Column January 09, 2017

The iPhone will never turn 20

Jeroen Lemaire

CEO & Co-Founder

Exactly 10 years ago, Steve Jobs took the stage at the Macworld event. “Every once in awhile, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything”. That’s how His Royal iNess opened the most famous keynote in tech history. He described the iPhone as a "leapfrog product that is way smarter than any mobile device has ever been and that is super easy to use.”.

It was exactly that and the audience at Macworld knew. They were exhilarated. The energy of that keynote is still tangible today if you watch the videos on YouTube. Love it or hate it, but Jobs cracked the code for the consumer smartphone. Every smartphone built after 9th January 2007 borrows from the famed design. But has any smartphone ever rivaled the iPhone? It’s a tricky question and I’m not sure about the answer. What I do know, is that the iPhone made Apple the highest valued company in the world. That has to count for something. 

A year and a half after the iPhone launch, Apple released the App Store. Now every developer could build for the iPhone. And they did. From every corner of the world, apps were submitted to the App Store. Mobile startups were founded by the hundreds. In The Pocket was one of those companies, inspired by the fact that soon everyone would have a supercomputer in their pockets (get it?). We specifically believed that digital user behaviour would drastically change because of the iPhone and the ensuing mobile revolution. Much as we believe today that mixed reality, IoT and AI will fundamentally reshape our digital lives in the years to come. We were treated with skepticism then, and we are treated with skepticism now.

It is safe to say that Jobs was right and that the iPhone changed everything. Über, Google, Facebook, Snapchat: they’re all betting their business on mobile. Before the iPhone, there was no such thing as smart banking, m-commerce or mobile payments. Consumers have changed, business have changed. And there’s no turning back.

But what about the future? Will we ever celebrate the iPhone’s 20th birthday?

Actually, no. 10 years is a lifetime in digital. And that is more true for the next 10 years, than for the past 10 years. Innovation is speeding up. But not for the smartphone. The iPhone has stopped innovating a while ago. It gets faster and bigger, neat features such as Touch ID or force touch appear. But in essence, the concept remains the same. What is evolving at a breathtaking pace, is Virtual (and Augmented) Reality, Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence. That’s where the next big computing interface is starting to take form.

10 years ago, nobody believed that the laptop would ever be dethroned by some new kind of hardware. People felt like the pc was the best and only way for humans to harness the power of the computer’s data, processing speed and algorithms. In the same way, we like to believe that the smartphone is the final destination for hardware computing platforms. Can it get any better than this? 

I would argue that digital innovation has only just begun accelerating and that, in hindsight, mobile will be seen as a short-lived but significant platform between the pc-era and… whatever happens next. It’s not possible to clearly identify what device will displace the smartphone. My best guess would be a blend of augmented reality, mixing virtual images with our present reality, and artificial intelligence, guiding us through our activities and navigating us to a fully connected world. So, no iPhone.

I realize that sounds equally scary as exciting. The best part however, is that we still have to build this new interface. The opportunity is there for the taking, much as it was for Steve Jobs a decade ago.