You Say You Want a Revolution?


By Samuel Greengard

Last week's release of Apple's iPhone 5 and iOS 6 somehow managed to temporarily put news coverage of the 2012 presidential election on the back burner. Yet, while consumers were scrambling to clutch new iPhones and upgrading their existing devices at a rate never before witnessed, critics were summarily dismissing the changes as mostly incremental and evolutionary. One observer noted that the iPhone 5 was "not that innovative."

The critics are right in the sense that there were no major leaps in design or functionality. Yet, at the same time, they're also wrong.

Neither the iPhone nor the iPad were particularly revolutionary when they were introduced. Others had built tablets and smartphones before Apple. In fact, there were genuine questions about whether the first iPhone and iPad would appeal to consumers and make a dent in the marketplace.

What's more, no single update of these devices has been revolutionary. Yet, over the last five years—with several iterations of the hardware and software—the net effect on the computing world has been nothing short of revolutionary.

It's all a matter of perspective and, alas, human perspective is incredibly short. It's like watching your children grow. They don't look all that different day by day and week by week. But over months and years, they change radically. Life is a film, not a series of snapshots.

A decade ago, the concept of a phone that could instantly send pictures from the Great Wall of China or control your thermostat at home was science fiction. The idea that a device could provide step-by-step directions or function as a digital wallet was fantasy. But today the capabilities embedded in iPhones and iPads (as well as similar devices from other vendors) are remarkable.

Think of it this way: Over the past few years, the way we communicate and interact—reading, talking, messaging, shopping, banking, travel, networking, consuming entertainment and gaming—has changed more than it did over the past few thousand years. Apple's devices have powered much of this change, and the ripples are now being felt everywhere, including in the enterprise. Think BYOD and the consumerization of IT.

Sometimes, revolutionary is all in how you define the word and view the time frame.