Author(s): Raghu Gopal
It's almost hard to imagine a time when the iPhone didn't exist. The device has become a part of the developed markets' lexicon as well as the economy, and has altered user behaviour and expectations.
In 2007, the mobile market looked very different. There was no Android, no LTE and no app economy. But there was a market for smartphones, and for the top suppliers at the time it didn't seem like Apple had much of a chance of challenging their dominant position.
Out of the gate, when sales began in June of 2007, the iPhone was exclusive to AT&T. Lines formed, sleeping bags littered sidewalks and extra security had to be brought in to control the crowds. Something was going on.
The top smartphone competitors at the time were Nokia, which controlled about half of the global market; BlackBerry (then Research in Motion), which was establishing its customers beyond enterprise users; and HTC, which made the first Windows and Android phones.
The original iPhone wasn't a smartphone at all. It wasn't running an open platform and there were no third-party developers. Multitouch input excited the crowds. It was a technology that went from a TED conference into a little hand-held. The two-fingered pinch-to-zoom motion was to become a part of people's muscle memory in many countries.
That the market today is completely different should serve as a warning for the next 10 years. A few of the major players from a decade ago are not even in the business today. Nokia sold off its mobile unit to Microsoft five years ago — although the Nokia smartphone brand recently made a comeback through a licensing deal with HMD global; BlackBerry recently left the hardware business to manufacturer partnerships; and Motorola has been shifted around several times between major companies. These names do still exist, but with almost no relation to their mobile phone origins.
Apple sold 3.7 million smartphones in its debut year. Last year, Apple sold over 230 million iPhones worldwide. It's become an aspirational product for consumers in most countries. Steve Jobs saw that mobility was about to become the next big thing, potentially disrupting the market for both Mac computers and iPods.
About 100 million smartphones were sold globally in 2007. In 2017, we expect the market to be over 1.5 billion units and in most developed countries including China, the smartphone penetration rate is more than 80 percent. Those who said a decade ago that the smartphone would be the next big thing had it right. But this brings us to the present: what is the next big thing? What will be everywhere in 10 years?
At this year's CES event, cars were driving on their own, robots walked the halls, and home appliances became smarter than ever. And all were enabled by voice-controlled intelligent platforms. If smartphones connected people during the past 10 years, artificial intelligence is becoming the connecting tissue of all things now.
In the year 2027, perhaps we'll look back and wonder how we got by without being able to talk to our appliances. As the massive number of connected devices combine with powerful machine learning technologies backed by mounds of user data stored in the cloud, artificial logic will be a natural expectation just like ubiquitous connectivity, thanks to Apple and other visionary companies.