Revisiting the original iPhone launch, 14 years later
Updated: Jul 1, 2021
Hard as it is to believe, 14 years have passed by since Apple’s original iPhone went on sale, and I wrote my review for USA TODAY. I had called Steve Jobs’ new phone a "glitzy wunderkind" and a "prodigy," but the thing about gifted prodigies is they often flame out. And for all the frenzy that surrounded Apple’s prized new device around its launch, there were no assurances back then that it, too, wouldn’t burn out before it really took off.
Just the opposite happened of course, and the iPhone not only changed Apple’s trajectory, but the tech industry at large and by proxy our everyday lives.
Without the iPhone we wouldn’t have Uber, Instagram, or countless other apps. We wouldn’t all be carrying around a superb, always-at-the-ready, camera in our pockets. We wouldn’t be opening locks with our phones or paying for stuff with them in stores. For that matter, even for those of you who never bought into Apple’s ecosystem, if it weren’t for the iPhone, you might not have your beloved Android handset either, kind of Google’s Joe Frazier to Apple’s Muhammad Ali.
Sure, you can argue that if Apple hadn’t invented the iPhone someone else would have drummed up something like it. Maybe. It’s not that there weren’t popular smartphones before the iPhone. (I was fond of the Palm Treo back in the day; many people loved their BlackBerrys.) But it was Apple and not someone else, so give credit where credit is due.
The vintage iPhone bears only a passing resemblance to today's models. It had a 3.5-inch "widescreen" touch display that taught us how to tap, flick, and pinch, and make photos expand and retract, so radical at the time. Even more radical--and hard to fathom today--is that Apple removed the physical keyboard, in favor of virtual keyboards that morphed into something different depending on what was on the screen. You navigated with the help of a Home button, which in time would disappear too.
The first device did have a web browser that was much like the browsers we had on our PCs and Macs, and among other cool features was something called visual voicemail, which let you listen to a message someone left you in the order in which you wanted to hear it rather than when the messages turned up.
Of course it had limitations too. That iPhone had an exclusive U.S. carrier, AT&T, leaving rivals Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint, in the dark for several more years, and shutting out customers locked into contracts with those other companies.
There wasn't an App Store yet for that original device either, and Siri was about three years away from debuting on the iPhone, initially as a third party app.
In June 2007, I got caught up in the hype as much as anyone else, and frankly as one of only four reviewers Apple seeded the iPhone to ahead of its launch, was even enmeshed in it. During the iPhone’s 10-year anniversary four years ago, I got to reminisce with my fellow reviewers--Walt Mossberg, formerly of the Wall Street Journal, Steven Levy, formally of Newsweek, and David Pogue, formerly of the New York Times--as part of this segment on CBS Sunday Morning, which you can watch above.
There really was nothing like it.
What are your memories of the original iPhone?
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Photo courtesy of Apple.