Apple has a long history of innovating around existing ideas in software and hardware, taking the best-in-class techniques from other areas to apply them to its smartphones, and looking at its own successes to translate them to its mobile platform.
Since the launch of the first iPhone, critics have pointed out that Apple is refining ideas from other areas of technology, rather than creating its own grand visions and unique steps forward in technology. It’s not as black and white as that, because execution is perhaps more important than the initial idea, but the key is that the progress of the iPhone has been achieved using the mantra of every digital start-up in Silicon Valley. Iteration and evolution.
Every part of that first iPhone model was going to be labelled a failure by others in the industry, but Apple would simply iterate in public, improving the software, the hardware, even some of the key decisions about the ecosystem. The iPhone, more than any other smartphone, would be built on an evolutionary approach, improving through many small steps and cutting away development branches that simply did not work.
And the best place to illustrate this journey is with one of Apple’s key smartphone advantages… the applications.
In the beginning there were no apps. The future was going to be powered by HTML5, and web-based apps would be the way forward. Developers would host titles on their own servers, and a shortcut icon would be placed on an iPhone screen. To the user it would look seamless. At least that was the pitch, because everyone saw the issues of latency, storage, and complexity – the first iPhone’s approach to applications made coding for Symbian look like a walk in the park.
Whether this was a deliberate choice to establish the iPhone before opening it up is not relevant, because in July 2008 the App Store opened up with 500 apps and the iPhone evolved from a feature-phone into a smartphone. Apple was not the first mobile app store, but it popularised the concept and by matching it up with the existing media store that was iTunes it built a cohesive platform.
There was nothing revolutionary about applications on a mobile. Apple’s initial push to try to change their nature could have been revolutionary, instead it evolved to something recognisable, and then marketing ensured that the story was kind to iPhone and Apple.
Thanks to the iPod, the iPhone already had a media store it could tap into through iTunes. Again, this wasn’t the first smartphone to do so, but in those days iTunes was an elegant solution that did just work as advertised. One area where evolution was seen was the adoption of podcasting. Launched in the iTunes Store in the summer of 2005, the nascent podcasting industry picked up a significant boost as the on-demand downloadable audio programming was integrated into iTunes. Again, this was not a revolution, just Apple making use of elements that were already online, but twisting them so they worked for the benefit of the iPhone ecosystem.
That’s not to say that Apple didn’t push the envelope itself. As Nokia had shown before (and continued to show until Microsoft purchased its Devices and Services division), photography was an important part of the smartphone equation. As Nokia lost its lead in imaging, Apple has attempted to take over with a focus on speed, ease of use, and new technology in the lens, the sensors, and the associated electronics. The addition of focus pixels in the iPhone 6 and image stabilisation in the iPhone 6S followed on from the changes made on previous iPhone handsets to allow for sharper pictures and faster pocket-to-picture times.
Every iPhone has come with a camera, and every iPhone has improved on the camera that was in the previous model. Research and Development improves the camera. It may be that it has not been seen on a smartphone before, or it has been seen on a smartphone that was quickly forgotten. To take the two previous examples, focus pixels had been used in the Samsung Galaxy S5, while optical image stabilisation was a key selling point of the Nokia Lumia 1020.
Apple has a potent mix of Moore’s Law, a sharp eye for detail and perfection, and above all an insane understanding of marketing. On paper, the top of the line Android handsets are faster, stronger, more powerful, and more capable than the iPhone. Yet on a per-model basis, more people flock to the iPhone than other choices. In the case of the two ’6′ models the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus took the two top-selling paces on the charts.
With the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus the same process is at work. The camera will pick up improvements in sensor size, signal processing, and improve on the images that were able to be taken last year. The strengthened chassis builds on lessons learned in previous designs and of course a new metal alloy that builds on that used previously. And of course the addition of the Force Touch screens lifts one of the key UI elements from the Apple Watch and the newest MacBook machines into Apple’s most popular device.
Once more Apple has iterated on a successful model, refined the offering to the consumer, and is set to reap the reward for its attention to detail and ability to make the correct design choices. It’s a simple strategy, once that many companies follow, but Apple has the knack of going with the option that appeals to the consumer.
What drives the success of the iPhone each year? It’s Apple’s ability to evolve the iPhone through sensible decision-making, strategic choices, and smart marketing.
Sources: buymondo.co.za; forbes.com