Do you remember where you were on January 9, 2007? I know exactly where I was and what I was doing, since I was attending Macworld Expo that year and was fortunate to be in the audience at the keynote when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone.
In those days, Apple had a huge presence at Macworld Expo, taking up a good part of the show floor at Moscone Center. Every year, the company would also host a keynote address to which attendees were invited. Some years the keynotes were rather unexciting, but the 2007 event was expected to be different because Apple was allegedly going to announce a cell phone.
If I remember correctly, I crawled out of bed at 3 AM that morning and made my way to Moscone West, where the keynote would be held. Why so early? If you didn't get in line early, it was pretty easy to be relegated to an "overflow room", which basically meant that you were in a side room somewhere staring at a TV screen showing what was going on instead of actually being at the keynote.
I stood in line and chatted with my fellow Mac fans -- remember, there was no iPhone, iPad or iOS at this time -- for hours until we slowly moved into the building. Finally, we were ushered into the huge room where the event was held.
I wasn't too close to the stage, but I could see Jobs when he came out to raucous applause and cheers. His image was also blasted onto a lot of screens above the floor, which was nice for catching the nuances of his talk. I won't repeat all that he said; check out the video below to see the highlights of his speech.
When he said "Today we're introducing three revolutionary products" and then highlighted "a widescreen iPod with touch controls," "a revolutionary mobile phone," and "a breakthrough Internet communications device", a lot of us in the crowd were looking at each going "WOW, THREE NEW PRODUCTS!!!!"... and then Steve surprised us all by telling us that they were all in one new product, the iPhone.
Now we wouldn't actually get our hands on an iPhone until June 29, 2007, but the anticipation of knowing what was coming was incredible. Sure, the original device had really lousy battery life, mine used to run so hot that it almost felt like it was burning my hand or pocket, and there were no third-party apps except for "web apps" , but it was still a breakthrough device and has only gotten better with time.
Before the iPhone, there were a variety of different products in a number of shapes, sizes, and colors. After the iPhone, most smartphone manufacturers adopted the flat, touchscreen design. There was a lot more that we got out of the iPhone introduction than just a flat phone. In 2009, blogger Kontra, who runs Counternotions.com, compiled a history of what the world was like before iPhone. Here's his list (remember, this was in 2009 - one year after the introduction of the App Store):
- Carriers ruled the industry with an iron fist
- To access carriers’ networks handset makers capitulated everything
- Carriers dictated phone designs, features, apps, prices, marketing, advertising and branding
- Phones were reduced to cheap, disposable lures for carriers’ service contracts
- There was no revenue sharing between carriers and manufacturers
- There was no notion of phone networks becoming dumb pipes anytime soon
- Affordable, unlimited data plans as standard were unheard of
- A phone that would entice people to switch networks by the millions was a pipe dream
- Mobile devices were phones first and last, not usable handheld computers
- Even the smartest phones didn’t have seamless WiFi integration
- Without Visual Voice Mail, messages couldn’t be managed non-linearly
- There were no manufacturer owned and operated on-the-phone application stores as the sole source
- An on-the-phone store having 65,000 apps downloaded nearly 2 billion times was not on anyone’s radar screen
- Low-cost, high-volume app pricing strategy with a 70/30 split didn’t exist
- Robust one-click in-app transactions were unknown
- There was no efficient, large scale, consistent and lucrative mobile app market for developers large and small
- Buttons, keys, joysticks, sliders…anything but the screen was the focus of phones
- Phones didn’t come with huge 3.5″ touch screens
- Pervasive multitouch, gesture-based UI was science fiction
- Actually usable, multi-language, multitouch virtual keyboards on phones didn’t exist
- Integrated sensors like accelerometers and proximity detectors had no place in phones
- Phones could never compete in 3D/gaming with dedicated portable consoles
- iPod-class audio/video players on mobiles didn’t exist
- No phone had ever offered a desktop-like web browser experience
- Sophisticated SDKs and phones were strangers to each other
Of course, our devices are now much bigger, faster, and there are millions of apps. But this is a great description of what the world was like before iPhone.
Will the iPhone still be around 10 years from now? We have no way of knowing what the future will bring -- perhaps a super-intelligent AI combined with EarPods and a pair of augmented reality glasses will be the next iPhone, and maybe that type of device won't come from Apple. For the past ten years, though, the iPhone has ruled the tech world as the standard to which all other smartphones are compared.