The 1840s gave rise to the telegraph. Then came the telephone in 1877. Motorola gave the world the first handheld mobile phone with the DynaTAC 8000X in 1973, and the first flip phone with the StarTAC in 1996.
Finally, in 2007, Apple changed the mobile phone industry and culture with the release of the first iPhone at MacWorld. During his keynote speech, Steve Jobs described the iPhone as being a “widescreen iPod with touch controls”, “revolutionary mobile phone”, and “breakthrough Internet communications device”—three different devices, now all in one sleek package. Jobs predicted that Apple would reinvent the phone, and their iPhone went on change numerous industries.
The iPhone was far from being the first smartphone (that title would be given to IBM’s Simon, which was released in 1994), but it was the first of the modern smartphones as we know them today—with features such as multitouch screens, full Internet-browsing capabilities, portable music player, digital camera, integration across different apps, and app stores. Before 2007, smartphones still had physical keyboards; they allowed some email capability; the access they gave you to the Internet was still extremely limited. Apps, cameras, and other non-calling features were present on mobile phones before the iPhone, but these features were expensive; their distribution and use restricted. Back then, there was the option to browse the Internet on your phone, but it was so much of a hassle that people would wait until they got home to use a proper Internet communications device.
The iPhone wasn’t a service made available through the Internet; it was a new means to access the Internet. Before it came along, the only way the majority of people could browse the Internet was from a laptop or desktop PC. While these were massive upgrades from the computers that would take entire rooms to house, people still had to wait until they got home to use their desktops or find a decent place to sit down to open their laptops. The iPhone’s portability meant that people who owned them were now constantly connected. But it would be reductive to describe the iPhone—and thus the modern smartphone—as a portable handheld computer that could fit in your pocket.
The phrase “there’s an app for that” comes from how modern smartphones were (and are) seen as these “all-in-one devices”. It had to be multifunctional and powerful enough to handle all these tasks. In addition to giving full access to the Internet, the touchscreen display and keyboard Apple introduced to the world also played a huge role in this perception of the smartphone. Because new keyboard layouts can be added or changed via software, different features and apps could have vastly different UI (user interface). This multifunctionality meant that people were interacting with their (smart)phones in increasingly diverse ways.
Phones were no longer considered or used as devices made primarily to make voice-calls or even SMS texting. Gone are the days where not picking up the phone was seen to be as rude as not opening the door when you heard the doorbell rang. Nowadays, it can be seen as rude to make a call with the expectation of having an hour-long conversation without texting or DM’ing the other person first. Now, picking up the phone is seen to be an inconvenience. The synchronous and spontaneous nature of picking up every phone call meant that you had to be ready to drop whatever you were doing at that time. The asynchronous nature of options such as email, SMS texting, and Facebook Messenger meant that people could respond to messages on their own time—similar to sending “snail-mail” letters to loved ones, but with the additional benefit of arriving in your hands almost instantaneously.
This fall in popularity of “using a phone as a phone” can be attributed to the aforementioned multifunctionality of the smartphone. There are now many more communication options. With the increase in communication options, people could now choose which worked the best for time in what situation. This meant that telecommunications (telecom) companies like AT&T and Verizon had to adapt their business models to this changing landscape. Instead of charging based primarily on their voice-based services and the number of “minutes” you spent making phone calls, they had to provide and charge for a variety of data services.
The invention of the phone preceded the invention of the Internet (in 1969), but the original iPhone was the first phone that gave you full access to the Internet. The iPhone’s portability made it so that people constantly had access to it; its sleek and simple interface made it so that they could access its features more easily; and its customizability through options such as third-party apps and keyboard settings meant that people could access it for a variety of uses and tasks. The iPhone made it so that people would continue reaching for it, long after its novelty wore off.
- “Steve Jobs introduces iPhone in 2007” https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=MnrJzXM7a6o
- “10 Years Old and 1.2 Billion Sold: The Business of iPhone” (2017) https://computerhistory.org/blog/10-years-old-and-1-2-billion-sold-the-business-of-iphone/
- “New iPhone Exhibit Celebrates The ‘One Device That Changes Everything’” (2017) https://computerhistory.org/blog/new-iphone-exhibit-celebrates-the-one-device-that-changes-everything/
- “How Apple’s iPhone Changed These 5 Major Industries” (2017) https://time.com/4832599/iphone-anniversary-industry-change/
- “This Is Why the iPhone Upended the Tech Industry” (2017) https://time.com/4837176/iphone-10th-anniversary/
- “The Original iPhone – Changing an Industry” (2017) https://youtube.com/watch?v=HE4sZUw0ovI
- “History of the iPhone As Fast As Possible” (2015) https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=LHfca_TJOPU
- “History of Cellphones And How Drastically They’ve Changed” (2017) https://youtube.com/watch?v=nrdNdprcYls
- “Human Evolution and the Transformation of Phones” https://blog.hiya.com/telephone-transformation/
- “Why No One Answers Their Phone Anymore” (2018) https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/05/ring-ring-ring-ring/561545/
- “Talk to People on the Telephone” (2019) https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/09/ring-ring-ring/598129/