Apple fans and employees will hate this comparison, but on the tenth anniversary of the iPhone it is worth noting a point of similarity between it and the man who will not use one, Donald J. Trump. Trump’s rise in 2015 looks, in retrospect, a bit like the rise of the iPhone.
Comparisons, to be sure, can be stretched, but bear with me for a minute. This year, Trump defied all sorts of odds and expectations and became President. People, myself included, who make a study of politics and pay attention to these things were convinced that he could not get the Republican nomination and that he could not get elected. But he beat the odds, defied the expectations, and he will be all of our President in a couple of weeks.
Go back ten years and consider the iPhone. In the run up to the iPhone, there were lots of rumors that Apple would release a phone, but they were just rumors until January 9, 2007. Steve Jobs unveiled the device that would fundamentally change an entire industry. On January 8, 2007, the multi-touch full screen display did not exist on phones. The day after and half the tech companies in the world were scrambling to get their copiers started.
Along the way, the technology press and experts who studied the field and were the experts and professional pundits of technology got so much wrong.
Matt Lynn, a financial journalist and former columnist for Bloomberg News, declared, “[Apple] will sell a few to its fans, but the iPhone won’t make a long-term mark on the industry.” His column was titled “Apple iPhone Will Fail in a Late, Defensive Move.”
Charles Golvin, an analyst for Forrester, said, “The iPhone will not substantially alter the fundamental structure and challenges of the mobile industry.” He said the iPhone was “late to the party” and predicted rivals like Nokia would “attack” the iPhone by offering deals to carriers. (source)
Ed Baig, the well respected tech writer for USA Today, lamented the lack of a stylus. Even David Pogue, then of The New York Times, complained that the phone couldn’t handle java or flash and there was no memory-card slot, which is a lingering complaint for some.
Much of the financial sector that covers technology and much of the technology press completely missed the iPhone. Then, after coming to terms with how wrong they were, set about explaining the cult of Apple. People were just buying into a cult. The novelty would fade. Google would do to the iPhone what Microsoft had done to the Mac.
But more and more it seems the cult was not a cult of Apple, but a cult of Apple haters. The iPhone remains the most popular phone and the most profitable phone. While Android has a larger market share because of a plethora of cheap phones, the iPhone is the single most popular phone and is the phone on which more people actually engage in smartphone tasks. There is a reason the iPhone is more often than not the most used phone shown in website analytics.
Likewise, in 2016, many of the people who missed the election, discounted Trump, and were convinced he could never succeed decided to double down against him. To them, it turns out most of the country is bigoted or racist. There was a white supremacy uprising. There had to be something beyond fundamentally misreading the election and the electorate for these analysts.
The reality is that Trump is extremely popular, if only out of frustration for the alternative. His supporters are not bigoted racists, but people disaffected by a political process that takes their money, wants their votes, but otherwise wants nothing to do with them. Many of the people who are still convinced Trump only won because of a white supremacist uprising are no different from the people who maintain the iPhone only sells so well because of a cult.
What I learned from blowing 2016 as badly as I did is what a lot of the tech press learned (or should have learned) from blowing the iPhone launch. Instead of spending my time writing about what will happen, focus on what is happening and why it is happening. And if I must focus on the future, focus on what I think should happen and why and not what I expect to happen. 2016 is a reminder that we cannot see the future, but the iPhone is a reminder that we can aspire for something new and better.
The iPhone and Donald Trump have one more thing in common. They are both game changers. After the iPhone, Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola and RIM all faded away. The physical keyboard phone is a relic. Every phone now has as few buttons as possible and a full touch screen.
Likewise, I think going forward, we are going to see more candidates like Trump — more strident opponents of the status quo. There’ll be more bombast and more tribalism. After the iPhone, nothing in tech was the same. After Trump, nothing in politics will be the same.