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How iPhone touched our lives

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Craig Gamble

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So, it happened. Apple's new iPhone 5 was launched in the typical upbeat fashion. There are plenty of new features, but to keep it simple: it's bigger, faster, thinner and costs the same (at least in the US). However, the world's press was not quite so overwhelmed, resorting to phrases such as ''evolution not revolution''. Pundits were quick to come up with news stories about Apple's share of the smartphone market having fallen since the arrival of a slew of new Android phones, in particular new models from Samsung.

Mind you, this mattered less than nothing to the thousands itching to get their hands on iPhone 5. Analysts have already raised their forecast for how many iPhone 5s the company will sell before Christmas.

There will inevitably come a time when people are not excited by a new iPhone, but that is a good few years away yet. Meanwhile, it seems an appropriate moment to look back at the iPhone and see what its legacy might be when it finally does fade into technological sepia-toned nostalgia.

Customers gather outside an Apple store before the release of iPhone 5 in Munich early September 21, 2012.

Customers gather outside an Apple store before the release of iPhone 5 in Munich early September 21, 2012. Photo: Reuters

There are three iPhone innovations that I think have changed the way we use technology at a fundamental level. The first is the ''multi-touch'' interface, as it was named at the launch of the first iPhone back in 2007. I'm still amused that so many pundits and rivals dismissed the iPhone on its release as a toy for rich geeks because it lacked a physical keyboard. ''It is the most expensive phone in the world and it doesn't appeal to business customers because it doesn't have a keyboard which makes it not a very good email machine,'' said Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer pre-launch - and he was far from alone.

Even reviewers who largely liked the new phone begged Apple to add a physical keyboard with the second iteration. Mind you, this was also a debate Apple had internally. Former Apple vice-president Tony Faddell revealed in May that the company considered a physical keyboard and a smaller screen and iPod-like click-wheel for the iPhone, describing the in-house debate as ''a heated topic'' (as quoted on ArsTechnica.com). There may still be a good number of smartphone users who prefer buttons, but these days, tapping, pinching and swiping is second nature for most of us.

The second innovation is the app - those little icons that we've come to rely on to do everything from booking airline tickets to making fart jokes. The hundreds of thousands of apps in the App Store are often cited as one of the key differentiators between Apple's phones and those of its competitors. Sure, everyone from Google to Nokia have an app store now, but Apple embraced them first. It's not always been smooth sailing. App developers have openly criticised Apple for slow payments and its draconian rules about what can and can't be sold via iTunes. Google's Google Play store is rivalling App Store now, but still lags in terms of the sheer numbers of apps and possibly the consistency of their quality.

The new iPhone 5.

The new iPhone 5. Photo: Ben Grubb

The embracing of apps leads directly into the third thing the iPhone has changed about our lives: the way so many of us now consume mobile data. Before the iPhone, mobile emailing and web-surfing was limited largely to high-end business customers, often via a BlackBerry.

These days consumers gobble down mobile data - movies, songs, games, social media interactions, location data, email and much more - at unprecedented rates. It was the iPhone's web browsing that made this suddenly so much more attractive: a pleasurable experience that Apple and a host of third-party developers were able to translate into a myriad of connected services and entertainments. Use of mobile data has become so ubiquitous that it is easy to forget the iPhone is even a phone any more.

Apple wouldn't claim to have invented any of these things, but it has certainly incorporated them into their thinking more completely than anybody before or, until very recently, after. Maybe iPhone 5 is the last great iPhone launch, but thinking about what it's done, that's probably OK.

gamblecr@gmail.com

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