1: The Dream of the Perfect Thing

The author suggests that "even Steve Jobs didn't know quite what he had" when it came to the iPhone. His presentation in 2007 billed the device as a combination phone, music player, and communications device. He underestimated the other capabilities of the device, and the ability of applications that make the device serve a myriad of purposes, including some truly unusual ones (a guitar tuner fro musicians, a method for soldiers to aim a mortar, a hand-held cash register and inventory control system, etc.) In may ways, the iPhone has become "the perfect device," a sort of Swiss-army knife for personal computing and communication needs.

Evidently, no-one else recognized it either. Their competitors and the industry press were entirely unimpressed, and even ridiculed the device's lack of capabilities and high price tag. When its value to consumers became clear, and consumers were happy to shell out the money and even wait in line to get one, the competition was caught flat-footed and , even now, are struggling to catch up.

The author returns to the notion of "apps" as the competitive advantage of the iPhone - the broad array of applications available to make the device useful for various purposes, as well as the ease of obtaining and installing software through Apple's "app store" greatly extended the features of the device, well beyond the simple functions of phone, music player, and Web browser that Jobs initially offered.

The Way of the Web

The author considers the evolution of the Internet, that it took five or ten years to gain a critical mass of users. Also, there's the notion that expectations of the Internet have always been higher than its capability to deliver: bandwidth, display capabilities, and back-end integration lagged behind what people wanted and expected of it.

The browser has, all along, been a "dumb" interface that merely reads and displays data. Various attempts to make the browser smarter, to have more client-side capabilities, have not been very successful. Netscape attempted to integrate e-mail and USENET services into its browser, but users continued to employ separate e-mail and news clients. And in spite of the progress that has been made, the browser has few bui8lt-in capabilities, except to access the data and resources available from remote systems.

The author pauses a moment to consider the influence of search engines. This has always been a critical feature of the Web, as the number of sites has exploded, and finding what is wanted is a critical issue, and it wasn't until search engines significantly improved that the Web found success outside of academic circles and computer enthusiasts.

The problem with the mobile platform, however, is there are few resources available for it to access. While it is possible for a mobile device's Web browser to access any Web sites, most are unusable on the mobile platform due to slow download speeds, a tiny display screen, and significantly reduced browser capabilities. The larger display screen and (almost) fully-functional browser made the iPhone far more useful than most.

A Business Model That Just Worked

What most differentiated Apple from other mobile providers is the array of applications that can run on the device to provide a wide array of functionality. Not only does this make the iPhone capable of "doing something" worthwhile, but it also gives the platform the capability to do things that can't be done on the Web.

The App Store is also a critical component. For most mobile phones, it is difficult to find third-party software (it exists, but is scattered about the Internet); for the iPhone, it's accessible via a store, from the device itself.

Stories of early success also helped fuel the development of applications. The example is given of Steven Demeter, who developed a simple game for the iPhone that he sold for $15 a copy, and made over $250,000 in two months. Six months later, a simple artillery game iShoot netted Demeter $600,000 in a single month. With news of this success, and others, hundreds of thousands of developers signed up to produce iPhone apps.

The Precedent of iTunes

The development of the App Store for the mobile platform was preceded by Apple's success in digital music players. Demand for MP3 players never blossomed, because purchasers of these devices were left on their own to find music to play on them - to "rip" their own CDs, or search the Internet to find files that others had ripped (with questions of legal use). While the tasks seem simple to individuals with a modicum of tech-savvy, it was daunting for most consumers.

Since a music player is useless without music files, Jobs sought to overcome this limitation for the iPod, by providing software that made it easy for consumers to find music, purchase it, download it, and load it onto their device. As a result, the iPod music player was a smashing success.

(EN: Some detail is given about the participation of record companies, who at first saw the Internet as unwanted competition and a threat to their ability to profit due to piracy, but they later found it worthwhile to collaborate. I omit this, as it doesn't seem to be germane to the mobile platform - though there is a parallel the author doesn't mention: there was little incentive for developers to spend time developing "shareware" applications because few people paid their requested prices, so the App Store has the same effect on their willingness to work when payment is more reliable.)