The iPhone at 10 and the Future of Internet

Ten years ago today (January 9, 2007), I was cutting across the show floor of CES when I heard the news that Apple had released the original iPhone. I remember select journalists travel from CES in Vegas to San Francisco for the press conference, before returning back to CES. CES was on its second day when the Apple release was made. Few companies have ever had clout sufficient to momentarily pull reporters away from an event like CES. Apple was the only one who had it at that time.

An interesting tidbit: almost 15 years earlier to the day (January 7, 1992), Apple’s CEO at the time John Sculley announced the Apple Newton during his keynote at CES wherein he coined the term Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs).

To fully understand our view of the iPhone at the time, one should watch the original Steve Jobs keynote in its entirety.

In the first thirty seconds of his keynote, Jobs sets the historical stage by listing some of the world shifting products Apple has introduced (1984 Macintosh and 2001 iPod). He then goes on to say:

…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. So, three things: a widescreen iPod with touch controls; a revolutionary mobile phone; and a breakthrough Internet communications device. An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone … are you getting it? These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone. Today, today Apple is going to reinvent the phone, and here it is. No, actually here it is, but we’re gonna leave it there for now.

There are two things worth noting in the first 30 seconds of Jobs’ keynotes. First, he pulls the actual iPhone from the front pocket of his jeans and no one in the audience can even process it quickly enough to really take notice. Secondly, it’s worth reflecting on the three devices Jobs’ claims to be combining. Nowhere in this list does he include cameras. Today, the camera is a major focus of differentiation for Apple. Entire billboard campaigns are dedicated to the camera features of the iPhone. But it would appear that Steve Jobs didn’t foresee the smartphone replacing cameras, at least not in 2007.

To understand the full context around which the original iPhone was launched, consider also the first official Apple iPhone commercial. It was this one, shown for the first time during the 2007 Oscars on February 25th. It shows 28 or so clips, each with the character or actor picking up a phone and saying hello, followed by an image of the first iPhone and finishing with the text "Coming in June.” The original Apple iPhone was first and foremost a telephony device. In his keynote, Jobs says, “We wanna reinvent the phone…Now, what’s the killer app?...The killer app is making calls!” And I think most of us forget that visual voicemail didn’t exist until the iPhone was created.

Apple officially released the iPhone in June 2007 and would go on to sell about 1.4 million units in that first year, compared to over 200 million in 2016. More than a year after the original iPhone went on sale, Apple would launch the App Store in conjunction with the release of iPhone OS 2.0 in July 2008. With this, Apple officially introduced third-party app development and distribution to the iPhone platform. Apple would go on to sell 10 million iPhones in 2008, with seven million being sold in the September quarter alone. Steven Levy has a good write-up on his recent conversation with Phil Schiller about Apple’s early internal debate regarding the openness of the iPhone. He writes:

Yet Schiller pushed back when I suggested that the iPhone’s great moment came when Apple threw open the gates to developers and we learned that for every imaginable activity, as well as some previously unimaginable ones, there was “an app for that.”

“That undervalues how earth-shattering the iPhone was when it first came to market, and we all first got them and fell in love with them,” he says. “iPhone made the idea of a smartphone real. It really was a computer in your pocket. The idea of real internet, real web browser, MultiTouch. There were so many things that are core to what is the smartphone today, that created a product that customers fell in love with, that then also demanded more stuff on them, more apps.”

Still, it is difficult to imagine the iPhone would have ever achieved the success it did without the accelerant of the App Store.

And still we have a very long way to go. Today about two billion people have smartphones, while another three billion or so have non-smart cellular phones. In just the last 24 months or so, smartphones have eclipsed traditional PCs as the most pervasive Internet-enabled platform. Today there are two billion in the world that are not connected. While we generally still see smartphones as the mechanism by which we connect the next billion, in the last 24 months we’ve witnessed the advent and acceleration of Amazon Alexa, which like the original iPhone, is a new iterative combination of hardware and service and connection. Perhaps voice interfaces platforms will enable us to bring the final two billion online. Either way, the next 10 years are sure to be interesting.