The iPhone is known as the most successful consumer-electronic device in history. Not only did it revolutionize the market, but it also changed the way people interact with data and each other.
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When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, it was meant to be a crossroads between communication, technology, and design. After a few years of ramping up the supply chain and gaining popularity, the iPhone began to dominate the smartphone market.
Since the iPhone 4, no other device line has penetrated the market in the same way. Despite concerns from analysts that Apple was becoming too reliant on the iPhone, the company pivoted to services and software sales that fed off the increasing install base.
Having one central device act as a magnet to other portions of a company's business has been referred to as the "halo effect," and this phenomenon plays a vital role in the Apple ecosystem.
The basic slab-of-glass-and-aluminum design hasn't changed much over the lifetime of the iPhone. Interaction paradigms have shifted, and Apple has moved from Touch ID to Face ID, but overall the concept of a piece of glass displaying relevant information has remained constant.
Apple developed specialized software specifically for the iPhone and touch interfaces called iOS. The operating system shares many elements with its macOS cousin but focuses on a touch-only interface. As of iOS 13, Apple branched the OS into two distinct forks, iOS and iPadOS, to address hardware-specific features more directly.
Apple announced iOS 15 in June 2021 and it launched later that fall.
The App Store operates as the sole storefront for software on iOS devices. Apple does not allow users to side-load apps from the web or use other app stores on iOS.
Many anti-trust investigations surrounding the App Store and how business is conducted have shown no evidence of a rigged system or monopoly. Even so, some companies like Microsoft or third-party developers still call for investigations into Apple's business practices.
All apps and subscriptions sold in the App Store are subject to a 30% service fee on Apple Platforms. Subscriptions that retain a subscriber for over a year are only charged 15%.
Apple pre-loads every iPhone sold with several default apps, and they are all first-party apps. Once users finish the on-boarding process on a new iPhone, they can go to the App Store and download free and paid apps via their Apple ID.
App updates are free, but some features may be locked behind paywalls called in-app-purchases or IAP. Some apps choose to charge a subscription fee instead of IAP, which will unlock features once a user subscribes.
The App Store makes the majority of the profits in the mobile app market despite having a smaller user base than Google Play.
The smartphone camera was a relatively new concept when the iPhone was released in 2007. Since then, Apple has used its expertise in tying hardware and software together to produce industry-leading mobile photography engines that fit in your pocket.
For example, continuous 4K HDR video recording from all the cameras on your phone, including the front-facing camera, is still not available across most of Apple's competitors. This is accomplished through the Neural Engine and machine learning algorithms that power the custom Apple Silicon running on iPhone.
Apple releases new photography-focused features with each new hardware or OS release, as consumers have shown that to be a high priority for new-device purchases.
The iPhone will capture 1.5 seconds of video before and after the camera shutter is pressed. This produces a playable video with sound to show off the events surrounding the image capture. When editing Live photos, users can select which frame is shown as the still, and all edits made to the still photo are applied to the entire Live Photo.
Swiping up on a live photo within the Photos app will let users change the still image into a looping GIF or a long exposure. These changes show up as live tiles within the day-view of the Photos app.
When using Portrait mode, the iPhone will utilize multiple cameras to determine the depth map of what is being photographed, then produce a simulated bokeh effect live on the screen. The iPhone SE has only one camera but still takes portrait mode photos using algorithms to determine the borders of objects, which is capable of detecting even fine hair for use in the image.
A feature introduced in iOS 13 called Quick Take lets users quickly start recording a video when using the Camera app. While in the camera section of the Camera app, holding down the shutter button will begin recording in 1080p video. This is much faster than switching to the video mode if you're already snapping photos.
Apple's Neural Engine can capture multiple exposures of a single scene and stitch it together into a fully exposed image. This is called Night Mode, and it occurs exclusively from every other camera operation. Bright scenes use HDR, medium scenes use standard exposure, and darker scenes default to Night Mode.
When Night Mode is active, users can adjust the exposure time to multiple seconds, and the available time extends if the iPhone is used on a tripod. Capturing nearly pitch-black scenes or night skies is now easily done without technical skill. The resulting image will be exposed so it still appears to be a nighttime or dark photo, which is an alternate approach to Apple's competitors.
The iPhone 12 Pro series added Night Mode portraits, and the entire iPhone 12 series supported Night Mode selfies, which carries over into newer models.
