As detailed in the Apple launch announcements for the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010, Steve Jobs described both as being “magical and revolutionary.” He makes this claim for the iPhone, he says, primarily for two reasons — multitouch and mobile Internet use. Notably, he doesn’t state any specific revolutionary features of the iPad.

I would suggest that history will judge the iPhone as a more revolutionary device than the iPad, for the reasons given by Jobs — multitouch and mobile web browsing — and also for other reasons not mentioned by him. The most interesting of these is that the iPhone has shown the practical appeal of reading on a handheld mobile web device. For anyone who’s had the experience of reading on an iPhone, this seems commonplace by now, but for the non-iPhone using world, as for everyone before the iPhone, it comes as a surprise that sustained reading on such a small screen could be appealing. But there it is, a runaway success.

The success of the iPhone for eReading stands out especially because it seems to have been completely unforeseen by Steve Jobs at the time the iPhone was launched, and still apparently little-noticed for some time even after it was launched — Jobs, of course, made his famous observation that “people don’t read anymore” a year after the iPhone launch, as the iPhone was in fact becoming a popular eReading device. Something apparently changed Steve’s mind, between early 2008, when he made that statement, and the iPad’s birth two years later — The iPad launch announcement, in contrast to the one for the iPhone, mentions eBook reading prominently, and the iPad has been seen widely by commentators as an excellent eReading device.

I suspect that one of the most significant parts of the iPhone story, as seen by future historians, is that its unexpected success as an eReader turned the fertile mind of Steve Jobs to reading. Where Jobs and Apple will go with this idea is an open, and fascinating, question. With the iPad, Apple seems set to continue on the road to becoming a media company, with iBooks being an important part of the App Store. And it all might have started on the iPhone.

This discussion sheds new light on the frequently stated reaction to the iPad that it’s “nothing but a large iPod Touch” — Indeed, Yes — If you accept the idea that it’s the iPhone/iTouch that’s truly the revolutionary device, then, of course, it’s natural that the next deviceful step for Apple is to apply the same innovative ideas to a larger device — The iPad.

Acknowledgements – Discussions of the ideas in this article with my son Brian Rumsey have been invaluable. Thanks, Brian, for helping me to clarify my thoughts :-)

Other articles on eReading and mobile devices:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

2 thoughts on “The Magical, Revolutionary … iPhone

  1. Eric–

    I don’t understand why people think the iPad is such a great e-book device.

    I understand from the point of view that there can now be “multi-media books”, but from a pure reading point of view it’s very difficult to read.

    On a desktop/laptop I often “narrow the window” to make reading easier. From the time I spent with the iPad, I don’t believe that can be done on that device.

    Scott

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