A lot of tech blogs have been linking to videos of Apple’s 2007 keynote, during which the iPhone was revealed. It’s worth watching it if you’ve time, not only to see one of the finest Steve Jobs keynotes (he was in great form that day), but also to remind yourself of just what happened in 2007.
People easily forget. We take for granted what has already been invented, and we consider smart, intuitive, sleek solutions the ‘obvious’ way. This, it’s argued, is now the way things have to be—there is no other way. At least, that’s the argument put forward by many of the current slew of companies watching everything Apple does, and then scrambling to copy it as quickly as possible. Smartphones, tablets, so-called ‘ultrabooks’ and even the Apple TV (hardly a massive success for Apple) have all been mercilessly ripped off in recent years. (For some particularly blatant examples, check Inspired by Apple.)
Now watch that keynote. Remember what smartphones were like in 2007, and how annoying and fiddly they were to use. It’s telling when you watch the various Jobs reveals; the audience gasps in astonishment and is genuinely thrilled by the iPhone’s various gestures, such as slide-to-unlock and pinch-zoom. This isn’t the usual ‘Steve said something so we must cheer’ that often went on at Apple events—this is genuine excitement at something new, something different, and something revolutionary.
But we forget. Multitouch is obvious. Pinch-zoom is obvious. Slide-to-unlock is obvious. The manner in which Apple designed its iPhone, its iPad, and even iOS itself? Obvious. Then why didn’t anyone else do this stuff first? Why did it take Apple’s iPhone to kickstart a smartphone and tablet revolution? If the slew of cloners out there all argue Apple didn’t really invent anything new, why didn’t they have iPhone- and iPad-like devices in the market before Apple? Why did Google’s Android rather rapidly shift from being a BlackBerry to an iPhone if the iPhone was so obvious?
The only obvious things for me here are that people need to think a little more before dismissing out of hand Apple’s current anger at practically every other major tech company effectively lifting its designs and ideas and reselling them, and that its rivals—with a few exceptions—need to learn to iterate and innovate, rather than just getting out their photocopiers yet again.