“Every once in a while there is a revolutionary product that comes along, that changes everything,” that’s how Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone 10 years ago. The first iPhone was nothing like anything anyone had seen before. It did not have any keyboard, which was one of the most sought after feature for the productivity conscious, thumbing (remember that?), BlackBerry toting enterprise user. For those wanting to live on the cutting edge of technology, preferred the Palm Treo with its keyboard and touchscreen phones, encased in premium metal body and the antenna jutting out. Full touchscreen phones existed before the iPhone, mostly Microsoft’s PDAs, but they used a stylus. Nokia had a “portfolio” of smartphones and dismissed the iPhone by thinking one size did not fit all.
To think about it, the iPhone did not have anything that anyone associated with a smartphone. On top of that, it was expensive, you could not share files over Bluetooth, it did not support 3G, it did not have an expandable storage slot and you needed iTunes for everything. But despite that, and to the horror of its rivals, everyone wanted one.
The first iPhone was the embodiment of Jobs’ belief that “a lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them”. The smartphone space has not been the same after the launch of the iPhone. BlackBerry doesn’t make its own smartphones anymore, Microsoft has given up on its own smartphone OS and is now content with providing services for iOS and Android devices, Palm does not exist and Nokia has licensed its brand to a startup to make Android smartphones.
It is hard to believe that a product that didn’t exist a decade ago, now accounts for more than half of the revenues of the world’s largest company by market cap. But that’s not to say it has been an easy ride for Apple. Like any other company, Apple isn’t perfect and it fumbled with the iPhone. The iPhone 4’s “antennagate” showed why design cannot defy physics, it bungled badly with Apple Maps, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus suffered from “bendgate” and “touch disease” and the more recent battery issue with some iPhone 6s units. Yet, the iPhone remains the ultimate smartphone that everyone hopes to get on Diwali or tucked away under their Christmas tree.
But things are not as easy for Apple any more. iPhone sales are slowing down, with most mature markets showing signs of saturation. In China, Apple’s largest international market local rivals have caught up not just on trends but even technology, which dethroned the iPhone from the top three slots. In markets like India, the iPhone is just too expensive and it is mostly the older models that sell, supported by discounts and deals.
Then there is the thing about design and UI fatigue, with Apple dishing out evolutionary upgrades year after year and rivals managing to offer similar experiences. This was exactly the same state of the industry a decade ago, an opportunity that Apple capitalized upon. The likes of Xiaomi and OnePlus have managed to become who they are today because of that stagnancy in the industry. With Android’s domination and Google taking care of the OS, all it takes is one unknown startup with a killer idea to come up with an iPhone killer.
“iPhone set the standard for mobile computing in its first decade and we are just getting started. The best is yet to come,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook in a statement to celebrate the iPhone’s tenth anniversary. However, it won’t be as easy as it was 10 years ago and it will take something revolutionary for Apple to keep the iPhone mojo going for the next decade.