IPhone marks 10th anniversary
Looks back on the once panned Apple product that changed our lives.
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.