Jan. 9, 2007—In what is often considered the biggest keynote presentation in his legendary career, Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced to the world the iPhone, a product that not only outsold competitive products but, by obliterating the assumptions behind those rival items, made his own company the trendsetter for years to come.
At the same time, in announcing that the company he had co-founded was changing its name from Apple Computers to Apple Inc., he was signaling its transition from a computer company to a consumer products behemoth.
The momentum from the iPhone also catapulted Apple into position as the most valuable company in the world, including twice reporting the largest quarterly profits of all time. (That streak of growth ended, of course, with the news last week that the company had missed its internal sales and profit targets for the first time in a decade.)
Jobs disdained competitive products, complaining to associates about how bad they were and thinking out loud about favorite features they would like to see in phones of their own. Moreover, the Apple head scorned the stylus used, for instance, in the BlackBerry. When the iPhone made its debut, it decimated these products and features, in much the way that the digital revolution (including Apple’s iPod and iTunes) brought about the decline of the compact disk.
“I actually started on the tablet first,” Jobs recalled at the D8 Conference in June 2010. “I had this idea of being able to get rid of the keyboard, type on a multi-touch glass display. And I asked our folks, could we come up with a multi-touch display that I could rest my hands on, and actually type on. And about six months later, they called me in and showed me this prototype display. And it was amazing. This is in the early 2000s. And I gave it to one of our other, really brilliant UI [user interface] folks, and he called me back a few weeks later and he had inertial scrolling working and a few other things. I thought, My God, we could build a phone out of this. And I put the tablet project on the shelf, because the phone was more important. And we took the next several years, and did the iPhone.”
With a showman’s flair in San Francisco, Jobs alluded to two earlier revolutionary products produced by Apple, the Macintosh and the iPod, then rolled out the company’s current item—or items: “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….These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone.”
As great as the effect of the iPhone was on the business world, it might have been even greater on society as a whole, not all of it welcome. Consider the following:
*Greater mobility and cross-use. The work that Apple was doing in creating the iPad fed into the iPhone. A user did not have to be at a desktop computer to access all the power of a conventional computer; he or she could be elsewhere.
*The rise of “the app.” “There’s an app for that” became a catchphrase. In the process, it spurred the development of an entire mini-industry.
*Smartphone addiction. One of the major communications devices before the iPhone, the BlackBerry, had been nicknamed “the Crackberry” for how indispensable some found this combination of phone, personal digital assistant, and e-mail appliance. The iPhone was all this, and more—especially with its popular built-in camera. Users not only couldn’t dream of life without the smartphone, but would come close to heart attacks if anything happened to it.
*Superficial relationships. The ability to stay on top of everything all the time—to “multitask”—also fed into a culture of distraction. Rather than allowing people to concentrate on individual relationships, the iPhone encouraged minds occupied with something else.
*Environmental waste. Older iPhones contained beryllium, benzene and n-hexene (linked to leukemia and nerve damage, respectively). Furthermore, the planned obsolescence of iPhones (a new version every year) works against its two-year carrier contracts. (For a more in-depth discussion of this range of issues, see this blog post from last year by Cody Medwechuk of Get Orchard.)
(The photo accompanying this post, taken by Matthew Yohe on June 8, 2010, shows Steve Jobs holding the iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worldwide Developers Conference.)