Happy 15th iPhone, you disrupter you

June 29th 2022 marked 15 years since the original iPhone went on sale.

Smartphones did exist at this time – IBM’s Simon was the first in 1994 – but many had the buttons that mobile users had become accustomed to. Apple made the aesthetic decision to have just the one button and a screen that filled the whole front of the handset.

“An iPod, a phone, an internet mobile communicator… these are not separate devices”, said CEO Steve Jobs at the time. “Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone.”

Apple launched the App Store in 2008, granting users access to free/inexpensive apps that could perform functions handily from their pocket. Suddenly users could browse eBay listings, manage tasks with Things, play games, and access social media sites – all without putting a URL in their mobile browser.

The style-conscious iPhone firmly thrust the smartphone into the common user’s consciousness, and in the years following its release, more and more people turned away from button-based phones (some of which could do similar things – i.e. Blackberry).

Samsung would bring out the GT-I7500 Galaxy in 2009, which would start the Galaxy line of smartphones. HTC, Nokia, LG, and other competitors also brought out their own iPhone-inspired handsets.

Then and now

The impact of widespread smartphone adoption has been huge. Back in 2007, the iPhone only had 2G internet to play with, and 4GB storage. We’re now at 5G and the standard iPhone 13 has 128GB storage. The changes are coupled with a big increase in functionality – apps that sync across devices, video recording/playback, complex social media functions, voice recognition, and myriad other features. Smartphones occupy a large amount of our leisure time – but what about the effect on business? Below are just some of the ways the technology has impacted the world of commerce.

Synced up

The syncing of apps across devices is great for the on-the-go business person. Microsoft Teams, Slack, and other task management apps can be used on mobile and desktop, meaning employees can respond to messages wherever they are (if they choose to have the mobile app of course). That’s in addition to good old-fashioned email.

For marketing teams, digital advertising platforms (i.e. Google Ads) are also cross-device, while video calls can be taken on mobile if necessary.

Authenticator apps also provide a security benefit for firms, ensuring that the employee logging in is exactly who they say they are.

Mobile commerce

Long-gone are the days of booting up a desktop PC and typing www.ebay.co.uk into the web browser.

Today, many brands follow a mobile-first strategy because that’s where most of their web traffic comes from. Due to the much smaller screen, mobile sites are constructed differently to their desktop equivalents, with a structure and presentation that suits the mobile user.

According to a 2021 study by Contentsquare, 58% of all online visits came from smartphones but, interestingly, conversion rates are higher on desktop (3.7% vs 2.2%). This suggests that consumers like to browse on mobile, then buy on desktop.

The increased functionality and features of the smartphone allow for more sophisticated product offerings. Many apps will pinpoint the user’s current location to show them stores or products nearby. Brands can also run digital ads that use such data to show different ad copy.

Consumer power

In the days of old, stores would sell products and consumers had limited information with which to make their buying decision. Perhaps they would encounter the odd review in the media, or get a word-of-mouth recommendation, but brands were relatively free compared with these digital times.

Now, every consumer has access to reams of reviews provided by Google, Trustpilot, Tripadvisor, and more, so a business needs to stay on top of its game, or consumers may be dissuaded from shopping there. The same goes for products – if it’s not good, consumers will know.

Social media, supercharged by smartphone apps, can be both dangerous and an opportunity for brands. On the one hand, marketers can foster positive interactions with their brand, but consumers can bite back if the brand accidentally steps out of the lines of acceptability. Some fans of popular oatmilk brand Oatly, for instance, started boycotting the company after it sold $200 million in shares to a consortium that includes Blackstone – a private equity firm linked to Donald Trump, accused of contributing to deforestation in the Amazon. Consumers also clapped back at Gilette after their disastrous ‘The Best A Man Can Be’ ad, with many saying that a shaving brand had no place to lecture its customers on how to behave as a man.

Augmented reality

Ever played Pokémon Go? The game that became a global craze in 2016 is a brilliant demonstration of augmented reality, the mobile app imposing 3D critters on the landscape captured through the phone’s camera.

This clever mix of the physical and virtual is not just for gaming though. Furniture brands, including IKEA, offer augmented reality on their mobile sites so that customers can envisage their purchase within their home. Clothing retailers also provide ways for customers to project the latest trend on their body. This is valuable tech for fashion and homeware stores, giving their consumers more information with which to make that crucial buying decision.