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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2399

iPhone at 10: why do we miss its legendary visionary so badly?

Hemantha Abeywardena wrties from London…

On January 9th in 2007, Steve Jobs took the stage at Macworld 2007 in order to announce the latest product from Apple, information about which, up until then, had been held in complete secrecy on a special mission dubbed, Project Purple.

The ardent faithful in the special, invitation-only audience didn’t know what was about to be announced either. Once Mr Jobs started addressing the audience, however, he started giving away his secret in dribs and drabs, much to the excitement of the packed audience, who listened to every single phrase of his speech, in awe of the unique speaker.

Being a master presenter, he managed to keep Apple fans in suspense way beyond the half-way mark of his speech, before dropping the ‘bombshell’: by pointing to an existing mobile phone, he mocked the way the keyboard took almost half of the screen; then, he said that he found the solution; a phone, music player and internet browser – all in one.

In short, he claimed he reinvented the phone; a handful of smartphone users would argue against it – in the light of the revolution it triggered off.

Mr Jobs took the phone out of his pocket and introduced it to the entire world – iPhone was born. It, without a shadow of doubt, turned out to be the best invention in the 21st century so far. iPhone simply changed the technological landscape beyond recognition in its relatively, short, 10-year existence.

The statistics of success speak for themselves: over one billion handsets have been sold; Apple became the most valuable company by market value – before being eclipsed by Alphabet, the parent company of Google, recently; it brings in 60% of the total revenue for Apple; above all, iPhone still sets the standard for other smartphones, despite being challenged by its rising, global competitors.

It goes without saying how the smartphone has become an integral part of our lives; the frequency at which we catch a glimpse of the screen, on average, has never been a number to be expressed in a single digit, even in its early days. In fact, our dependence on a smartphone, more or less, borders on addiction and psychologists have already coined a term for a related effect - Fomo, fear of missing out.

Although, the first iPhone was introduced with just 15 apps – not enough to cover even its main screen – an exponential arrival of apps to its Appstore explicitly marked its place in the history of technology, as the most revolutionary, must-have device in the 21st century.

As Apple plans to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its star product in style, those who had been closely involved in the Project Purple have been shedding light on how the great product came into being from the visionary of the company, Steve Jobs, recently.

Steve Forstall, an early pioneer of IOS, Apple’s famous operating system, disclosed recently how Mr Jobs came up with the idea in a restaurant, when the latter got frustrated while operating an existing mobile phone at that time, due to its bulky, awkward keyboard.

Having got the impetus for coming up with an alternative, Mr Jobs had assigned the job of making his dream product to two teams of engineers, dubbed P1 and p2, while making sure the two teams did not cross their paths and their respective mechanisms stayed mutually exclusive throughout.

By keeping the birth of the product secret up until the last minute, Mr Jobs demonstrated how to hide the ingredients of ingenuity inside a capsule of wonder until the time is ripe for public disclosure.

With the release of iPad in quick succession, Mr Jobs showed the world that he always had something up his sleeve. Unfortunately, some of those magical ideas may have gone to the grave with him.

Since Apple did not come up with a single revolutionary product after his death, it is clear that the tech giant hasn’t found a match yet, despite its bulging coffers, in order to match the visionary.

The fact that neither Apple nor its competitors came up with a revolutionary product to match the original iPhone clearly shows that visionaries in the realm of technology are a rare breed, indeed.

Of course, no major technological company is short of qualified engineers to make products and software developers to complement the roles of the former at present. The absence of visionaries at the helm of these companies, however, has led to the stagnation of innovation, which in turn led to the dearth of revolutionary products across the board.

Neither making a phone wafer-thin nor increasing the number of pixels of its screen, makes a smartphone revolutionary; it is just a step forward in the inevitable, linear, evolutionary progress of any gadget.

Branding these moves as revolutionary is as ridiculous as describing elasticas the longest word in the English language.

By trumpeting about the vendor-specific ‘additions,’ which doesn’t enhance user experience by an iota of significance, simply adds statistics to the folklore of gimmickry.

Moreover, the claims – and counter-claims – over the theft of patents are becoming red-herrings to divert the technology-savvy users from the issue that really matters – the faintest light end of the tunnel about the arrival of a revolutionary smartphone, after a decade of its birth at the hands of great Steve Jobs.

Just before Mr Jobs left his mortal body towards the realm of the spirits, his sister had described the only word that he whispered in utter amazement at what he saw before his eyes in the distance - wow - happy.

We can only hope that he would not look back again on this planet from where he is now; because, the smartphone industry that he made such a huge contribution into, has done nothing since, for him to be proud of – in his name or any other name.

- Asian Tribune -

iPhone at 10: why do we miss its legendary visionary so badly?
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