Dear iPhone: It’s hard to believe we’re still together after 10 years, which is eons in the tech industry.
What’s the glue that keeps us together? For one, I rarely get lost now that I always have a GPS device in my pocket. After lots of practice with your camera, I’ve become a decent photographer. And I’m more punctual and responsive thanks to constant access to my calendar and email.
Since Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, the smartphone has become a close — if not the closest — digital pal for millions of people around the world. With more than 1.2 billion iPhones sold to date, it has also become one of the best-selling gadgets ever. And even though Apple’s phones typically cost several times more than rival handsets, the company is No. 2 in sales in the smartphone industry after Samsung Electronics.
“People spend hours on it every day, so they can justify paying more for what they believe to be the best device,” said Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, who has studied Apple for years and called the company’s positioning of the iPhone “unique.”
Yet the iPhone is now in a precarious position. Gone is the thrill of downloading yet another app. It isn’t as exciting anymore if the screens of the gadget get bigger or the device becomes thinner. And the middle age of the iPhone is reflected in its sales, which dipped for the first time last year. It doesn’t help that Apple also faces fierce competition, especially in markets like China and India where people are flocking to cheaper smartphones that are increasingly capable and attractive.
Many eyes are now on Apple’s 10th anniversary event for the iPhone, which is expected to be held next month. There, Apple is set to introduce major upgrades for the next iPhones, which could stoke our appetites again for the gadget. Or not.
Chief among the changes for the new iPhones: refreshed versions, including a premium model priced at around $999, according to people briefed on the product, who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Apple made room for a bigger screen on that model by reducing the size of the bezel — or the forehead and the chin — on the face of the device. Other new features include facial recognition for unlocking the device, along with the ability to charge it with magnetic induction, the people said.
Here’s a look back at the last 10 years of why the iPhone still has us in its grip — so much that people keep coming back for more.
Support at Apple Stores
The role of Apple stores in keeping people loyal to iPhones cannot be overstated. The Apple stores include the so-called Genius Bar for getting repairs, so when things go wrong with an iPhone, you can simply schedule a repair appointment at the nearest location.
The Genius Bar is a boon to average people who need occasional help with their tech. Getting support directly from Apple means you may have your problems resolved immediately, rather than having to bring the phone to a wireless carrier or mail the phone to a repair center and wait for it to return, like you typically have to do with phones made by other companies.
Security experts agree that the iPhone’s operating system is architecturally more secure than Android. The main reason is that Apple’s iOS can only run apps that Apple approved to be distributed in the App Store. By contrast, Android phones are capable of running software from outside of Google’s official app store, and apps from unauthorized sources are more likely to carry malware.
The trade-off for stronger security, of course, is flexibility. Android users are free to tinker with their devices using custom software, while iPhone customers can only use apps that play by Apple’s rules.
“The iPhone is still arguably the best phone for regular people who just want their device to work without having to worry about lots of technical settings or malware,” said Jan Dawson, an independent analyst for Jackdaw Research.
Software updates are another factor in security. Apple issues its own software updates, making it easy for iPhones to get the latest security enhancements. By contrast, Android device makers have to coordinate software updates with carriers, making the process more complicated and time consuming.
High Privacy Standards
For the last few years, Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, has emphasized the company’s commitment to privacy. Apple, he said, derives most of its profit from sales of hardware, not trading your user data. To further prove his point, Apple engaged in a major legal battlelast year with the F.B.I., resisting the agency’s request to weaken iPhone encryption for a criminal investigation.
Some critics have poked holes in Apple’s privacy commitment. For one, the company collects plenty of data about how people use technology, including information that can be used for marketing and advertising services.
Still, privacy advocates, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Electronic Privacy Information Center, have praised Apple for making efforts to protect consumer privacy with features like built-in encryption and browsing technologies that block advertising trackers.
Apple’s Tight Ecosystem
IPhones work well with other Apple devices like Macs and the Apple TV. Once you invest in other Apple products, it’s tough to leave the ecosystem. The Apple Watch makes it especially tough: It requires an iPhone to work properly. So if you were to switch to Android, prepare for your smart watch to transform into a dumb watch.
Less sticky is Apple’s ecosystem of apps and web services. For every major Apple app, including Apple Maps, Apple Music and Apple Photos, there are alternatives like Google Maps, Spotify and Google Photos. It’s difficult to resist using iMessage, Apple’s default text messaging service. But there are plenty of alternatives like WeChat, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Signal.
A Trusted Brand
The iPhone has become a brand associated with reliability and satisfaction. A survey conducted last December by the research firm 451 Research found that among smartphone owners, iPhone customers were the most satisfied, followed by owners of devices from Samsung, Motorola and LG.
Mr. Sacconaghi of Sanford C. Bernstein said Apple had created a “brand halo” for the iPhone by positioning it as a premium product with easy-to-use software and high-quality features, components and capabilities.
Notably, among current iPhone customers surveyed by 451 Research, 91 percent of those who planned on buying a new smartphone in the near future said they intended to buy another iPhone.