The iPhone - a Decade On


At Apple’s January 2007 keynote in California, Steve Jobs unveiled the device that many have credited with defining the modern smartphone – the iPhone. But it was far from an overnight revolution. 2017 marks 10 years – that’s one entire decade – of the iPhone. Twelve models in, Apple have revolutionised the mobile phone industry by taking existing tech and making it accessible to everyone.

In 2007, touchscreen phones were by no means uncommon or a novelty; indeed, PalmOS and Windows Mobile had supported it for years. But what Apple did was manufacture a touchscreen that was more than just a gimmick. At the time, most touchscreen displays were incredibly limited, with little sensitivity or precision. Complex gestures were out of the question – and many phones required you to use a stylus, and had directional pads and keyboards built in too. But the iPhone’s multifinger touch interface was a revelation in comparison; gone were the days of using styluses, and you could use intuitive gestures like pinches and flicks. Apple certainly begin the adoption of touch screen technology, but they were definitely the catalyst for its development.

Apple was also a pioneer in smartphone apps. While mobile software certainly existed before the iPhone, apps were awkward to install and even more awkward to update. Many smartphone owners had never even downloaded a third-party app before. But the opening of Apple’s App Store gave millions of smartphone owners easy access to third party apps. For developers, the barriers between making and selling apps were lower – there were tools to make apps, a bigger client base, and better royalties. The App Store pioneered the third party app scene, and made built-in app stores a prerequisite for any smartphone.

Quite like the nudging forward of touchscreen technology, Apple certainly didn’t invent the concept of video chat, but definitely moved it forward enough for it to become popular. FaceTime arrived in 2010 with the iPhone 4, but where it differed from previous video chat apps was that it used phone numbers. If you have someone’s phone number, you can start a video call.

In the past couple of years, Apple has continued to lead the way with new technology, in particular, fingerprint readers and mobile payments in the form of TouchID and Apple Pay, respectively. TouchID arrived with the iPhone 5S, and again, while Apple vertainly weren’t the first to produce such a scanner, they simplified it and made it easier to use. Previously, fingerprint scanners were more trouble than they were worth, but thanks to Apple, they can be found in loads of phones, like the Samsung Galaxy and the Google Pixel. With Apple Pay, while Apple were late to the party (Google Wallet had been available for years), it was the first to get major traction, and was followed by Android Pay and Samsung Pay. And let’s not forget voice-recognition – it was Siri that changed voice commands from being robotic and direct to allowing users to use plain language and get a response.

It's true that the iPhone has lagged in some respects, and still does. For example, it took until 2014 to get an iPhone larger than 4 inches, partly because the late Steve Jobs was so against the idea. The screen is still limited to 1080p, you can’t add extra storage with SD cards like you can with other phones, and the iOS operating system isn’t open source. But the legacy of the iPhone a decade on is obvious. Whatever smartphone you have in your pocket, it owes at least a small debt to Apple.

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