Ten years ago today, on June 29, 2007, the Apple Store on New York’s 5th Avenue opened for business, and in streamed the first U.S. consumers to buy an iPhone – a distinction they’d earned by camping out four days ahead of time to ensure they’d be first at the sales counter.
Now we can look back on how Apple’s iPhone and its iOS operating system kick-started a new era in the history of communications and information sharing – along with Google’s Android operating system, which debuted in the U.S. on Oct. 22, 2008, when the first Android-powered smartphone, the T-Mobile G1, went on sale.
But when the history of market research is written, students of the industry will marvel at how a discipline that exists to provide sharply-honed, statistically reliable, up-to-the-minute data and insights into any and every shift in consumers’ attitudes and behaviors could have failed for so many years to understand the implications of what went down on June 29, 2007.
Before we go further into that aspect of the story, let’s journey back to the events of ten years ago.
The world had first learned of Apple’s new smartphone at 9:44 a.m., Pacific Time, on Jan. 9, 2007, when Steve Jobs paused during his keynote address at the Macworld 2007 conference in San Francisco and told a cheering crowd that “today Apple is going to reinvent the phone, and here it is.” The iPhone, he proclaimed, was not just “a revolutionary mobile phone,” but “a breakthrough Internet communications device” whose functions could be controlled with a simple finger-tap. “It’s the Internet in your pocket, for the first time ever.”
(Ironically, in retrospect, Jobs then turned the mic over to Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, whose company had worked with Apple to provide built-in Google Browser and Google Maps apps for the iPhone 1 but would soon become Apple’s fierce operating system competitor.)
When tech reviewers got their hands on the devices, even skeptics concurred. The Wall Street Journal reported that the iPhone was “on balance, a beautiful and breakthrough handheld computer.” The New York Times pronounced it “a real dazzler,” and mused that “maybe all the iPhone hype isn’t hype at all.”
The cautionary lesson for market research is what iPhones and Android phones did to the market they entered. The BlackBerry, introduced in 2000, was the hottest smartphone on the market when the iPhone arrived, but it lacked Internet access. BlackBerry reached its sales apogee in mid-2009, when, according to Statista, it commanded 20.9% of global market share, compared to 17.1% for iOS and 3.5% for Android. The world leader, by far, at the time was the Nokia-associated Symbian operating system, which at the start of 2009 commanded a 51% market share.
Talk about creative destruction: since then Apple’s share of a soaring smartphone operating system market held steady and Android, licensed to multiple manufacturers, has skyrocketed. Meanwhile, Blackberry and Symbian rapidly sank into the dustbin of tech history. Nokia ended Symbian’s run in 2013, and the BlackBerry’s market share for 2016 was barely a rounding error, at 0.0048% of the global market.
“[BlackBerry] never quite managed the transition to smartphones successfully…and after several strategic shifts announced…that it would no longer make its own phones,” Statista’s report recounts.
There will be a passage almost identical to the one above in that hypothetical future history of market research. It will list a number of major research providers who “never quite managed the transition to smartphones successfully,” and suffered BlackBerry-esque consequences. And it will talk about how researchers who came to embrace the idea of connecting with consumers via their smartphone apps enjoyed a new era of prosperity driven by the fraud-proof quality data and insights that in-app mobile survey technology and app-using panelists made possible.
MFour began pioneering in-app mobile research in 2011, when it launched the Surveys on the Go® research app and began attracting a U.S. panel that now numbers more than 1.3 million active members. It started when MFour’s founders recognized that every third person or so seemed to have a smartphone in hand, and reckoned that this was just early days for what they were sure would soon be a transformational, all-encompassing technology. They saw that market research needs to reach consumers when, where and how they want to be reached – and that the answer was, increasingly, on their smartphones.
If there’s one statistic that crystallizes what’s happened since MFour got started, it’s this one from eMarketer: in 2016, U.S. smartphone users spent 3 hours and 15 minutes a day accessing the Internet with mobile apps, as opposed to 50 minutes using browsers. The mobile app is king, and if you page through our blog posts, you’ll find lots of details about what that means to market research.
So happy birthday, iPhone, and thanks for the revolution, Apple (and you, too, Google). Here’s to the next ten years of mobile excitement and mobile prosperity. And here’s a salute to the market research clients who are already on board, and a welcoming toast to the many more insights professionals, advertisers and marketers who will soon join in. As the takeover by iOS and Android has shown, it’s amazing how fast the changes come once a good idea sinks in. To find out more, just get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.