2017 marks the tenth year since the iPhone launched and in that time, much has changed. Let’s take a closer look at three key areas in its development: the evolution of wireless networks, changing consumer behaviour, and how the iPhone’s design has changed.
Over the past decade the iPhone has morphed into a 4G LTE capable, large-screened communications and entertainment device that has access to millions of apps and streaming services. But when it launched back in 2007, it was only able to access 2G networks, lagging behind some of its competition. This was considered especially odd at the time as 3G had already been around for several years in the UK and the US. So, looking back, what has changed that has caused the world’s favourite phone to change so drastically?
Networks: The iPhone was never ahead of the curve when it came to connectivity. The omission of 3G in its first iteration due to Apple’s concerns over available coverage and 3G power requirements was noticeable but with the growth of 3G networks these were the first points to be rectified. It wasn’t until the introduction of the iPhone 5 in late 2012 that the handset fully supported 4G LTE connectivity. Following that, in September 2015, users could enjoy for the first time the benefits of 4G+ (LTE-A) with the iPhone 6 model family.
The iPhone has not always been the first to adopt new technologies, partly because of competing standards when new wireless technologies are announced. For example, in the US Sprint launched a WiMAX network, which also provided ‘4G level’ speeds over a different technology. Their plan was to get the jump on other operators by offering a higher speed data network first (before the other operators rolled out their 4G LTE networks). Unfortunately for Sprint, this particular technological battle went the way of HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray with 4G LTE technology becoming the technology of choice globally.
It therefore stands to reason that we may not see a 5G based iPhone for some time as network vendors like Huawei and Ericsson are just beginning to conduct trials of their 5G related technologies. Apple will likely abstain from the 5G debate until it is sure which technology and corresponding standards will be adopted.
Consumer Behaviour: The second major influence over the evolution of the iPhone has been the natural change in consumer behaviour throughout its lifespan. When the first iPhone launched, consumers were accessing the majority of their content through a browser. At that time, when out and about, the main reason users wanted their phones was to call, text, check emails and take pictures.
As 3G network speeds increased and evolved into HSPA, consumers became more open to streaming content not only over a WiFi connection, but also over their mobile network connection. Netflix’s overall dominance of TV and video on demand services took a big leap in 2013, a year or so after 4G networks were first introduced (depending on whether you are in the UK or the US). Today many consumers will still download an episode to watch on-the-go; however, LTE network speeds have increased by such an extent that the concept of streaming while on-the-go is now commonplace (think about it – real-time entertainment apps, such as Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and Spotify, make up 40% of all mobile online traffic during peak times).
Hardware: The iPhone’s design has developed slowly over time, however since the introduction of the iPhone 4S, the screen size of the handset has increased quite a bit. As network speeds have increased and consumer behaviour has changed, the devices we use have also had to adapt to give users a better media viewing experience. Ultimately, while consumers wait for the rollout of 5G, more can be done by operators to expand uninterrupted 4G connectivity and add new, enhanced 4G network features, so that iPhone users and others can enjoy the content they love, wherever they choose to view it.