Ten Years of the iPhone: Reflections on Mobility, Engagement and the Channel

ThinkstockPhotos-637942648On June 29th, 2007, the world changed with the introduction of the iPhone. What Apple managed to do a decade ago was change the perception and conversation around mobile computing. They created a massive following by focusing more heavily on the user experience than other manufacturers had to that point; making talk, music and the Web a more intuitive experience.

Of course, putting all those piece in a single, secure device wasn’t the real differentiator. The trick for Apple (and all those who followed) was in taking the “geek” out of apps — turning a phone that only tech fanatics could love into a culture in of itself. They launched an all new user experience beyond the intuitive interface that literally anyone could figure out on their own without a 50-page manual or having a support of a team of technical experts on standby.

The reality is that Apple created a following by employing a well-proven business model: start with existing technologies, layer in a few proprietary innovations, and top it off with a great marketing campaign. Henry Ford used a same approach with the introduction of the Model T almost 100 years before (in 1908).

That’s not to knock what they did. Apple found a winning formula and put all the proper pieces in place. And, as a result, they produced and marketed one of the top selling devices of all time. Just last year, the iPhone hit one billion in cumulative sales with approximately 200 million new units being sold annually.

2007: The Year of Mobility
Same say the iPhone introduced the world to mobile computing. In fact, many tech historians credit IBM with that invention back in 1992 with its combination phone and PDA. More specifically, they point to BellSouth’s more refined version of that device which was introduced at Comdex two years later; the Simon Personal Communicator. The first actual “smartphone” could make and receive calls, as well as send faxes and emails.

Innovation was top of mind after that. The Blackberry and Palm operating systems drove many of the early devices, as manufacturers raced to corner the market with the latest advances in technology and form factors that consumers would appreciate. Nokia and Qualcomm were prominent players. Of course, that was all a prelude to the industry’s transformation in 2007.

Not only did Steve Jobs and his team at Apple enter the race that year with the now legendary iPhone and iOS, but Microsoft and Google entered the fray with their respective Windows Mobile and Android platforms. It was truly a pivotal point in time for the mobility market and the channel.

App, SaaS and the Future of IT  
It’s hard to ignore the effect mobile computing has had on the tech industry and the channel over the past 10 years. Many IT providers were simply customers of Blackberry, Nokia and Apple a decade ago; using these devices to connect team members and stay on top of customer issues. Later they might leverage them to watch for system alerts and manage trouble tickets when not in the office.

A few early channel innovators saw the potential of app development and creating custom mobility programs for their clients. They invested their time and money in training and built practices to take advantage of the opportunity — which usually required a sales and marketing effort unlike that of the traditional VAR or even a managed services business model.    

As the mobile market exploded — with the introduction of tablets and a host of new devices, apps and yes, the cloud — the channel opportunities shifted. Customers wanted and needed their help adopting mobility in their own workplaces. Procurement and vendor management has become a real and often quite lucrative business practice. Terms like MDM (Mobile Device Management), access management, and wireless security can be intimidating to the SMB, and mid-size and enterprise customers also find themselves needing assistance in those areas.

Smartphones and tablets are simply part of the IT infrastructure today. MSPs must address those devices in the same manner they support PCs, laptops and servers. Even though the break-fix options are minimal, most businesses need someone to manage the outsourcing process for screen repairs, procure replacements and keep company data secure.

The options in mobility for today’s MSPs and other IT service providers are plentiful. Many help their clients develop policies and create processes to ensure all connected devices adhere to company standards to protect users and employers. When you add in all the regulatory compliance requirement that organizations need to address today — federal, state, local and industry — channel firms that can address those concerns become valuable partners. Proficiencies in mobility are a true differentiator in an industry with so many commoditized services.

What’s next? More connectivity and greater user experiences, and channel companies are poised to lead the way — or at least manage many aspects of the next generation of innovations. With a better understanding and closer relationships with those who employ mobile devices and applications, many MSPs are literally control the gateway to better adoption. The real question is “are they prepared to take on that responsibility?”

CompTIA offers a number of training, educational and market exploration resources to help channel companies make an informed leap into mobility, including:

Ten years later, the iPhone is still a force in an ever increasing market. It also marks a pivot point for the channel, from mobility user to what has become a consulting and tech partnership role. The opportunities ahead for providers and their business clients may well depend on the creativity and tech prowess of the former.   

Brian Sherman is president of Tech Success Communications, a channel-related content and social media development firm. He served previously as chief editor at Business Solutions magazine and senior director of industry alliances with Autotask.