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Good Call! 'Fad phone' going strong 10 years on

By Mark Andrews | Stafford | News | Published:

For a product that was supposed to revolutionise the way we used our phones, it wasn't what you would call a ringing endorsement.

"That virtual keyboard will be about as useful for tapping out emails and text messages as a rotary phone," wrote the influential technology website TechCrunch.

"Don’t be surprised if a sizeable contingent of iPhone buyers express some remorse at ditching their BlackBerry when they spend an extra hour each day pumping out emails on the road."

Steve Ballmer, the chief executive of Apple's main rival Microsoft, laughed when he was asked if the new phone would be a threat to his products.

"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share," he said, suggesting its high price and lack of a conventional keyboard meant it would only ever be a niche product.

Technology columnist John Dvorak was even more dismissive, suggesting it would be out of date within three months.

It is 10 years today since the first iPhone went on sale, and it is fair to say one or two people have been forced to eat their words. But it is perhaps understandable that people were a little sceptical about a product which cost 10 times as much as the average pay-as-you-go mobile, which didn't have a keyboard and could not make use of the latest 3G phone network.

Commentators warned that Apple, then under the leadership of its founder, the late Steve Jobs, was entering into a notoriously cut-throat market: one where profit margins were low, and that was subject to the fickle whims of fashion. While Apple's iPod may have cornered the market for pocket MP3 players, there were serious doubts about whether it could conquer a market dominated by BlackBerry at the business end, and Nokia on the consumer side.

Such fears proved to be unfounded, and Apple has sold more than a billion iPhones over the past decade. And 10 years on, it continues to set the benchmark for mobile phone design.

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"It's still the brand leader," says Geoffrey Booth, who runs the Get Connected mobile phone shop in Bridgnorth. "Samsung is now hot on their heels, but the iPhone is probably the most popular. It's a bit like a Ferrari. We all want one, but not everyone can afford one."

Mr Booth, who has owned an iPhone himself for about six years, admits that during the early days he shared some of the critics' scepticism about how long it would be around.

"I thought it was a bit of a fad, I thought it wouldn't be around for long, but when I got one I have to say it has changed my life."

He says the reason why it has remained at the top of the market for so long is largely down to its intuitive design.

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"It was the first ever smartphone, so it had a head-start over the others, but the real advantage is that it is so simple, it is really user-friendly. It is also very stylish."

And the cutting-edge design of the device, which has now become synonymous with the smartphone in the same way that Hoover is with the vacuum cleaner and Coca-Cola is with sweet, sugary drinks, is largely down to a former West Midland schoolboy. Jony – now Sir Jonathan – Ive, who grew up in Stafford, is credited with helping to transform Apple from a fading corporation selling drab, out-dated products, to the world’s biggest technology company, pumping out the slickest, most cutting edge of designs.

By the time the iPhone arrived in 2007, Ive had already transformed the way young people listen to their music with the iPod, which instantly became the MP3 player of choice for the hip crowd. However, it was the iPhone which would have the biggest impact on the company's fortunes, and three years later he came up with another design which would become the gold standard in its field – the iPad tablet computer.

Ive's talent for design led to commentator Stephen Bayley rating him as the most valuable living Englishman, with a talent far eclipsing that of Wayne Rooney or Colin Firth.

Those who were at Stafford’s Walton High School in the 1980s have clear memories about a young man who, even then, showed an amazing flair for design.

Shortly after the release of the iPad, Ive's old technology teacher Dave Whiting remembered how the youngster’s work would sometimes defy belief.

“He didn’t learn from me, I was learning from him,” he said.

“Some of the stuff he used to produce, you couldn’t believe he had done it himself. He invented this portable overhead projector, which you couldn’t get in those days. We entered it in the Young Designer of the Year, and it came second. We put the lens in the wrong way round, and it didn’t work very well. That’s the reason; otherwise it would’ve won.”

Industry experts say it is Ive’s amazing attention to detail his fastidious eye, which has made him the outstanding talent in his field. When his boss, Steve Jobs, asked him in the late 1990s to create colourful, cheap cathode-ray-tube computers, he is said to have spent hours in a sweet factory to get ideas for the colours. The design would become the iMac, and its bright colour scheme made it an instant success, telling the world that it was not just another dull work tool, but that it could be fun, too.

The original iPhone went on sale in the US on June 29, 2007, but didn't reach these shores until the following November, when excited customers queued at night to become the first to get their hands on the new device.

Regular updates have kept the iPhone ahead of the competition, although it hasn't all been plain sailing. Apple tried to counter claims that the iPhone was too expensive with the launch of the cheaper iPhone 5C in 2013, but it never achieved anything like the sales of the more expensive iPhone 5S. While some branded the 5C a flop, others pointed out that it comfortably outsold its rival from BlackBerry, and succeeded in the aim of attracting customers who might not otherwise buy an iPhone.

Apple will mark the 10th anniversary of the iPhone in the autumn, with the launch of the iPhone 8, with the latest version expected to feature a larger 5.8in screen, glass body, and edge-to-edge display with integrated ID fingerprint sensor and front-facing camera. It will also feature a faster processor and wireless charging. One suspects there will be no shortage of new customers.

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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