Low End Mac Round Table

iPhone and iOS: The First 5 Years

Low End Mac Staff - 2012.06.30

Can it be only five years since the first iPhone went on sale? While other smartphone vendors were convinced that a company outside their industry could never achieve the kind of success Sony, Motorola, Nokia, and others had, Apple ignored them and went ahead with its plan to create and market its own smartphone - and one that vendors would not customize at that. And there wouldn't even be the usual discount for signing a two-year service contract.

The rest is history. People gladly paid $599 for an iPhone. They waited in line for the privilege. Almost overnight Apple became a dominant player in the mobile industry, and companies that couldn't adapt began to fall by the wayside. Today the iPhone and Android phones dominate the smartphone market. RIM and Nokia are in trouble. Google now owns Motorola. Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system has few takers.

Today our staff looks back at the original iPhone, its introduction, the way it has developed, and how it changed an industry.

Jason Schrader (Maximize Your Mac): My wife and I both have iPhone 4s and absolutely love them. It truly is a computer in the palm of your hand.

Alan Zisman (Zis Mac): The iPhone changed lots of things - it propelled the change from so-called "feature phones" to smartphones, which are now over 50% of phones sold. It changed the Web experience for mobile users who previously were stuck with a very awkward, limited mobile browser experience to one that is vastly more powerful. It made development of mobile apps more than a niche market, divided by phone maker, model, carrier, etc. It changed Apple from primarily a computer-maker into a company getting the largest share of its user base and profits from mobile devices.

And it changed the stranglehold that mobile carriers had over the industry. With the iPhone, Apple refused to let carriers control the physical look of the device, its operating system, and its apps.

Allison Payne (The Budget Mac): I love what the iPhone ushered in for not only the smartphone market, but for the mobile computing and mobile browsing landscape. The iPod touch is basically the perfect pocket computer, and it grew directly out of the success of the iPhone. And look how far the mobile Web has moved away from the chokehold of Adobe Flash! It may not have been a popular decision to not support it on the iPhone, but I think the Web is better it.Ê

Austin Leeds (Apple Everywhere): I would agree with that assessment, Allison. Up until the iPhone was made, the most mobile "real" computers were laptops, but since then, mobile has opened up to include smartphones, Android PMPs, tablets, and even e-ink e-readers (depending on the model)!

Dan Bashur (Apple, Tech, and Gaming): iOS and the iPhone - now 5 years old will be approaching the 6th full version of the OS with iOS 6 due out later this year and with the iPhone 5 likely around the corner. The OS progression was fairly similar to that of Mac OS X, which in a similar span of time (2001 to 2005) saw five major versions released from Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah through 10.4 Tiger. The hardware seemingly has become exponentially more powerful and capable during the same time frame.

A lot of that rapid progression has to do with Apple controlling the experience from the OS to the hardware, app distribution, and more, which has allowed Apple to continue to focus on perfecting the design from an engineering standpoint in all facets. The hype of millions lining up for the newest iPhone overnight throughout the nation has subsided somewhat in recent years as many who are satisfied to hang onto their previous models a bit longer are part of that market (and presumably feel compelled to do so due to contract fulfillments and upgrade costs when a new model arrives early within their contract period). On the other hand, for those who are due for an upgrade or have yet to taste the magic of iOS when a new model is on the way, it still builds incredible excitement and is why Apple continues to grow its market share of mobile users.

I don't own an iPhone myself as I don't require the constant stream of data on the go, but I do own a 16 GB WiFi New (Retina Display) iPad, and it's my first iOS device. I have to say that the transition between Mac OS X and iOS is rather simple regardless of which version of Mac OS X you are using to work in tandem with your iOS device, ranging from OS X 10.5 Leopard to 10.7 Lion (and later). I've synced my iPad to both my G4 eMac running Leopard and my MacBook Pro running OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard and Lion. While this versatility to work with a variety of Macs is fantastic, iOS itself stands as a full featured OS of its own just fine and operates with a smoothness that can't be replicated.

Siri also has a ton of potential, and while coming to other platforms soon such as the New iPad (and likely Macs running the soon to be released OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion), these innovations and others are truly making an impact on the iPhone first and are a testament to Apple's engineering team that is seemingly always one step ahead of the game.

