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Remembering iPhone Two Years Later

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Two years ago today, Apple launched the original iPhone. In June 2007, I described using Apple’s smartphone as “life changing.” Despite my grumpiness about iPhone battery life and 3G call quality, I stand by the description.

I covered the launch for eWEEK, writing post “The iPhone Moment” (Two months ago tomorrow, I was laid off from eWEEK, as editor of Apple Watch and Microsoft Watch). At Apple’s suggestion, I went to the company store at Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, Md. for the launch festivities.

No event I ever covered as a journalist stands out like the original iPhone launch. I’m a studier of people, culture and society. The launch event delighted with its eclectic, non-geek group of buyers. I blogged two years ago:

The people turning out to buy iPhones yesterday made up one motley group—representing a broad swath of America. I saw in the line people of all races, ages and lifestyles. For example, near the front, waited a brawny Hispanic dude, with cut T-Shirt that exposed a praying hands tattoo on his upper right arm. He looked more like the kind of guy who works with metal, using his hands, rather than holding a pretty cell phone. Yet he was typical of the people waiting; they shattered geek stereotypes.

Before iPhone, and even after, handset manufacturers targeted gadget geeks as first adopters of their products. But iPhone captured the imagination and buying inclination of people who wanted cell phones that were more personal and that better reflected their personalities. The smartphone appealed to people confined by—no, imprisoned by—by gadgets designed by nerds for nerds. The iPhone represented freedom to be.

June 29, 2007: iPhone buyers Chris, Steve and Eddie hold up their old mobiles

June 29, 2007: iPhone buyers Chris, Steve and Eddie hold up their old mobiles

Several of the iPhone buyers spoke of being caught up in a historical moment, of the device’s release as a watershed event for handsets and how they are marketed. A buyer named Steve told me:

I think this is a day that you’re going to see a change in how computers, how handheld computers are done…It’s a little marketing history. I’m seeing it that way…I think we’ll look back in 10 or 15 years, and like on that day the gadget came out—same thing with iPod—it changed the game.

Buyer Steve’s assessment was right but not his time horizon. People already are looking back two years later at how iPhone “changed the game”:

  • iPhone imitators/competitors are everywhere
  • Touch is now the standard user interface for smartphones
  • Google is a developer of mobile operating systems and services
  • Smartphones are beginning to replace PCs for user-generated content

Apple started these trends—and more—with the original iPhone. Two years ago today.

iPhone buyer Steve had a countdown timer; less than 7 minutes to go

iPhone buyer Steve had a countdown timer; less than 7 minutes to go

The launch two years ago defined more than iPhone. It defined Apple. Better stated: Redefined Apple and its brand. The iPhone moment also defined an emerging mobile culture, of people being creative and expressive anytime, anywhere and without the shackles of PCs.

Microsoft has failed to understand how transforming was the iPhone’s original introduction. My measure is the company’s Windows Mobile strategy, which is a disaster. Windows Mobile 6.5 is obsolete before its release, whether measured by iPhone OS or competing operating systems from Google, Nokia, Palm or Research in Motion. While Microsoft clings to the perceived safety of the Windows PC, real people reach for the unfettered freedom of mobile handsets.

Your next computer will be a smartphone.

Does she look like a geek to you?

Does she look like a geek to you?

There’s an appropriateness to Apple CEO Steve Jobs officially returning to work two years to the day that iPhone launched. I’ve asserted that he won’t return to full-time work as chief executive, and that COO Tim Cook will eventually be promoted to CEO. That opinion isn’t changed, but I do hope that I’m wrong about it. I’d like nothing more than to be wrong and to see Steve Jobs dazzle everyone with more magic.

The iPhone is magical, the way it responds to touch. The entire iPhone creative team deserves some special prize for how this one device captures the imagination and changed how handheld devices are designed and used. More importantly, the second-generation iPhone, along with Apple’s App Store, stands at the precipice of computing’s future.

The PC that matters most is the one you carry. Damn the desktop.

11 Comments

  1. billybob says on June 30, 2009

    The next wave will be hardware which plugs into the iPhone. I am surprised that the other manufacturers have not tried to group together on a standard for communication with peripherals, in 6 months Apple will be wiping the floor with them.

    We have already seen cars, medical scanners and navigation systems using the iPhone as a removable CPU. The iPhone’s development is very easy compared to embedded development so there will be an explosion in new embedded web-enabled devices. Android has a good chance here but the hardware is not standard.

    There is lots of competition in the market now but they are all competing on 1 year old features. You will probably see them falling over themselves to make their cameras easier to use in the next 6 months.

  2. Joe, I agree with you that the mobile phone will displace desktop computers… eventually. I do not think it’ll happen as fast as you think. We’re going to need to see some fundamental innovations first that overcome the limitations of the smartphone for general computing.

    I can look up information in the Internet, check my email, write short messages, or perform other simple, mundane tasks on my smartphone. But if I want to do something heavier – use a spreadsheet, write a letter, play a FPS game – I fire up my laptop or my desktop. Why? Because I just can’t do these things on a small device.

    The bottleneck is not computing power; we’re probably only a few years away from having mobile-grade processors that can provide enough processing power to routinely perform these heavy duty tasks. The problem is input and output. I would far rather have a full-size ergonomic keyboard for typing my three page letter than to fuss with a two-finger touchpad on a mobile device. Likewise, I don’t want to squint at a four-inch screen while trying to manipulate my columns or frag my opponent. I want my 27-inch LCD running at its beautiful 1920×1200 native resolution.

    Until we see innovations that allow the mobile device to have the input/output comfort and flexibility of a desktop, the smartphone is going to hit a wall in its quest to supplant larger form factors. It will be an adjunct tool to be used to supplement our day-to-day functions, but it will not replace the desktop or the laptop until somebody figures out how to make it behave like a desktop or laptop.

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