Ten years after the iPhone launch

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 30, 2017, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

The nice thing about blogging for a decade and a half is that I have my reactions to all kinds of historic things. The natural disasters and acts of war are sad, but the technological things are kind of amusing. My post about first impressions with the iPhone are interesting, as are the comments. Indeed, at the time, I was right that mobile Internet access wasn't something I would use much, as things like responsive design weren't really a thing, and mapping and finding stuff was the big win. Within a month, I used mapping with traffic to avoid a traffic jam, and that was game changing. What we didn't really appreciate at the time was the limitations.

The most annoying thing was that the iPhone couldn't send MMS. I didn't think it was a big deal at the time of purchase, but we sure waited a long time for that, considering the iPhone had a more capable camera than the previous generation of Samsung flip phones. Even Apple didn't realize at the time that photos were one of the most important features of a smart phone.

Steve Jobs famously said that the "app" was the web, which made total sense to me, and as a developer who built stuff on the web, I cheered. I don't know if it has ever been well documented about whether this was a true sentiment with Jobs or they just weren't ready to open general development for the phone, but to this day I feel pretty strongly that it was the "right" approach. 95% of the apps on my (Android) phone today are just thin wrappers around stuff that could just as easily be a web app, only it won't be updated a hundred times a year for the two times I use it. It's such a crappy, broken model that we haven't really innovated our way out of yet. A well-designed single-page app from the web works every bit as well as an installed app, if not better because I don't need to install it.

I defended the iPhone a lot in the first year, because despite some shortcomings, it was better than anything else before it. I skipped on old Windows Mobile phones because they were all cheap, heavy and required a stylus. Years later, if I'm to give them credit for any particular innovation, it's for the standard setting touch interactions that we all take for granted now. They really got that right in a big way, and the way we touch screens today hasn't changed much. It's rare to get anything that right without a lot of public iteration, and they started it out right.

My next phone, about 2 years later, was an iPhone 3Gs, which was mostly more fluid in its UI interaction, had bona fide GPS (instead of estimating on cell towers), a lot more storage and used the 3G cellular bands. By then, installable apps were a thing, but I still had relative few.

Apple still makes really nice iPhones, but they don't lead in software the way they used to. iOS hasn't evolved much in the last few years, especially compared to Android, which was a shit-show for most of its life. My third and fourth phones were Windows Phones (by Samsung then Nokia), which were really excellent, if not well supported by the app culture, which mattered more to other people. In the fall of 2015, I bought a Google Nexus phone, and replaced that one last December with a Pixel, which is easily the best phone I've ever had. I really, really love that phone. Android has become a really fantastic operating system, though it's a shame that Google can't control the entire ecosystem. On their own phones, you always have the latest build, but other manufacturers get entire whole versions behind by a year. The improvements in just the last 18 months have been substantial, with faster version updating, better battery life, a better launcher and widgets, etc. And Project Fi, their virtual carrier, is fantastic.

I still have both of my iPhones in a drawer. They still work. They're tiny.

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