Evaluating the iPhone’s Impact

This week marks the ten year anniversary of the announcement of the iPhone by Steve Jobs. There’s understandably been lots of reminiscing about the launch event itself, some of it rueful in relation to more recent Apple launches, but I think the most interesting thing about the iPhone launch is to think about the impact it’s had on the broader consumer technology industry.

The impact on smartphones

You’ve probably seen one of the many “before and after” pictures out there which show what smartphones looked like before the iPhone and what they came to look like afterward. The most obvious impact the iPhone had was on what smartphones in general were like after its launch. A few before-style smartphones still launched after (and BlackBerry arguably pursued mostly that model for years), but almost all smartphone makers suddenly realized the iPhone was the one people actually wanted. But it goes much further than that – the iPhone taught regular people why they’d even want a smartphone in the first place and, in the process, mainstreamed the smartphone.

Prior to the iPhone, smartphones were largely used by two classes of people. In North America, in particular, but also beyond, they were mostly used by business people and were email-centric. BlackBerry and various devices based on the Windows Mobile platform dominated this part of the market. In Europe and some other markets, however, a different type of smartphone dominated, much more consumer and media-centric, with Nokia one of the largest vendors. Though both were popular among certain segments, neither had mass-market appeal and both visions of the smartphone were limited relative to what the iPhone would become. Once launched, the iPhone arguably absorbed both those use cases in one device, though it took a year or two to get really good at business email.

The iPhone ultimately represented a different vision of what a smartphone should be – the internet in your pocket, though that was only one of the three main value propositions Steve Jobs outlined at the event. Beyond that, the iPhone would become a computer in your pocket, capable of many of the same things as your computer at your desk, but highly portable and much more fun to use. Almost every smartphone since has sought to emulate that fundamental value proposition, though it took years for competitors to match the execution. It’s impossible to know what smartphones would have been like in the absence of the iPhone – they surely would have evolved in some of the same directions over time – but it’s certain the iPhone dramatically changed the market. Whether you use an iPhone or another smartphone today, you can thank Steve Jobs and the iPhone for almost all of its functionality.

Creation of new markets

Even beyond the smartphone market, though, the iPhone has had far-reaching impact, especially following the release of the App Store a year after the initial launch. Though the value proposition of the essentially unchangeable iPhone of 2007 was already strong, what really transformed it was the App Store and all the additional value that came with it. Certainly, there were lots of existing websites which now had easy to use versions encapsulated in apps on the iPhone. But it went far further – thousands of completely new ideas found form as apps in the App Store and it’s arguable that the iPhone helped launch many companies that have become enormous in their own right. Neither Uber nor Tinder would exist today without the iPhone-driven modern conception of the smartphone. It’s also likely Facebook and Twitter would be a shadow of their current selves in the absence of the iPhone and the innovation in smartphones it drove.

Beyond apps, there are also huge new hardware categories that have emerged in recent years that were enabled by the iPhone and all that came after. Wearables are the single biggest of those, with Fitbit and other fitness device vendors benefiting enormously from easy Bluetooth LE-enabled syncing with iPhones and other smartphones. The Apple Watch also benefited from this tie-in to the iPhone. A huge variety of other smart devices, however, would also have been almost impossible without the iPhone and other iPhone-like smartphones: smart lighting, smart locks, smart scales, smart fridges, and all the other technologies we’ve seen over the last several years which rely on app controls.

And then there are the plethora of other devices which have borrowed smartphone technology and components, starting with Apple’s own iPad and an array of other touchscreen devices. Almost every small electronic device released in recent years also benefits from iPhone-driven innovation in screens, radios, chips, sensors, and miniaturization in general. Everything from drones to AR and VR technology to smart earbuds benefits from the massive scale and innovation driven by the iPhone and all the smartphones it spawned.

The most transformative product of the last 20 years

Ultimately, the iPhone is the most transformative product of at least the last 20 years, pioneering a whole new category of devices but then sowing the seeds of both new device categories and service and app businesses too. It didn’t do that all itself – many other device vendors have innovated in very meaningful ways in this market as well – but the presence of the iPhone is what prompted a massive paradigm shift by every other vendor and fomented a burgeoning of innovation across the smartphone market and many other categories. Almost none of the technology we use today is unaffected by the innovations introduced ten years ago this week.

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Jan Dawson

Jan Dawson is Founder and Chief Analyst at Jackdaw Research, a technology research and consulting firm focused on consumer technology. During his sixteen years as a technology analyst, Jan has covered everything from DSL to LTE, and from policy and regulation to smartphones and tablets. As such, he brings a unique perspective to the consumer technology space, pulling together insights on communications and content services, device hardware and software, and online services to provide big-picture market analysis and strategic advice to his clients. Jan has worked with many of the world’s largest operators, device and infrastructure vendors, online service providers and others to shape their strategies and help them understand the market. Prior to founding Jackdaw, Jan worked at Ovum for a number of years, most recently as Chief Telecoms Analyst, responsible for Ovum’s telecoms research agenda globally.

3 thoughts on “Evaluating the iPhone’s Impact”

  1. One potential impact that I think was at least accelerated by the iPhone/iPad is the affect of wireless on wired internet, similar to what the cell phone did to landline phones.

    What made me think of this is I was looking into Comcast Gigabit, which is likely to be the first highband width ISP available in my neighborhood (another topic!). To go from 25Mps to their gigabit service is only a $10 a month increase, but a three year contract. I just decided it wasn’t worth it.

    First all but one of our devices are wifi, and even then any video seems to load faster than it plays. And we are not a big family and we don’t all use the internet at the same time anyway to weigh down our service. I would bet dollars to donuts that the preponderance of wireless devices has improved quality and smaller file sizes.

    Would it have happened anyway, without the iPhone? Maybe, but I bet the transition would have taken longer.

    Just some thoughts,

    1. It’s possible things could be as you say, but I do remind you that LTE was coming, iPhone or no iPhone. The demand was there, even if it were for tethering.

      1. What I think was more affected, however, demand on the network. So the other improvements that were accelerated, imo, were also things higher quality video at better compression, better buffering, etc. In my example I realized that all the video I download is already fast enough for my systems. Even just a few years ago, gigabit would have been necessary to see it even just 30 minutes later. And then watching it while it downloaded would have slowed the download.

        Again, I’m not saying the changes wouldn’t have happened. But the demand I think pushed things faster, at least, that’s all.


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