Do we even need to get into this? The iPhone has changed the landscape of mobile more than any other product. Before the iPhone, smartphones were basically just PDAs with phones built in, as best exemplified by Microsoft’s Pocket PC Smartphones of the earlier part of the decade. They were made of plastic, they used styluses, they didn’t do anything well, it was hard to install software on them and they were largely inaccessible to everyone but professionals. When the iPhone was released in 2007, it did everything differently. Multitouch! Apps! A capable web browser! With the exception of a few clueless holdouts like RIM, almost every smartphone released since 2007 is basically an iPhone clone. The iPhone really did just change everything.
The way the original iPod transformed music can’t be overstated, but given Apple’s recent legal fray with Samsung over IP violations, we thought it would be fun to specifically highlight what Samsung was doing before the iPod Touch and what they’re doing now.
Samsung was one of the first players in the PMP space with their Yepp line of MP3 players. In fact, the Yepp series even precedes the original iPod, and the hardware of the 64MB Yepp YP-40 was actually released in the United States as the original Creative Nomad.
You can still buy Yepp players today, but every successive generation since Apple released the original iPod, they’ve become more iPod like, and the Yepp line has its own versions of the Shuffle and Nano. But look no further for utter shamelessness than Samsung’s response to the iPod Touch, the Galaxy Player, which looks identical to the Touch right down to the design of its icons.
Apple was late entering the tablet game. Microsoft had a special version of its Windows operating system suited for tablet PCs since 2001, but before the iPad, tablets were a very different beast. For one thing, they were really nothing but convertible laptops with LCDs that could be flipped around and drawn on using a stylus. As such, tablets were mostly aimed at niche artist professionals. And since they were really just transforming laptops, they were bulky, heavy, didn’t have great touch integration and boasted terrible battery life.
The iPad changed everything. By realigning the tablet form factor towards media consumption — reading, watching videos, playing games and checking the web — Apple created the first tablet with mass market appeal. At the same time, tablets stopped being hybrid machines and instead became their own true product category, sitting firmly in between a smartphone and a laptop in users’ gadget arsenals.
You only need to see the string of tablets that have followed in the iPad’s wake to see the effect of Apple’s tablet. Instead of Windows, they run mobile operating systems like webOS or Android. Instead of x86 cores, they boast ARM architecture. And nowhere is there a keyboard, an optical drive or a stylus to be seen.
Apple’s so-called “hobby” device, the Apple TV, hasn’t really made the same sort of impact that many of their other category evolutions have. Still, it influenced the direction of the industry. Before the Apple TV came out, most people’s set-top boxes were digital video recorders like TiVO. These allowed people to record and subscribe to shows that were playing on the air, but you were at the mercy of what networks were broadcasting.
When Apple released their set-top box in 2007, the expectation changed from “recording what had already been broadcast” to “downloading movies and shows on-demand.”
The original Apple TV basically worked as a giant iPod that was hooked up to your TV and could sync content purchased through iTunes, but with the Apple TV 2, Cupertino once again shifted their set-top box’s priorities from downloading to streaming. In doing so, Apple followed the lead of companies like Roku who had fully embraced a strategy of allowing consumers to turn their televisions into connected smart TVs by picking up a diminutive and affordable set-top box, but even so, Apple had a new wrinkle up their sleeve: the Apple TV would now also function as a portal through which mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad can wirelessly connect to a user’s television. How long do you suppose it’ll be until we see the competition trying to mirror that killer feature?