| 10°C Dublin

Apple iPhone: five years on


Steve Jobs in 2007 holding the iPhone

Steve Jobs in 2007 holding the iPhone

Steve Jobs in 2007 holding the iPhone

APPLE released its first iPhone in the US back in June 2007, with Irish consumers getting their teeth into the product in the Spring of the following year.

From the long lines outside Apple stores when the iPhone 5 launched in September, you wouldn't know that the handset being launched had been dismissed as 'boring' by many pundits just a week earlier. Apple had two million pre-orders for the new phone and went on to sell five million in the opening weekend.

Five years after the first iPhone went on sale, the sense of excitement around an Apple launch shows no sign of diminishing. After all, those people queueing could have walked round the block to an empty mobile phone shop and had their new iPhone in minutes. This is a technology brand that has genuine fans, as opposed to customers, and for them, being part of the launch day experience is as important a part of the day as actually buying the phone.

The iPhone 5 is taller, thinner and lighter than previous models and up to twice as fast. But some technology journalists, bloated after a summer of leaks from Apple's supply chain, bemoaned the lack of anything unexpected. Leaked photos had already shown us what it looked like, that it had an aluminium back, and that there was a new dock connector. In other words, a mini-industry that spends its time digging up every Apple rumour and analysing it to the point of obsession, was complaining that there were no surprises left.

How quickly we've all come to take this for granted. The first iPhone went on sale in Britain on November 9, 2007. There were touchscreen phones then, of course, but most flagship devices had full physical keyboards that either took up half the device or folded out from underneath the screen. The operating systems were often ugly, with confusing lists of options that probably didn't even make sense to whichever committee designed them.

There were classic designs of course - the Nokia 3310 and the Motorola RAZR come to mind - but those were devices from a previous age. Set alongside a modern smartphone, those handsets might as well be prehistoric.

Two things lay behind Apple's decision to make a mobile phone. Steve Jobs, Apple's late co-founder and chief executive, was aware of how poor the experience of using a mobile phone was. He told his biographer Walter Isaacson: "We would sit around talking about how much we hated our phones."

As early as 2002, Jobs had started thinking about what could threaten his company's massively successful iPod line. Art Levinson, now Apple's chairman, told Isaacson that Jobs believed "the device that could eat our lunch is the cellphone".

At first, Apple tried to solve the problem by partnering with a mobile phone manufacturer. Together with Motorola it launched the ROKR, which Jobs described as "an iPod Shuffle on your phone". Announced in September 2005, the ROKR flopped, sunk partly through its ugliness, its clunky design and the fact that it could hold just 100 songs.

Before the ROKR was even released Apple was already exploring other avenues. The company looked at turning an iPod into a phone. The prototype, codenamed Purple 1, used the iPod clickwheel to scroll through contacts and dial numbers

But alongside that, Apple had been working on a touchscreen interface that it planned to use in a tablet computer. At some point in 2005 the company decided to explore the possibilities of a touchscreen-driven smartphone and another project, Purple 2, began.

As we now know, Apple chose the second option but that was no small decision. Apple faced numerous difficulties including entering an unknown product sector, designing a new operating system and a new interaction method and doing all this while refusing to cede control of the handset to mobile networks. It's not much of an exaggeration to say that Jobs bet the company on the iPhone.

It was a bet that succeeded spectacularly. Since the iPhone was released, Apple's share price has increased by 458 per cent. Over the same period Nokia, which was the top mobile phone seller in 2006, and BlackBerry-maker RIM - number two to Nokia in 2006 - have each seen their share price fall by 89 per cent.

Apple went on to sell more than six million of the first iPhone despite it being without what technology buffs would describe as essential features. It did not offer 3G connectivity, which was then becoming increasingly widespread. iPhone owners had to make do with slower Edge internet connectivity instead. The camera was poor and the software was missing features such as copy-and-paste. None of that mattered because people who bought an iPhone loved using it.

In 2008, just months before Google introduced its Android mobile operating system, Apple launched the iPhone 3G and with it the App Store, sparking a boom in mobile applications, from Twitter clients to photo services such as Instagram and games like Angry Birds. Once again, Apple was not inventing something new - third-party mobile apps had existed for some time - but the iPhone and its spin-off, the iPod touch, drove the concept to extraordinary levels. More than 30 billion apps have been downloaded from the store to date and each of the major mobile operating systems now has its own application store.

The App Store was not without its critics. Some complained that Apple took a 30 per cent fee from developers but more people were frustrated by the company's insistence on vetting every single app submitted to the Store. While it allowed Apple to control the quality of apps submitted, it also meant that the Store was sometimes subject to conditions that were more strict - or just more prudish - than the iTunes music or movie stores.

A year later came the third iPhone, the 3GS, establishing Apple's schedule of annual updates. The 3GS looked exactly the same as its predecessor but was boosted by a faster processor, a camera upgrade and increased memory.

A redesign followed in 2009 and with it came Apple's first significant iPhone mis-steps. First, in April, the phone was leaked to gadget website Gizmodo after an Apple employee left a test unit in a bar. Then, when the phone was launched there were problems with the antenna. The new handset was held together by a stainless steel band that also served as the phone's antenna. Some people found that when the phone was held in a certain position, the signal quality degraded. After a couple of weeks Apple held a press conference promising a free case to those iPhone 4 owners who wanted one.

When the iPhone 4S was released a year later, the antenna was redesigned to eliminate problems. The 4S saw the iPhone's camera improve to eight-megapixels and its processor was upgraded but the launch was perhaps most notable for being the first Apple product launch after Steve Jobs stepped down as chief executive, citing health reasons. Tim Cook, who replaced Jobs as chief executive, announced the new phone on October 4, 2011. Jobs died the next day.

Apple now has several iOS devices in its portfolio. In addition to the iPhone and iPod touch, it introduced the iPad in 2010. At the iPhone 5 event in September, Tim Cook announced that Apple had now sold 400 million iOS devices worldwide. In recent years the company has pursued a strategy of linking these devices together more closely and more tightly integrating them with its Mac computers.

When Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone, he said it put Apple five years ahead of the competition. Five years on, it's beginning to look like he was right. Apple has continued to advance and refine the iPhone but the paradigm remains the same as the company introduced in 2007. Meanwhile, the competition has closed the gap.

These days you won't go far wrong if you buy the Samsung Galaxy S3 or the HTC One X+ - both powerful, capable devices running Google's Android operating system. In the design stakes, Nokia's Lumia range is giving Apple a run for its money and Windows Phone 8 looks genuinely innovative and stylish. The combination of the two, in the Lumia 820 and 920, delivers a result that is certainly worth considering.

But none of those phones is an iPhone and, love it or hate it, Apple's smartphone has won a place in the mainstream consciousness, just as the iPod did before it. When the next generation of mobile device comes along, whatever that may be, what's the betting that history will remember the iPhone as *the* smartphone?

By Shane Richmond Telegraph.co.uk