Ten years ago today I woke up before the sun rose, grabbed a folding chair, and went out to what was still the “new” Apple Store in midtown Manhattan. When I got there, I had to walk around the block to the now shuttered FAO Schwartz toy store (ironically currently inhabited by a temporary Apple Store) and got in line. According to someone who was keeping count, I was number 163. It would grow into the thousands as the day went on. I and a fellow Tekserve employee took off work to sit outside until 6pm. When the store opened and we were led inside, it felt as close to walking the red carpet at the Oscars I will likely ever get. An entire wall of reporters and photographers greeted us at the entrance of the store. We even got featured on Gizmodo.
It is almost hard to believe the iPhone is 10 years old.
We take it for granted now, but the iPhone, and smartphones in general were not a sure bet at the time. The smartphone market of 2007 was focused almost entirely on business customers, with the sole exception of the T-Mobile Sidekick. Those of us who were in tech knew it would be a big deal, but the public at large had to be convinced. I remember earlier that year being outside on the boardwalk at Atlantic City on my Palm Treo. People were impressed that I could access the internet out there. At Walt Disney World the year after the iPhone’s release there were only a small number of us with them. By my visit the next year, everyone had one.
The line for the original phone was a lot of fun. This was before the lines were overrun by resellers, and Apple started to downplay these kind of launches for that very reason. It felt like a big block party at times. Walking down into the store, with the employees applauding, and boxes of brand new iPhones everywhere, it really was magical.
I don’t think anything else in personal tech will compare to what the iPhone did. We often talk of Apple “Sherlocking” other tech; taking existing products and making them obsolete. Just think of what the iPhone sherlocked: cell phones, GPS, cameras, music players, plane tickets, maps, 411, address books, day planners, and for many people even their computers and televisions.
The original iPhone did not need to be set up in the store, you took it home and did it yourself in iTunes. I ran home, plugged it in, and got to be one of the first people outside Cupertino to actually use it. You could tell this was special. In retrospect, it is kind of quaint now. The original iPhone had 16 apps, no more, no less. Compared to the iPhone I hold in my hands now, that first device was tiny, and had an almost laughably low resolution. The cellular network was dial up speed. But compared to its contemporaries, there was no contest. My Treo instantly felt ancient. The existing smartphone makers, who dismissed Apple, never recovered. None of the platforms that were common 10 years ago have survived to present day.
Back in 2007 it still wasn’t clear to me that I would make technology a full time career. I liked it, but I still wasn’t totally sure. I feel like getting that first iPhone and being the iPhone “expert” in the early months finally pushed me over that line. It remains my favorite technology purchase of all time. Even though the first iPhone has been far surpassed by the ones that came after it, that first one was special. A lot of technologies get too much credit for the change they brought. But with this device, the credit is entirely justified.
Happy 10th birthday iPhone.