Ten years ago, Steve Jobs announced what has become Apple’s most profitable and defining product: the iPhone. Today, the iPhone is one of the most popular and easily recognized devices, but back then it was a radical departure from anything else on the market. At the time, there was no guarantee it would succeed. The first iPhone was cutting-edge in some ways — it was the first smartphone to feature a capacitive touchscreen as a primary method of input, and its screen, while small by today’s metrics, was significantly larger than any other device in the US.
But the first iPhone was limited as well. There was no 3G support and no carrier options — you either signed up with AT&T or you didn’t buy an iPhone. It wasn’t really geared towards power users, the keyboard wasn’t as good as a physical device (this, at least, hasn’t changed), and it was expensive relative to other devices, which often offered more features and flexibility. In their initial review of the device, published in June 2007, Ars Technica wrote:
It’s clear to us that the iPhone wasn’t meant, at the outset anyway, as a smartphone for smartphone people (who typically end up being business people). Instead, the iPhone was meant as a smartphone for everyone else: average people who, until now, had no reason or motivation to get a BlackBerry or something similar that may have been more difficult to use and had way too many features for the average phone user. But the concept of the iPhone doesn’t just appeal to average users; it appeals to everyone, including business users.
Even the App Store, which has become an iconic part of Apple and driven much of the iPhone’s success, didn’t exist when the device launched. You could argue the iPhone wasn’t really a smartphone at launch, because it didn’t run native third-party apps. Jobs’ original plan was for all iPhone apps to run through Safari using Web 2.0 (remember when that was a buzzword) and AJAX-enabled websites. This was a controversial move that was seen as limiting both the performance of applications on the iPhone as well as limiting the types of applications that could be developed for the platform. Jobs would later relent on this issue, and a full SDK for iPhone development dropped in the spring of 2008.
We’ve put together a slideshow of each of Apple’s devices and the major advances that each delivered.
Apple is reportedly working on delivering a major update with the iPhone 8, with OLED screens widely rumored to make an appearance on at least some models. The new phone is also expected to use 10nm chips from TSMC, which should help reduce power consumption and improve battery life, though how much improvement we see may depend on how OLED technology compares to the next generation of LCD screens. Screen power is one of the most important factors in device power consumption and while OLEDs can be more power-efficient than LCDs, this typically depends on how much of the screen is black. Unlike LCDs, OLEDs can turn off pixels that aren’t displaying color, whereas LCDs depend on backlights that are always on whether the screen background is black or not.
Whatever Apple builds for its tenth anniversary, its unlikely to be as defining as the original iPhone was 10 years ago. Smartphone evolution has slowed of late, as the majority of devices are now capable of just about any workload or task we throw at them. H.265 / HEVC decode has already been added to top-end devices, and the tech industry has generally moved on to attempting to push wearables as a new market that could take off the way smartphones did (no company, including Apple, has enjoyed any success in this endeavor).
Still, the iPhone has had a heck of a journey from its initial unveil to the new iPhone 7. We salute Apple for seeing the opportunity for a new type of device and seizing it.