January 10, 2007

Steve Jobs' iPhone: What's the Big Deal?

The brilliance of the iPhone lies in its experience not its "features."

     Steve Jobs unveiling the iPhone at Macworld
Steve Jobs unveils the iPhone at Macworld (source: Engadget)

Seth Godin, marketing maverick, and self-professed Apple admirer (owned every model ever made except Newton) once said that a world changing idea is rare.
Not getting stuck. Thinking big. Changing the world a second time. Western Union couldn’t do it. RCA did. CompuServe couldn’t do it. Neither could AOL. Lots of companies never even bother to try. Apple, surprisingly, did it three times - personal computers, graphical interfaces, digital music.

- Seth Godin in "What Should Google Do"

Today, Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone and changed the world once again. He changed it by shaking the cell phone industry redefining how we experience phones from now on.

Why is the iPhone revolutionary? After all, none of the "features" it sports - smart phone capability, 2MP camera, photo management, music player, web browsing and email are new. That's correct and this is where it gets interesting - it's not these features, it's the user experience that will drive the revolution.

It's the fact that all these features are brought together seamlessly on the wonderful OS X. It's the multi-touch interface that lets you access them effortlessly. Move through pictures, scroll through songs, access voicemails in any order, browse the web or move around on Google Maps with an ease that's never experienced on a mobile device.

The motion sensing accelerometer that understands how the phone is held and changes the interface accordingly. Simple scrolling through long lists just by moving a finger. A proximity sensor that shuts off display when the phone is held to the ear. The lack of a multitude of ugly buttons replaced with on-screen controls. The way music fades away when you get a call and then starts right off after you're done.

The user experience is the magic of iPhone. It is a slap on the face of current cell phone manufacturers whose blind allegiance to features over experience has led to stagnation in design of mobile interfaces. The industry long outgrew its four-point arrow navigation, select and quit interface. Ever tried to find an old picture buried among dozens of others or an old text message? It'd take a lifetime of clicks to reach there.

With the world relying on their cellphones like never before we needed something really simple and really easy. Yet take up any cell phone today and the four-point arrow navigation would stare at you. Apple has now shown us a better way. In the Keynote today, Jobs said that after the iPhone no one will look at those phones the same way. I couldn't agree more.

Apple's move into cell phones also signifies huge growth ahead for the company. The company has filed over 200 patents related with the iPhone. Jobs mentioned his intent to protect them. The Nokias and Motorolas of the world should be worried. As I write, Apple's stock is up over 8% and that of RIM, makers of BlackBerry, is down by 9%. Palm too is down by about 6%. It's a good day if you're an AAPL investor.

Related links

Engadget's complete coverage of Steve Jobs' keynote
Apple's iPhone overview and Keynote Video
iPhone on Google News

Past Apple posts on this blog

Steve Jobs, an artist of the highest order
Lessons from Steve Jobs' life
On Jef Raskin
Unveiling of iPod Nano
The Great Apple Turnaround
User Experience as competitive advantage

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