Even now, after 10 years, the full potential of Apple’s iPhone is still unrealized

“Steve Jobs unveiled the first Apple iPhone ten years ago today, January 9, 2007,” Mark Hibben writes for Seeking Alpha. “The world will never be the same. With so many competing smartphones, it’s easy to think that Apple’s accomplishment has been equaled, and that there is nowhere else for Apple to go. Peak iPhone, peak Apple.”

“But the iPhone still has room to grow, its full potential, even now, not fully realized,” Hibben writes. “And Apple also still has room to grow.”

“Watching the iPhone introduction at Macworld, I’m struck with how much Apple misses Steve Jobs. He doesn’t just unveil the product, gush about how ‘amazing’ it is, and list all its new features. He walks the audience step by step through the thought process that led to the iPhone. He convinces you that the iPhone is not merely a logical evolution of personal computing, but a quantum leap by solving problems of design and user interface that existing smartphones of the time hadn’t solved,” Hibben writes. “Jobs could do that because he understood the thought process, because it was to a large extent, his own. When I recollect product introductions since the passing of Jobs, there isn’t a single instance where Apple’s management has demonstrated the level of clarity that Jobs displayed on that day in 2007.”

“Product design by committee is starting to strangle Apple,” Hibben writes. “The committee agrees that the iPhone should just be a smartphone. After all, Apple essentially invented the smartphone concept with the iPhone. This is despite the fact that the iPhone 7 is now carrying around more processing power than PCs of ten years ago. This is despite the fact that the iPhone can easily be connected to an external monitor. This is despite the fact that you can even pair a Bluetooth keyboard. This is despite the fact that the iPhone, as do all iOS devices, is just running a variant of Mac OS X… Of course, it was a very stripped down OS X. But Jobs featured this with the clear intent of endowing (or seeming to endow) the iPhone with personal computing features. In so doing, he presaged what I still consider to be the ultimate destiny, the full potential of the iPhone, to be a PC.”

MacDailyNews Take: Apple only really works when one person is in charge. The problem is that said overlord has to be multifaceted and multitalented and there was, of course, only one Steve Jobs. Obviously, Steve Jobs is missed and, yes, Apple does need a Jobsian product architect. Unfortunately, Steve was a unique genius and his shoes, so far, have been impossible to fill.

If Jony Ive isn’t fully in charge and/or isn’t fully engaged, he needs to be on both counts.

As we wrote over three years ago:

Steve Jobs would get it. Tim Cook? Well, he released it. Just like he released Apple Maps. If it’s not crystal clear by now, it should be: Cook can’t see it. He’s very good at some things; other things he simply cannot see. This is not a knock. The ability to be so detail-oritented, so absorbed in the end user experience to the exclusion of all else, is a rare ability.

“Tim’s not a product person, per se.” – Steve Jobs discussing Tim Cook, as quoted by Walter Isaacson in “Steve Jobs”

Cook needs to assign people to these projects who can do what he cannot, who can see what he cannot see, and make sure these people are as focused and obsessed as Steve Jobs. There may only be one person at Apple who can do this reliably: Jony Ive. Unfortunately, he may be too busy being chief designer of all things Apple (hardware and software) to also do what Jobs did so incredibly well: Focus on a wide range of products, experience each of them as the end user does, and not allow products out the door until they can perform as Apple products should perform. It’s highly likely there is not enough time in the day for all Ive would need to do (or even to do all that he’s supposed to be doing already). [It also might be impossible for anyone to be so involved in the hardware and software design to be able to step back far enough to experience it as the end user would and therefore be able see a product’s flaws from that, the most important, end user’s perspective.]

Cook needs to find people who are obsessive about the end user experience and assign them to these type of projects. There should have been someone at Apple who became the planet’s preeminent authority on streaming radio, who knew every service, who used these services for hours each day, who lived and breathed and used streaming radio for months. This person should have been iTunes Radio’s shepherd and final arbiter, without whose approval, iTunes Radio would not be released. Was there such a person on this project?

…To state the obvious: Steve Jobs was one-of-a-kind and truly amazing. No hyperbole. Cook needs to try to replicate Steve Jobs as much as possible with a group of people, each of whom can contribute various elements of Jobs’ wide range of skills.MacDailyNews, November 11, 2013

“It would be so simple, if Apple just allowed iOS to support a mouse or trackpad driven cursor,” Hibben writes. “Then iPads and iPhones really could begin to replace PCs. Then iOS really could be a viable option for professionals. Then the iPhone could finally realize its potential.”

“Apple seems to want to protect the Mac and preserve its niche, with inventions of dubious value such as the TouchBar,” Hibben writes. “I’ll be blunt. The Mac franchise isn’t worth it. Apple needs to move on to the next big thing: What the iPhone’s creator envisioned from day one: A Mac you can put in your pocket. If Apple insists on trying to hold back this future, it will only come from other sources. Then Apple will have to play ‘catch up,’ even though it started out ahead, way ahead, under Jobs.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: The future of the “Mac” is already here. Apple just has to unleash it.

