The iPhone turns 15. 15 years ago today on January 9th 2007, Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs announced the iPhone. A product that would go on to transform Apple into the most profitable company on the planet. The announcement sent shockwaves through the technology industry and completely turned the mobile business on its head. Combining three powerful products into one, ‘a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone and a breakthrough internet communicator’, the iPhone transformed what we think of as a smartphone or indeed a mobile phone today.
Steve carefully and deliberately announced the three parts of the product before joyfully declaring that they were not separate devices, but rather one device that has it all. And I always found it interesting that of the three parts of the product, the ‘revolutionary mobile phone’ was the statement that got the most applause at the announcement. And ‘breakthrough internet communicator’ got the least. And yet if you were paying attention, these three parts of the product were announced in the order of their importance. Sure it was nice to have an iPod built into your phone. But now the iPod has been supplanted by Apple Music and AirPods. Sure it was great that the phone could make conference calls and offered visual voicemail. But it’s the internet communications features that are what truly make the iPhone special. The crowd just didn’t realise it then because nothing like it had ever existing before.
When you think about your iPhone today, I imagine that 90% or more of your usage is spent in Apps, browsing the web, reading the news, going through your emails, streaming video, playing games and sending end to end encrypted messages. All of those things require an internet connection and are about as far away from plugging in your phone and syncing with iTunes as you can get. And so with the benefit of hindsight, it just shows how intentional and purposeful the announcement of the iPhone truly was.
It’s hard looking back to remember what it was like before the iPhone. The flimsy plastic little keyboards on our non-smartphones were a nightmare to use. But at the time we didn’t question it because it was the status-quo. It was how things were. But one thing is true about Steve and about Apple. They don’t like the status-quo and good enough, isn’t. And because of the remarkable insight amongst the team that engineered the iPhone, the world itself was transformed. They were brave enough to step away from the established way of doing things and to dispatch the junk like plastic keys. And in return unleashed an App revolution that has changed the way we do everything in our lives.
I can’t think of a single part of my life that the iPhone hasn’t enhanced or improved in some way. Even the most simple things like ordering takeout can be done in just a few taps without moving from the sofa. Or controlling your lighting, booking a doctors appointment, shopping for a new car, applying for financial products, finding the love of your life on dating apps…the list just goes on. And even if you haven’t ever owned an iPhone, it’s hard to deny that your world has been shaped and influenced by the capability that it has unlocked. Android devices simply wouldn’t exist in the way they do today without the iPhone. Android didn’t even exist but did go on to be announced at the very tailed of 2007. And it was nothing like iOS (then called iPhone OS).
What the iPhone got so right was a harmony between its user interface and top notch hardware. Apple didn’t want customers to settle for second rate products locked in cheap plastic with crappy software. They shipped the phone with an operating system derived from MacOS X. And it was the single most important engineering choice of the 21st century to date in my view. But of course the building blocks of iOS started their life back at NeXT computer, the company that Steve Jobs founded in the early 90’s after being kicked out of Apple. He built together with the people at NeXT a scalable system architecture that had multiple applications. From the Mac after Steve returned to Apple with OS X, to the iPhone and iPad and more recently to wearable devices like the Apple Watch.
On a personal level the iPhone didn’t just change my personal life. It changed my professional life and was the product that lead me to a 10 year career with Apple. And for that I will always be grateful for its invention and the innovation that followed. It’s hard to believe the iPhone turns 15 today but I’m excited for what the next 15 years hold.