It exploded onto the scene with a burst of fanfare, a revolutionary device that, it can objectively be said, changed everything.
Five years ago today the first iPhone went on sale, six months after Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced the touchscreen device, essentially a computer in the palm of your hand that displaced voice calls as the primary reason for carrying a mobile device.
"Apple's version of the iPhone is a mobile phone that combines the wizardry of smartphones with the music- and movie-playing features of the iPod," is how NewsFactor reported the story on January 9, 2007. "It features a large, 3.5" touchscreen, a 2-megapixel camera, and integrates fully with Apple's iTunes music store. It's less than half an inch wide, works on a pared-down version of Apple's OS X (which in full form powers Apple notebooks and desktops), sports WiFi, Bluetooth, and EDGE (a type of mobile broadband), and runs on Cingular's network."
What, No 3G?
It took six months, however, for the much-hyped device to get into consumers' hands. Just before the consumer launch, we reported analysts' views that the phone set a new standard, but not without a few shortcomings.
Analysts at the time pointed out that the iPhone "lacked 3G capabilities and could only use the much slower EDGE technology. The compensation for this shortcoming [was] that the iPhone could automatically switch to Wi-Fi networks, when available, for Internet browsing." On Wi-Fi, it was reported, the iPhone "flies."
The original iPhone was followed in turn by the 3G, 3GS, 4 and 4S models. Today's 5-year anniversary comes as Apple is soon expected to release the sixth version of the device. While the original device was strictly tied to AT&T, the current incarnation is available via AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel and a few regional carriers, with worldwide sales estimated at more than 35 million.
That number makes the iPhone by far the single most popular device. However, over the past year, devices powered by Google's Android operating system -- and offered by different manufacturers -- have seized a larger share of the market as measured by operating system.
The iPhone "has made the consumer king," Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney told us on Friday. "No longer is the [mobile] phone considered [just] a business tool. Data usage has exploded and it has revolutionized the distribution of software."
Dulaney also noted that the iPhone's app-centric touchscreen experience dramatically increased user interface expectations.
"Easy to use has reached a new level," he said.
Among other impact attributed to the iPhone: "Marketing consumer electronics has changed, industrial design has reached a new level of importance, and traditional suppliers such as Intel and Microsoft, RIM and Nokia have been challenged as never before."
In addition to the above-mentioned shortcomings, Apple also had to deal with reception issues early on, as AT&T, its sole initial carrier, struggled to keep up with the demand on its network. Later, the iPhone 4 faced a backlash over signal problems resulting from contact with its external antenna. Although these issues may have caused some to be wary about being early-adopters, they never seriously hurt sales.
"One reason the iPhone was able to push beyond these issues was because, up to that point, nobody had really launched a smartphone with a true immersive Internet experience," said Weston Henderek, principal wireless analyst for research firm Current Analysis.
Although Research In Motion's BlackBerry devices and some Nokia smartphones were out, they were taking users to abridged mobile versions of Web sites that were difficult to navigate. "The biggest reason [the iPhone] was a revolutionary device is that it put the power of a PC-like Internet experience in your hand and it was really the first device to pull that off."