The iPhone is 10 Years Old

Lawrence Zammit's article on The Times of Malta.

This week Apple celebrated the first ten years of iPhone. They need to build hype around the event as they have had a bad 2016, by their own standards. However, irrespective of the hype, it is worth looking at what this product has done to our lives and to the economy.

First it has helped in the transformation of the company itself. For around thirty years Apple had been a personal computer company, with an operating system that was not easily compatible with the mainstream operating system (Windows). It was struggling.

Then it challenged traditional thinking and created the iPod and the company moved away from being a computer company to a company operating in the entertainment business. IPhone was a step in that direction, together with other Apple products. The conceptual change in the way it defines its business, contributed to the success of Apple of the last ten years or so.

When Steve Jobs announced the creation of iPhone he claimed that on that day Apple had reinvented the telephone. It may be worth remembering the comment of the Chief Engineer of the UK Post Office when he was told about the invention of the telephone in the 1870’s. He said something to the effect that the British did not need the telephone as they had enough messenger boys.

The old telephone did change our lives and the way we do business. And the iPhone also changed our lives and the way we do business.

At the launching ceremony of 9th January 2008, Steve Jobs had said that Apple was launching three innovative products all bundled into one – an iPod with a larger screen and touch controls, a revolutionary cell phone and an innovative gadget to surf the web. This was what the iPhone was.

Probably not even Steve Jobs himself had an idea how matters would have developed and what it really meant to create a smartphone. Eventually the letters smart would be dropped from the name smartphone as all phones will me smart. Maybe in Malta we feel the change brought about by iPhone even more as mobile phone technology had only been introduced into the local market seventeen years before.

The point is that we have never abandoned that pocket companion that was capable of playing music, surfing the web, phoning, and now of doing even more. It changed the way we communicate, the way we use the web and the way we consume entertainment, but also created new markets and services that previously were unimaginable.

It changed our living habits and the dependence on the smartphone can be best gauged by the fact that in 2016, 1.5 billion smartphones were sold around the world.

Another two numbers explain this development. Research shows that on average we unblock the smartphone 80 times a day – once every twelve minutes of our waking life. Note that the data is about the unblock function, and not about the number of times we do an activity on the phone. The second piece of data is that in terms of access to the web, smartphones take up more than 50%, when compared to personal computers.

This has led analysts to claim that the iPhone can be placed among those inventions that have revolutionised our lives, such as the car and the washing machine. There are not many more to add to this list. Some IT gurus are also claiming that there is no heir to the iPhone on the horizon.

This leads to two crucial considerations. What direction will future technological developments take? The second is access to the smartphone by the population around the world. Addressing these two considerations will shape future investment not just in IT but in other areas as well.

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