Friday 22 June 2018

10 Reasons why the iPhone continues to dominate our lives

 

The new iPhone X. Photo: GETTY
The new iPhone X. Photo: GETTY
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

On the 10th anniversary of its birth, the iPhone is making big bets on smartphones' future. From AR, to facial recognition and a new €1,000 price point, Apple's iconic handset is investing in an upgraded mobile world. Even if buyers don't flock to the new flagship model as much as the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus upgrades, Apple's devices look set to continue to rule. Here are 10 reasons why the iPhone's second decade may turn out to be as influential as its first.

1 The iPhone boasts better security than rivals

One basic reason the iPhone replaced the BlackBerry and Nokia as the default business phone is security.

Simply put, Apple devices don't suffer as much from malware and rogue apps or software as much as Android ones. (We never got a chance to find out whether Windows phones would fare as well, as Microsoft has recently let the ecosystem shrivel and die.)

One reason for this security premium is the extra control that Apple places around apps that go through its App Store.

While developers sometimes complain about Apple's overbearing rules and regulations, the upside has been fewer security risks.

2 Privacy is a strong point

In a world where more and more everyday services mine, parse and leverage our personal information for their own purposes, you don't have to be paranoid to appreciate a bit of privacy.

The then Apple CEO – Steve Jobs – holds up the first iPhone during his keynote address at MacWorld Conference & Expo in San Francisco in 2007. Photo: AP
The then Apple CEO – Steve Jobs – holds up the first iPhone during his keynote address at MacWorld Conference & Expo in San Francisco in 2007. Photo: AP

The iPhone puts a greater emphasis on this than almost any other mainstream computing platform, building encryption into the phones and services such as iMessage. It has entered very public battles with the FBI, the US government and the British government over the issue of encryption, defying those governments in their attempts to force a 'back door' into Apple's iPhones for police to have. It also recently went about winding down its own iAds platform while quietly introducing ad-blocking features for iPhones to thwart ad-funded free online services.

Chief executive Tim Cook has sought to make privacy a major differentiating feature between Apple and Google, accusing Google and other services of selling their users' privacy out in pursuit of their own business models.

3 It has a coherent ecosystem

People who get iPhones find that they work very smoothly with Mac computers, iPads or Apple TVs. A little too well, in fact: the ecosystem can make you reliant very quickly on sticking with the iPhone brand. You can see a photo instantly on your Mac that you took earlier on your iPhone, or stream something from your iPhone on your Apple TV. If you like your Apple Watch, it's even stickier - it barely works with any other kind of phone. Apple used to have a killer ecosystem card in its iTunes system. This is less of a draw now, however, as many have given up downloads altogether and migrated to online streaming systems such as Spotify.

4 It has become the world's camera lens

There's no disputing that the iPhone has played an outsized role in killing the conventional camera, sales of which have fallen by more than half since the iPhone's introduction in 2007. This has occurred at the same time as an explosion in popular photography. Some industry studies estimate that the number of photos taken in the last five years is equal to all the photos ever taken prior to that.

The iPhone has not always had the best smartphone camera among its peers. Indeed, the original iPhone's camera was inferior to the best available on Nokia phones at the time.

But it rapidly overtook most rivals and kickstarted a meteoric rise in popular photography, thanks to the products of its app ecosystem. While apps such as Instagram and Snapchat are universal across iOS and Android, it is the iPhone that triggered them. Apple's own software, iPhoto and iMovie, has also played a major role in making the iPhone the default camera for millions of non-experts.

Photography purists claim that conventional standalone cameras beat the iPhone on quality in many situations. While this is undoubtedly correct, such cameras are often bulky and complicated to use.

Moreover, models such as Sony's RX100 series cost close to €1,000 themselves. The quality bumps in conventional cameras are lagging phones, too: Apple has hundreds more engineers and researchers working on its next iPhone camera than Canon, Nikon or Fuji. The results to this are to be seen in the number of photos being taken on iPhones (and other smartphones) compared the number being taken on standalone cameras. It's a gap that was thought to stand at around 1,000-to-1, but is probably closer to 10,000-to-1, with the gulf widening every day.

Can Apple keep this up? The cameras on the latest iPhones look likely to beat most comers on a head-to-head battle, while taking the game forward another notch.

