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10 ways Apple changed smartphones forever with the iPhone

As Apple celebrates the 10th anniversary of iPhone, we look back at 10 key features that got introduced in smartphones.

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Today, January 9, marks 10 years since Steve Jobs unveiled the very first iPhone. People looked at it in disbelief, but the iPhone has been a game changer in shaping how smartphones should be. While introducing the iPhone, Steve Jobs said, “every once in a while there is a revolutionary product that comes along, that changes everything,” and it truly has. With a full touchscreen display, sans the physical keypad, metal design and the kind of simple user interface (UI) one has never seen before, the iPhone brought the many firsts to table – an innovation that truly revolutionized smartphones. Celebrating the 10th anniversary, we take a quick look at 10 key features iPhone introduced in smartphones.

Capacitive Display: Before iPhone got into the picture, early smartphones and devices featured ‘resistive’ touchscreen displays. These displays required users to apply pressure using fingertips or any object (stylus) to register the touch. However, ‘capacitive’ displays require a very light tap of a finger to register the touch. As the iPhone was a phone with full touchscreen display, without hardware keyboard, there was a need to have something that easily accepts touch input. It is also one of the reasons why you’ll always notice the iPhone touch to be very smooth and responsive. Soon after Apple introduced the technology, it gradually went on to become mainstream on most smartphones.

Pinch to zoom and multi-touch: There were Nokia smartphones based on Symbian OS, HTC and O2 had its Windows Mobile based smartphones, Sony had its Java-based smartphones, whereas Samsung had its Star series running on Rex OS, and Omnia series running on Windows Mobile. To zoom and view photos from the gallery and the ones shot on the camera, one either required to use the volume + / – keys to zoom in and out, or the physical buttons for ‘menu’ and ‘back’ could be multifunctional for zooming in and out. However, Apple changed things around by introducing multi-touch based ‘pinch-to-zoom’ feature on the iPhone. All you needed to use was your thumb and finger to pinch in or out for zoom function, and the experience has been smoother – allowing you to zoom in as much proportion as you want, rather than going in set steps. ALSO READ: iPhone at 10: A great run for Apple but challenges ahead

Proximity Sensor: While proximity sensors existed on some smartphones – the iPhone was the first device to feature three built-in sensors – proximity sensor, 3-axis accelerometer and an ambient light sensor. When you’re talking on the phone and the device is brought near your face, the proximity sensor would deactivate the display to prevent accidental inputs on the touchscreen and also save battery power.

App Store: Apps did exist on the earlier devices, but finding them was a pain. One had to go through unofficial repositories, find the version that would work on their phones, and pray to god it was a legit app and not a virus-infested file. Apple changed all that with the App Store, which was not a part of the original iPhone. The App Store not only made it easier for users to find great apps, but it also became a money-maker for app developers. In 2016 alone, Apple paid developers $20 billion.

Mobile IM (iMessage): The text messaging app has been a core feature on mobile phones, right from the very beginning. However, the functionality has always been restricted to sending and receiving texts. With the iPhone, Apple introduced iMessage service integrated into the messaging app. Besides receiving your usual text messages, iMessage lets you share photos, emojis and more with other iPhone users. The best part is – being an instant messaging platform, it used mobile data / Wi-Fi to send and receive messages, meaning all your conversations are free of charge. While IM services existed before iMessage and BlackBerry had the popular BBM service, Apple made messaging mainstream.

Desktop Class Browser: All feature phones and touchscreen devices came with built-in browsers, but most of them were WAP browsers with limited features and mostly required website owners to create special mobile versions of their sites for them to render properly. There have been alternatives such as Opera Mini browser, but the real desktop class browser was also missing on smartphones. The iPhone with Safari browser brings the same features and experience as you would get on a Mac, again changing the way we surf the internet on smartphones. ALSO READ: 5 quintessential Nokia features we hope HMD will bring back in its Android smartphones

Slide-to-unlock: Touchscreen based smartphones either had a power / sleep button to unlock the display, or press a button on the display to unlock and reach the homescreen. Thanks to the capacitive display, Apple was able to introduce the slide-to-unlock user interface where users had to swipe their finger across the display, as if they were unlatching a door. Unfortunately, Apple killed this with iOS 10 but the mechanism now lives on almost every touchscreen smartphone out there.

Design: Apple also reinvented the smartphone design which was then copied by a lot of manufacturers. A rectangular slab, rounded corners, metal frame, unibody design all these were first seen on an iPhone, and now design language has become mainstream for more than 70 percent of smartphones. ALSO READ: Apple iPhone 7 Plus ‘Portrait Mode’ review: Adding a new dimension to your photos

Fingerprint Sensor: In an attempt to make the iPhone secure, Apple introduced Touch ID sensor on the iPhone 5s. It has integrated right inside the home button allowing to unlock the smartphone by resting the finger on the button. Today, if you look at most smartphones that feature fingerprint sensor for biometric authentication, a lot of them have it integrated into the physical home button, be it Samsung’s Galaxy Series, Lenovo, Oppo, Vivo and more.

Siri: While Google had its Search App that accepted voice commands, it was limited to just returning answers to user queries. Along with iOS 5 on iPhone 4s in 2011, Apple introduced its voice assistant ‘Siri’. Unlike other personal assistants, Siri was and is more like human, someone with whom you can have a conversation. Siri could turn services such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Flashlight on and off, she can search for information on the internet, do some calculations, set alarms, add reminders, open apps and other things. Siri kickstarted the trend of voice assistant like Microsoft’s Cortana, Google’s Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa.

Apple might not have been the first to come up with most of these innovations but what Apple did was to integrate them in a way to make them useful, intuitive and user friendly. It showed others how having the technology alone wasn’t important but how it was implemented. And Apple continues to do that even today. Be it the dual-camera enabled Portrait Mode on the iPhone 7 Plus to the truly wireless AirPods, Apple continues to carry on the legacy that started today, 10 years ago.

BONUS VIDEO: 10th Anniversary of the iPhone: Highlights from the 2007 keynote with Steve Jobs