The iPhone and the Mobile RevolutionBy
At this year’s fall Apple harvest, the company introduced three new iPhone models, including the iPhone X, named in honor of the 10th anniversary of the device. The mobile revolution had already begun when the iPhone was first announced on January 9, 2007, but Apple’s contribution launched it to another level. Since then, more than a billion of Steve Jobs’s marquis accomplishment have been sold around the world, and the third digital age is firmly established.
If the accolades directed at the Apple Corporation during the anniversary year strike you as a little excessive, it’s worthwhile to look back at the specific changes brought by this pocket computer/communications device, and measure them against the accomplishments of other iconic digital developments.
On January 9, 2007, Steve Jobs announced something called an iPhone. At the launch, Jobs emphasized 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?”
At the time, the internet was available primarily on desktops, software was sold in a box with CDs and a soft-cover manual, the existing smartphones were lackluster, and none claimed to be a music delivery system. All of that was about to be upended.
Today, one billion iPhones later, there’s another significant social change that Brian McCullough points to on InternetHistoryPodcast.com: “It’s not just that nearly every adult in the developed world has a smartphone in their pocket….It’s that nearly every adult in the developed world now has a computer in their pocket.” And with the launch of the iPhone X in September 2017, that computer can now process 600 billion operations per second. It can be a mini supercomputer.
In 2007, McCullough notes, the Apple team nailed the perfect form factor. By abandoning the physical keyboard, Apple fashioned a conceptually perfect smartphone. And it didn’t hurt that the Apple aesthetic demanded that “Designing and making should be inseparable.” The industrial designer Jony Ive has carried forward Jobs’s vision that the design, build, and function must be one.
The first iPhone was actually launched midyear in 2007, and on September 13 of that year, Steve Jobs issued a progress report for sales: “One million iPhones in 74 days.” And these phones weren’t inexpensive at $499 and $599 (4GB and 8GB).
A more comprehensive metric for the success of this approach to manufacturing can be seen in the way the iPhone catapulted a computer company to eventually sail past the might of the oil giants on Wall Street as America’s wealthiest corporation.
The business plan for the iPhone had one other genius element: the software. Up until then, software for your computer was the province of established coding houses like Microsoft, Oracle, Adobe, and dozens of others. With the iPhone, Apple set up an open store where anyone could apply to sell their applications for the phone. There they received Apple’s help with the coding interfaces and the marketing of the programs.
Others were quick to adopt the plan, and today, the five leading app stores offer the following number of apps for their devices: Google Play, 2.8 million; Apple, 2.2 million; Windows Store, 669,000; Amazon AppStore, 600,000; and BlackBerry World, 234,500. That’s more than 6.5 million applications. Yes, many of these apps are widget-size, but you can also get full suites of office applications free or for a modest cost.
An interesting development in the plan appeared in an Apple press release in May 2017: “Apple today launched a new app development curriculum designed for students who want to pursue careers in the fast-growing app economy. The curriculum is available as a free download from Apple’s iBooks Store.” Apple plans to roll out the full-year course in six community colleges this fall.
So, to sum up some of the changes wrought by the Apple accelerant to the mobile revolution, billions worldwide are now doing computing on a daily basis with a device they carry in their pocket. The vast information treasury and massive marketplace that is the internet now rests in the palm of your hand, accessible anywhere you have a signal. And the code factories are looking up at companies like Apple and Google, both of which are now asking the kids to write their software.