Apple set a new model of excellence in mobile computing, and the iPhone is clearly among the best "Swiss Army Knife" mobile devices and is able to deliver an experience similar to what is found on a desktop/notebook in the palm of your hand.

Could an iPhone displace a notebook as your portable device? Perhaps, depending on your needs. As the iPhone continues to get better, and as third parties continue to develop amazing apps and unique docks (such as the rumored Clamcase iPhone dock), it keeps that desire alive and well for those such as myself that don't yet own an iPhone - and it keeps current users on their toes and ready to jump on the latest upgrade as soon as their mobile contracts allow.

The hardest thing to believe with the iPhone in its five years has been it's exclusion of mobile Flash. Steve Jobs' letter to Adobe still resonates and speaks clearly today why Flash is completely unnecessary for the mobile device world. With over half of Apple's sales coming from iOS devices, it's without a doubt that the iPhone (and other iOS devices) will eventually change the way the Web works in general with the potential of eliminating Flash from the Web completely. What can we expect next with the iPhone 5 when it arrives. Only time will tell.

Publisher's note: On Thursday, June 29, 2012, Adobe announced that the version of Flash Player for Android is not compatible with the new version 4.1 Jelly Bean - and that it will not produce a compatible version. Further, beginning on August 15, Adobe will no longer allow Android users to download and install Flash Player on Android 4.0 and earlier devices that don't already have it.

Simon Royal (Tech Spectrum): I was a late coming to the iPhone world, partly due to cost and partly due to the restrictiveness and lack of standard features when the iPhone was in its infancy. As a Symbian user, I was used to a rock solid OS, good battery, good connectivity and Internet (for its era), and its customisability. The iPhone lacked a lot of this in its early years. [Publisher's note: The App Store launched on July 10, 2008, over a year after the iPhone first shipped.]

In the past couple of years I dipped back to the iPhone world as it had matured and the lure of an Apple phone made me give it another chance. I picked up an iPhone 3G - and what a terrible device it was. The battery life was awful, the 3G speed was pitiful, signal strength and quality was horrendous and the speed under iOS 4 was terrible. I had a Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro at the time (a budget Android), and it knocked spots of my iPhone 3G in terms of general speed, app speed, and connection speed, but it lacked the styling and the screen quality of an iPhone.

So after flitting from Android to iPhone and back to Android again, I still couldn't shake the iPhone bug, so I picked up an original iPhone, and there my saga took a turn for the better. Running iPhone OS 3 it was blazingly fast, except for data speed while out and about due to its lack of 3G, but in a WiFi era even in 2011/2012 the original iPhone is a great device. I switched to running whited00r on it, and it made the experience even better (whited00r is a speed optimised version of OS 3.1.3 that adds some iOS 4 features - it makes the original iPhone smoke). But the lack of 3G was bothering me. I use my phone a lot when I am out and about, and the 2G speeds where good enough for emails and tweets, and Facebook was just about useable, but surfing was a no no.

On the recommendation of a few fellow Mac users, I went for an iPhone 3GS and wow! The 3GS is way above the 2G/3G iPhones. It is amazingly fast. It runs iOS 5 faster than it did iOS 4, and it is to get iOS 6 later this year. I don't see myself upgrading to an iPhone 4 or 4S anytime soon. The 3GS really is a fantastic device. I'm not a heavy app user, and it suits my tweeting, emailing, and surfing needs. The 3GS is what the 3G should have been.

The iOS structure has slowed down. The first four major versions were massive leaps in terms of improving stability, adding features, and catching up with the rest of the mobile world with things Apple omitted for whatever reason. iOS 5 and iOS 6 are tweaks, with speed optimisation and minor features added. Apple now has serious competition again. It is sitting comfy as leader of the mobile world, but Android and Windows Phone 7 are bringing in major new features with each revision, and if Apple isn't careful, it will be left behind.

