Opinion: Five Years

2012 marks the five year anniversary of both the release and announcement of the original iPhone and the OS that powered it. At the time, Steve Jobs went on the record saying that the iPhone OS (later renamed to iOS) is “five years ahead” of any of its competitors. At the time, it seemed impossible–how could that be the case, in a world of technology that moves so quickly? Certainly it had holes (complete lack of apps in the beginning, multitasking, and no notifications all come to mind for earlier versions of the operating system), and most expected other platforms to exploit those openings and create a superior alternative.

Instead of that happening, Apple consistently updated their OS, adding features and plugging holes the entire way. And now, with iOS 5 and the iPhone 4S, Apple has created a platform that is both accessible and easy to use, but one that also is powerful when used to its full extent. Until October of last year, I’d say that it was the only way to go; after all, iOS and the iPhone was just the best software coupled with the best hardware. I saw it. The ease of use, and the downright sleek hardware combine to make a stellar package outperformed every other device yet created.

But I did say until October. And what happened in October? Google announced Android 4, Ice Cream Sandwich–the first version of their smartphone and tablet OS to be designed by Matias Duarte, the man behind the brilliant UI of webOS. Android 4 shows it, too: transitions are present but not overdone, icons look designed in ways that Android has never had, a cohesive UI exists(!), and the “just hire a UI/UX designer” moments hidden throughout previous versions of Android have disappeared.

It’s still Android, but it’s not this Android. It’s this one. Smart, but kind; cool, yet useful.

There are places that Apple’s iPhone still has the edge (the experience of Mobile Safari, for example), but they are few and are generally based on personal preferences.

So the question is this: what does Apple do, now that Android (and, I suppose, Windows Phone 7) are closing the gap in terms of usability and polish even faster than ever before?

I don’t know. And frankly, nobody but those inside Apple do either.

I do believe that it would be foolish for Jobs to state such a hard date (“five years ahead”) and not have some plan in place for when that time actually arrived. I think there’s a chance that their rumored TV play could be the final piece of the puzzle, creating not just a virtual Apple ecosystem, but a physical one were devices could easily throw data and media to each other regardless of your location. That would be compelling, but would also have require a customer to plunk down a lot of cash (think iPad, iPhone/iPod touch, a TV or box, and possibly a Mac) to take full advantage of the system put in place.

So again, I don’t know what is going to happen this year. In the world of Apple (and tech in general) predictions are for those who enjoy being wrong. Just ask analysts. But I do expect it to be big. Perhaps even as big as 2007, which is to say a groundbreaking year in consumer electronics, likely spearheaded by Apple. And just as well, because after the death of Steve, all eyes are on them to see if they can keep the beat going.

Post a response / What do you think?