State of the Union (or how the iPhone owns it)

by rmtwrkr

Well, we are fast coming to the end of 2007. Soon it will be New Year. Or more importantly, Year Zero for smartphones. Why? Because up until the iPhone, all previous attempts at getting the public to really embrace a mobile phone that does more than just take calls has failed. The iPhone has changed the mobile landscape forever, regardless of your feelings towards the device itself. Here’s why:

Smartphones – The early years.
Back in the mid 90’s, Nokia released the first of a series of devices called ‘Communicators’ like the 9000 and the 9210. Large in physical size (compared to other mobiles at the time) they promised a future of computers in pockets. They were popular among tech early-adopters and businessmen. But they weren’t exactly…um…attractive to most people. Then in 2001 Nokia released the 7650, a smartphone for normal people. It looked pretty much like the other devices of the time, and so it became more popular than the Communicator series did (in the public eye). The mobile internet was just beginning to take off, and around that time most carriers (in Europe) were making a big fuss about the ‘future of mobile communications’. Which was great and all, except it was way overpriced, slow and crap. People quickly became scared of the ‘mobile internet’ due to its unnerving capacity to launch itself unwittingly on ANY handset that had the possibility to use data. Manufacturers and carriers alike positioned ‘easy access’ keys on the front or side of handsets to quickly launch whatever rubbish, slow and unusable browser was installed on the device. God knows how many clients in my past have asked me specifically to REMOVE the ability for a handset to auto-connect to the internet. It was just that hated.

Smartphones – The teenage years.
The first manufacturers to ‘try again’ to launch the mobile internet were the plethora of WinMob device makers, Palm, Nokia and Sony-Ericsson. The boom-time was in 2005 when there was so many new smartphones coming out by Palm, Nokia and SE. But only Nokia was trying to ‘bridge the divide’ between business users and ‘real people’. Again, Nokia with its first N-series devices, and SE with their P or W-series devices were looking for catching some hipness. Nokia went about basically sponsoring just about every extreme sport there is, trying to get in everyone’s faces to say “the future is here!” Alas, even though Nokia sells a hell of a lot of ‘smartphones’..only a small fraction of the people are aware of it being more than a dumbphone, and would drop a Nokia for any new, shiny dumbphone that comes out. You see, the people just didn’t care about smartphones..sigh…and just as the mobile internet was starting to mature.

Smartphones – The current status.
Again Nokia leads the pack with omnipresent snazzy adverts everywhere, and putting out cool artistic TV adverts like the ‘Thing in my Pocket’. Nice. But again, what was Nokia really saying with this? The same as it has alway done: trust us, we have got very powerful devices. Now, compare the iPhone adverts for a second:
This is the Web. This is email. This is a photo. And this is a call.
Do you see the difference? Apple just literally demonstrate the UI, exactly how it is. Nothing to hide. So why doesn’t Nokia (or anyone else for that matter) do this kind of raw, straight-to-the-point adverts? Easy, because it would look crap. It’s THAT simple. And this is part of the reason Apple can feel quite smug with the iPhone. It has done what no-one else could do: show me REALLY the damn interface! Because no matter how powerful a device is, Power is nothing without Control.

Smartphones – The Future.
Firstly, expect every manufacturer to ape Apple as much as legally possible. Nokia is already doing it (S60 touch UI, wanting a cut of money from the Carriers etc). Blackberry is lining up a ‘fully touch-based’ smartphone, desperate to get some of the cache of the iPhone on their side. Plus check out Ebay, or for fun, do a search on YouTube for ‘iPhone Clone’ and see just how much utter plastic junk is being manufacturered under desperate ‘ME TOO!!’ circumstances. I am still in a bit of shock actually just how easy it really was to basically beat the dead horse called the Mobile Phone Industry. Wow…just wow..

And remember, the SDK fun is just starting: Jan 17th 2008, is Day Zero for smartphones. Will the traditional ‘Towers of Power’ within the Mobile Industry survive? Who knows, but I will be there to watch as the sky falls in.