The Device that changed the World

June 29th, 2007, some ten years ago, the original iPhone went on sale. Five months earlier, in January, Steve Jobs had announced the device. Over these months, from the announcement to the first sale, the tech industry speculated whether this phone from computer maker Apple, would be a success or a failure. The mobile industry at the time was dominated by Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, LG and others. During the January keynote, Jobs said that every now and then a revolutionary product comes out that changes everything. He mentioned Macintosh and the iPod. They changed the computer industry and the music industry, respectively. The iPhone proved to be in that class, it changed, not only the telephone industry, it changed the world.

Any speculations on how the iPhone would be received by the public were laid to rest this day ten years ago:

A few things that Apple did were different from the traditional phones at the time. The focus of handset makers at the time was always on the hardware and the design of the phone itself. Software and the user experience was important but secondary. The mobile operating systems (OS) were old primitive systems that were developed during an era of limitation, both of the hardware and the bandwidth.

What Apple managed to do was to squeeze a full blown operating system into the small device and put the focus on the software. The phone also became an application platform, creating a huge industry of app companies. The touchscreen user interface was key to the iPhone. Not only did it work, it worked really well. At the time, few phones had touchscreen but all required a stylus. However, it was believed that smartphones required full qwerty keyboard due to email. The iPhone proved that wrong. Finally, Apple put a full blown Internet browser into the the device, killing the “mobile web”. There was only one web.

So what is the impact of the iPhone ten years on? Apple set the standard for others to follow. Google came out with Android a little later. Most of the traditional phone makers rushed to get touchscreen phones, but most failed and companies like Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Motorola and RIM, maker of Blackberry, are now irrelevant in mobile phone industry. Today it is dominated by Google’s Android and iPhone.

The iPhone killed several product categories. Portable music players like the iPod became less desirable as people slowly switched to smartphone. Having two separate devices was not what people wanted, and sales of iPods started to decline. People can have their music on the phones or even stream them from sites like Spotify. Same happened with digital cameras. While the first smartphone did not match the quality of a good digital camera, the convenience of the smartphone and the fact that people would always carry it with them, made it prefect for taking photos. Today the cameras are so good that there is a flood of pictures in the world. It is estimated that 1.2 trillion photos will be taken in 2017. Camcorders are also getting extinct along with portable navigation systems.

The iPhone created a new industry for developing apps. It is estimated that there are 12 million app developers in the world. The smartphone created platforms like FourSquare, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. FourSquare was instrumental in crowdsourcing the world to name places. Being in a restaurant or at an airport, people would name the location they were at. In just a few years, all places in the world were registered.

Instagram changed the way people share photos. There are many people that work full time using Instagram. Snapchat has changed the way people communicate. Leading the way in augmented reality, Snapchat has added a whole new way to share moments. Twitter has changed how we keep informed, especially in times of crises. Twitter was important in the Arab Spring in 2011 to 2014 and Iranian uprising in 2011. Dictators could not contain the news feed and pictures coming from the people themselves.

Smartphones have also changed how we communicate one on one and in groups. Skype, Whatsapp and Facetime, and recently apps like Slack, have taken over voice communications. It is estimated that Facebook and Messenger process 60 billion text messages per day. That is three times number of good old SMS.

In fact, this small device is so pervasive that we constantly have to have it on us. One study shows that people touch their smartphone 2,617 times a day. Same source states that people use the device for about average 145 minutes every day. Even one in ten use their phone during sex.

The smartphone also became a huge platform for games and practically created the games industry in the Nordic countries. Games such as Angry Birds and Candy Crush are among the most successful mobile games. There are about 1,000 mobile games companies in the Nordics. Obviously, these did not exist ten years ago.

The phone has also changed the way we act in the world. Navigating by foot is easy, just use navigation apps and they will guide you. Calling a taxi is over. You get ride by using apps. Uber and Lyft are great examples. The phones knows where you are and it is easy to see the where your ride is and when it arrives. It is not only getting a car. It is also about everything else like ordering burgers to your house, booking train tickets, signing in on a shift, registering work hours, buying groceries, and pretty much everything. The smartphone has created the real-time software world we live in now.

Controlling the environment is also easy with the smartphone. Devices such as wireless speakers like for example Sonos, lighting such as Philipps Hue, doorbell such as Ring, thermometer such as iGrill are ways to interact with your environment. Expect more and more devices to become smart devices, controllable by the smart phone.

The drone revolution took off after the release of smartphone. It turns out that the smartphone has a lot of sensors. Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Magnetometer and Barometer to name few. Some of these components are needed to make drones. With cheap powerful sensor components and software, mostly developed open source by hobbyist, drones began to become an industry. The drone revolution is an example of a spinoff made possible due to the smartphone.

It is not only the drone. Think also about the Internet of things. Putting sensors on objects to communicated with them. The smartphone is key in interacting with these things in real-time. This interaction can optimise work for people, for example in construction, agriculture and retail. The software platforms can alert workers on when and where they should be to get things done. Think about a delivery driver that needs to make a pickup. The smartphone will tell the driver. No phone calls, everything is real-time and much more efficient.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are also possible today due to the smartphone. Perhaps AR is the killer app of the smartphone. Pokémon GO is an example, but also Snapchat and many other apps, including Google Translate that allows you to point the phone to a text of real objects, such as street signs, and it gives you translations in real-time. Amazingly, the smartphone is also usable for VR. The Samsung Gear VR headset, in which you put your smartphone, is already with the largest market share with 5 million devices.

Then what is next for the smartphone? I think the era of the smartphone is over. It is now becoming a platform for other technologies to become important. It will continue to be an important device but is has become stable and mature. Just like the PC and the Internet are now relevant but established, the smartphone will become a device that is bringing new waves of technology.