It has been 16 years since the first iPhone went on sale. When Steve Jobs introduced the original iPhone he hyped it as three revolutionary products: an iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator. The first iPhone came in only one size and the only decision you had was whether to get it with 4GB of storage or 8GB. As far as carriers, only AT&T supported Apple’s first phone.
At the time, the idea of carrying an iPhone instead of a flip phone and an iPod was enough to convince some people to buy one. For others, the iPhone’s main appeal was the touch screen, which seemed unreal and futuristic.
Now, there are just under 150 million active iPhone units in the United States, making Apple by far the most popular smartphone manufacturer and ahead of all Android device manufacturers combined.
The iPhone is available in an array of colours, finishes, sizes, and storage options that now top out at 1TB. And while the screen is where most of the magic happens, it’s no longer the main appeal of the iPhone.
What defines the iPhone has shifted away from a focus on design and hardware specs. Instead, the iPhone and iOS have become a gateway into Apple services and features like iMessage, FaceTime, Siri, Apple Music, Apple Pay, top-of-the-line cameras, and apps like Uber, TikTok, Twitter, and WhatsApp. For better or worse, the iPhone has become home to our photos, music, conversations, ideas, games, identity, work, social media, shopping, keys, and money. It is the one thing we never leave home without and panic at the thought of it being lost.
“iPhone is a revolutionary and magical product that is literally five years ahead of any other mobile phone,” Jobs said at the first launch in 2007.
Since then, Apple has become one of the most recognised brands and most profitable public companies in the world. Samsung, HTC, Motorola, Oppo and Xiaomi are all now competing in the smartphone space, and even people in places without steady electricity have smartphones.
With the addition of new features from every software update, the iPhone’s ability appears to be endless.
“It’s difficult to understate [the iPhone’s] impact,” Reticle Research analyst Ross Rubin said. “The ripples it has created affect wide swaths of our lives.”
Here are some ways the iPhone has changed the way we live:
We’re Always On
I remember having to fire up the computer, wait for Wi-Fi to connect (or dial-up connection if we’re going way back), and open Internet Explorer. Now we’re connected to the Internet all the time. If you’re not on Wi-Fi, you’re linked through your cellular network.
It’s not just inescapable connectivity that the iPhone helped bring about. It’s also how we access the internet. The iPhone made mobile web browsing useful for the first time. Soon came a flood of apps, which removed the need to open a web browser at all, and opened a whole new world for the user.
The whole lineup
Multiple devices are tied to the iPhone or they exist because the phone was created. There’s the iPad, which is essentially a larger iPhone. And there’s the Apple Watch, which is tethered to the iPhone.
Then there are all the accessories spurred by the popularity of the iPhone, like phone cases; Bluetooth speakers and headphones; and charging docks. ABI Research estimates that revenue in the global mobile accessories market will top $110 billion in 2021. If my budget would allow it, I would have the whole Apple lineup at my fingertips.
The key to happiness
The App Store is what made the iPhone a must-have device. There are now over 2 million apps in the App Store, continuously growing, with basically every company making one of these apps. The iPhone and App Store have spawned industries that couldn’t exist without smartphones. There would be no Uber to shuttle us around, or Instagram or Snapchat for sharing our photos, or heaven forbid, no Uber Eats for food delivery.
Everyone’s a shutterbug
We had cameras on our phones before the iPhone, or you had a digital or film camera separate. But the Apple gadget’s combination of easy internet access and apps like Instagram inspired people’s inner photographer.
As a result, lugging around an actual camera became redundant.
Now the cameras on the latest iPhone are truly spectacular. You may have never taken a photo in your life, but the iPhone can make it look on another level. We are taking photos of everything and everywhere, just because we can. And all your favourite memories can be stored right there on your phone, or up in the cloud.
The phone’s camera also means you have a portable camcorder at your fingertips. On top of that, the phone’s connection lets you broadcast video immediately. That could mean talking to your family members on the other side of the country or shooting a dog video for TikTok. With Facebook Live, for example, the technology can be used for filming live events, protests, or instantly reporting something you’ve seen.
On the opposite side, having these smart devices on us at all times can enable law enforcement and big corporations to track individuals. Apple has taken a strong stance on privacy, with various features you can control yourself, but security remains a big concern for users.
Putting the digits in digital
Touchscreens used to be rare. Now babies are swiping at TVs and wondering why the screen doesn’t change. Interactive screens are in virtually everything, even fridges. When Jobs introduced the iPhone, he said, “We are all born with the ultimate pointing device – our fingers – and the iPhone uses them to create the most revolutionary user interface since the mouse.”
He was more right than he could imagine. The appeal of a touchscreen phone forced Microsoft to embrace touch in its software and get its hardware partners to make touchscreen phones, tablets, and computers. It’s almost surprising to see a device today without a touchscreen.
You are here
The introduction of mapping on the iPhone meant you no longer had to feel like an embarrassed tourist in a new city, clutching a giant paper map on the street corner. Google Maps and Apple Maps are two of the most-used apps on the iPhone, and they’ve steadily added features over the years, like public transit and biking directions.
With the addition of the AirTag, you can keep track of your valuables and see if they suddenly start moving somewhere they shouldn’t. Or, like me, you can attach one to your dog’s collar.
Gaming goes to the next level
The iPhone reinvented the idea of mobile gaming. Apps like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja (my old favourites), which anyone could play using their fingers on the touchscreen, became widely popular, and payment models changed. Many games are now free to play, instead of charging a sales price, developers came up with in-app purchases, which let you pay for new levels and features as you go.
Mobile-oriented gaming subscriptions have also gained steam, with Apple’s Arcade service and Google’s Play Pass highlighting access to ad-free games on iOS and Android. Even more, companies plan to use cloud services to stream games to mobile, with growing efforts from Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass and Google’s Stadia for example.
Cash ain’t king
Apple was not the first company to talk about mobile payments, but it did make even your grandparents aware of the technology, and the ability to use your phone to purchase things. Goodbye, cash. Hello, iPhone.
The iPhone’s Wallet app also can store retail coupons, reward cards, and passes for flights and movies, all in one place. Even your driver’s license is getting ready to be in Apple’s Wallet if you want it to be. Additionally, in our post-COVID world, your vaccination certificate can be stored there, along with your government and private health card if you wish. With the Apple Watch card payment system as well, it’s exceedingly rare to see someone pay cash.
Cash isn’t dead yet, but using your phone at the checkout is more common than ever.
But there’s more
There’s no way to sum up in just 10 points all that the iPhone did. So here’s a grab bag of additional bits.
Apple basically killed Adobe Flash on mobile devices and made endless scrolling a good thing. You never have to carry a calculator or flashlight anymore, and visual voicemail lets you skip forward in a meandering message. Podcasts mean you don’t have to listen to the radio in real-time and have become a competitive space where Spotify and more compete for deals for popular shows. Social media has shifted heavily to mobile devices from desktop computers, letting people feel connected to friends at all times.
We can now look forward and wonder what the next instalments of the iPhones will bring us next.