For instance, while smartphones had touch-sensitive screens for years, Apple’s iPhone was the first true touch-focused phone. You used your fingers instead of a stylus, you used a gesture-based user interface to flick through lists of names or between photos, and you used Apple’s multi-touch to pinch zoom into maps and Web pages.
Now most smartphone manufacturers have borrowed one or more of those cues. Palm’s Pre, for instance, was the first iPhone rival to include multi-touch. Microsoft’s Windows Mobile will reportedly employ it next.
Another iPhone revolution: The App Store. While other smartphone platforms could use third-party apps for years, Apple was the first to make an app platform that was easy for developers to write apps for, and a store that was easy for consumers to browse, purchase, and download apps from.
Now everyone has a widget platform and sort-of “app store” — even some TVs.
With the iPhone, the screen is the phone.
Since Apple's design took off, many phone makers have used the same layout, ditching most physical buttons for a big, beautiful display.
Not just a touchscreen, but a screen you actually touch -- with your fingers.
Apple did away with the stylus, and many smartphone makers have followed suit.
Apple's motion sensor -- turn the phone sideways to rotate the display -- started as a simple way to read wider Web pages.
Now it's a revolutionary, Wii-like way to play video games, shuffle songs by shaking the device, etc.
And it's showing up in most new smartphones -- and even other devices like Amazon's new Kindle DX e-book reader.
The $199 iPhone 3G, released last summer, threw a wrench in an industry used to charging $400 or more for their devices.
After that, no consumer smartphone could cost more than $199 after subsidy -- especially because no rival was anywhere near as good as the iPhone.
Now that the iPhone 3G is $99, look for more price cuts from rivals.
Apple wasn't the first to open up smartphones to third-party developers. But it did it in a way that no one else had figured out: A simple, consumer-friendly way to browse, purchase, and install free and paid apps. In nine months, iPhone and iPod touch users downloaded 1 billion apps, from fart noise makers to leaf trombones.
Now every smartphone platform -- and many other gadgets -- has to have an app store, and Apple has used its head start as a marketing advantage.
Before the iPhone App Store, mobile developers were used to selling apps through carriers -- and giving up half or more of the revenue.
Since Apple decided on a 70% (developer) and 30% (Apple) revenue split, other platforms have had to take that same model. It's a better deal for developers, which means more of them can afford to invest in the iPhone. That's better for consumers and Apple, too.
Other touchscreen phones tried to work like a computer: Poke a 'Start' button on a Windows Mobile phone, or click on small menus with a stylus.
The iPhone was the first to employ an intuitive, gesture-based interface, such as 'flicking' through a menu, between photos, or from one screen to the next. It's fun, it makes sense, and it feels very human. Since then, many other phones -- on both the high and low ends of the market -- have borrowed the idea.
The iPhone's MobileSafari was the first of the mobile browsers that really tried to bring as much of the real Web to a small screen. (Though it still doesn't support some stuff, like Flash.)
Since then, other platforms have built similar Web browsers based on the same guts -- Webkit, an open source browser project that Apple tends to. These include Google's Android and Palm's WebOS. The iPhone -- thanks in part to that great browser -- also got people using the Web a lot more than other smartphone platforms.
This is still a work in progress, and more prediction than proof, so far. (And some other smartphones have been much better for shooting video than the iPhone for years, such as the Nokia N95.)
But the new video streaming built into Apple's iPhone OS 3.0 suggests the iPhone could be the first phone where people actually watch a lot of video on their phones. (We're still amazed at the idea of watching live baseball.)
And the new video recording and editing functions in the iPhone 3G S could make it a big-time YouTube feeder. We'll see how this turns out.
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