The iPhone’s 10th birthday was a happy opportunity to look once again at Steve Jobs’ masterclass in storytelling and positioning, and to contemplate, with incredulous gratitude, the enormity of the consequences. As Horace Dediu, our nonpareil tech historian and poet, recently remarked with his trademark humor, The First Trillion Dollars is Always the Hardest [as always, edits and emphasis mine]:
“In its first 10 years, the iPhone will have sold at least 1.2 billion units, making it the most successful product of all time. The iPhone also enabled the iOS empire which includes the iPod touch, the iPad, the Apple Watch and Apple TV whose combined total unit sales will reach 1.75 billion units over 10 years. This total is likely to top 2 billion units by the end of 2018.
[…] iOS will have generated over $1 trillion in revenues for Apple sometime this year.
In addition, developers building apps for iOS have been paid $60 billion. The rate of payments has now reached $20 billion/yr.
No one saw it coming, Apple execs included. For their part, the high tech incumbents made many infelicitous statements, only to be steamrolled when the iPhone and, later, Android changed everything. The Smartphone 2.0 wasn’t just a one-to-one communication device, it influenced media creation and consumption, transformed everyday commerce with in-phone wallets and touch ID, turned social networking into a ubiquitous tool. It even forced Enterprise information systems to completely rethink and retool their infrastructure — this wasn’t simply a computer with a “smaller form factor”.
In retrospect, the ascendency of Smartphone 2.0 and the way it has shaped our culture seems obvious and natural. But the celebration and contemplation overlooks a crucial Sine Qua Non, a necessary (but not sufficient) condition: Unlocking the carriers’ grip on handset specifications, marketing, and content distribution.