IPhone marks 10th an­niver­sary

Looks back on the once panned Ap­ple prod­uct that changed our lives.

The Southland Times - - TECHNOLOGY&SCIENCE -

When Ap­ple in­tro­duced the iPhone 10 years ago, skep­tics pounced. Sure, the iPhone was a bright, shiny ob­ject, an­other prod­uct that crazed Ap­ple lovers would line up to buy, as they al­ways did. But the phone was a hodge­podge, a Swiss Army knife of func­tions try­ing to do too much, crit­ics said. It had no sty­lus, no key­board but­tons, no se­cure email for busi­ness users. Peo­ple would never type long emails on it.

One an­a­lyst pre­dicted ‘‘a back­lash of sorts as peo­ple fig­ure out how much this thing doesn’t do’’.

The iPhone’s big­gest booster, then-Ap­ple chief ex­ec­u­tive Steve Jobs, knew the de­vice’s po­ten­tial as he took the stage in San Fran­cisco on Jan­uary 9, 2007. ‘‘Ev­ery once in awhile, a rev­o­lu­tion­ary prod­uct comes along that changes the world,’’ he said. ‘‘To­day Ap­ple is go­ing to rein­vent the phone.’’

Jobs turned out to be right. The iPhone was the de­vice that ‘‘con­di­tioned us to ex­pect to be con­nected to the global net­work ev­ery moment of the day’’, said Paul Saffo, a long­time tech in­dus­try ob­server. And that con­di­tion­ing changed ev­ery­thing.

The fol­low­ing year, Ap­ple cre­ated the iPhone App Store, a cen­tralised mar­ket that opened up the de­vice to soft­ware de­vel­op­ers.

Mean­while, other smart­phone man­u­fac­tur­ers like HTC and Sam­sung sold their own hand­sets with mul­ti­touch in­ter­faces re­ly­ing on Google’s An­droid op­er­at­ing sys­tem. They, too, opened app stores.

With smart­phone apps, peo­ple call an Uber, find a date through Tin­der, look for jobs on LinkedIn, watch videos on YouTube, play An­gry Birds, con­trol their home ther­mostats and so on. Our smart­phones have be­come so crit­i­cal to our lives that there’s an app for find­ing a lost or stolen one.

The iPhone (along with its smart­phone com­peti­tors) has gone from be­ing ‘‘a fetish to the tool for me­di­at­ing mod­ern life,’’ said Mike McGuire, a vice-pres­i­dent of re­search at Gart­ner. (In 2007 at the iPhone un­veil­ing, he came close to con­vey­ing what would hap­pen, telling me, ‘‘once you have the thing, you will want to carry it all the time’’.)

To test how deeply em­bed­ded smart­phones are, try to live with­out one. Turn­ing it off while camp­ing doesn’t count.

Yes, it’s ridicu­lous how much many of us rely on this thing now but oh well. Still, there are down­sides to this al­wayscon­nected life.

More than 70 per cent of smart­phone own­ers sleep with them. France re­cently passed a law af­firm­ing the right of work­ers to dis­con­nect, not an­swer emails, when they are on per­sonal time.

‘‘That came as a re­sult, I would ar­gue, from smart­phones,’’ said McGuire.

Tex­ting while driv­ing has be­come a se­ri­ous pub­lic health is­sue. And, we are still try­ing to fig­ure out etiquette rules for us­ing smart­phones.

But 10 years later, af­ter Ap­ple has sold more than a bil­lion iPhones, are there any skep­tics left?

The iPhone out­stripped all ex­pec­ta­tions and be­came Ap­ple’s largest source of rev­enue. Yet its 10th an­niver­sary comes at a time when the iPhone it­self is no longer a sta­tus sym­bol. To the un­trained eye, an iPhone, a Sam­sung Galaxy or an­other An­droid-based phone look much the same, es­pe­cially in pro­tec­tion cases.

‘‘Each de­vice mat­ters less and less,’’ said Bob O’Don­nell, pres­i­dent and chief an­a­lyst of TECH­nal­y­sis Re­search. ‘‘We’ve passed peak smart­phone.’’

That has hit Ap­ple. In 2016, iPhone sales slumped, lead­ing the com­pany to cut 15 per cent from the pay of Tim Cook, its chief ex­ec­u­tive, for miss­ing per­for­mance goals.

The smart­phone mar­ket may be sat­u­rated, with peo­ple hold­ing on to their old ones longer. What mat­ters more are the ser­vices. The de­vices them­selves have be­come more like ves­sels than sta­tus sym­bols.

Tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments, even from Ap­ple, are in­cre­men­tal now, tweaks that fans cheer but that aren’t cre­at­ing new mar­kets.

Is that a prob­lem for Ap­ple and the en­tire tech in­dus­try? Maybe. ‘‘We need new in­flec­tion points,’’ said Tim Ba­jarin, pres­i­dent of Cre­ative Strate­gies, who told me in 2007 that with the iPhone Ap­ple ‘‘may have cre­ated a new cat­e­gory’’.

‘‘An an­niver­sary is a good time to in­tro­duce in­flec­tion points for the in­dus­try’s growth,’’ he said.

What­ever comes next, we prob­a­bly won’t fully un­der­stand its im­pact at first. It seems to take us a decade to fig­ure out how the next new thing will fit in our life. But when we do, we don’t let go. - MCT


Ap­ple chief ex­ec­u­tive Steve Jobs holds the first iPhone in 2007.

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