Sunday, July 2, 2017

10 years ago: How and why the iPhone changed computing

When the iPhone came out in 2007, it changed computing.

What was its real competition?  I had been using a Palm Treo 650, which was a generation older.  With it, I could:

  • Watch movies on the tiny screen
  • Listen to mp3 music and use playlists
  • Download and install applications
  • Make calls and listen to voicemail just like on other cell phones
  • Take pictures
  • Sync my address book with my computer
But it was indeed horrible too.  Doing these things took a huge amount of effort.  The phone crashed all the time doing most of these things.  Even getting to use the camera was an ordeal that required some expertise.  And, it was not secure; if there were any efforts to secure old devices, I am not aware of them.  There was friction in using it every day I owned it.  It had many other shortcomings; it had a short battery life, a fragile scratch-able screen, no built-in wifi, and was quite large.  I should add that I felt my cell phone plan was far to expensive for just about no data use.  Non-wifi data usage was so slow as to be just barely above completely useless.  And it was the best smartphone I had ever used and I loved it at the time.  

Then the iPhone came along.  What was different?

One core issue was a real change in the relationship with cell phone carriers.  Apple negotiated endlessly until Cingular->AT&T agreed to:
  • not control the phone.  Apple provided all of the software on the phone.
  • a data plan with unlimited data at a reasonable price.
  • and worked with Apple to make a new interface to voicemail, allowing access voicemail in any order desired - visual voicemail.
  • not participate in other business areas, such selling ring tones.
These things were the core reason why the iPhone could be very different.  Previous to the iPhone, the cellular providers prevented innovation by providing the software on cell phones.  The cellular carriers prevented the cell phone makers from providing the software completely and directly.

Some notable software improvements:
  • An easy to find and use the camera!  I could get people not familiar with technology to actually use and find the camera (app).
  • Multi-touch interface and on-screen keyboard, enabling the large screen.  The touch controlled scrolling was breathtaking.  The on-screen predictive keyboard was amazing, and worked much better than people feared it might.
  • A web browser on a cell phone that did not use WAP, and instead allowed normal web browsing as on a computer.  The same was true of email - html email worked!
  • With iTunes, I could sync content like movies and music easily, not just contacts.
  • It had YouTube and Maps.  Cell phone locations were known to carriers.  But now the users of the cell phones got to use that data!
  • It had SMS that enabled navigation to and through texts with different people in a new actually usable way.  SMS was truly horrible before this.
  • security - Apple's stance on flash was an example of the start of security practices.
  • phone software:  use of phone, contacts to dial, 3-way calls, and control over voicemail were easy to use and amazing!
And the hardware improvements:

  • Size/weight/battery life
    • 4.8oz and volume under 5 cubic inches vs 6.3oz and volume of 9 cubic inches+ for the aforementioned Treo.  This was a sleek, flat, and thin design.
    • 7-8 hours of battery for talking on the phone.
  • Gorilla Glass - the first iPhone was the first to use Gorilla Glass!  The screen was somewhat vulnerable to shattering when dropped, but did not scratch.  It was a huge improvement.
  • Hardware supporting the amazing multi-touch screen...
  • New sensors
    • It had an accelerometer to tell how you moved the phone!  So when you put it in portrait mode, it changed automatically.
    • A proximity sensor and ambient light sensor to turn off the screen when it was against your face or in a pocket.  
  • Data storage of 4 or 8GB vs the Treo's 22MB built-in (the Treo did have an SD card slot) - competitors at the time had 60MB.
  • 2mb camera - it started to be less important to carry a small camera for many people
  • B/G wifi capable - wifi was much faster than cellular data.
  • a large 320x480 pixel screen
It cost quite a bit more, but in that era of cellular carrier plans, it was somewhat hidden from users.

This is the first cell phone where many users used many of the features all of the time because the barriers to use were low.  It was very intuitive.  There was no owner's manual needed, explaining to go to the 5th thing down in the 7th menu item to get to the camera.  No more voicemail hell of pushing phone buttons to do the same kinds of thing (push 4 to repeat, 5 to delete);  the controls were on-screen.

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