What is it about the history of the iPhone that makes it unique and different from Android? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Brian Merchant, Writer, editor, author of 'The One Device', on Quora:

What is it about the history of the iPhone that makes it unique and different from Android?

That's a question that cuts to the heart of some of the major themes of my book--both the iPhone and Android phones are based on many of the same broader technologies and ideas, some of which are older even than Google or Apple. The first smartphone, the IBM Simon, which tried to do many of the basic things the iPhone does today, hit the market in the early 90s. The raw parts of the modern smartphone, the hardware, whether it iPhone or Android--the ARM processors, the glass screen, the multitouch sensors, the lithium ion batteries and so on--are in a general sense fairly similar.

The iPhone was unique in that Apple pioneered a unique and striking way to combine and utilize these hardware features, and then to create a software interface that was instantly appealing to most people. Apple had a team, called the Explore New Rich Interactions team, that the iPhone concept grew out of, that had been experimenting with touch-based computing since nearly the turn of the century.

Then, Apple's Human Interface Group--among them, Bas Ording, Imran Chaudhri, and Greg Christie--designed a fluid, multitouch-based interface, one that lets you poke, prod, scroll, pinch and zoom on computers, that would help sell the world on the idea of smartphones, period. Apple also had software engineers like Richard Williamson and Henri Lamiraux who helped squeeze an actually good web browser onto a phone-sized device--a first for the time. Then it had an industrial design team and a hardware squad that made the whole physical product look good and function well.

Apple also embraced multitouch in a way that no company had before, and used this relatively untested new technology as the centerpiece for interacting with its new device.

At the time of the iPhone's release, in fact, Android was missing most of those features--the team was, by most counts, stunned at the elegance of the iPhone when Jobs debuted it in January 2007. The Android team was working on a plastic, hard keyboard-style phone, a la Blackberry, that looked instantly dated when the iPhone dropped. They had to go back to the drawing board, and "borrowed" a lot of the key elements of the iPhone, kicking off a series of legal disputes that continues to this day.

In other words, the wider-lens history of the components and general concepts that make the iPhone and Android possible, the basic ingredients, is rather similar, and in that sense both phone makers are lucky they got into the game when they did, as the technologies needed matured at around that point in the mid-00s. But Apple had the jump on the user interface, web browser, and design by a mile, and had been thinking about the iPhone's fundamentals for years before they started in on turning it into a phone-based product. That helped Apple nail the model for the modern smartphone first.

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Published on: Oct 3, 2017