updated 06:50 pm EDT, Wed June 29, 2011
iPhone passes 4th year with Android on top
Without fanfare from Apple, the iPhone on Wednesday marked its fourth anniversary. The company's first smartphone went on sale June 29, 2007 and was the official start to what would become iOS and arguably Apple's most important business. Apple sold just 273,000 devices that opening weekend on one carrier and one country but now ships almost as many every day to dozens of countries and has 200 million iOS devices on the market.
At the time, Apple had aimed to move 10 million iPhones in its first year and to claim one percent of the total phone market. It now has four times as much share and has outgrown many of the companies others had presumed would defeat it, including Motorola, Sony Ericsson, and most recently RIM. Nokia still outsells Apple for now but primarily blames the iPhone for pulling its market share down dramatically and forcing the company to ultimately switch to Windows Phone. Palm's collapse and selloff to HP has also been widely credited to Apple.
The iPhone has been credited with establishing the modern smartphone business model. Apple was one of the first to make a genuinely optimized, intuitive touchscreen phone. It also nearly single-handedly popularized mobile apps after several years of slow performance from Microsoft, Palm, and RIM. Most smartphones are now primarily touchscreen-driven, often having been forced to engineer complete overhauls of their interfaces to catch up, and have their own designer-run app stores.
Many credit Apple with upturning the cellular carrier model, particularly in the US. It was one of the first to deny carriers' requests to load unwanted apps and disable hardware features. Cellular data went from a niche feature at a premium price to a commonplace and more affordable, though still expensive, feature that is considered more important to many than voice.
Apple nonetheless no longer has the exact influence it did in early years. After Google switched Android from its initial BlackBerry-like design to focus on touch, largely in response to the iPhone, the company gained in popularity and exploded when the Motorola Droid reached Verizon in November 2009. With the iPhone not reaching Verizon until 2011, Android took off on the network largely uncontested and helped fuel a worldwide surge that, by many metrics, sees Android on top worldwide and in the US, albeit slowing down.
Unlike every other year, though, Apple doesn't have a new iPhone to mark the occasion. This year, it's expected to wait until September to make sure it can use iOS 5, one of the larger changes to the platform in the past four years.