Home Accessories iPhone is a breakthrough hand-held computer

iPhone is a breakthrough hand-held computer

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The above prescient headline was written in June 2007 following the launch of Apple’s first iPhone by Steve Jobs. After twelve years it is hard to imagine life without the smartphone, such has been the impact of the iPhone.

At the time the new iPhone was derided in some areas of the technical press and criticised for its obvious shortcomings — these included an absence of the then obligatory 3G, no cut-and-paste and no physical keyboard. It was easy to dismiss, but All Things Digital took a more pragmatic and positive view. As did Walt Mossberg in this video from 2007:

Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg gives his view on the new iPhone in 2007

Dumbphones

Before 2007 most people used what came to be known as dumbphones, such as those produced by Nokia, Samsung and Motorola. Handheld organiser phones had been around for at least the previous eight years, with the once-dominant Blackberry debuting in 1999. Palm, Compaq and HP offered bulky “personal digital assistants” which combined a phone with a computer capable of performing basic tasks, including word processing, spreadsheets, task management and calendaring. At the time I thought they were marvellous and avidly bought every iteration as soon as it was announced.

These PDAs did a good job at the time but their Achilles’ heel was always connectivity and synchronisation. It was thanks to Apple and its eco-system that we all now take for granted having our calendars and date faultlessly synchronised across all our devices. And, more to the point, protected against loss.

The marvel of the iPhone is that, despite its initial shortcomings1, it defined hand-held computing for the future. The concept of a light hand-held device with a dominating screen and a virtual keyboard is now universal. It is extremely hard to imagine going back to the sort of devices which we thought were cutting edge up to 2007 or 2008.

See the panel on the left for an overview of the competition as seen in 2007. The iPhone, at $500, was hugely expensive at the time but its advantages persuaded buyers to part with the cash. In turn, this set the trend for the sort of pricing which is now universal, even for top-line Android models.

Even the once-mighty Blackberry has been shunted off into a minor siding. We shouldn’t forget, too, that it is the iPhone that turned Apple — once a basket case before Jobs returned to kick some rear-ends — into the world’s most valuable company. No one could have foreseen this, least of all the majority of commentators at the time. Yet can now look back and see just how revolutionary the iPhone launch actually was. We take it for granted, which is perhaps the nicest things that can be said about a seamlessly efficient handmaiden.

Crystal ball

The writer of the ATD article clearly saw the wood from the trees:

Our verdict is that, despite some flaws and feature omissions, the iPhone is, on balance, a beautiful and breakthrough handheld computer. Its software, especially, sets a new bar for the smart-phone industry, and its clever finger-touch interface, which dispenses with a stylus and most buttons, works well, though it sometimes adds steps to common functions.

The Apple phone combines intelligent voice calling, and a full-blown iPod, with a beautiful new interface for music and video playback. It offers the best Web browser we have seen on a smart phone, and robust email software. And it synchronizes easily and well with both Windows and Macintosh computers using Apple’s iTunes software.

It has the largest and highest-resolution screen of any smart phone we’ve seen, and the most internal memory by far. Yet it is one of the thinnest smart phones available and offers impressive battery life, better than its key competitors claim.

The phone is thinner than many smart phones. It feels solid and comfortable in the hand and the way it displays photos, videos and Web pages on its gorgeous screen makes other smart phones look primitive.


All Things Digital from June 2007


  1. I refused to buy the first generation iPhone because it couldn’t handle 3G. Instead, I soldiered on another year with my Palm PDA. I later bought the iPhone 3G model and have never since been tempted to forsake the Apple brand

7 COMMENTS

  1. I use mine just for making, you know, phone calls. Everything else I do on my iPad or Macbook. And, gasp, wait for it! for taking photos I still use a camera! Since I hate texting and all that, I’m not at all excited by the phone. I’m actually thinking of doing without it so I can save money. Maybe go back to a simple flip phone. Seriously. I can easily imagine life without it. In fact, I can actually remember life without it. I liked it better, and people looked up and talked more on trains.Now we live in a world of Smartzombies walking around staring at their phone.

    • Flip-phones? I still use one, but rarely. I rather prefer impromptu conversations and pre-planned meetings and events. The perceived usefulness of smartphones is at the expense of a smiling friendly approachable society. Of course there is a place for smartphones. Perhaps rooms should be set aside their use, like smoking rooms of yesteryear. Certainly they should be banned at mealtimes, whether at home or in hotels. Let us start a campaign for more conversations and less on-the-go computing. 😃

      • David,

        I belong to a club in London where there is indeed a room reserved for smartphones. Devices can it be used anywhere else. But then there’s the dilemma of reading — you can read a newspaper or a Kindle but iPads are considered to be banned electronics. However, like dress codes, these rule eventually move with the times.

