HAMISH MCRAE: Apple’s iPhone story not only about money, it is about changing society, the way a single product has transformed our lives

Ten years ago Americans got their paws on the first iPhone – and the world changed. It has certainly changed Apple, propelling it to become the world’s most valuable company, with 70 per cent of its revenues from this single product.

Indeed it is probably the most profitable bit of technology ever, with some 1.2bn phones produced. In the year before it was launched, 2006, Apple had $19bn (£14.6bn) in annual sales. In its latest accounting year this had risen more than tenfold.

It has made so much money for Apple and the company has been so aggressive in exploiting loopholes in global tax legislation that governments understandably want a bigger share of the pie.

Success story: The iPhone and other smartphones have made the app world possible

But this story is not only about money. It is about changing society, the way a single product has transformed our lives.

The iPhone and other smartphones have made the app world possible.

We think of it as normal to be able to bank on our mobile phones, and right now around 20m Britons do so. We think of it as normal to be able FaceTime our grandchildren, normal to pull up a map when we are in a strange city, to look for traffic jams.

But none of this was really possible a decade ago. Whatever view you take of the downsides of social networking, not many people would give up their mobiles and all the services on them.

That leads to something bigger still. According to the official stats most of us have seen no rise in our real incomes over the past decade.

Wages are supposed to have stagnated. For young people they have fallen in real terms. Yet the young are the most avid users of the new technologies, so how can their standard of living have fallen?

The problem is how to measure the benefits of new technology. Advances normally make things cheaper. For example, as planes become more efficient, airfares come down. But the million-plus new services of the app world did not exist at all, and since many of them are free at the point of use they barely register in GDP. Common sense says we are getting richer; we just don’t know how to measure by how much.

So while castigating Apple’s tax policies, let’s celebrate it for transforming lives.

And if we can also learn how to use – with a bit more courtesy – the new communication possibilities that the iPhone and its imitators have given us, then that would be worth celebrating too.

Runway dilemmas

It may not be the most pleasurable passenger experience to go through Gatwick. Indeed it was recently ranked as the second-worst in the world after Kuwait.

In business terms, however, it is a huge success: more routes, especially long-haul ones; more passengers, with more than 43m last year, and more profit.

It is also the busiest single-runway airport in the world, for though there is a standby alongside the main runway, it is too close to it to be used if the main one is functioning. The great question is whether Gatwick should build a proper second runway.

It lost out on the third runway decision last year but two things have changed since the Airports Commission, led by Sir Howard Davies, did its work.

One is that Gatwick is putting on even more growth than the commission expected. The other is that the politics of expansion at Heathrow have become even more difficult since the election.

The Institute of Directors wants both. Practicalities suggest getting on with the politically easier one first.

Carney causes chaos

Mark Carney has, rather to the irritation of foreign-exchange market analysts, gone back into his ‘unreliable boyfriend’ mode.

He hinted last week that interest rates would not need to go up, only to do an about-turn and suggest this week they might need to do so.

Cue chaos in the markets, with the pound back around $1.30 after having its strongest run for two years.

Two thoughts – one is that the pound is still weak. The other is: what’s wrong with keeping the markets guessing? Market-makers are supposed to like volatility.

And even central bankers are allowed to change their minds.

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