If you are alive right now (I'd hope, you zombie) and somewhat tech-savvy, then chances are you either a) have a smartphone, b) want a smartphone, or c) at least know what the hell a smartphone is. And the device that has flipped the world upside-down and become an icon in mobile technology is, of course, the iPhone. If you're an iPhone owner, then chances are every time you switch it on, you recognize just how crazy-advanced it seems -- almost like its wrong to have control of it, like it was NASA-developed and should be locked away somewhere a secret government facility. Or maybe when you hold it, you can imagine an alien, say ET, having created it, and that it dropped from the sky from a passing UFO. Either way, one can appreciate such a capable device, and on the subconscious level, the admirable UI, usability, and phenomenal design and care put into it.
Of course, there are now many alternatives to the iPhone, with the Android platform really maturing, Blackberry remaining relevant, and Windows Phone 7 (or whatever it's called now) trying its best to catch up. All have new exciting features and usability, each trying their best to compete and advance the game. It's no secret though, looking at any of the offerings for any of the platforms previously mentioned (except for most of Blackberry's offerings that retain their traditional plastic keyboards), that newer devices all model themselves after the iPhone. In physical design, the all-touchscreen "candybar" device that Apple announced January 2007 was the most original, being dramatically different in shape and function, than any electronic gadget previously imagined. That's all without mentioning the fact that Apple had never ever, ever, ever made a phone before in the previous 30 years of its existence.
Therefore, I think its important to acknowledge the success Apple had not only with its customers, but with AT&T to allow the first deal that separated the phone manufacturer from the carrier to allow Apple to have the freedom to do what it wants -- to create something extremely new and fascinating without being bogged down with restrictions.
In general, the introduction of the iPhone has altered the public's interpretation and anticipation of technology and the internet. Now that the bar is placed so high, people expect more from the products they purchase, possibly becoming even jaded enough to say, "If my phone can't do it, then why should I care?" Our phones can do more now than could have ever been previously imagined. The steady stream of information we receive day-in and day-out is exponentially increased by its accessibility. Smartphone owners "carry the internet" in their pockets, and it seems only natural to eventually depend on such a close and reliable source for practically any query that one can wonder.
But what is the next big thing? The phrase and idea that comes to mind is the notion that "everything that can be invented has." Surely we thought that our beloved Palm Treo couldn't have been improved upon that much. Now, as I record and edit HD 720p video on my iPhone 4, I'm beginning to ask the same question as to what's next. Not that I don't think that the iPhone could be improved on, but I'm wondering more along the lines of whether or not there is a better form-factor, user interface, or function regarding user input via a touchscreen or another mechanism for this catagory of device. The next step, I could only hope, would be mindreading. Screw voice recognition, how about thought recognition? Ever sat in front of the TV and just hoped that the TV automatically knew what you wanted to watch, then found and displayed it for your viewing pleasure? Maybe that's next?