Mobile Communications

Remembering Apple's insanely great iPhone launch

“Ha! They’re calling it the iPhone after all!”

I can recall the webcast that heralded Apple’s iPhone 10 years ago quite well. The media had been filling pages (they existed in those days) in the build-up to the announcement by suggesting that because Cisco had first dibs on the iPhone name Apple would have to break the naming convention that gave is the iMac and iPod. Sat at my desk in central London, at the end of the afternoon of 9 January, I tuned into the webcast that was to be one of the great product launches in history.

But bagging the rights to the naming was nothing compared to what followed. The sleek flat screen sans keyboard, black and illuminated with a grid of icons has become bog-standard on smartphones today but back then it was a radical, eyebrow-raising departure: “Have you seen what they’ve done?” Most of us were instantly fascinated by what Apple had pulled off: this was a device that went even beyond the hype that trailed it.  

The applause was far from universal, however. Lots of folks thought the lack of a physical set of QWERTY keys was a mistake. Others felt Apple had priced the product way high or criticised carrier arrangements.

Steve Ballmer mocked and laughed (VIDEO) at the iPhone, saying there was “no chance” of Apple winning “significant market share”. One pundit thought it a poor second to the Nokia while others queued up to disparage it. In fact, the iPhone was the product that effectively wrecked the fortunes of Nokia, RIM and others. It wasn’t so much a game changer as a new game entirely.

Why was the iPhone so successful? Analysts point to the multi-touch screen, web browser, app store or other elements and they’re right, but the product was a triumph of execution and exquisite engineering too. The first time you used it was a rare thrill: the device seemed to have an intuitive sense of where you wanted to scroll to. It merited even that most overworked marketing shtick: it really did delight the user. Unlike the case with so many earlier touchscreens, tap, hold, pinch and zoom actions worked – and fast. On a larger screen this would have been impressive but on a handset it was a marvel.

The iPhone raised the bar for an industry and almost immediately became an icon of its time, an artefact that straddled design, cool, communications and computing. Later, with the development of the app store and an army of developers the iPhone became something even bigger: a phaser that acted as an open sesame to the wider world – to music, video, maps, information and education.

It’s quite right that Apple still attracts critics who carp about its pricing, lack of openness, insistence on control, and proprietary add-ons. You might also suggest that in recent years the iPhone has not added many compelling new creatures. But, 10 years ago, it created a luminous product that lived up the mercurial demands of technology’s Prospero, Steve Jobs. It was insanely great.


Also read:
How Nokia reacted to the iPhone
Microsoft and Nokia: The fallout of a calamitous collision
Book charts Nokia’s decline
Apple makes more hardware to seek its own destiny
Apple has changed retail, office design and more
Five things to say about the Apple Watch
$700bn Apple and the rise of the tech economy
Apple watchers look for cracks in a modern masterpiece
This month in tech history: October – First iPod released
This month in tech history: April – Apple


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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