Five years later, both Google and Microsoft appear to have caught up with Android and the yet-to-be-released Windows Phone 8, with other mobile operating systems having fallen largely by the wayside in comparison, despite ongoing sales of Symbian, BlackBerry OS 7 and Bada-powered smartphones.
However, Apple has not only either largely matched competitors in missing features, it has built an entire ecosystem whose sum is much greater than its parts, spawning the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, Apple TV and iOS-style improvements to Mac OS X including the App Store, let alone the winning improvements of the MacBook Air and new MacBook Pro with Retina Display.
Its “app store” is still unmatched in both pure numbers and in superb quality software written to take full advantage of the different iDevices, and while there are plenty of “fart apps” on all platforms, the iPhone still carries exclusive titles that certainly do take their time in being ported elsewhere – especially when the competition has so many different versions that it’s difficult and developer resource intensive to keep up.
Apple’s iPhone and iOS have certainly inspired much copying and many attempts to outdo Apple, and just as when mp3 player makers were vainly adding FM tuners, voice recording and a vast array of models and sizes to compete with the iPod, so too have the competitions attempts to copy Apple’s finesse and the experience it delivers seen much feature-adding and approximations of the iDevice experience – without being able to fully or properly match what Apple has created, nurtured and grown exponentially.
As Apple executives like to note, “only Apple” could have achieved the success and scale that it has, and that is because it has taken a principled stand on the need to make your own hardware if you want to sell software.
Apple was five years ahead of the competition in many ways and is still ahead when you look at everything Apple does, from its stunning new developments that leapfrog the competition in smartphones, software, hardware, tablets, third-party software compatibility, infinite accessories, ease-of-use, ease-of-learning, pre and post-sales experience, usage experience and more.
Apple made smartphones easy, changing the way they operated, and truly looking like 21st century devices, rather than rehashes of technologies created in the 20th.
Sure, you might say that multi-touch would have been brought to market by someone else first – perhaps Palm with WebOS, perhaps Nokia or Microsoft – but the fact is that Apple did so, working on the iPhone for four years before unveiling it unto the world, while it was releasing iPod models and looking at the smartphones of 2004 and 2005, before the iPhone world existed.
Android smartphones have done the most to copy as much of the Apple experience as possible, and to try and “embrace and extend” the iPhone experience as much as possible, but only beat Apple’s iPhone today when looked at in aggregate.
In 2012, Apple is still the company the industry is following, despite bold steps by some at times to try and take the lead.
While competitors launch ever larger phones that are harder to use with one hand, Apple is only five years going to launch a smartphone with a larger than 3.5-inch screen – if expectations for a 4-inch screen are finally fulfilled later this year when the iPhone 4G, 4GS, iPhone 5 or just “new iPhone” is released.
Some competitors have long offered full multitasking, Apple’s limited multitasking has forced app makers to write more cleverly to work, where possible, with Apple’s much stricter multitasking policies, leading to a still leading bloom in apps while competitors have struggled to keep up.
Sure, Android has over 500,000 phone apps, but supposedly less than 1000 tablet specific apps, while Windows Phone 7.5 has finally crossed the 100,000 app barrier threshold, meaning both Android and, when it is released, Windows Phone 8, are best placed to truly bring the real competition to Apple’s hardware and software vision.