This week, iPhone turned 10 years old. In that time, communications have changed a lot, with this device being one of the major catalysts. iPhone brought a number of technologies that already existed, and made them known to the general public. However, many consumers, Apple fans and not, have a belief that many of these technologies were new when Apple announced their integration into iPhone. Here are some of the more common misconceptions.
Many people believe that the first iPhone created the smartphone market, though that is far from the truth, for several reasons. First, the original iPhone was not a smartphone, according to industry standards. Instead, it was classified officially as a multimedia phone, as it was missing many key features of a smartphone. In fact, it was missing many features of all other phones on the market, including cheap prepaid phones.
Even if we were to assume the original iPhone as a smartphone, it was far from the first to get there. In fact, there was already a vibrant smartphone community, far more so than today. BlackBerry had a slew of devices over a long period of time running BlackBerry OS, Nokia made a number of devices running Symbian, Palm had its devices running Palm OS (Garnet), and later partnered with Microsoft to add Windows Mobile to their lineup as well. That partnership brought Windows Mobile to the top of the smartphone stack, with other devices from Motorola, UTStarcom/HTC and more rounding out the market.
Before iPhone, smartphones were as varied as their operating systems. BlackBerry had physical keyboards that stayed in place, HTC manufactured a number of phones with hidden keyboards, and Nokia made a phone that slid two directions for two separate focuses. After iPhone, smartphones all look alike, to the point where Apple sued Samsung for stealing their design, which they stole from HTC.
While it's true that the iPad came about as a larger iPhone or iPod Touch well after iPhone launched, it was actually the product that iPhone was supposed to be. During initial designs, the "Purple Room" developed a tablet, but it was converted into a phone well before announcement. However, the iPad, even if it had launched instead of iPhone, would still have been incredibly late to the party.
Bill Gates showed off a prototype Windows tablet in 2000, coining the term "tablet PC." But, in our office, we have a very old, entirely touchscreen tablet from Toshiba running Windows 95. That puts this tablet about 15 years before iPad's release in 2010. But even this tablet was not a new concept. In fact, the first known handwriting-recognizing tablet computer was the Linus Write-Top, released in 1987.
Apps and Stores
The Apple app market is a big part of what people think about when they think about iPhone. To our surprise, we discovered that there are people that believe that "app" is short for Apple, but of course that is not true. The abbreviation for application has existed for decades, but was mostly used among software developers and IT professionals, as it was a term that simply didn't need to exist among normal users.
Among mobile devices, such as smartphones and PDAs, applications were not new with the original iPhone. This fact is not just because the original iPhone did not have any apps or the App Store. That feature would come with a later device and a later version of the iPhone's OS. Windows Mobile, Palm OS and Symbian all supported third-party applications on their platforms.
One of the things that was interesting about these platforms is the way application deployment worked. Because they were open systems, compared to iPhone's very closed system, there were allowed to be more than one app store. On Palm, for example, there were several diverse application ecosystems that each had its purpose and intended market. Today, all platforms have their official stores, though the remaining operating systems all allow external application installation, except for iPhone.
As mentioned above, Apple's design was definitely inspired by HTC devices. The only way that could have been possible is if touchscreen phones had existed previously. In fact, Palm and Windows Mobile both had many devices with touchscreens, long before iPhone's launch. HTC had Windows Mobile devices without keyboards, like the HTC Touch, Palm had keyboard-less devices dating back to the 90s.
What iPhone's legacy in touchscreen phones truly is, is a forced usage of touch. Other companies offered devices with and without physical keyboards, but Apple decided that a physical keyboard was not a requirement. Personally, I miss the days of a physical keyboard on the HTC Apache, HTC Mogul, HTC Arrive and Palm Pre devices.
Many people, including some tech sites, credit iPhone with bringing GPS navigation to mobile phones. This, however, is not true. In fact, many flip phones before iPhone offered this feature, and smartphones either came with, or offered as an add-on, GPS capabilities. I personally used GPS on the Sanyo MM-8300 (2005), and other popular phones, such as the Motorola Razr (2004) and Motorola Rokr (2006), offered it as well.
The most popular and most touted feature of iMessage is the delivery and read receipts. This is a great feature that is definitely not built into the SMS standard, meaning that no text messaging applications can make it happen. So, what Apple did was created a different messaging platform that did not use SMS, but instead used data, to add the feature. Of course, it only works if you are talking to someone else on the same platform. This is the same way that BlackBerry Messenger worked on their phones, and is now available on other platforms as well. There are a number of other platforms that offer the same features, including Facebook Messenger, which is also device agnostic.
Mobile Video Streaming
Dedicated mobile apps have certainly made mobile streaming far easier, but they did not make it possible. Before iPhone, some mobile browsers were capable of supporting Adobe Flash, which meant that you could easily watch online content without a dedicated application from the provider. On two separate occasions, our team attended a Halloween event here in Florida, and while in line for a haunted house, watched streaming content on different devices. In 2007 we watched an episode of Family Guy on Hulu, and in 2008 we watched the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series, to the astonishment of those around us. At that time, Neither Hulu nor MLB had streaming applications on any platforms.
Mobile Web Browsing
When I got my first phone in 2000, the Samsung SCH-8500, one of the features I used quite often was the web browser. Sure, it was black-and-white and textual, but it allowed for things like AOL Instant Messenger. Upon upgrading to the Samsung SPH-A500, the phone added color and the browser added images. BlackBerry, Palm, Windows Mobile and more all supported web browsers, with varying degrees of effectiveness.
When iPhone launched with mobile Safari, it brought the idea of mobile browsing to consumers. It also caused the other smartphone platforms to work on making their browsers better. Mobile IE on Windows Mobile 6, Windows Phone 7 and 8, and Edge on Windows 10 mobile, Chrome on Android, and Opera across many platforms, all began to work more like their desktop counterparts, and less like the browsers on older flip phones.
FaceTime (Mobile Video Chatting)
When FaceTime launched, there was much excitement among those in the Apple world, because it was a feature that hadn't existed previously. That is because Apple was just coming around to the idea of a front-facing camera with iPhone 4 in 2010. Without this hardware, video chatting on iPhone would have required a mirror behind the phone - certainly not ideal for a portable device.
However, front-facing cameras, for selfies and video chatting on other platforms, have existed on phones since 2003. Platforms like Skype, and home-grown services, had been available on mobile platforms and smartphones since before the initial iPhone launch, not to mention iPhone 4.
To this day, iPhone is synonymous with a "good camera" for many people. However, there have been many phones with far better cameras, some with better cameras than are even in phones today. The Nokia 808 PureView (2012) and the Nokia Lumia 1020 (2013) both offered 41 megapixel cameras, far above iPhone 7 Plus's 12 megapixel camera.
All of this is not to dismiss the effect that iPhone has had on the telecommunications industry. Because of Apple's marketing capabilities, iPhone turned smartphones from an enterprise tool for productivity to a consumption device and toy for consumers. At only a decade into a change in the industry, it is unknown whether this is a good thing or bad, but it has definitely made changes to our daily lives.