The iPhone’s Best Part Is the Experience, Not the Hardware

This story is part of Focus iPhone 2022CNET’s collection of news, tips and advice on Apple’s most popular product.

Tomorrow it will be 15 years since the first iPhone went on sale. When Steve Jobs introduced the original iPhone He ironically hyped it up as three revolutionary products: an iPod, a telephone, and an Internet communicator. The first iPhone only came in one size and the only choice you had was whether to buy one with 4GB of storage or 8GB. Of the carriers, only AT&T supported Apple’s first phone.

Back then, the idea of ​​carrying an iPhone instead of a flip phone and an iPod was enough to convince some people to buy one. For others like me, the main attraction of the iPhone was the touchscreen, which seemed unreal and futuristic.

“One of the unique things from the start [the] iPhone was that we wanted to fuse software, services and hardware to create a simple, powerful kind of magical experience,” said Bob Borchers, Apple’s vice president of product marketing. “And with the original iPhone, it was this interaction of multi-touch and pinch to zoom where you started to see that coming together.”

Fifteen years later Apple sells eight different iPhone models, five of which have been launched in the last 10 months. There is at least one version that works with pretty much every major phone company in the world. The iPhone comes in a range of colors, styles, sizes and storage options, now at 1TB. And while the screen is where most of the magic happens, it’s no longer the iPhone’s main attraction.

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In the last decade and a half, what defines the iPhone has shifted away from just design and hardware specifications. Instead, iPhone and iOS have become a gateway to Apple services and features like iMessage, FaceTime, Siri, Apple Music, Apple Pay, top-notch cameras, and apps like Uber, TikTok, Twitter, and WhatsApp. For better or worse, the iPhone has become our home for photos, music, conversations, ideas, games, identity, work, social media, shopping, keys and money.

In 2022, the iPhone expands beyond its sleek metal and glass body into the world around us. It’s the backbone for products like that Apple watch and AirPodsand will likely play a role future Apple products like rumored AR glasses.

It also serves as the foundation for Apple’s digital services, which have become an increasingly important factor in differentiating the iPhone from competing mobile devices. These services have evolved rapidly in recent years along with the iPhone.

Find My, which started in 2010 as a tool for locating a lost iPhone, has grown into a network for locating Apple devices and pretty much anything you can connect one to Apple’s tiny AirTag tracker to. Some products, like VanMoof’s S3 bike, even have built-in Find My support, eliminating the need to add an AirTag entirely. From 2021, Apple’s Find My network had hundreds of millions of devices, most of which were iPhones.

Just a few weeks ago at the WWDC, Apple’s annual conference for software developers, the company presented iOS 16 announced with enhancements to its nearly decade-old Wallet app and Apple Pay service. Essentially, Apple wants to make your physical wallet obsolete. There is also a new feature called Apple Pay later It lets you split the cost of an Apple Pay purchase into four equal payments spread over six weeks, with no interest and no fees. This is done entirely through your iPhone.

an iPhone SEan iPhone SE

The iPhone SE 2022 is nearly identical to the 2020 version, but gets more durable glass, 5G, and the A15 Bionic chip that debuted in the iPhone 13.

Kevin Heinz/CNET

In fact, you need an iPhone to access or use most of these services. Keep in mind that the premium price of the iPhone made it inaccessible to many for years, and that’s still true of Apple’s top-of-the-line iPhone Pro models. The recently updated iPhone SE gives Apple the opportunity to extend the range of the iPhone even further. It’s the purest example of what an iPhone is all about in 2022. The SE fuses the body of an iPhone 8 with the glass and processor of the iPhone 13. At $429, it’s the most affordable way to get people into Apple experiences right now.

I spoke to Borchers about the phone ahead of the iPhone SE launch in March and why Apple added an A15 Bionic chip to it.

“It’s actually a really simple decision to deploy as much capacity as possible today to invest in those future experiences and create opportunities for those future experiences. That sets us apart from others,” said Borchers.

No other phone manufacturer takes this approach. It would be like Samsung using the body of its own Galaxy S8 and set the Galaxy S22 processing power inside. That upcoming Pixel 6A will be the first budget Android phone to use the same processor, Google’s Tensor chip, as the flagship Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. Of course, Google doesn’t put it in the Pixel 2’s body and instead introduces a new design.

It makes sense that Apple’s cheapest phone has the same processor as its most expensive: it’s all about giving people access to Apple experiences. For example, if you buy an iPhone SE, you can use the Live Text feature in iOS 15 to capture text with your camera or copy it from a photo. And while the 2016 and 2020 versions of the iPhone SE sold well, the 2022 version doesn’t seem to be breaking any sales records just yet. Apple doesn’t give an exact model breakdown of how many iPhones it will sell, but analyst Ming-Chi Kuo cut its iPhone SE (2022) shipping estimates by 10 million. The lower demand could be an effect of rising inflation and the fact that the 2022 and 2020 versions of the iPhone SE look identical.

The SE shows how iOS and Apple Silicon are becoming the foundation for everything you do on your iPhone. Obviously, not every model in Apple’s iPhone lineup is the same. More expensive phones like the iPhone 13 Pro have contemporary designs, high refresh rate screens, larger camera sensors, and tools like the U1 ultra-wideband chip and lidar.

These added benefits mean you can use your iPhone in more ways. For example, if you have the right car, you can use your iPhone to unlock and start it. Borscher describes moments like this as “automagic”, which means it just works. Likewise, a pair of AirPods can switch from your iPhone to your Mac to watch a video, or how to unlock your Mac with your Apple Watch.

Apple Airpods next to an iPhoneApple Airpods next to an iPhone

Apple first introduced AirPods in 2017 with the release of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, which lacked a physical headphone jack.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Of course, such growth has consequences. Antitrust concerns about the app store and mobile paymentsdebates about screen time, Apple’s controversial dealings with the FBICriticism that all these services are part of one Strategy to lock people into Apple’s ecosystem and recently AirTags Privacy Questions are just some of the concerns that have grown with the meteoric success of the iPhone. There is even a question as to whether Apple can launch another product line that is even half as successful as the iPhone. That’s what my CNET colleague and Apple reporter Ian Sherr points out Products like the Apple Watch and AirPods are lucrative largely because of their connection to the iPhone.

Over 15 years, the iPhone has become ubiquitous and has helped Apple become a nearly $3 trillion company. The next iteration of the phone, probably called the iPhone 14, is expected to launch in September this year. It will undoubtedly run on iOS 16 and have the latest version of Apple’s A-series processor and will continue to support the Apple experience. My colleague Lisa Eadicicco thinks in the long term the most important part of future iPhones will be how it works with everything around him.

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