This enigmatic feature was announced as a part of the iPhone 11 release in 2019. It couldn't be controlled or selected by the user, and there is no setting anywhere in the OS for enabling it. The feature does not work with "capture outside the frame" enabled.
The Neural Engine observes a still subject in medium lighting when the shutter is clicked, and automatically switches to multiple exposures. When this happens, the iPhone will capture nine different images, with the one on the shutter press acting as the anchor image.
The neural engine and machine learning algorithms then break all nine images down pixel by pixel and "decide" which pixel will remain in the final composite image. This results in a photo created by machine learning rather than based on what was captured by the sensor.
A Deep Fusion photo will contain a higher amount of detail, color and shadow accuracy, and exposure when compared to images captured without the process. The feature is designed to be completely invisible, and users will not know if it has occurred or not without specialized software that searches metadata within the photo.
Super Retina XDR with ProMotion (iPhone 13 Pro series)
- Used on the iPhone Pro models
- All-Screen OLED
- 460 ppi (iPhone 13 Pro) or 458 ppi (iPhone 13 Pro Max)
- 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio
- 120Hz variable refresh
- True Tone
- P3 Color
- 1000 nits of brightness
Super Retina XDR (iPhone 13 series)
- Used on the iPhone Pro models
- All-Screen OLED
- 460 ppi (iPhone 13) or 476 ppi (iPhone 13 mini)
- 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio
- True Tone
- P3 Color
- 800 nits of brightness
The iPhone 11 and iPhone XR use a Liquid Retina HD Display that is a LED with lower pixel density (326 ppi) and contrast ratio (1,400:1). The iPhone SE and older Touch ID-based iPhones use a screen called the Retina HD display, and it has the same specs as the Liquid Retina HD display but is a wide-screen display.
Security and Privacy
Any iOS device you buy comes fully encrypted by default. When setting up the device for the first time, Apple prompts users to secure their iPhone with a passcode or passphrase, then locks the device with biometrics.
Biometric data is end-to-end encrypted and stored within the Secure Enclave on device. The actual biometric information is discarded. Instead, a mathematical representation of the data is stored in the Secure Enclave for comparison at each prompt.
Apple says privacy is a fundamental human right and it designs its products with that in mind.
The sensor array at the top of the iPhone contains infrared scanning technology that will collect depth and image data of the face being scanned every time Face ID is used. Machine learning algorithms also look for a "live" subject with eyes open and looking at the camera to prevent 3D models from fooling the technology.
The infrared scanner sprays the target with 30,000 dots to gather the face data. The eyes, nose, and mouth must be visible for the system to recognize the face. This has been complicated due to COVID-19 as masks mandates continue. An iOS update added a prompt for the user to enter a passcode if a mask is detected.
Apple stated that Face ID is much more secure than Touch ID, and there is a 1 million to 1 chance of a random stranger unlocking your phone. Identical twins are the only exception, and Apple is looking to eliminate this anomaly through more advanced scanning technology.
The Home Button on the iPhone acted as an iconic part of the device for its first ten years of existence, until the iPhone X removed it in favor of a full-screen display. The iPhone 5S introduced Touch ID to the Home Button, which would scan for a fingerprint by taking a high-resolution image of the finger presented to compare to what is stored on the Secure Enclave.
The steel ring surrounding the Touch ID button would complete an electrical circuit with the user's finger— a fake finger or deceased person could not unlock the phone. The introduction of Touch ID brought secure encryption to the masses and still exists on some iPads and the iPhone SE today.
Some reports from Ming-Chi Kuo have suggested a future iPhone may have Face ID and in-screen Touch ID to be used in tandem.
Apple builds its custom processors for the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, and now even the Mac. By developing its chipsets, Apple can customize its software to work directly with the hardware in a way that competitors cannot imitate.
The A15 Bionic is a custom Apple Silicon processor that uses the 5-nanometer process. It features a 50% faster CPU and GPU than other manufacturers' smartphone chips and has over 15 billion transistors.
Apple claims the A15 has a CPU that's 50% faster than its nearest competition, with 30% more GPU performance.
Apple's Neural Engine drives everything related to machine learning and gives the chipset its "Bionic" name. The A15's Neural Engine uses a 16-core processor that is faster than ever before, and capable of performing over 15.8 trillion operations per second. The Neural Engine is responsible for everything from machine learning to photography when using the iPhone.
