The arrival of the iPhone five years ago today has disrupted many things, including photography, the music business and the mobile software business; in fact, the entire technology industry. But from my point of view, one of the most interesting things about it is the impact it has had on news and journalism. Other smartphones and mobile platforms such as Android may offer similar functions and abilities now, but the iPhone jump-started the process more than perhaps any other device.
It’s almost hard to remember what things were like before we all had tiny computers with huge amounts of bandwidth and processing power in our hands, but in the not-so-distant past the only way you could consume news of any kind was by buying a print newspaper or watching a TV network (at a specific time), or maybe listening to a radio station. That meant news consumption was restricted to specific times and places (desktop PC, etc.) and a fairly narrow range of providers.
Consumption of the news was also the only option available, since the journalism business was effectively one-way only — rather than the multidirectional phenomenon it has become with the advent of social media and what Om has called the web-powered “democratization of distribution” that it provides. So from my perspective, the iPhone has changed THE news business and the journalism industry in two significant ways:
It has changed news consumption:
My news habit used to consist of several printed newspapers, magazines and the television news channels, as well as an RSS reader (Google Reader) on my PC desktop. With the arrival of the iPhone, that restricted diet became a massive smorgasbord of websites — although many didn’t have a good mobile version for some time — along with a mobile RSS reader and a growing variety of news aggregation services designed specifically for the iPhone.
Even as I was getting used to the iPhone (after switching over from my work-mandated BlackBerry), Twitter was also becoming a major source of news, as I developed curated lists of journalists and other smart users who fed me real-time news and links on a variety of events. Incidents like U.S. Airways Flight 1549 landing in the Hudson — with an iconic photo that was posted first to Twitter — and the earthquake in Haiti made it clear how much news was starting to come through the real-time network.
I had used Twitter and RSS readers on the BlackBerry, but they were cumbersome and unfriendly to use, and ugly to look at. The design and usability of the iPhone made it a pleasure to consume news anywhere — and more recently, the development of mobile-specific services like News.me, Flipboard and Prismatic have made it even easier to consume news on the fly. In many cases, I now use the iPhone even when I am near a regular computer or laptop.
And it has also changed news creation:
Through incidents like the plane landing in the Hudson, the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, the “Arab Spring” revolutions in Egypt and others, it has gradually become obvious that the iPhone hasn’t just changed the way a lot of people consume the news — it has also fundamentally altered the way that the news and journalism itself is created, now that everyone has the tools to create and publish text, photos and video wherever they are.
In some ways, the iPhone and Twitter were made for each other: one allows for the easy creation of content and the other allows it to be easily shared and distributed far and wide. These things can be done on other handsets, and there are plenty of Android and other devices that allow for the same experience, but the iPhone was arguably the first to take those abilities and make them widely available — and appealing enough for many to want to do so.
Now we’re starting to see apps and services that take advantage of this ability, whether it’s things like iWitness or other platforms that filter user-generated content, or networks that allow smartphone users to sell newsworthy photos or videos they have taken. The San Jose Mercury News conducted an interesting experiment with an app called TapIn, which allowed users to post photos and other content about breaking news, and allowed journalists and others to send out public calls for crowdsourced photos or videos of events as well.
A number of things came together when the iPhone was released that helped it become a disruptive force for news and journalism: Twitter was one of them, but so was the fact that the device had a half-decent camera that could do stills and video — and the app economy that Apple created made it easy for services and developers to create specific apps for different functions, such as Instagram for sharing photos.
But more than anything, the iPhone was the first smartphone that actually felt like a mobile computer rather than a phone, and that made it easier to think of it as a device you could use not just for consuming the news, but for making it.