Happy birthday iPhone: it's now 10 years since Apple started a revolution

Steve Jobs launching the original iPhone in 2007. (Source: Apple)

Today, January 9, marks the ten-year anniversary since the late Apple chief Steve Jobs appeared on stage in San Francisco to unveil the original iPhone.

While Apple’s device was not the first to combine computing and telephony, its immediate popularity brought smartphones to the masses.

With the iPhone 7, Apple is now up to its tenth generation of phones and along the way became the biggest company in the world by market capitalisation.

It wasn’t just Apple that benefited – Google, with other companies, developed the rival Android operating system to have a diverse range of smartphones penetrate every corner of the world. A software industry based on mobile apps also boomed, which is now a point of focus for the startups around the globe.

Some financial experts have even credited the iPhone as a factor in one of the defining characteristics of the global economy over the past decade: low inflation. “Technological deflation” has become a hot topic on Wall St over recent years and is the force through which prices for all sorts of consumer goods are driven downwards by more instant access to information – and ability to purchase – in people’s hands around the clock.

We’ll never know the extent to which Jobs grasped the scale of the revolution that began on January 9, 2007, but the iPhone definitely had its detractors at the time.

“The development of mobile phones will follow a similar path to that followed by PCs,” Nokia chief strategy officer Anssi Vanjoki said at the time, according to CBInsights. “Even with the Mac, Apple attracted a lot of attention at first, but they have remained a niche manufacturer. That will be their role in mobile phones as well.”

The specifications for the original iPhone seem humble now. The unit had 4GB, 8GB or 16GB of storage, ran on 2G mobile networks, had 128MB of memory, and featured a 3.5-inch screen.

The current iPhone 7 Plus features 32GB, 128GB or 256GB of storage, 3GB of memory, and a 5.5-inch high definition screen.

iPhone original and iPhone 7. (Source: Apple)

As attractive and novel as it was, the first generation iPhone did have a high price tag compared to the “dumb” mobile phones it was competing with in 2007. The 8GB device was launched at US$599, which had Microsoft’s then-CEO Steve Ballmer shocked that it didn’t even include a keyboard.

“500 dollars? Fully subsidised? With a plan? I said that is the most expensive phone in the world,” Ballmer said at the time. “And it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard. Which makes it not a very good email machine.”

Ballmer would now be dismayed to learn that, a decade later, original iPhones are selling at ridiculous prices for its “antique” value. Currently on eBay there is one “new sealed” unit on sale for an astounding US$29,999.99 plus US$300 shipping, and another in “good condition” selling for a cool US$5,000.

iPhones over the years. (Source: Apple)

Two companies that have suffered the greatest since that landmark day 10 years ago at the Macworld Conference are the personal digital assistant manufacturer Palm and business smartphone maker Blackberry. Executives from both at the time were dismissive of Apple’s incursion into their respective domains.

“We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone… PC guys are not going to just figure this out,” said then-Palm chief Ed Colligan in 2006. “They’re not going to just walk in.”

Blackberry executive officer Jim Balsillie couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.

“It’s kind of one more entrant into an already very busy space with lots of choice for consumers… But in terms of a sort of a sea-change for BlackBerry, I would think that’s overstating it.”

Now Blackberry is focusing on security software after it was forced out of the phone market, while Palm was acquired by HP in 2010 then shut down just a year later.

Even if you’re an Android fan, as you stare down at your phone today spare a thought for how different our lives would be if ten years ago the iPhone never came along. Can you even imagine opening up your laptop in the car to navigate?

A hat tip to CB Insights for its collation of executive quotes.

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