Apple’s first iPhone released to the public 15 years ago this past June—on June 29, 2007. Its latest product would combine the iPod, a phone, and the internet (gasp!) all in one hand-held device. Hopefuls waited in lines for hours on the first day of sales. The atmosphere—if this clip of a fictionalized Elizabeth Homes vying for one in The Dropout gives you any indication—was frenzied, to say the least.
In its journey so far, the iPhone has consistently pushed the limits of what smartphones can do. It is a technological and cultural juggernaut that influences not only its competitors but also the functioning of industries globally. And loyal fans await each new product launch with the kind of fervor usually reserved for pop stars and superhero movies.
We’ve rounded up some of the most revolutionary moments in the history of the best-selling gadget ever created, with a focus on the large-scale changes each set in motion.
It was the smartphone that changed the world. In January 2007, Steve Jobs unveiled the first-ever iPhone, with a 3.5-inch screen and 2-megapixel camera, calling it “revolutionary,” and a “breakthrough Internet communications device.” It wasn’t the first smartphone, but it was definitely the most groundbreaking—its sleek, multi-touch display and futuristic, intuitively-designed user interface put design firmly at the forefront of Apple’s product ethos, and revolutionized how people would use their devices.
2. App Store
For all its technical brilliance, the iPhone as we know it today would be nothing without the App Store, the innovation that arguably redefined the course of personal computing. Launched with the iPhone 3G in 2008, the App Store became a hub where users could download apps from third-party developers to do everything from playing games, scrolling through social media to calling a taxi. In its first weekend, it reached 10 million downloads; the numbers today exceed over 50 billion downloads. The App Store transformed the way software was designed, used, and distributed.
3. Advanced camera & retina display
Apple’s popular “Shot with iPhone” ad campaign owes its roots to the iPhone 4, launched in 2010. This phone came with Apple’s most powerful camera, its first front-facing camera, and its now-signature Retina Display screen with higher pixel density than traditional screens, features that made high-quality yet extremely simple smartphone photography a part of everyday life and turned every iPhone user into a photographer. Coupled with these innovations in camera technology and screen resolution came FaceTime and HD video recording—and the near-obsoletion of digital cameras.
Apple introduced Siri, its smartphone voice assistant, in 2011 with the iPhone 4S. With a simple “Hey, Siri,” the voice assistant can be summoned to search the internet, set reminders, identify songs or tell a joke—a manifestation of the fantasy that one day we’d be able to talk to technology. While Siri has been criticized for sometimes being clunky, it was radical at the time of launch—The Verge called it “probably one of the most novel applications Apple has ever produced”—and set the ground for competitors like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant.
5. Skeuomorphism to flat design
Early iPhones featured expressive, three-dimensional textures and designs that mimicked real-life objects (remember the pinewood iBooks shelf?) known as skeuomorphism. But in 2013, with the launch of iOS 7, Apple introduced a new visual language: flat design. This new style was simple, two-dimensional, and evoked the modernity of Swiss design—the primary typeface was Helvetica Neue Ultra Light— and would go on to define the next decade of user interface design.
6. Face ID
The iPhone X replaced the fingerprint scan-based Touch ID and home button with Face ID, a facial recognition system used to access and unlock the phone, in 2017. Through Apple's TrueDepth camera system, the iPhone creates a three-dimensional map of the user’s face, which is then used to not only unlock the phone but also create animated Animoji and Memoji characters. Apple has also recently modified its Face ID technology to recognize users while they are wearing face masks.
7. Augmented Reality
While Apple hasn’t explicitly stated its intentions to better equip the iPhone for AR functionality, observers believe that many of its latest features reveal just that. This has led to a spate of AR-enabled iOS apps like Pokemon Go and IKEA Place, which lets you virtually place true-to-scale 3D models in visualizations of your spaces. A combination of Apple’s lidar-based 3D scanning, innovations in tools for capturing realistic visuals, and the AirPod Pro’s spatial audio technology could indicate future uses of the iPhone as a world-building powerhouse. Rumors abound that Apple’s next big product will be AR glasses—we'll just have to wait until the next highly-anticipated Apple premiere event to know more.
Image courtesy The Pokémon Company International.