Scientific American: Understanding the real Innovation behind the iPhone

“In the 10 years since the launch of the iPhone, so much about modern life, commerce and culture has changed. In part that’s because the iPhone, and the smartphone boom it spurred, created a portable personal technology infrastructure that’s almost infinitely expandable,” Kalle Lyytinen writes for Scientific American. “The iPhone changed the game not because of its initial technology and cool user interface but rather as a result of its creators’ imagination and courage.”

“As the iPhone took shape, its designers found themselves torn between making a phone or a computer,” Lyytinen writes “Apple took the leap, however, by installing a fully capable computer operating system on the iPhone, along with a few small application programs.”

“The heightened importance of software on a mobile phone shifted the industry’s economy as well,” Lyytinen writes. “Apple holds about 15 percent of the mobile phone market, but reaps 80 percent of global smartphone profits.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: What’s widely understood today was explained rather clearly on Day One right here:

Apple really only botched one thing with the iPhone – its name.

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?

It has an iPod built in, yes, so it can be used solely as a “true video widescreen iPod,” if that’s what you want… But, the main thing about the “iPhone” is that it’s really a pocket Mac. It has email, SMS, full-featured Web browsing, and much more. But, beyond that, it is a platform that’s just sitting there waiting for Apple to sell software for it. Just imagine games with the large multi-touch display and the built-in accelerometer!

Imagine all of the other software possibilities, too…

Maybe Apple named it iPhone because of all of the free publicity and buzz that name has already garnered. Maybe they want this trojan horse to slip into the market first under the guise of being the best smartphone available and they’ll exploit its capabilities as a full-fledged platform later. Perhaps it’s easier to explain and sell as a phone first…

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


  1. “Apple really only botched one thing with the iPhone – its name.” -SteveJack

    Steve called it a phone, because the cellphone market was an order of magnitude bigger than the pocket computer market. Most reviews of the original iPhone focussed upon the phone aspect and very little upon the internet communications. If he had called it a Newton, it would have sold to far fewer people who figured they didn’t need a pocket computer. By calling it a phone, as everyone needs a phone, then once they have it, they’ll realize they like the computer that comes along with it.

    1. many seen to gloss over the fact that jobs was obsessed with iphone as worlds best camera. he likened it to a digital leica both in form and function, but better because it would always be with you. remember when apple stores has whole counters of cameras and art printers. in fact the iphone 5 design signature of black glass was per steve an homage to leica.

      the wonderful iphone camera of its day justified the iphone high price while killing the prosummer camera market.

      beyond being a phone it was a camera then an ipod etc, the camera was fundamental to apple great success.

      1. BS! I owned an original iPhone, and the camera was a weak imitation of a camera. To this day the portability of the iPhone is the only thing that makes it a passable camera.

        Otherwise the iPhone camera can’t even start to compete with a prosumer DSLR, let alone a medium or large format camera, digital or film. I’ll go head to head in an open-subject photo shoot with any iPhone with any of my film cameras any day!

        “killing the prosumer camera market”? I don’t what you’re smoking, but tell Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc. that and listen to them laugh at you all the way to the bank. I think you’re stuck in fantasy land.

    2. Actually, the reason Steve personally insisted that iPhone be marketed as “a phone” was because he knew that the word “computer” was intimidating to a large segment (i.e., the majority) of customers all over the world. By saying, “We’ve designed an iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator in one device”, this reassured millions that it was simply a phone, with some really cool other features like a familiar MP3 player and the ability to check email. And this subtle but effective choice of words — “phone”, not “computer”, was another example of Steve’s incredible knack for genius-level marketing.

      Wow — I really miss him.

  2. Calling it an iPhone may seem inaccurate now, but back then the phone market was what they were disrupting. The general public were unlikely to spend that money on an iPod that did email and connected to the internet with a phone thrown in. Now phones are just the portable computers we carry around, but the name got us to this point.

  3. While Jobs and Apple may have played the market accordingly by headlining the fact that it was a phone, Jobs made sure to recognize that the iPhone was indeed a computing device when he remarked that the phone was the ‘killer app’.

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