In January 2007, 26 minutes into his Macworld Expo keynote address, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone with his justly-famous “three revolutionary products” framing:
This is a day I’ve been looking forward to for two-and-a-half years.
Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. … One’s very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career.
Apple’s been very fortunate. It’s been able to introduce a few of these into the world. In 1984, we introduced the Macintosh. It didn’t just change Apple, it changed the whole computer industry. In 2001, we introduced the first iPod, and it didn’t just change the way we all listen to music, it changed the entire music industry.
Well, today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class.
The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls.
The second is a revolutionary mobile phone.
And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device.
So, three things: a widescreen iPod with touch controls; a revolutionary mobile phone; and a breakthrough Internet communications device. An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone … are you getting it?
These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone.
Ten years ago today, the iPhone went on sale.
I almost never watch an Apple keynote event after it has faded from being new. But I’ve watched the iPhone introduction at least half a dozen times over the years. I still get excited. The words Jobs used, as quoted above, are perfect. But you really have to watch it, to listen to his voice, to feel his conviction. He knew then what we all know now: this was it. This was the keynote we had all been waiting for. This was the reason why people lined up overnight for Apple keynotes — in the hopes of an announcement like this one. The iPhone was the product Apple had been founded to create — the epitome of everything both of Apple’s founding Steves stood for and obsessed about. The home run of all home runs.
With hindsight, though, I think even Jobs himself underestimated what the iPhone was.
The Apple I, the Apple II, the Macintosh, the iPod — yes, these were all industry-changing products. The iPhone never would have happened without each of them. But the iPhone wasn’t merely industry-changing. It wasn’t merely multi-industry-changing. It wasn’t merely many-industry-changing.
The iPhone changed the world.
There is no way to overstate it. The iPhone was the inflection point where “personal computing” truly became personal. Apple had amazing product introductions before the iPhone, and it’s had a few good ones after. But the iPhone was the only product introduction I’ve ever experienced that felt impossible. Apple couldn’t have shrunk Mac OS X — a Unix-based workstation OS, including the Cocoa frameworks — to a point where it could run on a cell phone. Scrolling couldn’t be that smooth and fluid. A touchscreen — especially one in a phone — couldn’t be so responsive. Apple couldn’t possibly have gotten a major carrier to cede them control over every aspect of the device, both hardware and software. I can recall sitting in the hall at Moscone West, watching the keynote unfold, 90 percent excited as hell, 10 percent concerned that I was losing my goddamn mind. Literally mind-blowing.
For nearly six interminable months we waited. And then even once I had my own iPhone in my hands on the evening of Friday, 29 June 2007, I kept thinking, I can’t believe this.
The iPhone’s potential was obviously deep, but it was so deep as to be unfathomable at the time. The original iPhone didn’t even shoot video; today the iPhone and iPhone-like Android phones have largely killed the point-and-shoot camera industry. It has obviated portable music players, audio recorders, paper maps, GPS devices, flashlights, walkie-talkies, music radio (with streaming music), talk radio (with podcasts), and more. Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft wouldn’t even make sense pre-iPhone. Social media is mobile-first, and in some cases mobile-only. More people read Daring Fireball on iPhones than on desktop computers.
In just a handful of years, Nokia and BlackBerry, both seemingly impregnable in 2006, were utterly obliterated. The makers of ever-more-computer-like gadgets were simply unable to compete with ever-more-gadget-like computers.
Ten years in and the full potential of the iPhone still hasn’t been fully tapped. No product in the computing age compares to the iPhone in terms of societal or financial impact. Few products in the history of the world compare. We may never see anything like it again — from Apple or from anyone else.