That's because Apple has included a depth-sensing ability that can accurately measure a person's face, allowing users to unlock the device by looking at it instead of using Apple's Touch ID fingerprint system. This extra functionality may also be used to create new emoji based on a person's own facial expressions. (While sometimes dismissed as kids' tools, emoji are the fastest growing area of text communication among all age groups.)

5 It has easier, better software updates

Almost 90pc of current iPhones are up to date with the most recent software (iOS 10), compared to under 20pc of Android users bearing the penultimate software version (Nougat).

This is because Apple makes it relatively easy to update - simply press a button and wait a few minutes over your wifi connection. Being up-to-date means that iPhone users can generally take advantage of recently released new features, allowing them to catch on quickly. By comparison, millions of Android users can't access new features or don't know about them because they're on an old version. One reason for this is that Android updates are frequently mixed in with mobile operators, so it all gets confusing pretty quickly.

6 iPhones are still easier to use for beginners than Androids

While the gap has narrowed substantially, iPhones are still considered easier to get to grips with for smartphone newcomers than Android handsets.

This is partly due to a single set of rules for iPhones compared to several variations for Android phones (a Samsung Note 8's controls differs from an entry-level Samsung phones and both differ from the controls on a Huawei or a Sony). It's also down to greater flexibility in Android devices, which often do more things than iPhones (Samsung devices have had wireless-charging capability for at least two years, whereas Apple is only catching up now) but aren't uniform in their approach.

Android devices also still suffer from manufacturers' own 'bloatware' - apps that no-one really wants to use but which are loaded onto the phones for commercial reasons. And entry-level Android handsets can feel cheap, with low levels of performance that put people off wanting to use the devices more. Lastly, the iPhone has not suffered many of the build-quality issues dogging Android phones, such as overheating batteries.

7 It has become a PC and TV killer

Ten, or even five, years ago, phones were things we texted on, answered email, did some light browsing and briefly checked in on our nascent social media feeds.

For most other tasks, we relied on the superior power and abilities of our PCs, laptops and televisions. Today, all has changed. The average time spent using our smartphones have jumped to between two and four hours per day on average, depending on your age. (A steady minority spends up to eight hours on their handset.) Social media on PCs barely exists anymore, with phones having taken over completely. Some of the biggest services - Snapchat and Instagram - don't even have versions for PCs.

It's a similar tale with television. Netflix executives recently revealed that phones represent over 50pc of its streaming in some of its biggest markets. In Ireland, recent international research put Irish phone users as the biggest consumers of television via their smartphones in the western world.

8 The Apple brand is still a trump card

Every marketer agrees: the iPhone remains the world's aspirational phone.

Ever since the late Steve Jobs launched the colourful iMac in 1998, Apple has retained a renaissance in its brand identity. The iPod, iTunes and MacBooks of the early 2000s deepened this brand elixir, while the iPhone launch in 2007 sent it through the roof.

Since then, the iPhone has not only resulted in some 1.2bn sales by itself, but also a good deal of the impetus behind the rise of the iPad, the Apple Watch and a percentage of MacBook sales. This, marketers say, is the iPhone's 'brand halo'. And it is what Apple is banking on (literally) with its new iPhone Edition. It is betting that a substantial portion of its customers love Apple more than they dislike parting with another €200 for the company's top-end phone. For Apple customers who just can't stretch to that price point, it is retaining the 'ordinary' iPhone tiers, which still command a premium price tag.

9 With augmented reality, it may become a replacement for maps

Ten years ago, it was possible to get lost in a city or town. In 2017, such a thing is virtually unthinkable.

The phone in your pocket tells you where you are at any time. Moreover, GPS and mapping apps have utterly killed off the paper map. As for sat navs, remember them? The iPhone could move the game on again if its augmented reality features combine well with its mapping software. Instead of looking at a map with arrows on it, your iPhone will now show you arrows in your live view as you're walking or driving down a road.

10 It's the only tech many people now need

What is an iPhone? Is it a phone? A hifi system? A telly? A work tool? A dating device? It's all of the above.

The iPhone is, for many, the only gadget they really need or use throughout their day. At this month's giant IFA electronics trade show in Berlin, almost all of the attention was on the phones on display. While some attention focused on 8K televisions, new drones, robots and voice-controlled gadgets, an increasing amount of queries about the devices related to how they worked with phones. While the same can be said for Android handsets, it is still the iPhone that most other tech manufacturers look to synchronise with first.

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