The tenth anniversary of the iPhone

Here is what I wrote in 2007, when Prospect magazine asked me to name the most underrated cultural development of the year:

The iPhone. The world really did change…We now have handheld personal computers and personal entertainment centres, yet they are no larger than a thin pack of cards. And no, I’m not a techie, a gadget freak or an Apple lover. The device itself is beautiful as well.

And here was my “overrated” answer:

Overrated: Hollywood movies. US ticket sales recovered this year, but to what end? This was a year for microculture, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The bigger visual productions of the year won’t much stand the test of time. On the bright side, television drama continues to rise in quality.

I am pleased to have bought an iPhone on the first day, I felt at the time it was like seeing the premiere of a Mozart opera.  Many people laughed at me for suggesting such an analogy, and they chided me for my infatuation with such a toy.  I recall Alex walking into my office, asking me what I thought, and I told him the product really did deliver what it promised and that it would change the world.

The funny thing is, I hardly use my iPhone anymore, much preferring the larger iPad.  I haven’t even bothered to order one of the larger iPhones, as for me it isn’t large enough and I marvel that others can use it as much as they do.  In other words, now that I have experience using the product my forecast, if I were to make one historically “blind,” but with that accumulated personal experience in pocket, would be far less accurate than what I said at the time.


"And no, I’m not a techie, a gadget freak or an Apple lover. " The nerd doth protest too much.

"I hardly use my iPhone anymore, much preferring the larger iPad." The thirty-somethings I know are ebaying their iPads and settling on a combo of iPhone, Mac laptop and Mac desktop.

It makes sense, I think.

Please be so kind as to inform what the forty-somethings are doing as I will have another year or so to emulate those in my cohort!

I think I've lost touch with my forty-something acquaintances.

Drop the desktop, and just dock the laptop into a (dual) Thunderbolt display.

drop the laptop. and drop the ipad. you need the phone for calls, and it works ok as a tablet, and for real work, use your desktop. lug nothing but your phone.

This is what I was thinking and "Katie" posted it in MR comments ten years ago:

"Also, on what planet was the iphone underrated? It was everywhere when it came out, and everyone I know wants one."

He was hoping we'd all forgotten in the intervening decade and would say, Wow, that Tyler sure did call it on the iPhone.

The faux modesty at the end is a crafty touch.

True, but there's also this post:

"There are blackberry phones that do everything that the iPhone does, they just arent nearly as much fun to use."

I'd say that Tyler was certainly more correct than that poster.

I never "got" the novelty of the iPhone. When it came out, I had already had a Palm Treo for a few years, which was one of many phones at the time that could do more or less everything the iPhone could do. The Treo wasn't as sleek or as cool as iPhone, but from a functional perspective it was pretty much identical. I guess the importance of the iPhone was that it bought these still-relatively-new functions to a wider audience.

> The funny thing is, I hardly use my iPhone anymore, much preferring the larger iPad.
Ha my iPad sits in a drawer, unused and largely unloved. I use my Samsung Galaxy all the time, though.

There a story about how the BlackBerry guys thought the iPhone was fake, that Steve Jobs was demoing a mockup. They literally didn't believe it was possible to put a big enough battery in a handheld device to drive a full size capacitive touchscreen. The iPhone not only amazed consumers, it amazed Apple's competitors. The contemporary Palm and BB devices, and early Android prototypes, were pathetic by comparison. (Bias note: all my smartphones have been Android.)

I have to charge my phone now 2 or 3 times per day. In 2007, I only had to charge my phone once every 3 or 4 days or more. So they were correct, the battery wasn't and isn't big enough for a full size capacitive touchscreen. What they got wrong, is that the screen is so much more useful, people will deal with the extra charging.

>I have to charge my phone now 2 or 3 times per day.

Either it's old or defective. You shouldn't have to do this. Also, check out Low Power Mode.

Battery saving mode sure does cut my power but it kills the utility of streaming apps like Tune-In or Pandora. Not sure if there's a work-around.

People often forget that Jobs got the carrier(s) to do things (bandwidth, voice mail, etc.) that they had never before accepted to do for BB or others.

There were many engineers that knew how to build an iPhone at Palm, Samsung, Nokia, and Motorola. It took hand coding in C and assembler combined with high end hardware and a rigorous eye to UI and power consumption, but the techniques were well understood.

The problem was that they couldn't get their own executives to invest in the project because nobody knew how to get carriers to allow such a device on their networks.

Until iPhone, carriers were demanding every news and picture service be for pay and that carriers would collect 80-90 cents on every dollar. Bandwidth was charged at monopoly rates, hundreds of times what Apple paid. Blackberry had a sweetheart deal everyone else envied, but even they didn't dream of what Steve Jobs would negotiate.

Yes, the key to the iPhone wasn't technology. The tech was great and necessary but lots of people knew how to make it. The key was the vision and ability to express that vision and to bamboozle hidebound conservative carrier executives out of a lucrative cartel with that vision. It was the trite lone hero business visionary story we're all used to dismissing these days.

Thanks, Steve.

The product is good and its marketing is even better. Apple became a religion, to the point Apple itself did not need much marketing because users ("fan boys" for some) did it for them with striking passion ("illusion" for some).

Go back and try using a palm trio or blackberry. There is a reason why iphones became the industry leader, the competition was terrible.

"The product is good and its marketing is even better. Apple became a religion, "

I think you have it backwards. Apple was already a well established cult. The introduction of the iPhone was one of the few times that Apple actually lived up to the hype.

When one looks at the infusion of cell phones in the developing world, its clear that cell phones have really changed the world. But has the iphone ? Other than increasing the obsession with "I"?