Apple’s “iPhone” isn’t really a phone at all. It’s really a small touchscreen Mac OS X computer, a Mac nano tablet, if you will. Here’s how misnamed the iPhone is: Some people are complaining that Jobs didn’t spend enough time on the Mac in his keynote! Folks, iPhone is not only a Mac, it’s the most radical new Mac in years! What’s to stop Apple from making a 12-inch model (and larger, and smaller) one of these days (use the headset for the phone, please) and calling it a Mac tablet? …So, yeah, it can be a phone, even the very best smartphone, but it’s so much more and holds so much promise that the name “iPhone” hardly does it justice. — SteveJack, MacDailyNews, January 9, 2007

SEE ALSO:
Apple’s iPhone celebrates 10 years – January 9, 2017
The gaping Jobsian void within Apple – November 16, 2016
Is Apple building ‘The Device?’ [revisited] – January 9, 2007
Apple debuts iPhone: touchscreen mobile phone + widescreen iPod + Internet communicator – January 9, 2007
Is Apple building ‘The Device?’ – December 10, 2002

24 Comments

  1. “What’s hard for people to remember, and this is good I think, going back to pre-iPhone there was no app market for apps on phones. Phones were sold in truly walled gardens. The thought that a developer could make an app for a phone was unheard-of.
    Apple enjoyed the success it did with the iPod because the Japanese consumer-electronics companies couldn’t make the leap to create the software. If you looked at handsets it looked very similar, the handset manufacturers got their hardware down, but they hadn’t been able to make the leap to software. The usual suspects tried to copy the hardware, and it took them sometime. But the software was at least five years ahead of anything we’d seen out there. We were bringing breakthrough software to a mobile device for the first time.”

    “Steve Jobs: The Unauthorized Autobiography.”

    1. True, however the ringtone market in Japan was flourishing way before Apps were available for any phone leading to other countries trying to get into that market.

  2. Difficult as it may be, let’s set aside the total f^$& ups Apple has had the past several years with late or no product refreshes, once-awful Maps and Siri withering on the vine . . . . Even under Jobsian Apple, there were things like this that were happening from time to time that were forgivable because of one main and central truth — the company was pushing forward. Elegant solutions to complex problems were believed to be on the horizon throughout that era, even as years sometimes separated them. Looking back, it only seems as if there was one hit after another year after year. In fact, it was more sparse than that. But it was exciting because we all believed the proverbial “pipeline” was real. Now we aren’t so sure. Why? I would argue that Apple’s current lineup of products (minus the Mac Pro and some aged internals across the desktop board) is pretty damned impressive. From the watches to the iPhones (complete with amazingly powerful self-designed chips), to the sleek new MacBooks and MacBook Pros to my 5k iMac and any song I can possibly think of at my fingertips via Apple Music . . . . there’s a lot to be delighted by. But the most Jobsian employee left doesn’t do anything other than predictably cool but steadily soulless videos with the world “singular” and an odd-to-my-ears pronunciation of “aluminum.” Jobs’ showmanship is missing as much as his taste is. Picture that man showing off the Apple Watch or the touch bar and tell me the barometric pressure in your pants wouldn’t have changed???? Apple is a lot of things and lost isn’t one of them. There has been steady progress forward. BUT….. many criticisms are valid and the cold wind that blows through those holes that were often there isn’t countered by the sweet warmth of Steve’s clearly stated vision and ability to explain why the hell we’d want it. Personally, I think if Ive would stand up and proudly exhort the merits of whatever is next on stage instead of on video it would make a world of difference. Just imagine it for a moment and you might just agree.

    1. I wish I could share your enthusiasm, but aside from the iPhone, none of Apple’s products are impressive at all. The competition has caught up and in many areas long surpassed Apple’s offerings. It’s not about showmanship, it’s about delivering increased value to the user. Apple lost that long ago.

      The biggest questions people have today about announcements for Apple product updates isn’t about how it will enable us to do new things, now the questions we have are what is lost, what is the new price increase for, and why doesn’t it work with the Apple products I have now?

      1. Tell me now , which tech giant is ahead of Apple global products offering? Which working technologies everyone is using now that Apple is missing?

        My guess: You don’t really know what you are talking about

        BTW, I have a 2008 MBP running the latest OS Sierra. So a 9 years old computer running the latest OS….? You are telling me this is not an increased value for the people?!?

        My guess : you don’t have a single Apple product.

        Go home Mike, you must be drunk

    2. Jony Ive is the problem and roadblock. Without Steve Jobs, Ive seems lost and in hiding, yet has the most political clout in the company, as well as wealth. Major issue for the board. I believe there are many fresh talents that are stifled, not in a malicious way but just as a natural outcome of the death of superstar leader who leave siblings in charge (think Walt Disney, other creative geniuses).

  3. Sooner or later, a company is going to make a clear LCD screen available in a laminated lens of glasses which allows the screen to be on one of the lenses at least.

    A fully operable keyboard for touch typing is already able to drop in your shirt/pants pocket: WayTools.com

    Doing viable “work” without pulling out your MacBook or iPhone is possible. I’m not saying it is easy.

    The only serious question is who will do it. If it’s not Apple, what will that do to Apple.

