Happy fifth birthday, iPhone!

By , Jun 29, 2012

“An iPod… A phone… And an Internet communicator,” Steve Jobs quipped as a few in the audience broke out into sporadic laughter. Clearly on top of his game, Apple’s mercurial chief executive is delivering a career-defining presentation. Behind him, three icons on a giant screen representing a music player, a phone and a Safari browser rotate in sync as each gets a mention.

It is January 2007 and the air is sucked out of the Moscone West building. As Jobs confidently strides on stage, holding the audience in the palm of his hand, MacWorld Expo attendees, journalists attending the CES show in Las Vegas and fans the world over, their eyes glued to news sites, are all beginning to realize that something really, really profound is going down in San Francisco.

Following years of ambiguous denials and many, many, many months of rampant speculation, Apple – a Cupertino, California-based Macintosh and iPod creator – is about to tell the world it would revolutionize the phone…

“An iPod… A phone,” Jobs keeps on teasing his audience, now on the verge of bursting into a laughter of astonishment as it’s beginning to dawn on them.

“Are you getting it?”, he asks rhetorically, an irresistibly mischievous grin spreading across his face.

“These are not three separate devices,” he continues as hands start clapping, including select members of big media seated in the front row, with the look of stupid bewilderment on their overpaid faces.

“This is one device. And we are calling it – iPhone.”

All it took to sell gadget lovers on the idea of an Apple-branded phone was this one line. The iPhone was going to replace three different gadgets in your pocket and many more devices when Apple follows-up with a digital candy store carrying shiny iPhone apps from third parties.

“Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone,” Jobs proudly proclaims.

“And here it is,” he says, putting up a funny slide depicting a cross between an iPod and a phone, a nod at numerous renderings by the blogosphere that had attempted to envision what a phone from Apple with an iPod attached to it might look like.

Between its January 2007 introduction and a summer debut six months later, the iPhone had enjoyed an unprecedented amount of media attention that fueled the frenzy.

For the record, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster thinks a rumored October launch of the next iPhone will go down in history as the “biggest consumer product launch this year” and drive the biggest device upgrade cycle.

The pre-launch build-up was so powerful that many established names in journalism made a terrible mistake predicting the iPhone’s inevitable fail because it presumably couldn’t live up to the hype.

My favorite has to be Matthew Lynn’s write-up for Bloomberg titled Apple iPhone Will Fail in a Late, Defensive Move.

The iPhone is a defensive product. It is mainly designed to protect the iPod, which is coming under attack from mobile manufacturers adding music players to their handsets. Yet defensive products don’t usually work — consumers are interested in new things, not reheated versions of old things. Likewise, who is it pitched at?

The price and the e-mail features make it look like a business product. But Apple is a consumer company. Will your accounts department stump up for a fancy new handset just so you can listen to Eminem on your way to a business meeting?

Apple will sell a few to its fans, but the iPhone won’t make a long-term mark on the industry.

And this:

The big competitors in the mobile-phone industry such as Nokia Oyj and Motorola Inc. won’t be whispering nervously into their clamshells over a new threat to their business.

Nailed it.

I guess Lynn didn’t get the memo that the original iPhone was pitched as three devices in one, a revolutionary product that would go on to change the entire mobile industry as we knew it.

The Loop’s Jim Dalrymple has compiled a nice list of all the naysayers here.

And of course, who could ever forget Steve Ballmer’s epic fail.

The naysayers and criticism didn’t bother Apple, which would soon once more demonstrate why it’s been viewed by some as the world’s greatest marketing machine. The company set the tone for iPhone advertising with a memorable advert conveniently aired at the 2007 Oscars.

When it finally went on sale on June 29 in the U.S., the iPhone caused unprecedented lines and media interest. All told, its summer arrival was deemed the most successful launch of anything, ever.

The original iPhone was praised for its industrial design which called for an aluminum back, glass screen and sleek form factor so no wonder Apple is rumored to replicate a metal backplate with a sixth-generation iPhone.

The device was classic Apple in that it literally ignored some of the functions taken for granted in mobile phones as Apple’s engineers focused on getting the few most important details right. It had a glass multitouch screen (courtesy of Gorilla Glass) that responded to touch events instantly rather than a cheap, plastic display with laggy touch feedback seen on a few competing products before it. Apple’s phone was unlike any other handset the world had ever seen before.

