The Apple iPhone turns 5 today. The first iPhone went on sale on June 29th, 2007. It was one of the first phones to drop the physical keyboard in favor of a multi-touch display. Remarkably, Apple sold approximately 1 million iPhones in the first 74 days and each successive release continues to break all previous sales records.
The features of the original iPhone and evolution of the successive generations are well known so I will not discuss them here. Instead, I will focus on the marketing achievement and the ability to improve upon people’s productivity and communication. Yet Apple’s success is a proven formula copied from days of old.
Many are completely mesmerized and content to live in the Apple ecosystem or what the industry calls “A Walled Garden.” (A very nice Walled Garden, but a Walled Garden none the less.) Apple has made draconian decisions about exactly what the iPhone will be, (and what it will not be), what applications are allowed to run on it, which cell phone carriers and markets it will be available in, exactly how much the revenue share will be for developers, publishers, writers and just about anyone and anything that has a financial incentive component to it, what content will be available with regard to music, books, and movies, and the list goes on. Oddly, were this any other company but Apple or product but the iPhone/iSeries of products, we would call this a monopoly and anti-competitive. (Can you say, “Microsoft”, sure I knew you could. A Fred Rogers Tribute.)
Yet, like lemmings, (albeit happy lemmings), over 200 million people with iPhones are content to be dictated to by Apple as to exactly the type of Smart Phone experience they are going to have and enjoy (or not.) In short, “Take it or Leave it.” It all sounds oddly familiar…
Many think that what Apple as accomplished with the iPhone has never been done before when in fact it has been done many times before in the Great American Industrial Complex. I cite specifically Henry Ford and the Model T. One of the most famous expressions often attributed to Henry Ford and paraphrased regarding the Model T is, “You can have any color as long as it’s black.” Ford did not invent the automobile; (Apple did not invent the Smart Phone), Ford made it affordable and popular by creating a reasonably great user experience at a price point. Apple did the same with the iPhone.
Henry Ford offered potential customers little or no choice – just like Steve Jobs did with the iPhone. However, Ford changed the future of transportation for a nation and Steve Jobs changed the future of mobile communication. Until Henry Ford introduced the Model T, automobiles were mostly for the affluent and had little standardization. In the aftermath of the Model T, we became a nation of drivers. And for those of us that desired “choice”, other manufactures stepped in to build on the techniques developed by Ford and market share moved accordingly. Until Steve Jobs and the iPhone, there was little consistency in the Smart Phone experience for the tight integration of communication, media, and sharing of information with the exception of perhaps the Blackberry environment.
In parallel to Apple, as the automobile industry expanded, there were numerous other manufactures that made cars at a variety of price points and varying qualities. The same can be said of Smartphones. In the beginning, Ford had the definite edge by being the first to revolutionize the way automobiles were manufactured. Apple has had its’ own series of notable firsts: Multi-Touch onscreen keyboard, 100% controlled Apple environment, iTunes integration, the App Store, tight integration of music, photos, video; and highly planned and controlled product release schedule. In some respects an almost mirror of the automobile manufactures with very minor updates in each model year and major updates every few years.
Apple, like Ford, has little to fear in terms of fading away even though the number of Smart Phones based on the Google Android operating system now has a larger market share. General Motors surpassed Ford, yet over 100 years later, Ford is still going very strong. It is clear that Apple will continue to do the same.
Thousands of Applications have been written for and are available on the iPhone allowing users to do things that had never been done before on a Smart Phone. Blackberry had the Blackberry Messenger considered one of the best proprietary messaging platforms ever. Apple created a similar application called iChat but then after Apple added a front and rear facing camera to the iPhone, improved upon the experience with Face Time, a video chat application which was previously limited to the domain of desktop computers.
What Apple has done with the iPhone, similar to what Ford had done with the automobile, is to change the way America communicates, (well at least for 200 million plus iPhone users), and experiences a Smart Phone. At the most basic level, the iPhone is a cell phone just as the Model T was a car. It makes and receives calls allowing people to have the mobile version of the telephone conversation experience that the world has enjoyed since the telephone was invented in the 1870’s. Where it improves upon the Smart Phone experience is by having created an ecosystem, a.k.a. Walled Garden, that very much like Disney World, virtually guarantees a consistent experience and outcome (good or bad depending on your point of view), every time you use an iPhone (or visit the “Happiest Place on Earth.)