Six clicks: Revolutionary advances in mobile from Apple

This time of year thoughts turn to the ideas that emerged to form a new country. On a lesser scale, it's appropriate to think about the ideas that formed the mobile space as we know it today. Among those are a few from Apple that have shaped both the smartphone and tablet segments.
By James Kendrick, Contributor
1 of 7 James Kendrick/ZDNET

Apple — not always first but often significant

Whatever you think about Apple the company and how it does business, there’ s no denying the impact it has had on the mobile space. It may not always be the first to do something, but it certainly does things in ways that make a big difference in how we use mobile devices.

From the iPod, then the iPhone, and now the iPad, what makes Apple so impactful is not the technologies it invents, it’s how it packages its own and existing technologies into a compelling gadget. Apple may not always be first, but historically its been one of the best at making products that resonate with the things customers want.

These advances in technology and concepts have been significant contributions by Apple in the mobile space.

This is the first installment in a series of daily Six Clicks galleries that are designed to celebrate revolutionary hardware and software advances that we'll be seeing in the near future. Let the 4th of July fireworks begin.

Previously on Six Clicks:le 


2 of 7 James Kendrick/ZDNET

Real touch screens

Apple forever changed mobile devices with the use of a capacitive touch screen on the iPhone. Resistive touch screens, those requiring a little pointy stylus for accuracy, had been around for years. With the introduction of the capacitive touch screen on the iPhone, Apple demonstrated how enjoyable natural interaction with a mobile device could be. Users simply touched the screen with the fingertip, and good things happened.

The real touch screen on the iPhone changed things for the better in three significant ways:

No stylus

Dropping the need for a stylus to work with the iPhone was a big move. Owners of Apple's phone were able to simply pick up the gadget and touch things on the screen. This led to the second benefit of a real touch screen below.

Natural and engaging

The touch screen on the iPhone quickly led owners to feel like the phone was part of them. They took the iPhone out of the pocket or bag, assuming it wasn't already in hand, and started touching things to make stuff happen. This soon made the iPhone an integral part of their lives.

Zooming in on the essential

The capacitive touch screen on the iPhone made the pinch-and-zoom thing possible. This was revolutionary at the time and such a big impact on how we work with our mobile device that it's commonplace today

3 of 7 James Kendrick/ZDNET

One OS for both smartphones and tablets

When Apple set out to produce a tablet, it knew it would need to be similar to the iPhone in operation and open to the growing number of apps for the little device. The best way to do that was to make iOS, the engine running the iPhone, handle larger screens in addition to those of the phone.

Making it possible to use both phone apps as well as apps specially expanded for the tablet made the iPad quickly grow in popularity, and pushed competitors to take the same tactic.

Using a single core OS for the iPhone and iPad had one advantage over competitors that endeared Apple to its customers. The look and feel of the two devices. Owners find it engaging to see a familiar sight no matter which Apple product they pick up.

4 of 7 James Kendrick/ZDNET

Apps on the digital shelf

Little programs for mobile devices existed long before the iPhone and iOS, but Apple made them big business to the degree they are now the standard. "Apps" as they are commonly known today, typically only did one thing but did them well.

They took off due to the low price, a big change from the expensive PC software that had dominated the computer world for decades. Having them easily obtainable on the mobile device in the App Store was also a big step forward. Find an app of interest, push a button to buy it for a buck, and it installs on the gadget. That works so well it's how everybody does it today.

5 of 7 James Kendrick/ZDNET

Third party ecosystem

Apple realized early on that iPhone owners would want to personalize their gadgets. Instead of pursuing accessories as an offshoot of the iPhone business, it kept its production of them to a minimum and let third-party companies step in to make them.

This was clearly the right move as the iPhone and iPad accessory ecosystem is huge. We’re talking not only little niche companies, but large ones in the business for some time. Many of them are the companies who have long made accessories for PCs such as mice and keyboards. They saw the potential for big business making cases and other accessories for the iPhone and then the iPad.

The availability of so many accessories no doubt helped fuel the rapid adoption of the iPhone. That got more smartphones in owners’ hands than would otherwise have happened, and that advanced the adoption of the gadgets. The third-party ecosystem played a role in the growth of the smartphone segment, and in large part due to Apple stepping back and letting it go.

6 of 7 James Kendrick/ZDNET

Closed iOS software system

Apple has long been blasted for its closed software ecosystem, but there’s little doubt this played a role in the rapid adoption of both the iPhone and iPad. While we all think open systems are better than tightly closed ones, keeping it locked down allowed the company to keep apps looking and operating the same. The uniformity of the user experience has long been deemed by Apple to be important, and holding developers to a strict standard was certainly effective,

There are many critics of Apple’s unbending software guidelines. These don’t give a lot of latitude to the app developers to make wares that are unique, with the exception of a few coders with a vision.

The enforcement of strict standards has benefited the most important group in the mobile space, the customers. Having things always work as expected, and with a largely pleasurable experience, has kept user satisfaction with Apple products high. This has led to high sales volumes which has exposed more people to mobile technology than would likely have happened in a wild west environment of app development.

The rigid, closed development environment indirectly sped up adoption of the smartphone from Apple, and probably for competitors, too.

7 of 7 Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

Battery design

Battery life has long been the bane of the mobile segment. Longer battery life has always meant the biggest battery that can be attached to gadgets, and that is the polar opposite of portability. That changed when Apple designed new battery forms for the MacBook laptop line, and then carried it over to the iPad.

Adopting a unibody casing design allowed Apple to make mobile devices thinner than ever. They carefully designed enough space for the hardware components, and then figured they needed to fit as much battery inside as possible.

They dropped the common cylindrical shape of most mobile device batteries and designed batteries sized and shaped to use all free space inside the case. These sealed batteries are as big as a given device can accept because they are designed to leave no space wasted. This is a key reason why mobile devices get as much battery life as they do, and that’s thanks to the advances from Apple.

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