A Mutable Log

What Apple did right with the iPhone

I have been a Smartphone user since before iPhone and Android were nothing but rumors. Windows Mobile ruled then, and so did RIM BlackBerry and Nokia. They were resting on their laurels.

Here’s why.

Graphics Accelerator

Video playback on any of these devices was an afterthought. I had a Windows Mobile device from HTC but it hiccuped through videos and games. The void was filled by specialized apps such as CorePlayer. HTC didn’t care that the device had a graphics accelerator that was being totally wasted on a 320x240 pixels screen.

iPhone changed all that by supporting normal video playback albeit of a single video encoding. Whereas HTC and Nokia had become device pushers, Apple innovated. Shame on you Microsoft for not providing constant updates and screaming performance on my Windows Mobile device. You still expect Nokia and the carriers to help you do that.

Touch Screen

The resistive touchscreen on my Windows Mobile device was a joke as was the phone application. My wife complained every time I handed her the phone to make a call, inspite of having the longer nails advantage over me. Resistive touchscreens worked only with a Stylus and even then you couldn’t make a phone call in a hurry. Touchscreen sounded good on the spec sheet to bump up the price but was a totally bad experience.

The iPhone with its capacitive touchscreen and sufficiently large widgets changed all that. Infact, I am writing this on an iPhone 4S using iA Writer.

The Processor

Before the iPhone, Smartphone makers used what the semiconductor makers had to offer. A 400 MHz processor was considered awesome. Apple showed that it was possible to go beyond that, way beyond. They were willing to design their own processor and hardware if the market did not provide what they needed. They didn’t wait several generations of poor devices to launch their best effort. They have only launched four base iPhone models.

Compare that to other makers that can’t stop themselves from launching new devices. I’ll repeat again, they are device pushers. I am not saying some don’t innovate. Nokia has just announced a 40 something megapixel camera on a phone. It remains to be seen what use it can be put to. You don’t hear Apple announcing preposterous specs in the press way before it has decided to launch a product. They know not to dilute the importance of a product launch by making early promises they may not keep. Then when they do launch, they market it like the best piece of hardware the world has seen, which is not far from the truth.

Material Science

No doubt there have been sleek phones but the iPhone redefined that too. Whereas the other Smartphones have a cheap plastic feel, the iPhone feels like the premium device Apple projects it to be. The use of glass and metals has never before been so effective.

The Operating System

iOS is simple to use. Steve Jobs drilled this into everyone at the launch keynote, which I only happened to watch after I had written most of this post. I added this section after that. Watch that keynote and I have nothing more to add.


Inspite of its premium hardware, the iPhone is seriously price conscious. I cannot afford a Lexus or Mercedes Benz in Brazil but I can have an iPhone. An apples and oranges comparison, I know, but you get the drift.