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Apple’s magical iPhone - 10 years of (re)evolutionary design

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” - Arthur C. Clarke

The first time I witnessed magic I saw a barman in San Francisco Shazam a song in a noisy hotel bar. To my amazement, it worked. It was 2008, the iPhone was only a year old and the world was only starting to wake up to its potential.  In those early days the iPhone stood out through its revolutionary design. Other devices had more features or faster chips but they didn’t “work like magic” as Steve Jobs promised.

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Still from MacWorld 2007 where the iPhone was launched. Source Apple

Ten years later the magic of the iPhone may have become familiar to millions but on it’s 10th anniversary it’s worth reflecting on some of the magical (and not so magical) moments.

“Works like magic"

Looking back over a decade it’s easy to forget that the magic of the early iPhone was mainly down to brilliant hardware and software design, combined with a genius for making the important things not just possible but pleasurable on a mobile device.

The home button
In the mid 2000’s the trend seems to be for more and more keypads and buttons crammed into mobile handsets. The iPhone launched with just one button on it’s face - the home button - bringing tremendous simplicity and comfort to people learning to use this very different device for the first time. Make a mistake? Home button and reset. It was brilliantly simple and effective, Apple has since crammed multitasking, Siri, Apple Pay and reachability (see below) onto a single control that is, if rumours are to be believed, not long for this world.

Multitouch maps and photos
The maps app was launched with the very first iPhone, powered with Google Maps, and introduced people to a whole new way of exploring the world around using the strengths of the gestural interface. Maps was the app that showed off the effortless control of pinching, zooming, panning and rotating to a new generation of mobile users. Photos and galleries proved particularly well suited to the gestural interface and as the iPhone has grown more capable so have the gestures we use to edit, navigate and share photos.

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Pinching and zooming in and out of maps and photos comes naturally. Source Apple

The camera
“The best camera is the one that’s with you” - Chase Jarvis

The compact camera has been around in one format or another for almost one hundred years, but they don’t come much handier (or better) than the camera in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. As a result the compact camera market, once a cash cow for companies like Canon and Nikon, has crashed.

“There’s an app for that”
The App Store, when it was introduced on the iPhone 3G, woke people to the power of mobile. It’s fashionable now to claim that apps are dead but at the time trying to do anything complex on a mobile phone was an exercise in patience and futility.  Apps changed that, encouraging people to create apps of singular purpose, using connectivity and design to create magic

Flat design
It’s easy to look back and laugh at the skeumorphism of older versions of iOS. CEO Steve Jobs loved realistic visual representation of metal, leather, wood and, yes, even green casino felt and pushed hard for their accurate representation in their apps. With the advent of iOS 7 Jony Ive ushered in the now familiar flat design aesthetic thus popularising a look which, while it wasn’t original, heavily influenced the style adopted by all other mobile manufacturers.

Remember that? First introduced on iTunes coverflow looked and felt and worked so much better on the iPhone (and iPod). The novelty of browsing music through the album covers eventually gave way to more efficient means as storage grew and people crammed more and more media onto their phones.

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Coverflow was originally only on iTunes but was well suited for the iPhones gestural interface. Source Digital Daily

Not so magic moments

It hasn’t all been magic however. There have been a few moments where the iPhone has been hard to love.

Battery anxiety
10 years on and millions of travellers are still living with battery anxiety. From our research we still see experienced travellers printing, screen grabbing and storing boarding passes on the cloud before their journey - not trusting their battery to last them a few hours at the airport.

When Apple screamed “Me too!” and started shipping phones with larger screens their answer to the problem of singled handed use was called “reachability”. We know from research that given a choice the majority of people prefer to use their thumb but this can be difficult on a 5 inch screen. The solution was a gentle “double tap” to bring the hard to reach parts at the top into reach. We’re yet to witness anyone use this in the wild.

Flat design
Didn’t we just say we loved flat design? Well yes, but it spawned a million imitators. Many of these imitators ignored the most basic rules of interaction design like feedback and affordance resulting in some confusing and unintuitive products. It’s also led us to the current mobile design blandscape where everything is starting to look like everything else.

There’s an adapter for that
When it was rumoured that the iPhone 7 would ship without a 35mm headphone jack the internet exploded. Apple say it takes “courage” to make these kinds of design decisions but the reality is it burdens people with another adapter to carry around (and therefore lose). Plus listening to music with headphones while charging your phone is now impossible without their expensive AirPods.

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There is an adapter for that. Source Apple

“You’re holding it wrong”
One of the early criticisms of the iPhone was that it wasn’t great for making phone calls. Until the advent of copy and paste in the 3GS you had to write down or remember and input phone numbers manually. When people complained about the poor signal for the iPhone 4 they were told “You’re holding it wrong”.  For all its strengths the iPhone has never been a great phone or address book. That said, how long before we stop calling these things phones? Making phone calls is no longer the main thing people use their iPhone for.

More tricks to come?

After 10 years it's easy to become complacent and take tech-wizardry for granted. While it’s true that the last few releases of the iPhone have been viewed by tech journalists and Apple-istas as safe, incremental improvements there is more to come. The iPhone 8 is set to show off a brilliant new display, more capable Siri, wireless charging and facial recognition. Combine some of these things with AirPods and HomePods and Apple's last trick may be to make the iPhone disappear from people's hands altogether, to make mobile mean always connected but never out of reach.

Travelport Digital has been around since before the iPhone. Over the past decade we have helped transform the digital travel landscape into the ultra-connected, personalized and seamless experience we are familair with today. To find out more information visit digital.travelport.com

Featured image source theverge.com
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