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On January 9th 2007, during an Apple event, Steve Job talked about Apple introducing three new devices: a new iPod, an telephone and internet communication device. In fact, it was actually one device and it was called the iPhone. It was one of a kind device and it captured the world’s imagination. 15 years since then, the iPhone has not only transformed Apple from a company that just came back to life support to an unstoppable technological behemoth, it also changed the modern world, for better or worse.
We took a look back of the 15 years since the first iPhone launched and how it has transformed the world in general and Apple in particular.
First, take a look at the device itself and compare it with the most advanced phone for it’s time. At that time, there are two kinds of phones: the dumb phones that quite decent but mostly for calls and texts, most dominated by Nokia and then the smartphones with limited web, email, and chat capabilities, most dominated by Research-in-Motion “Crackberry” Blackberry phones. Apple, largely from the heels of its iPod success, does not just add a phone capabilities to its music player, but decided to create the revolutionary new product that would change the game. Again.
There isn’t to say that there were skeptics on the iPhone. Some say, the graphical keyboard might be a miss in implementation. The phone was more expensive than any other on the market and you can only get it on the AT&T network. And get this: the 3.5-inch screen was deemed too large. Of course, now the onscreen keyboard is a proven technology. The smartphone is everywhere and you get things like the phablet and later the folding phone.
As always, most of the technology that was in the iPhone was invented by someone else: multi-touch was invented in the 60s, on screen keyboard was nothing new, digital camera was a thing in the 2000s and wireless internet was a feature back in the 90s. What make Apple unique is how Apple cobbles everything together and make an entirely new product.
The multi-touch implementation was outstanding. The on screen keyboard was good enough that it feels clairvoyant. Conversation styled messaging and checking your inbox makes everything refreshed again. And you can actually browse the web on your phone, no longer using the WAP sh*t. And it is actually a very, very good music player. Complete with its earphone and mic piece.
On a personal level, the iPhone when I first use it, felt that it came from the future. There was simply nothing like it at that time. The weight, the way it feels in your hand, not only that it felt like a premium product, it felt like a higher piece of technology right in your hands. It’s a feeling that you will not find it again for a long time.
What the iPhone birthed
Now let’s see what iPhone has helped birth since its introduction in 2007.
Android, Google and others.
If the iPhone was considered the father of modern smartphones, then Google’s Android operating system is considered the mother. The backstory was Google was about to launch it’s own smartphone in response to Apple’s effort, but when the team saw the keynote, they had to throw out everything that they knew and start from scratch again. Because of that, the first Android smartphone came in a year after Apple’s iPhone. But that doesn’t mean that Google is late to the party.
Just like how Apple has Microsoft in the Personal Computer wars, Apple has Google in the smartphone wars. And Google follow the same Microsoft playbook: don’t try to make the hardware, make the software as flexible as possible so it will work as many devices as possible, allow people to customized the hell out and finally you have the Cambarian explosion: while Apple is content to release 1 to 2 iPhone models every year, you have hundreds of Android smartphone that comes in all shape and sizes and in different budget. The end result is that 80% of human beings on the planet are holding a smartphone in their hands. And the growth of Apple as the smartphone company also helped grow Google as a software company.
The App store and Made for iPhone
One of the most powerful features of the iPhone was the App store. Granted, it was not available on the first iPhone and Steve Jobs initially was not a fan of it. But putting it on the iPhone gives monumental power to Apple. Apple did not only enhance the feature of the iPhone by letting 3rd party developers make new apps on it, it created a whole new ecosystem and turned the iPhone from just a smart device to a whole new platform that Apple owned. Aside from getting a cut from every transaction on the iPhone, Apple also has an ad platform.
The platform eventually morphed from the virtual world the to physical world with the Made for iPhone program in which Apple will certify third party products to work with iPhone for a fee. With Apple’s unique connection (first the 30-pin and later the Lightning port), Apple’s tight control of the entire platform is assured.
Apple the gaming company
While Apple is not known as a gaming company and in general, Macs are not known as gaming machines, Apple nevertheless is one of the largest gaming companies in the world. In fact, Apple made billions of dollars from pushing games to it’s platform. How does it work? Remember that Apple gets a cut on every transaction that it makes on the App store? Apple discovered that people like to play games on their iPhones and a lot of developers like to make games on the iPhone because of microtransactions, also known as pay-to-win.
Another thing that is birthed from the iPhone is the companion products. Take for example, the AirPods, which was first introduced with the iPhone 7, when Apple made the controversial choice of removing the headphone jack. It created a whole new product line which spawned the AirPods Pro and finally the AirPods Max. AirPods, if it was its own company, would comfortably rank in the Fortune 500 in America.
Another is the Apple Watch. Until now, you basically need an iPhone to use the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch is basically a companion product for the iPhone. It is a smaller screen that allows you to do basic, most used functions of the iPhone without lifting the iPhone up. And now it is worth more than the entire Swiss Watch industry.
Apple’s mobile tech has gone to other areas of the car industry. With Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, modern cars and trucks are basically phones with wheels.
ARM & Apple designed microprocessor.
To develop the iPhone, Apple wanted to use Intel. However, Intel at that time did not see mobile being a big market in the future, decided not to help Apple out and decided to focus more on laptops, desktops and servers. So Apple turned to ARM to run it’s first iPhone. Seeing the iPhone would be an important product for Apple, Steve Jobs put huge amounts of R&D money to develop their own chip using the ARM architecture. Later, the A4, Apple’s first custom chip, was born. Actually, A6 was Apple’s first truly custom chip as the A4 was based on Cortex design.
The fateful decision of not helping out with mobile efforts proved to bite Intel in the rear when Apple eventually made faster, more efficient and power chips that it actually rivals Intel’s own mobile processor. And finally, in 2020, Apple decided to ditch Intel in their Mac line for their own ARM-based design called Apple Silicon. It has come full circle, the student is now the master.
While the internet has its humble beginnings as a university cold-war era project, it has been birthed to become the extension of the entire human civilization. While the internet was thriving in the early 2000s, internet usage exploded with the ubiquity of iPhones and Android. Now, the internet is literally in everyone’s hands.
Apple through the iPhone and Google with the Android operating system, the world now laden with hand-held internet devices called the smartphone. Because of that, basically everyone is connected to the internet at all times. And because of this, the Internet has been realized as the new frontier for culture, business, art, science and technology.
So the iPhone is a revolutionary device, not only has it transformed Apple as a company, but I would dare to say the entire course of human history has changed, for better or worse. Now, more people are connected to the internet than ever, the smartphone has turned from a luxury or business tool to an indispensable facet of life: you pay using your phone, ride the train, get your latest news and even organize protection against the state using the internet and smartphone. Where will the smartphone be in 15 years? What new technology will shape human civilization 15 years from now? Time will tell.
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