10 years on, the iPhone remains the coolest phone on the planet

From the very first ‘One last thing’ from Steve Jobs more than a decade ago, the iPhone has sat proudly on the throne of the coolest phone on the planet, and the truth is I still can’t see anyone changing that. 

Over the years there have been phones that you could argue have been better than the iPhones of the time – especially in the ‘S’ years – but nobody – not Samsung, not Motorola and not Google – has ever created a phone that garners the same attention or the same global reaction. 

I’m a rarity on the TechRadar team: someone who has been on iPhone for the entire decade in which we have existed. There are a plethora of reasons why I've never defected to the Android side of the fence – and don’t think for a second I haven’t thought the grass might just be that little bit more verdant over there. 

I work alongside the best phone reviewers on the planet; people who plucked the HTC Desire from obscurity and decreed it a five-star phone, who looked past the original OnePlus arriving bundled in tape and brown paper and realised its potential, and who currently have the Samsung Galaxy S8 as top choice in our ever-influential ‘Best Phones’ list. 

And – indeed – those phone reviewers have never given an iPhone a five-star write-up.

That’s not to say there haven’t been times when the iPhone has come close; the iPhone 4 was a tour de force, and the iPhone 6 so nearly broke the hoodoo, but ultimately the price, or features that could be found more impressively in other (often cheaper) handsets, kept it from getting the ultimate accolade – a rare five-star TechRadar review. 

Cool factor

iPhone 4

So why, given all of this, have I remained so squarely parked in the iPhone camp? Because, quite simply, iPhones remain the coolest, easiest to use and most satisfying devices I have ever used. I’ve tried Android plenty of times, and I completely get that people like its adaptability, but for me the iPhone’s simplicity combined with clever, intuitive firmware upgrades and, yes, the Ive design ethos, always does enough to keep me loyal.

And here’s the crux: why is the iPhone the coolest phone? How can a phone that, quite possibly, your grandmother owns be cool, even for an instant? How can the best-selling single handset on the planet be cool? 

Because… of something. A hard-to-define mainstream appeal, exactly the secret Apple sauce that has turned its devices into world-beaters. 

You don’t need to be the best when it comes to features, you don’t need a shiny gimmick or a better camera. You certainly don’t need to be the cheapest, or come out of the left-field like an obscure indie band on the undercard at Glastonbury. 

You need to convince the vast majority of the world that you are cool. That’s a trick that Jobs finessed back in 2007, and his legacy has endured. 

Defining cool

In 2016 I asked the leader of the UK's CoolBrands Council, Steve Cheliotis, what criteria he used to define what cool actually meant. He felt there were four pillars: originality, innovation, authenticity and desirability. 

But does that actually fit for an iPhone? It was, to most people, the original smartphone, and although its achievements in terms of innovation are less obvious it has had its moments (not least with the apps that now run our lives). 

Authenticity has never been a problem for a company that genuinely lives and breathes its own products, and, let’s be completely honest, it remains the leader in terms of desirability, with a powerful marketing operation – including the clever way in which it corrals an army of committed fans and celebrities to do its work for it. 

"Apple ticks those boxes and most celebs you see are still running around with iPhones, so the public by and large aspire to have them as well," Cheliotis told me. 

Jobs was renowned for his showmanship, for making the Apple launch events something special; he had a rock star quality that we simply haven’t seen in the tech world since, but his real genius was in imbuing his products with his own vast reserves of confidence. 

For me, the iPhone, even without fundamental changes, has a swagger and a confidence that no other phone can match. It doesn’t demand attention because it gets it anyway; it doesn’t need gimmicks or headline specs because, well, it’s an iPhone. 

Remaining the best-seller for the majority of the 10 years of your existence is a tough ask. Being the best-seller for all that time and still managing to keep your cool – well that’s remarkable.