How Apple got in the mobile game

This post is the first from a couple of new selected contributors to Below, Peter Matthaei, an Apple fan, and general mobile tech head, gives us an insight, the first in a 5 part series, on how Apple is changing the way we work live and breath. Be sure to leave your thoughts & comments below.

Two weeks or so from now, Apple will almost certainly announce the fourth generation iPhone.  I work in the mobile industry, and as such have dealt with cellphones of various shapes, sizes and capabilities for a long time.  I lived the evolution of cellphones from when they were the size of a portable hi-fi.  Yet when I held an iPhone for the first time some three years ago, I felt my life change.  Previously, phones had always appealed to my inner gadget freak.  With the iPhone, my phone became something more personal, something that changed the way I use technology in all spheres of my life.

Apple didn’t invent cellphones.  They weren’t the first to put a camera in a phone.  They weren’t the first to put a GPS on a phone.  People in Japan were writing entire novels on their phones long before the iPhone came along.  Windows Mobile phones had touch screens and an integrated media player for watching video or listening to music for years.  Users could install downloadable programs, browse the Internet and even read e-mails perfectly well without the iPhone.  In fact, before the iPhone was released, buzz in the industry said that mobile broadcast TV was the next big thing.

Three years ago, Apple hadn’t yet sold a single phone in their entire history.

Yet in those short three years, Apple has gone from zero to hero.

We first need to look at how Apple goes about their business.  Unlike most other companies, Apple does not add features into devices when they try a new type of device; rather, they remove them.  Looking back at the first generation iPhone from three years ago, it was a downright primitive thing.  Apple believes that everything in the devices they produce must feel natural; the entire experience should be consistent.  So they start with the basics people use most often, and then slowly (about once a year slowly) add in more features that feel just as natural as the old ones.  When the new iPhone is released in one or two months from now, they’ll probably have added back in all the features they took out when they began (such as a front-facing camera for video calls, a camera flash and running several programs at the same time).

When other companies build devices, quite often the pieces don’t fit or work nicely together.  Apple’s slow and considered approach ensures that they do.  John Gruber from Daring Fireball wrote a very nice piece on how Apple rolls.  In terms of the iPhone, this careful approach to features has gained Apple a considerable advantage in a number of areas, even though the “slow” progress may be infuriating to some very advanced users.

While they were merrily doing what they do best, Apple has changed the way users use their phones, the way developers build programs for cellphones and in several important ways changed the role of the cellphone networks.  This is the first post in a series of five examining the ways Apple has changed the mobile game, ending with some thoughts on the current state of the cellphone market in my last post.

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