    1. Those of us waiting for a real “Pro” Mac, designed for computing intensive users who want Mac OS on the best widely available hardware, would sell our feet for regular ‘tweaks’.

      I don’t know who in Apple thought the trash can was designed for power users. I would love a fugly Mac that runs Mac OS on the fastest hardware. Seriously, you could even make it smell bad and I would love it.

  4. Great point about Steve’s presentation skills and how he walked you through the thought processes.

    But we all have to get used to the idea that of course there will never be another Steve Jobs. That’s why he was Steve Jobs.

    There will never be another Walt Disney, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, etc. That’s why they go down in history.

    There will be other visionaries, in other ways, right now those might be people like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, etc…but like Steve they will follow their own star and not work for anyone else. And even if you could get someone like Elon Musk to run Apple, he would still not have the same vision for Apple as Steve.

    As for finding “mini Steve’s” for each product area: I would presume that Apple tries to find incredibly smart experts for each of their product areas. But again these are not in any way going to be like Steve. Partly because of the rare genius, but also partly because again, people like Steve are not going to work for anyone else.

    As for Jony Ive being the closest thing to Steve: Jony is a design guy. Steve knew both design and engineering. So Jony could design the iPhone, but Jony would not have been the one to make the decision to use OS X as the basis for iOS. Also, Jony is temperamentally very different from Steve, more adept at running a small design team rather than a large company.

    But just like Walt Disney, Ford, GE have all gone on to prosper without their legendary founders, so too will Apple. The key was given to Tim Cook by Steve: don’t always ask what would Steve do. Instead, find a way to run the company to prosper without being dependent on a Steve Jobs.

    Ironically, I think Apple has put out great products since Steve’s passing, and is getting better at it all the time. I think part of the problem is that we do miss Steve’s communication style. For instance, if Steve could have explained the Touch Bar everyone would be gaga over it.

    1. I think you are partly right, but Apple is also harming its brand by shipping old tech at new prices for long periods between updates.

      In other words, whether it is due to lack of attention or financial greed, the quality of their products vs price is often visibly very low.

      All that would need to fix this is regular spec bumps in periods between major redesigns. If hair thin margin companies can keep up with component improvements, Apple could.

    2. I am not so sure about your example. Steve understood human-tool interfaces better than most, and explained them to us in simple terms. With the touch bar he’d have had to work harder. How could he demonstrate its superiority to the old row of function keys? You, the user, set and memorised their meanings, and easily located them by touch, without looking away from the screen. Yet the new touch bar does not offer tactile feedback and so requires a confirming glance. You need to take your eyes off the screen, away from the work, then touch something, then move your eyes back to the work and refocus. You’re switching attention more than when you relied on muscle memory for keystrokes. In a typical editing session you might perform hundreds of these motions. It adds up to more fatigue.

      Apple could mitigate such cognitive expense by incorporating haptic feedback into the touch bar. While they’re at it they could do the same with virtual keyboards, and make touch typing real again.

  5. What a load of malarkey about the Mac. Mac’s and even PC’s will be needed in their desktop forms for some time to come for different purposes. In some instances mobile-only will work for some or augment but not all. I am not searching on a quest to miniaturize the computer to ridiculous and unnecessary lengths but simply make it more capable in ways Pro’s, for example, need. Therein lies the design failure of the 2013 Mac Pro – miniaturization that deletes user options and enables copious amounts of cables to be dripping all over your working space is NOT an innovation. It’s an annoyance and sales turn-off.

  6. I don’t care about having revolutionary new products every year or two. Honestly between the Apple Watch and AirPods I’m very happy in that department. What I’d like to see is Apple really put the pressure on and build a strong, monopolistic position. “It just works” seems to have gone out the window.

    I bought my first Macbook in 2009 and never had it freeze on me more than once in 4 years. The last few generations of OS X have caused freezes and hangups on a monthly basis if not more often. Little things like inexplicably removing the coverflow view option from finder when attaching files to email is a big one for me. iCloud problems are too numerous to list, this I think is the real crux of the dissatisfaction for most people with Apple in recent years.

    As long as they have rock-solid products that work with iterative updates on a regular basis, and WOW new products or updates to existing ones every 2-3 years, people will gladly hand over their money. I think more and more people are only grudgingly doing so now because they’re committed to the ecosystem. iPads are probably best positioned to make inroads into less developed markets, but iOS is still too handicapped to really take off as the cheap computer of choice for many people. Would it kill them to offer a current-gen iPhone for under $500? Get the tech in peoples hands and make your money off of apps, subscriptions and future tech purchases Apple!

    1. As there are no other companies that sell devices with macOS(OSX) or iOS installed, I would say Apple has a strong monopolistic position. As for “It just works”, have to agree that the phrase just isn’t as true as it used to be for a growing group of people.

      1. Monopolistic within their customer base sure, but what I was getting at was to expand the customer base. An entry-level $300-400 iPhone SE would be huge. They make money hand over fist in app/subscription sales of all kinds, they wouldn’t even have to sell hardware at a loss, but it’s all about the margins with them.

  7. …….your phone….without your wallet…..you pay. Your phone………without a wallet……..you’re paying……are you getting it now?

    Apple will be fine.

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