10 Years of The iPhone – Heralding the age of the smartphone

Steve Jobs presenting the first iPhone

On the 9th of January 2007, in the Macworld Conference and Expo in San Francisco, Steve Jobs, Apple’s late co-founder and chief executive, unveiled the iPhone to the world.

On that day in 2007, dressed in his trademark blue jeans and black turtleneck – his equivalent of a work uniform – Job’s initially hints that he might be announcing the debut of three devices – “An iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator,” the ruse being of course  that it turned out to be just one device, a combination of the three, the iPhone.

“What we want do is make a leapfrog product that is way smarter than any mobile device has ever been, and super-easy to use”.   – Steve Jobs

Pre-iPhone smartphones

The iPhone was not the first smartphone. Before Apple’s flagship device  there existed smartphones like RIM’s Blackberry or the Nokia E62 which were clunky and unattractive both in terms of hardware and software but enabled users mobile access to email and the internet, the latter was presented itself on the small screen so poorly so as to be nearly unusable. Owner’s of smartphone’s pre-iPhone were generally enterprise users and Tech heads with the majority of us still making use our bulky PC laptops, home desktop computers, and trips to the local internet café. Job’s issue with existing smartphones at the time was that they were not easy to use:

“…smart phones are definitely a little smarter, but they actually are harder to use. They’re really complicated. Just for the basic stuff people have a hard time figuring out how to use them.”   – Steve Jobs

Therein lies one of the essential factors to the iPhone’s phenomenal success. It’s so easy to use. Pre-iPhone era smartphones were at best awkward to use and at worst bewilderingly complicated.  Apple’s emphasis on ease-of-use means that the iPhone is a device that even the most non-tech-savvy person can use without much fuss. For many previously intimidated by technology struggling to master their home desktop pcs and Windows sometimes overbearing operating system, the iPhone was many people’s first positive and empowering experience with technology. As a former Apple ‘genius’ (as I stated daily, I am very far from a genius!) I saw this phenomena everyday in the Apple stores that I worked. People were not overcome by complexity and their initial experience was simple, clear, and fun. This concept underpins not just the iPhone but the whole Apple Ecosystem from iMac, it’s desktop computer, to the iPod, it’s portable music device. Job’s aim was to create a smartphone that was “super-easy to use”.  In 2017 Apple and the iPhone do not have it all their own way in the smartphone market, with tech behemoths Google and Samsung creating smartphones with the Android operating system that are hugely popular and also very easy to use. These days the  argument could be made that the system software that ships with Samsung and Apple phones, Android and iOS are now more similar than different, yet it was the iPhone and it’s operating system that paved the way for this mobile computing revolution with all smart phones and tablets that came in it’s wake taking their lead from Apple’s clean, uncluttered, and user friendly design.

The Original iPhone – iPhone 1st Generation

The phone’s physical appearance was the work of designer Sir Jonathan ‘Jony’ Ive who created a device which was visually striking and futuristic looking. It’s design’s simplicity and functionality borrowed much from German designer Dieter Rams famous for the products he conceived for the German company Braun during the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies from and which has led to the iPhone’s iconic status in consumer design. It’s sleek clean lines and simplicity made it an immediate status symbol, an object to be desired, and one that gave consumers cool piece of designer chic, fashionable hardware they could gush and fawn over. Apple iPhone users are notorious loyal. Apple stuck to their ethos of not exposing the complexity of their devices to the user. The only evident physical input device was (and still is) a frontal large round menu button (the Home button) with three small buttons hidden around the phone’s edge to regulate functions such as volume, power, and muting sound. On first viewing the question people asked most was “where is the keyboard?”

The most striking element of the iPhone was the introduction of the multi-touch glass screen, eliminating the often awkward plastic keyboards of the competition which as Job’s alludes to in his Keynote:

… what’s wrong with their user interfaces? Well, the problem with them is really sort of in the bottom 40 there. It’s, it’s this stuff right here.They all have these keyboards that are there whether you need them or not to be there.   – Steve Jobs

The keyboard instead appeared on-screen only when required. With the proliferation of multi-touch devices in our homes and workplaces, it’s hard to imagine just how ground breaking this was. The “large” size of the display allowed hugely improved internet browsing capabilities – hitherto, smartphones included only very simplified “baby” web browsers – and applications could appear less cluttered and therefore more easily navigable. 

The iPhone ushered in the era of the smartphone as an everyday tool with close to half the earth’s adult population now owning one. It has changed how many of us interact with the world around us. Our smartphones have embedded themselves in our daily lives and we use them in a myriad of different ways. Besides using it to communicate with each other, it’s our camera, it’s our music player, our daily newspaper,  our fitness monitor, our GPS system and mapping assistant, our work assistant, the list goes on.

Ten years on and Apple has sold over 1 billion iPhones but throughout 2016 sales of the iPhone began to decline for the first time in it’s 10 year history. Although it’s market share is diminishing there can be no doubt that Steve Job’s unveiling of the iPhone  in 2007 was a landmark moment in man’s relationship with technology.

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