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Five years after debut, iPhone's influence is stronger than ever

Lex Friedman | July 2, 2012
It's hard to believe that the iPhone is five years old. In some ways, it feels like we've been enjoying (and writing and reading about) Apple's innovative multitouch device forever. At times, it can feel as though the iPhone--and the iOS that powers it--are awfully new, too.

The biggest innovation of all

Despite all that, the biggest idea that Apple's competitors needed to steal had been sitting there all along, predating the iPhone and the iPad. And yet it's only now that companies like Microsoft and Google are finally internalizing Apple's long-held belief that the key to building great products, as referenced above, is owning the entire product experience.

That's what Microsoft is doing with its upcoming Surface tablet. It's what Google is doing with the upcoming Nexus 7 tablet.

Those two behemoths (the companies, not the unproven tablets) are famous for--and have profited handsomely from--their software, not their hardware. But Google must be disappointed with the sorry state of tablets running its Android OS. And Microsoft similarly realized that remaining ever-beholden to third-parties to build the hardware to best exploit its software isa silly way of doing business and a lousy way to push the industry forward.

And these companies seem intent--wisely enough--on trying to copy each innovation Apple offers in the space: The App Store was a huge success, and so Microsoft and Google have App Stores, too. The Surface's clever keyboard covers are direct descendants of the iPad Smart Cover. And on it goes.

That's not to say that Apple doesn't borrow from its competitors too, but the features that Apple inherits for iOS--Notification Center, turn-by-turn directions--seem considerably more like polish; Google and Microsoft seem turn to the iPhone and iOS to figure out where to start.

Happy birthday

Clearly, Apple is delighted with the success it's had thanks to the iPhone. And Apple just as clearly sees its competitors' attempts to keep up as some form of flattery; the company that hoisted banners declaring "Redmond, start your photocopiers" is proud to be the standard-bearer.

That's in large part because while its competitors play catch up, Apple can keep innovating further ahead, to remain out in front.

So as the iPhone turns five, there are two things Apple fans should marvel at: How dramatically Apple changed the world in five years with its iPhone, and how much more impressive iOS devices will be five years from now.


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