The iPhone has used the Lightning port and cable since it debuted in the iPhone 5. Apple had always shipped its iPhones with a single Lightning cable and 5W adapter until the iPhone 11 Pro, which it shipped an 18W adapter.
The iPhone 12 did not ship with any power adapter or headphones, a move beneficial to the environment and for Apple, due to lower costs. This means the box is much smaller, so not only is plastic and rare metal use reduced, shipping weight and size is also reduced. This is the equivalent of removing 400,000 vehicles from the road.
While the iPhone 13 was rumored to be "portless," the actual release continued to use a Lightning port as usual. Apple continued to ship the iPhone 13 without earphones or a charger.
Entire industries exist to provide accessories to the iPhone user base of over 1.5 billion users. Apple offers a few first-party accessories built to provide unique experiences, but third-party manufacturers provide the overwhelming majority of accessories made.
Made For iPhone Program (MFi)
Apple lets companies license proprietary hardware for their products so they can produce accessories that work directly with iPhone and Apple technologies.
- Authentication coprocessors
- Headset Remote and Mic
- Audio Module
- Lightning Analog Headset Module
- Lightning to Headset Jack Adapter Module
- Lightning connectors and receptacles
- Magnetic Charging Module
- Smart Connector
Apple makes leather and silicone cases for the iPhone and changes out the options and colors available on a seasonal basis. Third-party companies exist by the dozen that build custom cases to personalize user's iPhones.
While cases usually exist to provide protection and add some personality to a device, many features, and technology that otherwise do not exist within the iPhone. For example, Lifeproof makes a case that can be fully submerged for underwater video or photography.
There are a wide variety of specialized cases available that include infrared scanners, microphones, game controllers, and modular camera lens mounts. There is even a first-party Apple Smart Battery Case that adds additional battery life with a unique design.
The iPhone 12 and iPhone 13, including both the phones themselves and official cases, have built-in magnets. Apple calls its magnet system MagSafe, recycling an old branding name from defunct MacBook chargers. The magnets will work with an ecosystem of accessories, including wireless-charging pads and docks, car mounts, wallets, and sleeves. Both Apple and hardware partners like Belkin are making official MagSafe accessories.
Apple purchased Beats by Dre to absorb their music-streaming service and talent, but along with that came an entire hardware branch. The company still exists as a branch within Apple, and it sells Beats branded headphones with custom chipsets made by Apple.
Beats By Dre with Apple Silicon:
- Beats Studio
- Beats Solo
- Powerbeats Pro
- Beats X
Apple has its brand of earbuds as well. The AirPods came about as Apple removed the headphone jack from their devices, and ushered in a new era of totally wireless audio. Since their release, third-party manufacturers have raced to mimic the all-wireless design, but very few have come close to capturing the same form factor and battery life found within AirPods.
Apple first-party audio:
Rumored future audio products:
MagSafe and charging
The iPhone can take advantage of wireless charging, fast-charging over USB-C PD, and standard charging over USB to Lightning. To take advantage of wireless charging or fast-charging, users have to purchase those accessories separately.
Apple announced, but never released, a proprietary wireless charging system called AirPower. The charging mat was meant to simplify charging devices wirelessly by enabling users to place their iPhone, AirPods, and Apple Watch anywhere on the mat. The charging mat was ultimately canceled when Apple allegedly could not solve for overheating issues.
Apple has since released a new charging and accessory system called MagSafe which charges the iPhone at 15W and connects via a circular magnet. It is assumed that MagSafe will ultimately replace the Lightning port and handle data and charging on future iPhones.
With the launch of the iPhone 13, Apple introduced a new MagSafe feature, adding Find My support to the MagSafe wallet. Rather than checking for a ping from a tracker, the system instead tells users when and where the wallet was detached from the back of the iPhone.
Photography and Videography
The mobile phone camera is probably one of the most important things customers consider before making a purchase. Since the iPhone became such a popular pocket camera, manufacturers have developed accessories and tools specifically to aid in video and photo production.
Gimbles, mounts, flash sync systems, camera lenses, and iPhone-connected smart cameras have all created a large market centered around the iPhone camera. When browsing the iPhone homepage on Apple's website, most of the page is dedicated to discussing photo and video capabilities.
When paired with the right talent and equipment, the iPhone can produce competitive high-quality content. A few movies have been made with the iPhone, like "Unsane." During the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple TV shows recorded episodes using the iPhone to observe proper quarantine and distancing.
