic, non-geek group of buyers. I blogged two years ago:

The people turning out to buy iPhones yesterday made up one motley group—representing a broad swath of America. I saw in the line people of all races, ages and lifestyles. For example, near the front, waited a brawny Hispanic dude, with cut T-Shirt that exposed a praying hands tattoo on his upper right arm. He looked more like the kind of guy who works with metal, using his hands, rather than holding a pretty cell phone. Yet he was typical of the people waiting; they shattered geek stereotypes.

Before iPhone, and even after, handset manufacturers targeted gadget geeks as first adopters of their products. But iPhone captured the imagination and buying inclination of people who wanted cell phones that were more personal and that better reflected their personalities. The smartphone appealed to people confined by—no, imprisoned by—by gadgets designed by nerds for nerds. The iPhone represented freedom to be.

June 29, 2007: iPhone buyers Chris, Steve and Eddie hold up their old mobiles

June 29, 2007: iPhone buyers Chris, Steve and Eddie hold up their old mobiles

Several of the iPhone buyers spoke of being caught up in a historical moment, of the device’s release as a watershed event for handsets and how they are marketed. A buyer named Steve told me:

I think this is a day that you’re going to see a change in how computers, how handheld computers are done…It’s a little marketing history. I’m seeing it that way…I think we’ll look back in 10 or 15 years, and like on that day the gadget came out—same thing with iPod—it changed the game.

Buyer Steve’s assessment was right but not his time horizon. People already are looking back two years later at how iPhone “changed the game”:

  • iPhone imitators/competitors are everywhere
  • Touch is now the standard user interface for smartphones
  • Google is a developer of mobile operating systems and services
  • Smartphones are beginning to replace PCs for user-generated content

Apple started these trends—and more—with the original iPhone. Two years ago today.

iPhone buyer Steve had a countdown timer; less than 7 minutes to go

iPhone buyer Steve had a countdown timer; less than 7 minutes to go

The launch two years ago defined more than iPhone. It defined Apple. Better stated: Redefined Apple and its brand. The iPhone moment also defined an emerging mobile culture, of people being creative and expressive anytime, anywhere and without the shackles of PCs.

Microsoft has failed to understand how transforming was the iPhone’s original introduction. My measure is the company’s Windows Mobile strategy, which is a disaster. Windows Mobile 6.5 is obsolete before its release, whether measured by iPhone OS or competing operating systems from Google, Nokia, Palm or Research in Motion. While Microsoft clings to the perceived safety of the Windows PC, real people reach for the unfettered freedom of mobile handsets.

Your next computer will be a smartphone.

Does she look like a geek to you?

Does she look like a geek to you?

There’s an appropriateness to Apple CEO Steve Jobs officially returning to work two years to the day that iPhone launched. I’ve asserted that he won’t return to full-time work as chief executive, and that COO Tim Cook will eventually be promoted to CEO. That opinion isn’t changed, but I do hope that I’m wrong about it. I’d like nothing more than to be wrong and to see Steve Jobs dazzle everyone with more magic.

The iPhone is magical, the way it responds to touch. The entire iPhone creative team deserves some special prize for how this one device captures the imagination and changed how handheld devices are designed and used. More importantly, the second-generation iPhone, along with Apple’s App Store, stands at the precipice of computing’s future.

The PC that matters most is the one you carry. Damn the desktop.

11 Comments

  1. The next wave will be hardware which plugs into the iPhone. I am surprised that the other manufacturers have not tried to group together on a standard for communication with peripherals, in 6 months Apple will be wiping the floor with them.

    We have already seen cars, medical scanners and navigation systems using the iPhone as a removable CPU. The iPhone’s development is very easy compared to embedded development so there will be an explosion in new embedded web-enabled devices. Android has a good chance here but the hardware is not standard.

    There is lots of competition in the market now but they are all competing on 1 year old features. You will probably see them falling over themselves to make their cameras easier to use in the next 6 months.

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  2. Joe, I agree with you that the mobile phone will displace desktop computers… eventually. I do not think it’ll happen as fast as you think. We’re going to need to see some fundamental innovations first that overcome the limitations of the smartphone for general computing.

    I can look up information in the Internet, check my email, write short messages, or perform other simple, mundane tasks on my smartphone. But if I want to do something heavier – use a spreadsheet, write a letter, play a FPS game – I fire up my laptop or my desktop. Why? Because I just can’t do these things on a small device.

    The bottleneck is not computing power; we’re probably only a few years away from having mobile-grade processors that can provide enough processing power to routinely perform these heavy duty tasks. The problem is input and output. I would far rather have a full-size ergonomic keyboard for typing my three page letter than to fuss with a two-finger touchpad on a mobile device. Likewise, I don’t want to squint at a four-inch screen while trying to manipulate my columns or frag my opponent. I want my 27-inch LCD running at its beautiful 1920×1200 native resolution.

    Until we see innovations that allow the mobile device to have the input/output comfort and flexibility of a desktop, the smartphone is going to hit a wall in its quest to supplant larger form factors. It will be an adjunct tool to be used to supplement our day-to-day functions, but it will not replace the desktop or the laptop until somebody figures out how to make it behave like a desktop or laptop.

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  3. I was intrigued by the Line6/Planet Waves demo at the last WWDC. Apparantly the demo went tits-up, that’s really not the point – it was the utterly novel use of the device that I thought was great. We are in for some really exciting times ahead.

