Apple's iPhone has revolutionised the market for mobile phones and jumpstarted the smart phone revolution. It brought the technology to the masses as the must have gadget for the last four years. Its app store has sold billions of applications and it has helped make Apple one of the most value companies in the world.
In this article I look at how the iPhone has changed the world and how I think Apple could use it to lead several more technological revolutions.
An iPhone history lesson
The iPhone launched in January 2007 to much applause and has gone through four generations. From the original iPhone to 3G then to 4 and 4S it has popularised innovations like a high resolution "retina" display, playing games on a mobile phone and its biggest asset - an application store which has sold billions of apps and provides a rumored 470,000 jobs in the USA alone.
The iPhone hasn’t been a perfect device however; there have been multiple iGate affairs. The biggest is to do with the antennas on the iPhone 4 with the handgrip of death. By holding the device in a certain way you could connect the antennas through your hand reducing signal strength to near zero. This led Apple to offer a free antenna covering case and to offer refunds for angry customers. Antennagate has been succeeded by a couple of more issues including yellow tint screens, poor wifi and mis-selling iPad 4G capabilities in non-US countries. However as Apple sells so many devices it would be expected that some models will have manufacturing defects as the minority make a lot more noise than the happy majority.
The benefits of the iPhone
The iPhone has brought around many technologies. The biggest focus on software design but there are several hardware design features. The iPhone has limited the number of buttons with only one home-screen button on the front of the device alongside power, volume and mute at the side of the phone. The few buttons forced Apple and developers to use on screen buttons creating a more reliable user experience as buttons didn’t have multiple uses for different applications. This is a design feature that has been so successful it has been replicated in the Android world from Ice Cream Sandwich and beyond.
How the iPhone might go wrong
The iPhone could conceivable fall from grace - but it would take a shift in consumer buying habits for that to occur. A large PR mess up, such as continuing rumors of worker treatment in China could become damaging to the companies reputation and affect iPhone market share. More likely is that Apple's high cost products become unsustainable in the perma-recession Western economies, and nationalistic Chinese consumers buy their own goods rather than from other countries.
What the iPhone might do next year
The next iPhone, likely launched in Autumn 2012 will be a large improvement over the 4S. Many think that the 4S is only a partial update compared to its predecessor, but it was a large software upgrade by including the digital life assistant software Siri. I think that in 2012 the iPhone will have several things done to it. The first thing is that, like they have done with the iPad, they will drop the 4/4S moniker and simply call it the new iPhone?. This would eliminate anyone thinking that Apple didn’t do large phone upgrades every year. A form factor upgrade could also occur, with an increase in screen size to 4inch highly likely. The current iPhone screen seems small and compact compared to the large 4.3, 4.7 and 5 inch Android and Windows Phone 7 hardware. The second upgrade will be using the A6 chip. The 2012 iPad retained the A5 chip albeit with upgraded graphics and RAM, but the iPhone has to compete with the top Android phones with quad core processors. Therefore moving to quad core with upgraded graphics is a must do for Apple. It would also refocus the technical innovation on the iPhone rather than launching the newest chips on the iPad that are launched three or four months after the iPhone is. Siri upgrades are also a must and I would like to see faster dictation and more countries being supported. Moving some of Siri to the client side (actually on the phone) rather than relying on the North Carolina and other datacenters could boost speed, although I am no programmer. Apart from those upgrade, I don’t envisage much changing for the 2012 iPhone unless Apple can bring something spectacular out of the bag.
What the iPhone could be in five years
Five years is several lifetimes in the technology world. If we think about 2017 the iPhone will be approaching its 10th iteration and may not even exist in its current form. Voice dictation must become dominant by that time, and it wouldn’t surprise me if iCloud and Siri were combined across all iOS and Mac OSX (which coincidentally I think will have combined by that time anyway) to give a constant user experience. You would be able to call someone on your laptop and transfer it straight to your phone, and Siri will integrate with everything in order to give you voice commands like “buy me a standard Chinese takeaway please Siri”. The hardware may not have changed drastically in five years. Faster CPUs and graphics are a given, and I think that Apple is beginning a megapixel wars in the display arena. Human eyes do have a resolving limit and once we hit a certain point advances become increasingly meaningless.
I have owned iPhones and Android devices, and all of what I have written is pure predication based on previous progress. Apple is an innovative company, but so are companies like HTC, Samsung, ZTE and LG. Apple rarely creates an idea from first principles but rather takes an existing idea and executes it perfectly. It is this that is currently making it one of the best, as soon as other companies execute their ideas perfectly without compromise they will be able to match Apple and its current iDevice dominance.