But it wasn’t exactly cheap costing $499 to $599, depending on how much storage space you wanted. And unlike competition, it had no physical keyboard and did not support MMS, copy and paste or Bluetooth file transfer (to date, no iPhone supports this feature). Its battery life was abysmal by Nokia’s standards, it ran on a sluggish EDGE network and was only available exclusively through AT&T until February 2011.


The iconic photo any brand would die for: media hype surrounding the iPhone launch outside the Apple Store on NYC’s Fifth Avenue. No advertising money can beat this.

Users didn’t seem to mind any of this, except for one thing – the lack of third-party apps, which gave birth to a jailbreak community. As hackers cracked the code to building apps pretty early in the game, Apple eventually relented and put out a software development kit twelve months later.

The New York Times technology columnist David Pogue ran an interesting piece on the topic in September of 2007, titled Hacking the iPhone, along with one of the first mentions of the “iPhone brick” scare.

And here’s Pogue’s amusing take on the subject.

The App Store launched in the summer of 2008 and Jobs would later repeatedly say its success went beyond Apple’s wildest imagination. “I have never seen anything like it in my career”, he once told Walt Mossberg.

The iPhone 3G in 2008 was twice as fast and came with 3G support, GPS and an improved OS that enabled the App Store. It also boasted a revamped design with its rounded plastic back available in black and white. The App Store instantly spawned an entirely new industry and ecosystem of beautiful apps and accessories worth billions of dollars.

Its successor, the iPhone 3GS, came in 2009. It still sells today as Apple’s entry-level iPhone, often offered at no cost with a basic contract.

The iPhone 4 ensued in 2010 and really upped the ante in the design department with its glass back and a beautiful stainless steel band running around the sides of the device, doubling as antennae. The iPhone 4 was also the first device that couldn’t be kept secret (remember that lost iPhone prototype meme).

More importantly, it hurt Apple’s reputation due to a major outrage caused by signal attenuation invoked when users touched a gap in the lower left side of its metal band. The issue got quickly blown out of the proportion, causing Apple’s top dogs to summon a hastily organized presser, with a nervous Steve Jobs announcing free bumpers for everyone and arguing that all mobile phones exhibit a signal loss when held in a certain way (hence the ‘you’re holding it wrong, dude’ meme).

The iPhone 4 also brought FaceTime, a major back camera upgrade, a front-facing camera for the first time and – most importantly – a Retina display, an awesome marketing term Apple coined to denote a display with pixels packed so dense that your eyes couldn’t discern them. We now have Retina displays on our iPads and the MacBook Pro. It’s fairly safe to assume the Retina display will eventually be rolled out to other Apple products.


Mobile industry before (left) and after the iPhone (right). Credit: @Digeratii

Its successor, the iPhone 4S, broke Apple’s annual refresh cycle, arriving eighteen months later, on October 4, 2011. The company announced the following day that its co-founder Steve Jobs had passed away, losing a years-long public battle with cancer.

The public seemed disappointed at first with the iPhone 4S’s virtually unchanged design. But it had one game-changing feature, Siri, alongside iOS 5 and iCloud, all helping move insane iPhone shipments: 37.1 million units in the holiday 2011 quarter and 35.1 million in March 2012 quarter.

With the iPhone 4/4S, Apple has been able to sell a mobile phone with an unchanged form factor for two years now, an unheard-of in the fast-paced mobile industry. Apple understands perhaps better than any other company that cell phone users care about integrated and seamless experiences rather than the innards.

Even though Android outpaces the iPhone in units, Apple’s phone is still far ahead in customer satisfaction, ease of use, elegance and polish, which still makes it the phone to beat. It truly changed everything and turned Apple into the most valuable and profitable company on the planet.

As noted in our article titled The Five Years Of iPhone In Numbers, Apple has generated $150 billion of cumulative revenues for its iPhone family in the first five years and shipped quarter of a billion units cumulatively worldwide.

Jobs stunned the audience at the original iPhone unveiling by announcing the mobile device would be powered by an optimized variant of OS X, Apple’s operating system for Macs, and run desktop-class applications on top of it. He confidently predicted Apple was at least five years away in terms of software than anything else available at the time.

Jobs was so right.

