There has been a lot of press today about the iPhone turning 10 years old. On this day in 2007, Steve Jobs introduced the original iPhone. For anyone that watched the unveiling, it was obvious that the device was going to be revolutionary. While a “smartphone” wasn’t exactly a new idea, no one had approached it with the same singular vision Apple did. Apple introduced a device that was closer to a pocket sized computer than a phone and, without being hindered by carrier demands, they were able to lay the ground work for something that would grow into a true platform. But no one could have guessed just how much it was going to change our world. Smartphones have become so ubiquitous and engrained in modern culture it is difficult to believe its modern incarnation is only a decade old (do you remember how primitive your cell phone from 10 years ago was?). Even more amazing to think about is all of the technologies, conveniences, and industries that might not exist without the iPhone, including wearable tech!
First, it is important to mention that most likely a smartphone, as we know it today, was going to happen at some point with or without Apple, but it probably would have taken years. The iPhone was significant because it was so far ahead of where the industry was in 2007. As we said “smartphones” were on the market from companies such as Blackberry, Palm, HP, and Kyocera. But these devices relied on an odd mix of stylus-based resistive touch screens and physical keyboards. To make matters worse, the software was frustrating and the devices were further crippled by carrier-based requirements and limitations. While the experience was not consumer friendly, there was beginning to be an understanding of the potential importance of a “smart phone.” Perhaps the most notable device that preceded the iPhone was the LG Prada. While the not-quite-smart phone wasn’t a sales hit, it was the first to utilize a capacitive touch screen (like all current smartphones) and the first to use an all-screen, slate form factor. The Prada phone showed that other companies were simultaneously moving in the same direction as the iPhone. But the iPhone was the first to combine best in class elements from across the entire phone industry with simple, intuitive, user-focused software. Even more importantly, the iPhone is significant because it was the first to brake away from the traditional carrier model. The iPhone was the first phone developed and released with zero carrier control. This meant Apple was free to develop the phone they wanted without needing to cripple the device by installing carrier software, blocking competing features, or disallowing software updates.
The true revelation that secured the iPhone’s place in history came a year after the device’s introduction. Based on a modified and slimmed down version of OS X, soon after the phone’s release there was a very vocal push for Apple to allow developers to release applications. After a lot of internal debating, Apple listened and in March of 2008 released iOS’s first software development kit. Along with providing developers with the tools to create apps, Apple also announced that the apps would only be available via a dedicated Apple controlled storefront. This was perhaps even more significant than the release of the SDK, because for the first time apps were going to be treated like 1st class citizens. Previously apps felt like a dirty word. You either were limited to a small collection of crippled apps sold via your carrier or you had to search through an untold number of sketchy looking websites to find apps, hope the site (and app) were legit, and then jump through hoops to install it. Either way, the experience was unpleasant and most people never went through the effort. Apple’s App Store promised safe (to run), quality apps that were simple to install and manage, not to mention free from carrier control. For the first time, the App Store promised to make downloadable apps THE standout feature of your phone.
In 2017, it is nearly impossible to imagine life without a smartphone. Even more so, it is impossible to imagine a smartphone without apps. This is so much the case that people now primarily use their phone for data, messaging, and apps, not voice calls. Having an app based device that is almost always within an arm’s reach and capable of always-on wireless connectivity has enabled developers to do amazing things. Entire industries have formed around this technology, from social media to ride sharing. Uber, for example, is worth $68 Billion and could not exist without smartphones.
At Circuits And Cable Knit, the industry that is most interesting to think about where it would be without the road paved by the iPhone is wearable technology. The smarts behind wearable tech needs to be compact, light, and unobtrusive. Without the wireless communication abilities integrated into nearly every smartphone, wearable devices would need to be significantly more cumbersome. They would need to house their own processors, interfaces, displays, and enough battery to power all of that. Making use of wireless communication, wearables are able to easily exchange data with an app and use the phone to process that data and present it to the user. Phone based apps drive the wearable experience. They are the primary interface when dealing with everything from fitness trackers to posture monitors. Apple was instrumental in separating the control of phones from carriers; without the ability for developers to work unencumbered to design a companion app with the exact abilities they desire, wearables likely would not exist.
Beyond connectivity and apps, the iPhone popularized technologies found in every smartwatch. The use of capacitive, multi touch glass was a major tentpole of the original iPhone. It is an innovation we take for granted today. There are barely any touch-based devices that don’t make use of this tech, and chances are if a device has a screen then it has touch input.
The smartphone is the most personal device ever created. We carry it at all times and, through the use of apps, can tailor its use to our exact needs. It is where you capture your life, record your thoughts, and share it with love ones or the world. It makes sense that this most personal of computers would spawn a new generation of devices so personal that we actually wear them on our body. All of this rests on the shoulders of Apple’s iPhone. Apple pushed the industry forward and forever shifted the business model of mobile phones, including apps. 10 years ago it was clear the iPhone was revolutionary but the impact of the modern day smartphones could never have been imagined!