On the Backchannel blog, Steven Levy has posted a concise interview with Apple SVP Phil Schiller timed with the iPhone’s tenth anniversary. The post includes Levy’s anecdotes about Steve Jobs back in 2007 at the original iPhone launch followed up with some questions to Schiller about the success of the iPhone looking back and looking forward.
Regarding voice-only personal assistant devices like the Amazon Echo’s Alexa, Schiller says that the best intelligent assistant is the one that’s always with you, and that you can’t discount the value of a color display to present information …
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Levy’s chat with Schiller begins with the age-old question: did he predict just how monumental the iPhone would be? He says he knew it was going to be big but not at the scale that it did. The iPhone is the most successful consumer electronics device ever with more than a billion units sold.
The piece also mentions how there was an internal debate about whether the iPhone should be open to third-party development. Jobs shelved the discussions due to time constraints, but that it became obvious after the iPhone launch that an App Store was a crucial piece of the puzzle. That being said, Schiller is quick to note that the iPhone stood on its own though in 2007 as a breakthrough product with just the software Apple shipped; real Internet, real email, multitouch and more.
Regarding product innovation, Schiller says that the upgrades between hardware iterations are still monumental and bold. Schiller frames it as the leaps in recent iPhone upgrades are as significant, but people’s expectations have changed.
“I think our expectations are changing more, not the leaps in the products. If you look through every version—from the original iPhone to the iPhone 3G to the 4 to the 4S, you see great changes all throughout. You see screen size change from three and a half inch to four inch to four point seven and five point five. You see cameras going through incredible change, from the first camera that couldn’t shoot video, to then having both a front and a backside camera, to now three cameras with the stuff we’re doing, and with live photos and 4K video.” (Maybe it’s just a happenstance that he didn’t provide examples from iPhone versions 6 and 7.)
One thing Phil will not relent on is that the iPhone continues to lead the industry, ten years later, citing ‘unmatched’ quality, integration and ease of use. However, he does say that the competition from other vendors drives Apple to keep producing better and better things.
The interviewer asks what people will think about this moment now in fifty years time. Can Apple ever top the iPhone as it is today? Schiller certainly thinks so.
Schiller hopes that 50 years people will look back at this point and say, “Wow, they didn’t realize how much was to come — in fact, others missed it because they were busy running around looking for other things. Everyone has their opinions at this point, but it could be that we’re only in the first minutes of the first quarter of the game,” he says. “I believe this product is so great that it has many years of innovation ahead.”
Levy wonders whether handheld pocket smartphones will continue to matter in the future decades. The conversation shifts to virtual assistants and voice recognition like Siri. Schiller says that the team set out to create Siri so many years ago, debuting with iPhone 4s, and thinks that Apple can ‘do more with that conversational interface than anyone else’.
Regarding smart home voice assistant hub devices like the Amazon Echo, Schiller says that the best assistant is the one that is with you all the time.
Having my iPhone with me as the thing I speak to is better than something stuck in my kitchen or on a wall somewhere.”
Schiller also downplays the potential for ‘voice-only’ interfaces and says that displays are not going to go away. He references how the iPhone innovated heavily on the display — because really everything about the iPhone defers to that multitouch screen.
Obviously, by contrast, devices like the Google Home or Alexa are just microphones and speakers with no visual cues. Schiller says ‘We still like to take pictures and we need to look at them, and a disembodied voice is not going to show me what the picture is’.
Tim Cook echoed the iPhone legacy comments on an Apple press piece a few hours ago, suggesting the ‘best is yet to come’. Read the full interview with Schiller on Backchannel.