Many have predicted the death of the iPhone. We’ve been at Peak iPhone a bunch of different times. We’ve seen “stagnant growth,” “looming trouble,” and prognostications that other companies would steal Apple’s market share or that wearables or hearables or AR or VR or XR or SomethingElseR would usurp the smartphone. And yet, the iPhone remains what it has been for a decade and a half: the most successful product in consumer electronics, a $51 billion business in the first three months of this year alone.
A more fair thing to say might be that the iPhone is complete. That’s what we get into in this Status Update. It’s not dead, it’s not dying, but maybe it’s a product on which there is not much more work to do. It’s true of smartphones in general, really; billions of people have slabs of glass in their pocket, and for most people, those slabs are appliances now. Users, by and large, don’t want whiz-bang new features or huge interface overhauls. (We’ll see if folding phones can spark another cycle of new ideas, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.) They just want their device to be a little faster, last a little longer, and maybe cost a little less. They replace theirs when it breaks and not a moment sooner.
But the iPhone’s legacy isn’t over yet. Far from it, in fact. It seems overwhelmingly likely that, next week, at Apple’s WWDC developer conference, we’re going to see the company’s first mixed reality headset. If the rumors and reporting are true, that headset will be shockingly expensive and not all that useful, just like the $700 3G-less first iPhone. But it will show amazing new ways to interact with technology, much like multi-touch did on the iPhone. Apple will bet that developers can make all the new technology more powerful, just like the App Store turned the iPhone into the everything machine.
The real story of the iPhone is not about smartphones. It’s about the way Apple taught the world to touch their screen, to rely on a single device to do everything, to interact with each other and the world through a piece of technology. The iPhone gave Apple an unstoppable marketing machine, an unparalleled supply chain, and a cultural cachet that’s downright bizarre for a gadget company. That’s all going to come in handy for Apple as it navigates whatever is next.
Apple didn’t invent the world we live in, but the iPhone certainly played an outsize role. And if what comes next is AR and VR and glasses on our faces, it’ll only work because the iPhone worked. The future may not be smartphones, but the iPhone’s not going anywhere.