  2. I’ve never owned an Apple phone. My kids do. And iPods, and ipads, and MacBooks. But for whatever reason, my first smartphone was Android and I’ve stuck with it. I will say that in my experience with my kids devices, iTunes is a software concept invented by the devil. Absolutely abominable.

  3. I’m an earlier adopter so got a BlackBerry a few weeks after it launched. I did the same with the iPhone and find the technology indispensable. But…I still take pictures with a camera and still prefer to play music on a record player.

    Agree on social behavior. Smartphones are the new cigarettes – people develop automatic behaviors about when and where to use them. Presumably the immediate post coitus couple now ask each other via tweet how it was for them…

  4. I got my first mobile phone – a Scandinavian Technophone ..you never hear or read about them (they preceded the ‘BT Brick’) – as soon as the ‘spy network’ analogue cellular system was opened to the public (..you may remember that a cellular link had been built along the M4 to Heathrow from Lancaster House at the time of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe independence talks ..with phones given to Robert Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo and others so that the secret service could listen to their conversations on the way to the airport).

    I later got a Siemens and then an Ericsson (which I think operated on the short-lived UK Mercury ‘One2One’ network).

    But when the Apple iPhone was shown by Steve Jobs on 9th January 2007 at the Macworld show, it was immediately obvious that the iPhone would be the perfect ‘pocket assistant’, compared with the – remember these? – Psion Organiser or the Nokia Communicator ..although the Communicator had one clear advantage, which was that it could send and receive faxes ..in your hand! However, faxes pretty much died out and email predominated after the introduction of the iPhone ..so it turned out to be no advantage after all.

    People do read – or fiddle with – their phones on the train, on the bus, or wherever ..but before that, people would read newspapers and paperbacks on the Tube or the bus, and not talk with anyone else. To my mind, it’s perfectly OK to be reading one’s phone on the Tube; I’ve got “On The Origin of Species” on my phone, together with Erwin Puts’ “Leica Chronicle” (all 839 pages of it) and Walter Isaacson’s book about Jobs, as well about 99 other books, mainly about photography, physics, and a few thrillers.

    Plus it’s a camera, it’s a ‘Slingplayer’ (to watch UK TV anywhere in the world where there’s a wi-fi internet connection), I’ve got my favourite music on it, my diary, all my contacts (names & addresses), I can pay for things with it, it’s got my Tube map, my boarding passes for several airlines (BA, Lufthansa, EasyJet, Aegean ..oh and Eurostar). And I can easily book a seat on any of those straight from my phone. And find the way from anywhere to anywhere with its GPS mapping features.

    I do banking with it, I can rent a car with it, book hotel rooms, scan QR codes, read the LFI magazine (and others), watch German ZDF’s TV programmes, buy and sell on eBay, remind myself of how to tie which knots and for what purposes, use WolframAlpha for answers to tricky science problems, control my home computer remotely from it, shoot, play and edit movies on it, and do dozens, dozens more things with it. (With a teeny ‘Arrim One’ plug-in laser scanner half the length of my middle finger it’ll instantly survey and measure – linear and cubic – lengths and volumes of rooms, sheds, garages ..whatever.) It is my pocket office.

    Of course, cast away on a desert island with only eight gramophone records, I’d be able to do without it. But having an entire office, and entire encyclopaedia, in my pocket, at my fingertips, twenty-four hours a day is – I find, anyway – invaluable.

    [You may, or may not, remember that originally, third-party ‘apps’ were restricted to working within the Safari web-browser, but app developers shamed Steve Jobs into letting them write fully-fledged applications ..simply by putting on YouTube – to the words of the Apple advert “Here’s To The Crazy Ones” – a scrolling list of all the developers and all the iPhone apps they were working on, which could not run on an iPhone because of being ‘sandboxed’ into Safari. Jobs relented, and so we have the apps we know and use today.]

    Sorry; this is supposed to be about photography, isn’t it?

    We-ell, I use my iPhone for photography now and again, and sometimes with a superb-quality ’Moment’-brand superwide 18mm-equivalent clip-on lens ..and it’s gr-r-r-r-r-eat! [With apologies to Kellogg’s]

    • David, the mind boggles, such is your enthusiasm for the iPhone. I tend to agree with you. For me it is a window on the world and certainly replaced printer books and newspapers. It’s also a very effective organiser and productivity aid. In short, I remember how we did without It but I don’t want to return to those days.

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