“An iPod, a phone and an internet communicator.”
It’s one of the most famous launch lines in tech product history.
Fifteen years ago this week, Steve Jobs’s iPhone landed in shops.
It’s hard to recall just what a different world we were living in at the time. There was no TikTok, Instagram or WhatsApp.
People used ‘4’ instead of ‘for’ and ‘2’ instead of ‘too’ to save characters because mobile operators charged per text message. Devices called cameras still existed.
Nokia held a staggering 70pc of the Irish market; the rest was a mixture of BlackBerrys, Motorolas, Siemens, Sony Ericssons and others.
I remember that world well. And I remember being sceptical of the iPhone’s initial chances.
Sure, it was a nicer way to look at emails and photos. But its camera was poor, there was no 3G, it couldn’t copy and paste. You didn’t actually need it.
It would hit 5pc to 10pc market share over the first few years, I thought, based on Apple’s fan base; Nokia would respond quickly and the iPhone would be a niche machine, like Macs.
I wasn’t alone. Steve Ballmer infamously dismissed the iPhone, claiming that something without a keyboard couldn’t survive in the business community.
We were both wrong, though I have nothing like Steve Ballmer’s €70bn to cover the egg on my face.
What I still can’t understand, to this day, is why Nokia didn’t respond.
The Finnish giant instead listened to its own surveys of consumers who didn’t know what a smartphone was and who just wanted bigger buttons. What followed remains the most humiliating collapse in European tech history.
Scandinavia’s pride and joy went from ruling the world in 2007 to being sold off in a fire sale to Microsoft in 2014. The US software giant then just treated it as a side-project, limiting it to Windows Mobile, which no one took seriously.
Microsoft left it to wither before selling the ashes off in 2016 to a little-known Finnish company, which now sells a small number of them as budget Android devices.
Since then, Apple has controlled a large part of the entire online and cultural world. Every service we use on a phone today is because of Apple’s App Store. Every smartphone is now a clone of Steve Jobs’s initial device.
When it launched the iPhone in 2007, Apple’s market cap was $173bn (€166bn). Today it’s $2.3tn, having surged past $3tn in April.
It has been the most important product, so far, of the 21st century.
Can it continue to dominate our lives? Will Apple’s rumoured smart glasses supplant it next year? Is September’s iPhone 14 going to maintain the device’s lead in western markets?
Thanks to the usually accurate supply-chain rumour mill, we have a fair idea of what the next iPhone will have in September.
The main upgrades to the top ‘Pro’ models are expected to include a better screen, capable of ‘always on’ data, like time, date, messages and other stuff. Anyone who has one of the higher-end Apple Watches will be familiar with the tech.
There’s also a more powerful 48-megapixel camera expected, as well as a replacement for the ‘notch’ and thinner bezels around the display.
The biggest announcement, though, is tipped to be the introduction of a new large-screen regular iPhone that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the ‘Pro’ range but is cheaper as a result. This makes a lot of sense: most people want larger-screen phones. Apple’s only option is a ‘pro Max’ model that costs over €1,200.
It’s also possible that we won’t see any more iPhone minis. While Apple’s cute little iPhone is incredibly powerful, costs €100 less and feels great in the hand, its battery life has never been great. Apple may have concluded that most people prefer longer use than a one-handed phone experience.
These are still only unconfirmed rumours. But if they’re borne out, there’s one interesting corollary.
Normally at this time of year, my answers to any question of upgrading an iPhone would be to wait 10 weeks to see what the new batch brings in. But unless there’s something we’re missing, it may be better value to upgrade to the current 13 now.
This is because Apple is currently raising the eurozone prices of most of its new products, above and beyond the price in dollars or sterling.
Its MacBook Air, for example, is jumping from €1,219 to €1,529. Apple is reacting to the euro being almost on parity with the dollar. But its iPhone 13s are still priced as if the euro is worth much more. This suggests two things.
First, the new base iPhone 14 could be over €1,000 for the first time. Second, Apple may keep the iPhone 13 on sale, but not lower the price at all, to reflect the weakened euro. In which case there’s no advantage in waiting at all, but the loss of a summer’s photos and use of an upgraded device that’s superior to the one you have.
As for what might disrupt the iPhone itself, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be Android phones any time soon. Most surveys show that Apple’s strongest market segment is with teenagers, who are generally a better indicator for the health of a product than their parents or grandparents.
Could it be Apple’s own smart glasses, almost certain to be launched next year? It’s more likely that these will be complementary to the iPhone rather than a potential direct replacement, at least in the short term.