To play into this, Apple introduced ProRes support in its iPhone 13 Pro range.
The iPhone wouldn't be what it is today without the help of software and services. Apple has slowly built an entire ecosystem of software surrounding its ever-popular pocket computer. Through each of these services, paid or not, Apple adds to the base value of every iPhone sold.
After years of being told that Apple was too reliant on the iPhone as a single majority source of income, the company is using its services branch to build out and diversify its revenue. Services have become the size of a Fortune 500 company itself and continue to grow with each new effort from Apple.
Users can bundle Apple's paid services under a tiered subscription service called Apple One.
When the iPhone 4S released with a virtual assistant, no one took it seriously. Initially, Siri could only act as a voice-controlled assistant that handled the most simple task or query.
Now, Siri is a powerhouse piece of machine learning that exists on every Apple device sold. On the iPhone, Siri not only acts as a user-facing assistant with deep app connections and controls, and it also serves as the background intelligence that powers everyday operations.
Contacts, Calendar, Photos, and even the system keyboard all rely on Siri Intelligence to manage information and surface what is most relevant to the user. Siri also acts as the brains behind Shortcuts, which can be activated via the assistant, through widgets, or in-app.
Apple does not directly monetize Siri, but it does use the assistant as a primary selling point for iPhone and accessories like HomePod mini and AirPods.
Apple has often stated that the Messages app is the most used app on the iPhone. An iMessage is an Apple proprietary technology using end-to-end encryption to send messages via the web. Sending and receiving iMessages is exclusive to Apple products, and has been cited as a significant source of consumer lock-in.
When communicating via iMessage, a user will see "blue-bubble" messages, will be able to share complex multi-media files, and be able to use sticker packs and message effects when communicating. Apple also enhances iMessage group chats with unique features like message threads and custom group chat images.
The music streaming service that birthed Apple's push into services debuted in 2015. Apple Music is $9.99 a month and offers student and family plans. The service lives within the Music app on iPhone, iPad, Mac, and on the web.
Users can purchase music from iTunes when it is not available on the service and it will be populated into their Apple Music library. If a user adds a physical CD to their Music app on macOS, the music will be synced across their account as well.
Apple Arcade is a monthly subscription service to games that exist across all Apple platforms. A $9.99 per month subscription gains customers access to the entire game catalog and any new releases or updates.
The service has games from multiple genres and can be played with touch, though most titles support the use of third-party controllers. Apple's push into gaming has made them embrace controllers like the Playstation Dualshock 4 and the Xbox Elite controller.
Apple Studios is a new media branch within Apple that purchases and manages content for the video streaming service Apple TV+. The subscription costs $4.99 a month and exists on every Apple platform and even several competitor devices.
The Apple TV app is needed for viewing Apple TV+ and is available in the following places:
- Apple TV (Set-top-box)
- Samsung Smart TV
- LG Smart TV
Apple News is a news aggregation app and the company offers a premium content tier called Apple News+. The subscription is $9.99 per month and gives customers access to premium articles from newspapers and magazines.
Apple Fitness+ is a streaming fitness service that with several workout types. Designed for Apple Watch users, it combines regularly updated workout videos with Apple Watch live health stats. It costs $9.99/month.
For the iPhone 13, Apple revealed a SharePlay feature update to the service, enabling group workouts to be conducted remotely, on multiple devices.
The term "iCloud" is a catch-all for the syncing and storage service provided by Apple across devices and apps. The service portion of iCloud is specifically iCloud Storage.
Apple charges a monthly fee for the following storage tiers:
- 5GB is free
- 50GB is $0.99
- 200GB is $2.99
- 2TB is $9.99
The Apple Card doesn't seem to be a big earner for Apple but does add to the halo effect of capturing more customers who buy more Apple products. The card works best when used to buy more Apple products from Apple Stores, and even allows customers to make interest free purchases of nearly all Apple devices.
The interest rate can vary from 13.24% to 24.24%, depending on the customer's credit score and other variables. Purchases made with the physical card get 1% cashback, the card in Apple Wallet will net 2% cashback, and when used with specific partners and Apple itself, customers will get 3% cashback. Cashback rewards are automatically deposited into the customer's Apple Pay Cash balance.
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One More Thing
Industry insiders and analysts all beg for Apple to give the world the next revolutionary device. While there has not been a "next big thing" since the original iPhone in 2007, Apple could surprise us with the products coming down the line.