10 Years of the iPhone

Apple released the iPhone about 10 years ago on June 29, 2007 and since then, the smartphone revolution it unleashed has fundamentally changed the way we work and socialise at the same time upending traditional industries like music, video, cameras and several others. This phenomenon, called convergence, made the smartphone all the more compelling a device to carry around as more and more parts of our day-to-day lives became a mere software feature (or an app), like as if they can be added and removed at the whims and fancies of the companies making them.

And when it comes to Apple, it's more than surprising what this small slab of technology can do. Not only has it changed the mobile landscape, it can wipe out suppliers of GPUs and sapphire displays just based on the sheer volume of devices it sells annually across the world. It can leave independent iOS app developers sherlocked by integrating their features into its own software. The upcoming iOS 11 update, for example, makes document scanners, QR code readers and password manager apps redundant (if you live within the iOS/macOS ecosystem) and this is only a sample of a long roster of features that Apple has hijacked over the years.

Just as it takes away something, Apple also presents developers and manufacturers with new opportunities. App stores (and by extension, several third-party apps) and features like fingerprint authentication and cashless payments have continued to enjoy immense mainstream success post their advent on iPhones and iPads. That's not to say they didn't exist before on other platforms. It's simply that the company's reach is so massive, and its hardware and software integration so seamless, it has had a transformative impact. The latest to join this list is augmented reality (AR for short). Developed as a means to "augment" the real world around us by superimposing digital imagery atop them, the technology has been seen in smartphones since 2009. If you have used apps like Layar, Word Lens or Wikitude (or even Google Goggles), you know what I am talking about.

But thanks to Apple's ARKit (which comes with iOS 11 update in September), augmented reality may very well be the next thing to take off in a big way. At its heart, ARKit is a framework for developers to create AR experiences for the iPhone and iPad, but looking at what they have already done with it even before it's officially out for the masses, it seems like a new wave of apps, like the tape measure app demonstrated below, is just around the corner. Interestingly Google has done this too, with its Tango-branded phones, but they are so limited by its use of special hardware that they come off as niche, one-off experiments (like Google Glass) than a consumer-focussed product.

Apple is often accused of being fashionably late to the party and there may be some truth in that. It's happened before with Apple Music, Apple Watch and the iPhone itself and now again with AR and peer-to-peer cash transfer via Apple Pay. But what's also true is that it takes these ideas that are already in the market and turns them into incredibly better experiences while keeping a laser-like focus on its customers. This is what perhaps makes the iPhone what it is and separates it from the rest of the competition (in the process making Apple the most valuable company today).

It's possible that there may never be a tech gizmo as popular and trendsetting as the iPhone (Amazon Echo is the only thing that comes close in terms of executing a novel idea and market adoption, but even it has a very long way to go), and Apple decidedly deserves the credit for envisioning it, but so do the app developers, its hardware suppliers and its rivals for shaping the whole ecosystem and making it lucrative and worth investing in.