Oliver Smith explores the history of Apple’s smartphone, the game-changing innovations it introduced and what the new iPhone 6s means for the mobile industry today.
On Friday 25th September the most valuable company in the world, Apple, will unleash its latest salvo in the smartphone wars.
The iPhone 6s boasts innovative new features like 3D Touch and Live Photos which promise to revolutionise mobile photography, change the very way we interact with our smartphones, and keep Apple’s competitors on their toes for another year.
But to truly understand how important the iPhone 6s will be to the smartphone market today, a market Apple played no small part in creating, we first have to look back on how the mobile landscape has transformed since 2007.
The revolution in your pocket
In 2007 Nokia was the best-selling mobile phone manufacturer in the world shipping 436m phones and in Britain the hottest mobiles were BlackBerry’s Pearl and the Motorola KRZR, a descendant of its super-thin RAZR range.
Then the chief executive of a niche American computer company, best known for disrupting the music industry with its popular range of MP3 players, revealed his business had decided to take on the mobile industry.
“This is a day I’ve been looking forward to for two-and-a-half years. Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs explained on 9 January 2007, as he pulled the first iPhone out of his pocket.
“If we go back to 2007 when Steve Jobs walked out on stage, I don't think any of us had even the vaguest idea of the kind of revolution we were about to enter,” Shaun Collins, the founder and CEO of mobile industry analyst CCS Insight, told City A.M.
Dawn of the app economy
While Jobs’ comments might have seemed like hyperbole at the time, today they appear prescient of what was to come.
The iPhone is heralded as the origin of the modern smartphone and, in the eight years since, it has pushed the boundaries of what mobiles can do, in large part due to something Jobs never even wanted on the iPhone, an App Store.
“The real sea-change brought about by the iPhone was when its App Store launched in 2008. After the App Store the telephone part of a smartphone became secondary and suddenly smartphones were all about media consumption,” IHS senior mobile analyst Daniel Gleeson told City A.M.
Indeed since 2008 Apple says over 100bn apps have been downloaded, making the iPhone one of the most popular computing platforms in the world.
“The App Store wasn't just a watershed moment for the iPhone, it was a breakthrough moment for the whole smartphone market in general,” says Gleeson.
Driven by the popularity of the iPhone and mobile apps, smartphones, a category of device that barely existed in 2004, when Kantar ComTech reported UK smartphone ownership was a slim 1.6%, have exploded in popularity.
Today over 70% of us own a smartphone–the iPhone being one of the most popular devices in Britain–and the overall number is rising rapidly.
Apps like WhatsApp and Instagram were key in the iPhone’s early and continuing success, however Apple now seems determined to push beyond just apps.
Going beyond apps
In recent iPhones, features like Health, (a digital dashboard of all your health data), Apple Pay (that lets you use your iPhone as a contactless bank card) and HomeKit (which will let you control connected devices around the home) are tying the iPhone deeper into our everyday lives.
“The iPhone has already swallowed the PDA, digital camera, video recorder and now it's looking to integrate your bank card as well,” says Gleeson.
For example with Apple Pay an iPhone can completely replace your bank card with a new payments technology that is secured by your fingerprint and is even safer than the cards it replaces.
“Apple Pay is one of those advances that's actually trying to resolve the underlying problem of payment security through technology, rather than just being a new means of payment,” Trend Micro’s global VP of security research Rik Ferguson told City A.M.
Innovations like Apple Pay, the App Store and Health have all cemented the iPhone as the single most important digital device in our lives.
But today Apple’s rivals Google and Samsung have their own App Stores, payment platforms and health capabilities, so the iPhone-maker must again push the boundaries of what cutting-edge smartphones can do.
The iPhone 6s is Apple’s plan to do just that.
Reinventing the wheel (again)
While the first iPhone’s huge (for its time) 3.5-inch touchscreen was revolutionary in 2007, today every smartphone on the market has adopted similar touchscreen technology.
With iPhone 6s Apple is planning to leap ahead once again, making a dramatic change to the way we actually operate our smartphones with a new feature called 3D Touch that brings pressure sensitivity to the iPhone’s screen.
Now tapping on an app with different amounts of pressure might bring up new actions or activate new shortcuts called Peek and Pop, both of which are expected to change the way we use our smartphones and be a boon for productivity.
With Peek you can now quickly look into emails or messages without actually opening them just by using a light touch, and then Pop into the full content or app by pressing a little harder.
“If we're honest it starts to address some of the user interface limitations that we've seen on iOS up to now” says Collins, noting that this will cut down on having to open and close apps all the time.
Another key feature is the upgraded camera on iPhone 6s which produces larger, even more detailed photos and includes Live Photos, a feature that captures a moment of video before and after every photo you take and could be the next evolution of the humble photograph.
“In the world where the selfie and the snap have become the currency of the internet, Apple is playing to that audience with high quality, innovative features like Live Photos,” says Collins, who expects Live Photos will quickly become adopted by many.
In 2007 the original iPhone fundamentally changed the mobile landscape, a trick Apple repeated in following years with its App Store, fingerprint-sending Touch ID, Apple Pay and best-in-class camera.
On Friday we’ll find out if, with 3D Touch and an improved camera with Live Photos on its iPhone 6s, Apple still has the innovation needed to bring about a smartphone revolution.
The signs look good.
Head to Head
With two versions of the new iPhone 6s launching on Friday, which one is right for you?
Screen size: 4.7-inch
Battery: 10 hours of internet browsing
Processor: A9 chip (70% faster than iPhone 6)
Colours: Silver, Space Grey, Gold, Rose Gold
Price (without contract): From £539
iPhone 6s Plus
Screen size: 5.5-inch
Battery: 12 hours of internet browsing
A9 chip (70% faster than iPhone 6 Plus)
Colours: Silver, Space Grey, Gold, Rose Gold
Price (without contract): From £619