Borked batteries & surprise albums: The iPhone’s wild ride from innovation to ignominy 12 years ago today, Steve Jobs announced Apple’s “revolutionary” mobile phone to rapturous applause and cheers from the baying crowd. Sleek design combined with seldom-seen functionality won over the masses almost immediately.
In its launch year, the iPhone 1.39 million units worldwide. By 2018, that number jumped to 217.72 million units shipped.
However, what was once a revolutionary product has slowly slipped down the rankings of innovation (and sales and popularity), lagging behind in processing power and capabilities, hamstrung by a refusal to meet consumer demand for longer battery life, and marginal improvements in selfie camera quality. All of which has resulted in the iPhone’s relegation to a faux-prestige product for Instagram influencers and wannabes to flaunt their apparent wealth, while the more pragmatic, tech savvy consumer of 2018 opts for competitors like Samsung, LG, Huawei, OnePlus and Google.
What got the iPhone to the top of the smartphone Mount Olympus in the first place?
While touchscreens predated the iPhone by many years, Apple pushed the technology further than ever before with multi touch features like pinch-to-zoom and double tap to zoom in and out that we now take for granted 12 years later. Though many may scoff, it was the iPhone that largely obliterated the physical keyboard from the surface of smartphones in favour of gesture-responsive touch screens.
The combination of the App Store and the touch screen also blew mobile gaming out of the water, rendering platforms like the Nintendo DS more of a novelty item than a must-have for gamers, while affording developers an unprecedented platform to reach a hitherto impossibly large consumer base.
A proper camera
A high-quality, rather than token, built-in camera is also what set the iPhone apart from many of its contemporaries, in the early days at least.
Look who’s talking now
For better or worse, Apple was also a in getting us to talk to our devices more when it introduced Siri in 2011. While Siri has since taken a backseat to Amazon’s Alexa, the hands-free conversations with our devices that many may now take for granted was largely propelled by the iPhone.
Among the iPhone’s other notable achievements are: the first useful mobile browser; an integrated iPod music player; a digital compass integrated with Google Maps complete with turn-by-turn GPS navigation; a passbook for boarding passes, tickets, loyalty cards, and more.
And what features led to the once-mighty iPhone’s fall from grace?
Apple’s insistence on form over function has bemused loyal iPhone users for over a decade now. Battery life has always been an issue with iPhone owners, whose long-standing suspicions were vindicated when Apple admitted that it had bricked older iPhones via software updates to shorten battery lifespan, forcing customers to upgrade.
Apple’s way or the highway
The iPhone has always offered extremely limited customization options compared with its Android competitors. What few options it does offer typically involve a hefty price tag (a recurring theme throughout the 12 years of the iPhone) coupled with the necessity to get an Apple employee to take care of it for you (for a fee, of course) or risk voiding the warranty.
The standard warranty for the iPhone lasts for a year after purchase and covers most damage, except for “accident, disassembly, unauthorized service, and unauthorized modifications.” As iPhone users know all too well, this little caveat renders the warranty effectively useless.
Closed file system
Apple allegedly keeps its file system closed for security reasons, for the consumer’s own protection, despite the fact there have been ways to circumvent these measures almost as soon as the iPhone came out.
Even so, the ring fencing of individual apps and their files from every other app on the device can prove to be mind-bogglingly frustrating for the average iPhone user who may once have experienced the joys and higher degree of freedom afforded by less tedious and bureaucratic smartphones on the market.
Much the same as the password tedium, Apple’s relentless system update prompts are a widely-derided staple of the iPhone user experience. Install Now? Automatically? In an hour? Later tonight? Tomorrow?
Same phone, different year
Each new iteration was hyped up to be the second coming of the new millennial christ, with all the pomp and ceremony of a bastardized cross between a royal wedding and a Black Friday stampede.
With each year came more promises: bigger, smaller, original-sized, half- and double-sized versions of the same thing, with barely noticeable changes in functionality. Apart from better selfies, of course.
With each new iteration came the inevitable hardware upgrades: chargers, cables, and substandard headphones, all chock-full of planned obsolescence so that, by the time you’d opened the packaging, they were already in need of repair or replacement. But don’t worry, the next generation was already waiting for you… for a sky-high fee. Truly revolutionary.
The U2 album nobody asked for
You wouldn’t understand, you don’t have enough money
The iPhone has always stayed just within reach of ardent fanboys, but for years was a bank-breaking purchase (usually a gift) for the average consumer. For instance, take the viral case of 17-year-old Chinese teenager Xiao Zheng, who reportedly his own kidney to buy an iPhone and iPad.
Adding insult to injury are the often prohibitively expensive accessories including the notoriously fragile charger cables.
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