    I have to say though, I guess I’ll buy a tablet before a smartphone, just because that would suit my needs better. Something like a bigger iPhone would be cool, but I was looking at a Dell multitouch tablet running Win 7 the other day, and it was exactly the the function I am looking for (just too expensive and the hardware lacked finesse).

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  4. I’ve been hankering for a well executed tablet as well… i used to have and kind of like a thinkpad x60t but wouldn’t spend that amount for an otherwise underperforming device again…

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  5. All you do is create a cradle which connects to the monitor and keyboard/mouse. That is possible today so I think we are just waiting for the hardware and some software to make the transition from phone UI to desktop UI.

    I think USB 3 will be needed but within 3-5 years we will have all of the pieces.

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  6. I think it’s more a matter of addition and progression than displacement as such. Ultra-abridged version:

    If you want to run a banking system you will still today and into the future be running mainframes with parallel sysplex setups and such.

    But shifting to PCs has allowed us to use computing power for personal uses and gaming.

    Shifting to web connected PCs has allowed us to blog and swap pictures etc.

    Shifting to web connected mobile computers like smartphones has allowed us to instantly microblog with things like facebook, twitter, and morbidly film someone in pain rather than do something about it.

    Doesn’t mean we won’t still be going back to our PC for a round of Empire Total War (yes yes yes!!) and elaborate on what we have instantly microblogged earlier in the day on our smartphones / comment in length how terrible it was to witness the person’s hardship.

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  7. Well, we have docking stations now. Who carries their docking station with them?

    I’m talking about input/output that fits in your pocket. You can’t carry a full-size keyboard with you. Until you can, mobile computing will not be more than an adjunct.

    One approach would be a set of glasses that displays video information. You could connect this to the mobile device via a future Bluetooth-like connection. You could even project a virtual keyboard in the glasses that you could hold your hands ‘over’. We’re tactile creatures, though, so we probably wouldn’t easily accept a ghostly image as a keyboard. You’d probably have to incorporate some kind of neural interface into the glasses in order to simulate the feel of a keyboard as you typed on it.

    But none of this technology exists yet, or at least is any father than early prototype stage. That’s why I think it’ll take over a decade before Joe’s predictions regarding mobile computing come true.

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  8. I agree – PCs will be around forever just as mainframes will be around forever. They’ll always have a niche. The question is: will PCs be displaced by mobile devices as the primary and dominant computing tools? My thesis is that they won’t until mobile computing can easily do most of the things that PCs can do.

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  9. Hi Mike,

    I kind of agree with you, but with one important change: A mobile device doesnt have to do everything a larger device can do, it only has to do want most people want to do.

    And I think the big divide here could fall into these three categories;

    – Content Creation
    – Content Consumption
    – Content Capture

    Mobile devices are already pretty good at the last two. Let’s face it, the quintisential content capture device, the camera, have been very mobile for about 100 year now!

    I suspect the devices people chose will reflect the relative usage of these three categories. “Content creation” is important to me (professionally I’m a software engineer, and I’m also an amateur recording musician). I do think that most people are significantly more oriented to content-consumption, though.

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  10. Nick,

    Good points. I would point out, though, that word processing is content creation, and everybody does that when they send an email or when they perform any other composition. For example, I probably wouldn’t respond to your note on a smartphone – it would be too much hassle. Will we see a lessening of online participation, then, as users move to smartphones, simply because it’s too difficult? I hope not, but we’ll need something better than two-finger keypads to avoid it. Maybe voice recognition? Still a few years to go there.

    The other point is that there is a lot of high-end content consumption that is inappropriate for a four-inch screen. The most common example is gaming. Another example is watching movies – I doubt Netflix will thrive on the mobile device. As the Internet improves, digital viewing online will become more common. Really, the only content consumption appropriate for today’s mobile format is reading and listening.

    To speak to your specific point, then, I think most people will want to either game or compose or watch movies or do some other high-end interaction on their computing device. The mobile device is not to the point where it will fit that bill.

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  11. Mike, Microsoft disagree with you. The Zune HD is aiming to replace the PC/Blueray player for watching movies. It will just connect to your TV via a ‘dock’ – AKA a cable.

    It shows that we are much closer than you think to having a dumb screen connected to a smart phone, even for high end things like video.

    I don’t think anything much will happen until the ‘dock’ is standardized though. Nobody is going to carry a smart phone and the cables needed to connect it to a keyboard/mouse/screen or TV.

    To begin, the phone does not have to run the operating system, it can just store settings and data. It could even act as a one-time key for accessing web sites etc.

    The Zune is probably not the device that will do it, but maybe the 4th or 5th gen iPhones will play 1080p high bitrate movies directly to your TV and act as a portable store for your desktop. At the moment your desktop backs up your phone, but maybe one day it will be the opposite.

    For complex replies to email/sms the work-flow would be something like this. Get message and read it on phone. Find nearest dumb PC. Plug in your phone and authenticate, the email will automatically popup because that is the app you had open on the phone. You use the dumb PC’s keyboard and mouse to compose the message.

    Want to play your latest game but are in a hotel? Simply rent their dumb PC and connect your phone. All your games will be there and will run on the full screen. Macs can already use 2 graphics cards and switch between them so it is possible that the phone can switch the graphics over to the dumb PC when it is connected.

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