The computing platform in phone's clothing

The computer in phone's clothing

When Apple introduced the iPhone back in January of 2007, it was clearly aimed not at geeks but at mainstream consumers. Even though it lacked many of the basic functions offered by competing smartphones of the time, including MMS. However, its multitouch interface was so far ahead of the rest of the industry, especially when it came to the core experiences of web browsing and entertainment, that no one else stood a chance.

And there's a very specific reason for that.

It's been said many times, by many people, that Apple is competing with experience against specs and even content. But it's more than that.

John Gruber of Daring Fireball said back in 2008 that Apple had brought a computer to a phone fight. He added yesterday:

What’s happened over the last five years shows not that Apple disrupted the phone handset industry, but rather that Apple destroyed the handset industry — by disrupting the computer industry. Today, cell phones are apps, not devices. The companies that were the most successful at selling cell phones pre-iPhone are now dead or dying. Amazon, Google, and now even Microsoft are designing and selling their own integrated touchscreen portable tablets. “App” is now a household word.

All of this, because of the iPhone.

In essence, this seems to show just how backwards former Palm CEO Ed Colligan was in 2007 when he uttered his now infamous iPhone jab, "We've learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone. PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They're not going to just walk in."

Yet "PC guys" did exactly that by demoting the phone to an app in a new generation of computing devices.

And again, there's a very specific reason for that.

One of the worst things a company can ever do is mistake their products for their business. Products come and go. If you mistake your product for your business, when -- inevitably -- that product goes, your business goes with it.

Apple under Steve Jobs appears to have always understood this, and with clarity mistakable for prescience. The Apple II was never Apple's business. Neither is the Mac, the iPod, or even the iPhone and iPad. They were and are expressions of Apple's business.

Which is why Apple has been so seemingly fearless about "competing" with their own products. In each case, they did so to evolve and grow their core business.

Which was never phones. Or tablets. Or even computers.

Since their founding, Apple has relentlessly pursued the agenda of mainstreaming computing platforms. The Apple II was the command line version of this. The Mac was the graphical user interface version of this. The iPhone and iPad are simply, wondrously, the mobile and multitouch versions of this.

Even Apple's phenomenal successes with tangential products like iPod, iTunes, Apple Retail, and the App Store, always brutally served Apple's core business. And no doubt now, Apple is working away on whatever's next.

With the iPhone and iPad, and other iOS devices past, present, and future, Apple disrupting MP3 players or even laptops was the effect.

Apple's inexorable drive to simplify and democratize computing itself was the cause.

It wasn't so much because of the iPhone, but because of Apple.

And eventually the iPhone will be next.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

The computing platform in phone's clothing


Let's forget who has the best phone, best this that and the other crap for one minute and answer one question. Why can't the majority of Android users come to the same conclusion Gruber did?

For the same reason that over 1.3 billion Windows users let the Mac rot on store shelves. Price. Yes there are some, like me, who dig deeper & determine who I do business with on other issues (my issues with Apple have nothing to do with my wallet). But the average consumer has been trained to look at the price tag. Apple loses that battle. Yes they have loyal customers who buy whatever. But that pool is leveling out in the mobile space just like it did on the desktop. An 11" MacBook Air, for all of its hype, is one seriously under powered & gimped piece of kit next to a $500-$700 dollar laptop (Asus or Lenovo for example). Save the talk of good build quality, premium materials etc etc etc. When dropped on concrete they ALL break just as easily.
Price was Apple's Achilles heel in the desktop (very limited software didn't/doesn't help) & as the market for mobile matures it will be the biggest hurdle they have here.

Macs rot on store shelves? Hmm that is a very insightful comment. Please don't tell wall street that or the apple stock value will collapse.
Another day, another hatin' android/windows fanatic trolling an Apple focused website. If you don't like Apple products get on with your life, don't waste your time trolling. Go outside and get some exercise, release your stress and anger. Or just grow up!

Android users have been saying for years lets just concentrate on having a fantastic device and not what ideas have been copied\shared\reused.
it's Apple that seem hell bent on making sure no one can release anything that might compete or give the user a different user interface\experience...
a younger Steve Jobs always admitted that Apple were quick to steal any good ideas.. just search youtube (if it's not already offline for having a search function)...

I tell this to people all the time. It's not a phone anymore, it's a pocket PC that happens to make phone calls. More so than any of the "PocketPC's" of the early 2000's.

Renee: your analysis strikes a chord with me. Could you please extend "mainstreaming computing platforms" to include what the mainstream uses the computing platform for.
I have a feeling that the kinds of stuff people use it for are inherent human needs that were satisfied differently over the centuries, possibly inefficiently in some cases, possibly gone inefficient over time which technology helps to bring that back. As an extreme example, may be one of the human needs is to be left alone when needed and get back to interaction on your choosing. A few centuries back it was next to impossible but computing platforms make it possible. I am sure there are zillion such things. When viewed that way Apple's business, as you say, of mainstreaming technology makes a lot of sense

Apple is the pioneer in smartphone gadget technology and introduced iPhone five years back with colorful user friendly interface.Apple is constantly trying to improve with latest technology and is the market leader in smart phone gadget industry.