August 6, 2022

A glimpse into the past, present and future of the device

It’s been 15 years since Apple released what is arguably its flagship device: the iPhone. A decade and a half later, few products have managed to achieve a similar level of brand recognition.

Announced to enthusiastic audiences in 2007, the iPhone revolutionized the way we communicate and even the way we live day to day.

The big screen revolution

The iPhone was released in the United States in June 2007 and in six other countries in November.

From the launch of Mac computers in the 1970s to the iPod in 2001, Apple already knew how to engage with its audience and how to encourage extraordinary levels of hype during a product launch.

Early reviews of the iPhone were almost universally rave, applauding Apple’s attention to detail and style.

The only issue reported was network connectivity – and this was a slowness issue on the phone carriers’ networks, rather than the device itself.

Consumers’ appreciation of the style of the iPhone is no surprise.

It was indicative of a burgeoning trend towards smartphones with large screens (but still mirroring the shape of a phone). The Nokia N95 was another such example which came into the market in the same year.

The original iPhone offered wifi, supported 2G EDGE connectivity, and had internet download speeds of less than 500 Kbps (compared to today’s multi Mbps speeds).

It was also limited to 4GB or 8GB models. That may sound pitiful compared to the 1TB options available today, but it’s enough to hold hundreds of songs or videos and it was revolutionary in the era.

Apple’s assembly line

The iPhone 3G was rolled out worldwide in July 2008, with significantly improved data speeds and the addition of Apple’s App Store.

Even though it only offered 500 apps at launch, the App Store marked a significant improvement in the phone’s functionality.

And just when users started getting used to 3G, it was replaced by 3GS about a year later.

This regular new product release cycle was critical to Apple’s success. By releasing regular updates (either through full product iterations or more minor feature enhancements), Apple has managed to secure an enthusiastic following, eager for new releases every year.

iPhone sizes have become noticeably larger from the release of iPhone 5S to iPhone 12. Tboa/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Additionally, since older products were often passed down within families, Apple’s product pipeline helped it establish a multi-generational user base. This pipeline continues to operate today.

New approaches to old ways

The iPhone family has improved in size, speed, and storage over its 15-year history.

Some of its “new” features weren’t necessarily new to the market, but Apple was good at delivering them in a highly integrated way that “just worked” (as founder Steve Jobs would say).

In 2013, the iPhone 5S introduced Touch ID, which allowed users to unlock their phone with a fingerprint.

While this was first introduced with the Fujitsu F505i in 2003, Apple provided a robust implementation of the feature. Of course, it wasn’t long before enterprising individuals learned how to circumvent the mechanism.

The iPhone 8, released in 2017, brought Face ID. This still had weaknesses, but was at least safe from being unlocked with a photo.

Beyond security, the iPhone series has also produced year-on-year improvements in camera technology.

While the original model sported a paltry two-megapixel camera, later models featured multiple lenses, with the resolution increased to 12-megapixels – rivaling many digital cameras on the market.

Wireless charging was introduced with the iPhone 8 (although preceded by Samsung as early as 2011). And the bezel-less design of the iPhone X, released in 2017, builds on features from the same year’s Sharp Aquos S2.

Controversial

Nevertheless, the iPhone has not been without its problems. The introduction of the iPhone 7 in 2016 saw the removal of the standard 3.5mm headphone jack – and many were unhappy.

While an adapter was initially provided for customers to connect their regular headphones, it was only free for about two years.

After that, it had to be purchased. In 2016, there were indications of a spike in wireless earphone sales. Perhaps a bit conveniently, Apple launched its AirPods (wireless Bluetooth headphones) at the same time.

A similar change came in 2020 with the release of the iPhone 12. Arguing that consumers had plenty of spare devices — and perhaps trying to follow the green reuse program — Apple removed chargers from the unboxing experience.

Users still received a charging cable, but it was a USB-C to Lightning cable, whereas previous iPhone chargers would have a USB-A plug (the standard USB port).

The rationale that iPhone users would have a box full of older chargers ignored the fact that none of them would likely support the newer, faster USB-C cable.

So you can use your old USB-A to Lightning cable and charger to charge your shiny new phone, but you’ll be limited to slower charging speeds.

Coming

Going by the past 15 years, the iPhone is likely to continue with annual product releases (as of this writing, many are anticipating the iPhone 14 due later this year).

These models will likely bring improvements in speed, weight, battery life, camera resolution, and storage capacity. However, we are unlikely to see many revolutionary innovations in the coming years.

The latest iPhones are already highly sophisticated mini-computers, which means that the possibilities for fundamental improvement are limited.

Perhaps the most drastic change will be the switch from Apple’s proprietary Lightning connection to USB-C charging, thanks to a new directive from the European Union. And while a common power connector standard is widely seen as a positive move, Apple was unconvinced:

We believe that regulations that impose harmonization of smartphone chargers would stifle innovation rather than encourage it.

As display technologies evolve, Apple may shift to flip phone design, with a fully foldable display screen.

Samsung has already put it on the market. But Apple, in true fashion, will likely wait until the technology (especially the glass) has evolved to deliver an experience in line with what iPhone users expect.

While we can’t predict what the iPhone will look like 15 years from now (although some have tried), it’s likely that demand for Apple products will still be there, driven by Apple’s strong brand loyalty.

Editor’s note: This article was written by Ismini Vasileiou, Lecturer in Information Systems, De Montfort University, and Paul Haskell-Dowland, Professor of Cybersecurity Practices, Edith Cowan University. This article has been republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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