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10 Years of iPhone – A little look at the past

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Touching Something So New…

Do you remember the first time you touched an iPhone? Sounds a little strange, but 10 years on (can you believe it?), it’s something I vividly remember. The rumours prior, and leading up to Macworld 2007 in January, there was high anticipation. At the time, Apple was watertight with releases and Steve Jobs was at the height of his powers.

I even woke up early to see the announcement. I mean, if that’s not a fanboi, then I don’t know what is. I turned up to work (I was working as a UX/Software Engineer in a mobile startup at the time, so it was close to home), and we were all “did you see, how cool is the pinch”, and so on. It was truly like nothing else.

At the time, I was pretty happy with Symbian OS. The web browser supported JavaScript and CSS. I had a multi-megapixel camera (2 I think). I had 3G Internet (Next G), I could install Java Midlets (now Apps – that’s what we used to install!).

At the same time as the iPhone announcement, the Palm Treo was launched. It had Windows CE, touch screen, web browser, could play music. And it was available. So that was my next phone. And it was okay…

It took some months for the iPhone to be release after the announcement, and the world went crazy. Well, the US did. The rest of us just watched on, or tried to import one. Sure, there was no Adobe Flash, no AppStore, a bad camera – it didn’t even have 3G, which was the then-standard. But the experience smashed all phones (with potential exception to the BlackBerry due to email & speedy keyboard for those familiar). This was ‘the’ device. I mean, people were calling this the Jesus Phone!

Lucky for me, my work (in a new job) managed to import a few. Apart from a couple telco-connections and my immediate workmates, I didn’t know anyone who had one.

And it was magic. You pinch. Swipe. Touch. If only the stylus on my Treo could tell me how it felt. It was, then and there, put in the shelf and never used again.

My personal reign of iPhone-show-the-world lasted almost a year. I’d show anyone I could, and the response was always ‘wow’. The simplest touch would get amazement.

Internet was slow, but it was a real web experience. So 2.5G didn’t matter. You couldn’t install apps, but what you could do on a well built webpage surpassed what Java Midlets could do; all-of-a-sudden they looked so average. And the battery was a shocker. But that didn’t matter – you could charge it with USB. This thing was a pocket rocket, but still waiting to take off. No Adobe Flash (big deal at the time), no apps, slow internet – the deficiencies didn’t matter because the basics were done right. There’s a lesson in that; you don’t need to be first if you’re able to focus on the core experience.

Sure enough, the iPhone 3G came out and it was released locally. It it improved. AppStore came. 3G speeds. And over the years, it’s been a continual evolution. iPad, Apple Watch – they all stem from the 2007 MacWorld Keynote.

Equally, the benchmark was set with regards to mobile experience and Google wasn’t going to watch on. Google’s play was ‘the more people that are online, the more people can see Google ads’. Android was on the horizon, and in 2008 – after over a year with 2 iPhones – I jumped ship to the HTC Desire.

It wasn’t perfect, in fact, it was really rusty in comparison, but we could build apps for this thing. Restrictions of iOS meant there could be no run-time code executed and that meant it was a closed box for commercial mainstream development.

This is where I fell out of love with Apple. Their approach to an ecosystem they owned, and made plenty of money from, increasingly put me off. It was my phone; I should be able to do what I want, right?

Equally, at the time (and you could still say so, if you argue it) Android was open source. Anyone could use it and this idea of openness aligned with me.

The iPhone 3G+ came out, then the 4. But they’d lost me and to this day, I’m still on Android.

I’d hear over and over, iPhone is so much better than Android. This didn’t phase me, but something happened right under my fingers. Occasionally, I’d jump to an iPhone and be reminded of the slick UI and responses. For a couple years, I kinda believed / knew iOS had some edges over Android. But it was around the Samsung Galaxy S4 time that the field was very level, in my opinion (albeit 6 years after my first Android). One thing most would say Samsung got right – a big screen. This was a media consumption device, and as long as it fits in your pocket, it’s good to go.

It was then I realised, after looking at the new iPhone 5, I felt, actually, perhaps Android is better, and this is when I had a now-obvious realisation. Every new phone, be it iPhone or Android (I’m talking the showcase Android phones) is better than the previous generation of competition. Better camera. Battery. Tweaks to improve UI. AI. CPU.

So, any time you are due for an upgrade, you’re probably on a 2+ year old device. The Galaxy S7 is streets ahead of the Galaxy S5. But if you try a iPhone 7+, that’s also going to be streets ahead of your S5. But the S7 vs the iPhone 7? They’re pretty even. It’s now just a matter of generations leapfrogging, and until something drastic happens (perhaps AI in Siri or Google Assisant), I don’t see much changing this year. Battery management / muti-cores for better power management, raw image processing, screen resolution and clarity, gesture support…

These days, it seems like cat and mouse. I wonder if wearables will actually come the new battleground in 2017, or if it’s the power of the cloud services which will make the difference? Apple ravaged the competition in 2007, and since 2015, it’s been pretty even. It’s an interesting space to watch.

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