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iPhone: 5 years old – still 5 years ahead? Featured

The iPhone launched 5 years ago old on Friday, the 29th of June, and after five years has clearly transformed the mp3, smartphone and tablet markets, leaving some competitors in the dust, creating a new competitor and forcing the rest to make massive change.

When Steve Jobs announced the iPhone five years and six months ago in January 2007 during Macworld, he said it was five years ahead of the competition.

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.

Continued on page two, please read on!

The thing is, Apple is playing a very long game, and while Apple’s vast machine purrs smoothly and generates mega profits, Google and Microsoft are really only just catching up.

The iPhone 5 hasn’t been released yet, and we don’t truly know what the truly stunning revelation will be that will see that upcoming new iPhone “shame” competitors such as the Galaxy SIII or the HTC One X, but not only do we know (or at least, strongly expect) that it is coming, it’s clear to see that Apple’s general lead it still miles ahead of the rest of the PC, mp3, tablet and smartphone industries.

Even its MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with Retina are still vastly better “ultrabooks” than many competitors, coming with the option of up to 512GB of superfast SSD, the MagSafe 2 connector (so your expensive ultrabook doesn’t fly off the table and onto a hard floor when someone trips over the power cable), excellent backlit keyboard and plenty more, including the ability to run both Windows and Mac OS X, whether separately or both at the same time, giving you the best of all computing worlds (including Linux) should you desire them, something no competing ultrabook can legally do (when it comes to Mac OS X at any rate).

Sadly, the current crop of MacBook Airs don’t yet sport touch-screens or tablet conversion capabilities, but with the Intel-based Surface Tablet coming early next year, perhaps Apple has a MacPad Air hybrid due to arrive next year, too.

Or maybe not.

However, when it comes to competing smartphone and OEM makers being able to copy Apple’s style, its design choices, its hardware choices, even its OS and third-party software strategies, we’ve seen that those competitors are able to do so, but they still haven’t been able to meaningfully displace the iPhone or iPad as hoped.

Instead, it’s the TouchPad that’s dead, Palm WebOS phones that are no longer in development, PlayBooks that have become PrayBooks (i.e pray we can still sell a few more), Android tablets which haven’t made anywhere near the dent they were widely predicted to – even Windows that has had to be radically “re-imagined” to bridge the gap between the world of desktops, laptops, ultrabooks and tablets.

I wouldn’t say that Apple’s software and hardware lead across all platforms is still five years ahead, but in the last five years, Apple certainly hasn’t been asleep at the wheel, and commands the biggest piece of the profit pie compared to all competitors.

The iPhone and the iPod before it under Steve Jobs truly kicked off the iWorld as we see it today, and whether Apple is still five years ahead, or not, its competitors certainly won’t have the luxury of waiting five years to find out, and as the littered smartphone landscape of 2012 bears out, competitors didn’t have five years to find out in 2007 either.

So, thanks be to the original iPhone, Steve Jobs and everyone else involved for making multi-touch smartphones a reality, and for changing the way the world communicates, does business and so much more.

We look forward to seeing what has been accomplished five years hence, or ten years after the iPhone’s original introduction, but we’ll cross that bridge and tap that app when we get there - and find out whether any original iPhone 1's are still being used at the ten year milestone!

Here's more on the iPhone 5.

Image courtesy of Bigstockphoto


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.


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