A famous quote from Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky reads, "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been." In designing the original iPhone, you might say that Apple took this line of thinking to heart. Indeed, Steve Jobs once referenced the aforementioned Gretzky quote in reference to the company's approach to developing new products. And when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time, it was clear that Apple completely re-imagined the very notion of what a smartphone is and could be.
Five years ago, Apple released the original iPhone and it's not an overstatement to say that the device fundamentally changed the way the world interacts with technology. Now, the original iPhone admittedly didn't come with every feature right out of the box - GPS and copy and paste come to mind - but there's no question that the iPhone revolutionized the smartphone industry and injected a much needed breath of fresh air into a market that was largely stagnant.
As is typically the case, the original iPhone launch brought along with it a number of tech pundits who were quick to lambast Apple's foray into the smartphone market. For a variety of reasons, pundits were adamant that the iPhone, at worst, was bound to fail or become a niche product at best. But almost comically, many of the features that the original iPhone was overwhelmingly criticized for have now, to a large degree, become standardized on many of today's more popular smartphones. Further, one can make an overwhelmingly strong case arguing that the design principles that went into the iPhone, going all the way back to the original, have helped form the blueprint for what has since become the modern day smartphone.
The virtual keyboard
Back in 2007, the smartphone market was dominated by companies like RIM who made money hand over fist by selling smartphones with physical qwerty keyboards. Apple went about things much differently and completely abandoned a physical keyboard in favor of a virtual keyboard. This didn't sit well with everybody and was, in fact, one of the main reasons why tech pundits predicted the device would fail.
"People need tactile feedback," they argued.
"People will never be able to efficiently type on a glass screen," they predicted.
Five years and over 300 million iOS device sales later, it's safe to say that the virtual keyboard is here to stay. The reality is that most people are gladly willing to sacrifice a physical keyboard in exchange for a sleek device with a large display.
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For quite a while, many companies tried to outflank the iPhone by releasing devices with pull-out keyboards. Indeed, this feature was often positioned as a key selling point and differentiator from the iPhone. And while these devices sold quite well for a while, there now seems to be a growing trend wherein manufacturers are ditching the physical keyboard in favor of a virtual keyboard exclusively.
To wit, the immensely popular Samsung Galaxy S II did not have a physical keyboard, save for its AT&T variant. And the highly anticipated Samsung Galaxy S III does not sport a keyboard either. So while Android handsets with physical keyboards remain plentiful, top of the line Androids such as the HTC One X are increasingly shipping with nothing more than a virtual keyboard.
Also noteable is that even previously successful Android handsets with physical keyboards - such as the once popular Motorola Droid devices - have fallen by the wayside. Now, granted, there will always be room for keyboard-equipped smartphones, but when you look at the most popular non-Apple smartphones on the market, the trend is increasingly moving towards virtual keyboards. The design decision Apple made years ago is slowly but surely becoming the standard amongst premium smartphones.
The prevalence of multitouch smartphones is a more obvious example of Apple's influence on the smartphone market. While multitouch technology had existed for years prior to the iPhone, Apple was responsible for ushering the technology into the mainstream. Today, you'd be hard pressed to find a smartphone worth its salt without a multitouch display.
As a quick aside, for a while it seemed that the iPhone had all but killed the stylus, but with the recent success of the Samsung Galaxy Note, it seems that there still might be a bit of life for the input device people love to hate.
But overall, Apple's implementation of multitouch technology as the primary, if not exclusive, means of input has also become the standard amongst the majority of smartphones.