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.


re: 3 Years on: The iPhone was the Ironclad of Mobile Phones

When a SmartPhone can also dock with large display and keyboard plus connect to a Virtual Desktop in the Cloud, that will be the NirvanaPhone. We did survey of over 4,000 respondents and 71% said they want to be able to leave the laptop home.


re: 3 Years on: The iPhone was the Ironclad of Mobile Phones


re: 3 Years on: The iPhone was the Ironclad of Mobile Phones

In my perception the iPhone is not primarily being used as a phone. Sure it also does do that job - and imho it does it exceptionally well. But most people - including myself - use it much more to twitter, to google, to manage facebook, to entertain themselves with games or music and videos on the go, to manage their ideas and projects, do mobile banking, convert currencies, edit documents, manage cloud storage, even to remote control their home computer - whatever...

Hence I see "the iPhone thing" more as the ubiquitous management device for my digital life and personal productivity. Oh right - and in that context it is extremely practical that I can do conventional phone calls with it, too.

(So, when Google now steps up with the Nexus to widen the "iPhone phenomenon" to a whole "category" of products (since then there are two (hoho!!) more or less iPhone-like things), I agree that we need a category name.)

And my suggestion for this product category is:
The "Great Ubiquitously Usable Universial Things" = the GUUUT

(in German "gut" means "good" and guuut sounds very very satisfied, which most people clearly are with their iPhone-like-things, ah with their GUUUTs...)

re: 3 Years on: The iPhone was the Ironclad of Mobile Phones

I think eventually, they will just be called a "phone" again because "smart" will be the norm.

re: 3 Years on: The iPhone was the Ironclad of Mobile Phones

The term 'iPhone' perfectly describes this new class of gadgetry - or would were it not already under Cupertino lock and key. Evidence of Steve Jobs' clarity of foresight.

I'm not 100% convinced we need a new term - how would we define this new type of gadget? What basic feature-set must it have to qualify? How do we judge whether its UI is 'next-gen' enough? Tricky. As for Google's attempt at rebranding - 'superphone' - it sounds like the product of an over-excited marketing meeting. Consumers are pretty tired of manufactured buzzwords.

Still, with tongue in cheek, here are some alternative terms to consider:

AI-phone [after iPhone-phone]
i-phone [doubt that would get past Apple's lawyers]
Phone-i [pronounced phone-y]
Phone 2.0
Phone2 [ie squared]
God phone

re: 3 Years on: The iPhone was the Ironclad of Mobile Phones

Totally agree with your points, Ian.

I think I know why we've got a block coming up with a name that resonates. Perhaps the solution lies not in coming up with a better name as in the 'blankety-blank phone.' These are all "horseless carriage" type names.

Maybe we need an entirely new name something entirely different, like the term "Automobile" replaced the above moniker.

Or, maybe it's something as basic more widely embracing the term "hand-held," and continuing the vein of "laptop?"

Then again, GUUUT does kind of grow on you...

re: 3 Years on: The iPhone was the Ironclad of Mobile Phones

Hi Ian

You seem to be suggesting that the Symbian OS will somehow be downgraded to the mid-range. I think you will find that Nokia imlementations of Symbian will be highly capable and will be true superphones or computer-centric phones. The point is this class of phone - like the PC and laptop - should NOT be regarded as "elite" anymore than your windows driven desktop is a super PC. The smartphone belongs to the masses and I am sure will soon be called the phone, once more, just like the PC is called the PC. What might be more problematic for how you categorise phones is the generation of niche phones that may emerge based on capabilities like, for example voice recognition or social mapping platforms.

re: 3 Years on: The iPhone was the Ironclad of Mobile Phones

Meh. We had something called TV in 1950. We still have something called TV today. In fact, I too was at CES, and saw many of these so-called TVs. However, I note that what the CE vendors were calling TVs in Las Vegas were <15cm thick, 52 inches diagonally, had widgets, streamed Internet content, and had 3D functionality. This is not the same box my Grandpapa bought in 1952.

I could say the same of automobiles, stoves, movies, and others.

Basically, my point is, a smartphone in 2002 was a different thing than a smartphone in 2008. Everyone should expect it thus. The term still works, since the "smart" is relative to other phones of the same era.