The iPhone turns 5
Five years ago today the original iPhone was released, and thousands of people lined up outside of Apple and AT&T stores across the world to drop $500 on a gadget some pundits dubbed the Jesus phone.
It’s easy to forget how much the world of personal technology has evolved in the ensuing half-decade. When the first iPhone was announced during Macworld Expo 2007, I was still in college and couldn’t afford to spend what amounted to a semester’s worth of textbooks on a phone that didn’t even have a sliding keyboard. Even if I could have afforded to camp out that evening, the notion of combining my iPod, LG phone, and Nintendo DS into a single device with one big button that fit into my back pocket seemed ludicrous, like squishing a three-course meal into a single pill. The original iPhone seemed too good to be true.
Looking back through tech journalism of the time, it’s reassuring to know I wasn’t alone. Macworld's Jason Snell published an iPhone retrospective this morning that includes a few elucidating remarks about how Macworld reviewed the inaugural iPhone, as well as some insight into how the device changed the market for consumer technology and what a pain it must be to thoroughly review a smartphone while camping in the Sierra Nevadas.
Reading through those old iPhone reviews is an excellent reminder of how revolutionary the device truly was, and how different consumer technology would look today without Apple's influence. Before the iPhone, touchscreens seemed gimmicky and imprecise. Artists had sketch tablets and gamers had the Nintendo DS, but everyone else carried portable electronics with keys. Learning to type your texts and email on a 3.5-inch touchscreen seemed like a pain, and it was; we did it anyway because the nascent iOS interface made it easy to quickly slide between reading text messages, browsing the Web and checking email.
Before the iPhone, we didn't have smartphones as we know them today; we had personal digital assistants like the BlackBerry Curve with cramped keyboards and unwieldy interfaces that resembled nothing so much as a PC operating system squashed into your pocket. The original iPhone was proof that we could build devices sensitive enough to let us comfortably type, browse and play games with our fingertips while being tough enough to withstand the daily trials and tribulations of being carried around in our pockets. It was revolutionary, and without Apple's influence contemporary smartphones would look very, very different. Whether that's a good thing or not depends on your personal taste, but either way it's important to look back on occasion and acknowledge how fast technology can change in five years, and how revolutionary the original iPhone really was. The iPhone 4S may not be the second coming of the Jesus phone, but that doesn't really matter when Google and Microsoft have started preaching the gospel of intuitive touch controls.