When Steve Jobs announced the iPhone at Macworld 2007, the part of his presentation that stuck with me was in the beginning, where he criticized current smart phones. The problem with them, he said, was the controls were permanent. Once the phone was shipped, its control buttons were fixed in place.
When the Motorola RAZR was released, people didn’t want to own it because of its great software. They wanted to own it because it was thin and futuristic looking. (How times have changed.) Most phones are the same way: they are sold on their hardware design, and not the software that powers them. The software tends to be an afterthought.
Which, by contrast, highlights what makes the iPhone unique: it’s all about software.
The iPhone’s hardware is great. It is relatively thin, and feels like one solid piece of aluminum when holding it. The screen is absolutely beautiful.
But that is not why I, or anyone else, bought the iPhone: we bought it because its software is incredible. What is most interesting here, though, is that what makes the hardware great is that it gets out of the way. Rather than being a very blatant abstraction between the user and the software, like most phones’ controls are, the iPhone’s capacitive touchscreen makes the user forget they are using an interface to their software at all. As Jobs said at Macworld 2007, you are touching your music, or any other application running. There is no abstraction between the user and the software.
That’s the single-most intriguing aspect of the iPhone. Whereas other phones compete on what hardware they have (“it has a 3G connection, which is blazing fast!“), the iPhone competes on its software. The hardware is, rightly, a means, rather than the phone’s end. You do not want a 3G data connection just because. You want a fast connection to make browsing the web through great software an even better experience.
Which is why a 3G iPhone doesn’t excite me that much. Sure, it will be nice having ubiquitous access to WiFi-comparable speeds, but it is simply faster speeds. There’s nothing inherently new about it.
I am more excited for the iPhone software update coming next month, because each time we receive a large update like this for the iPhone, it feels like a new phone all over again. Because nothing is set in plastic, Apple can integrate whatever new features it comes up with, and past iPhone owners get these new features without needing to buy anything.
The future is wide open with the iPhone, because it is all about software.