Apple raised the bar in terms of mobile devices. Before the iPhone, any serious phone user would look at Blackberry or Symbian devices. I used the latter, and in 2006 these were great, rock solid, hardcore devices, but they have failed to keep up. Blackberry hasn't changed that much, and Symbian has been ditched. In an era when site developers were creating mobile friendly sites, Apple pulled out the seemingly impossible and brought 'the whole web to a mobile device' although it wasn't quite and they got slapped for claiming it, but it was a million miles better than the Symbian WebKit or Blackberry browser and it set a standard for the future and changed mobile internet overnight.

Apple, the iPhone, and the iPod touch has brought the mobile Web to everyone. Apple have made it sleek and cool rather than clunky and geeky. A smartphone user used to be a bit nerdy, but now Joe Average can check Twitter or update Facebook in the pub without looking out of place. (Even basic phones can Tweet and Facebook these days.)

The future is uncertain. Apple need to pull out some seriously impressive new feature or devices to keep ahead of the game. Perhaps it already is. Perhaps the iPhone is where Apple wants it to be and will progress slowly while the iPad is Apple's new focus, bringing a pocket-sized touch device and a handheld touch device together in a synchronised manner.

Dan Bashur: When I wrote Flash Continues to Lose Ground while HTML5 Gains Steam, I mentioned how iOS and other devices have continued to abandon Flash. During the entire time iOS has existed, there has been no need for Flash and there never will be. Initially it appeared that Microsoft had plans to scuttle Flash as well with Internet Explorer, but it now appears to be the opposite case scenario. The Metro version of IE will still have Flash, but no plugin (it will be embedded within the browser and updated through Windows Update). The other versions of IE 10 seem to continue full support for the standard Flash plugin contrary to the early rumors that all version of IE 10 would abandon Flash completely.

At any rate, despite Microsoft and Adobe's apparent partnership to keep Flash alive, I can say with great confidence that the impact iOS and the iPhone these past five years continues to have on Flash and the Web is evident. It is in the best interest of developers to allow iOS devices full access to content, rather than limiting it by insisting on adding Flash-only content that can't reach over 100 million iOS users.

In a strange twist of fate, while Apple has pushed ahead, leaving PowerPC Macs behind after moving to Intel hardware and pushing through the last security updates to Tiger and Leopard over the past couple of years, Apple may have also given PowerPC Macs another breath of life by putting a huge dent on the world's dependency of Flash. Capable enough PowerPC Macs should be able to fully enjoy HTML5 content just like iPhone and other iOS device users do.

Dan Knight (Mac Musings): I got my first iDevice just over a year ago, an iPhone 3GS, and I have to agree with those who said it's very easy to switch between my Macs and iOS. There have been a few times when I couldn't view a Flash video or access some Flash content on a website from my iPhone, but very few. The world realizes that Flash is no longer the ideal way of serving up video.

I have had just about the worst luck ever with my iPhone. It's been replaced four times at the local Apple Store. It just stopped working. One time they did a "deep reset" and I got another week or two out of my iPhone before it gave up. Curiously, my wife got the same model the same day, and hers hasn't had to visit the Apple Store even once.

I am probably most disappointed with the iPhone's performance at home, where it seems to take forever to connect to the Net, update apps, etc. I suspect it's an issue with the 2Wire wireless router AT&T provides with our U-verse service. I definitely get better WiFi service in other locations.

Overall, the iOS experience has been good. Lots of free apps to try out to see if you can avoid paying for one, and lots of good low-cost apps as well. Although I don't understand Apple' fascination with making the Mac OS more like the iPhone/iPad OS, iOS is an excellent operating system, and if Apple were to introduce an 8-in-or-so iPad mini, I would be sorely tempted to buy one.

Jason Schrader: My wife's phone has had some issues. The camera stopped working. Her battery life has been low. But I'm on vacation, and I love being able to get on the Internet. It's super fast too, and I like that.

Austin Leeds: Apps - that's another major innovation of the iPhone. As much as we sometimes moan about the "walled garden", no one can deny the security and (sometimes) efficiency of such a system of acquiring applications.

Simon Royal: I have to add, apart from the slowness of the 3G under iOS 4 I have never had any problems with any of the iDevices I have had, except pixel damage, but that's mistreatment rather than poor quality hardware.

That's a 2G iPod touch (my wife's), two iPhone 3G, an original iPhone, and my current iPhone 3GS.

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