3 Years on: The iPhone was the Ironclad of Mobile Phones
Tomorrow, on the 9th, it's three years since the announcement of the iPhone. In that short space of time, and as Apple promised back then, Apple has reinvented the phone.
The iPhone has proven to be the 'Ironclad' of mobile phones. Everything that went before was obsolete overnight, both smartphones and dumb phones included. No prior phone could compete with the experience and the abilities of the iPhone. Sure, some phones were superior in very specific regards — especially on cost and call quality — just as very early Ironclad warships were not always the most sea worthy vessels. But overall, nothing existing could go toe-to-toe with the iPhone.
Other manufacturers saw this fast and reacted. Just like with the warships of the latter part of the 19th century the pace of innovation since, both from other manufacturers and from across the whole mobile ecosystem, has been ferocious. This week at CES we've seen numerous competing high end mobile phone launches that demonstrate that the pace of innovation in mobile is accelerating, rather than slowing.
Consumers use this new breed of high end phones in completely different ways to older 'smartphones' or dumb phones (we have consumer data on this, clients please ask!). This is especially true in Europe where consumer ownership of Nokia's Symbian Series 60 handsets is so great.
What does this mean for the 'smartphone' category? Well, as I wrote in the preamble to my 'Long Live Smart Phones and Smart Gadgets' report last year, the term 'smartphone' is dead and is no longer useful (read the report for more on this). Today's high end phones are so different from the pre-Ironclad / pre-iPhone era it's that it's not useful to bracket them in a single category with older model designs that consumers don't use in anything like the same way.
We need a new word for this new breed of phones. I proposed 'Internet phone' last year. Others have made other suggestions: Google this week introduced the Nexus One as a 'superphone' and pitched it as 'web meets phone'; NYT's David Pogue proposed 'app phone'; Nokia has talked about the PC-centric abilities of its new Maemo phone as it has consigned its use of 'smartphone' to its older Series 60 Symbian line that's being re-positioned for the mid-range (officially confirmed by Symbian: it will be a smartphone for the masses according to Symbian. This was interestingly unnoticed by most, as Symbian chose to publish on the day before Christmas). Or, do we simply accept that what constitutes a smartphone has fundamentally changed and move on?
Thoughts on the name? Do we need a new term? If so, please add your suggestion for a new term to describe this new generation of phones below in the comments. If not, I'd love to hear why you think that.