Here we are five years later, and iOS still leads the pack in terms of innovation and remains a platform of choice for developers. And for all the talk, the world hasn’t produced a so-called iPhone-killer yet, though many think Samsung’s Galaxy S III could become that device.

To date, Apple sold 217 million iPhones and its annual revenues climbed from $24 billion in 2007 to $108 billion in 2010. Stock price rose almost 400 percent over the same period.

Sadly, the iPhone success has caused a spectacular downfall for some its most stubborn rivals, namely Canada-based Research In Motion, now in the survival mode (and no, switching to Windows Phone is not an option).

As Read Write Web’s Dan Frommor put it, “RIM’s fate started tumbling five years ago Friday: June 29, 2007, the day Apple first started selling the iPhone”.

Wrapping up: happy birthday, iPhone, and here’s to many, many more years of success.

A poster who goes by a nickname “willie” sums it up best, down in the comments:

iPhone is not a phone anymore. It’s a legacy.

What do you think, does the iPhone still have its mojo?

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  • http://twitter.com/myorangeisstuck willie

    iPhone is not a phone anymore. It’s a legacy

    • http://www.idownloadblog.com/author/dujkan Christian Zibreg

      I like that comment a lot. Actually, just put it in the article :)

    • Wael Abdo

      and if anyone is doubting, all they need to do is look at the before and after picture above, iphone is more than a legacy, its more and way more than a smart phone or mobile or anything, its an ideal and an idea for all to follow, and all did….

  • M Last

    Happy Birthday iPhone :)LOL
    every year they make the best phone on the world
    of course some people don’t like it but it doesn’t matter.
    I really really happy that I am iphone user since 2007 until now :)

  • http://twitter.com/Sleepy83 Matt R.

    Happy F’n B-day indeed!, that phone is a beast! I passed it along to my kid when I had no use for it anymore and I cannot begin to fathom how many times she’s dropped it; even dropped twice in toilet(clean water luckily LOL) and the damn thing still works. Battery still holds a decent charge after 5 years and it’ll be getting passed down the the youngest kid when my oldest gets my 3GS(when I get my iPhone 5).

    one thing I wish was still like the original is the phone turning back on immediately once you plug in the charger after your battery fully drains and shuts down. With my 3GS phone, if my phone’s battery dies, I have to recharge for about 10minutes before it’ll turn itself on; not cool!

  • http://www.andrewcassone.tk/ NY Andrew

    Quick question:

    Is there a jailbreak tweak that works on IOS 5 that can automatically turn off the phone?

    Thanks! :)

  • http://www.ifans.com/ Joe Rossignol

    Holy crap, this article is Goliath.

    • http://www.idownloadblog.com/author/dujkan Christian Zibreg

      I’ll take that as a compliment :)

      • http://twitter.com/chin2793 Darshan Patel

        I enjoyed reading it whole :)

      • http://www.facebook.com/Dennispr Dennis G Hernandez

        great article share in facebook for my friends in Puerto Rico

  • http://twitter.com/BrandonyoSmith Brandon Smith

    happy birthday

  • http://www.facebook.com/hayden.jenkins.568 Hayden Jenkins

    Ron burgundy’s “HELLO!” was the best

  • http://twitter.com/woodydog3gs Randy Jarrell

    Happy 5th birthday iPhone. I think it has lost its mojo. This is coming from long time iPhone fan. Got 3gs on launch day and 4s on launch day. I got very bored with iOS sold 4s and got HTC one x. Don’t know if I can ever go back now. Android does almost stock as iPhone can do with jailbreak. Then one you root and unlock the boot loader I’m flashing roms and new tweaks everyday its just to much to give up. Now for someone who don’t like to tinker I would definitely recommend the iPhone

  • 1337lolzorz

    Well written article. I like how you threw in the Lynn criticism.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Dennispr Dennis G Hernandez

    the iPhone have become an essential part of our lives. The experiences is unique with this apple product iam a proud owner of all the iPhone version since 2007

  • http://twitter.com/mhobb91 mhobb

    I miss having one app for the iPod and the old iPod icon, I guess that’s what unified iPod for iOS5 is for :D

  • http://twitter.com/melovestoast Jared Floyd 

    I got chills watching steve jobs talk about the iPhone..

  • http://twitter.com/NoahKing666 Noah King

    I really wish that the ipod/iphone mock up was a real thing.