I think the iPhone is similar to the model T and Henry Ford.

Ford did not invent the car and he neither came up first with the assembly line idea. But he successfully produced a car that sold very well. Ford did not change the world in the sense of having the largest market share in the world. He changed it by creating a successful process that was copied by everyone.

Samsung is the Henry Ford. The iPhone is a Tesla Roadster. The latter outsourced for manufacturing.

Apple can't make the transition Tesla is making with the Model 3. As Elon Musk has put it, the real challenge is manufacturing factories. That was Henry Ford's life work: making better factories.

The iPhone is like the first IBM PC outsourced to Asia. The IBM laptops from Asia were iconic like the iPhone. DEC recruited one of the designers to remake it's laptops. It was iconic. Neither had the Jobs cult following. Nike sneakers and Apple products share a lot. Neither can manufacture what they design and brand.

"Obsession with 'I'" ain't good English. The correction is "obsession with me".

* correct is

Thiago, it was "me"ant to be a pun.

Incidentally ain't ain't good English either :-)

Methinks this TC post is a violation of the Cowen rule of "Don't Look Back" (no nostalgia allowed in this blog), though being the end of the year I guess convention allows a bit of that.

Off-topic: nuclear weapons: ain't it cool? (Broken Arrow quote). I predict Trump and the nuclear football will become an issue at least once in the next four years. Trump enjoys brinksmanship, and he and Pyongyang dictator Kim match up favorably in this regard (TC should blog on this).

"ain't" is idiomatic 18th century English, though, isn't it? I particularly enjoy the West Country "bain't", which is the negative.

One usage I can't stand is the southern English "aren't I?", a horrible bloody expression. I prefer the Scots "amn't I?".

What are your sources -- just asking -- on Kim? I wasn't sure we knew so much about him.

And how predictable is Trump? (Other than he will tweet whenever some annoying Hollywood type gets under his skin.)

@ dearieme

Thanks for the information of the other variants that many of us outside Britain ain't aware of .

Of course "ain't" we are aware of . I was just ribbing Thiago.

@Thor - my sources on Kim could be Dennis Rodman, who I once saw in person and he spoke a few joking words to me, but it's not. And I almost joined the Koryo Tour to Pyongyang. And I read the book about North Korea by those BBC journalists a year ago (it's not as bad, in the countryside, as people think: it's like Stalin's countryside, which is pretty bad but usually not fatally so). And I read "Aquariums of Pyongyang". In other words, I know about as much as anybody else. It can't be that hard to assassinate Kim, but I doubt the South Koreans nor the Americans go through with it (but they should).

I think the largest contribution of Apple is developing products and services for computer illiterate people. Many other products before could have similar functionalities, but the iPhone was the first that you could use without spending time tinkering it. The rest of Apple products are the same, you can't break anything at software level.

I'm the computer guy in my family. I discuss Linux with my nephews, I know my wife can use an inexpensive Windows ultrabook without risk, but sometimes I wish my mother-in-law would have bought an Apple product. That way she'll never break anything and ask for a solution :)

Probably spot on. When I asked my son , the computer guy in the family , what phone I should buy , he said without hesitation " the iphone" , knowing my computer illiteracy.

When I finally relented and got a smartphone, I got an iPhone because I didn't want to figure out what Android to buy. I figured Apple users are stupid and the iPhone must be easy to use, and there's only one to get, there was nothing to have to consider. And I was right, there was almost no learning curve whatsoever.

@Engineer: If you bought it, it's for you.

Literal babies are capable of using the iPad. For a baby to use a computer was unthinkable ten years ago.

My 3 & 5 year old twins have been using an iPad routinely since they were 2. The 3 year olds got their "own" iPad for their 3rd birthday.

Technology is advancing faster than we truly understand.

What it did was make it inevitable that the Microsoft monopoly was to collapse. Upon it's success a wide and prosperous computer ecosystem came into being that wasn't driven by the Microsoft stranglehold on the industry.

Another very interesting thing happened in 2007, the introduction of the EEE by Asus. It was the first very cheap and small laptop computers, and unlike anything else, didn't run Windows and was very popular. Microsoft was forced to delay the phasing out of XP because they didn't have anything that could run on the limited hardware.

That's because Microsoft was never a monopoly. Only the government can establish a lasting monopoly.

Go easy on Tyler. When you are THAT wrong on Brexit AND the historic 2016 Presidential Election, you get overwhelmed by status anxiety pretty badly.

Also, I was going over my grandfather's old diaries, and 100 years ago he boldly called the horseless carriage "underrated" and said it would "would change the world." Nailed it!


I've long felt that Steve Jobs will be best remembered as a great industrial designer. None of the Apple products were truly innovative in terms of technology enhancements (and of course he did utilize much that was developed by others such as research developed at Xerox PARC) but his realization of design and simplicity were what set him and Apple products apart.

But Steve Jobs would have been as successful with the iPhone as he was with Lisa is not for for Tim Cook convincing him the US can't manufacture the ideas Steve had because of bad US industrial policy that refuses to invest in engineers doing the boring work of manufacturing.

We are all droids now ...

Kids these days, YouTube shows the way older people watch TV shows. I don't quite get it. I think I'm just too old. Also it seems like they're all about video games.

I'm 50+ and watch way more YouTube than TV. In fact I rarely - if ever - watch a live TV program. Haven't watched any TV news or current affairs for over 10 years.

The main YouTube splash page is geared towards kids, hence the games and teen pop-culture dross. But there is truly great stuff out there. Try The Rubin Report for a jumping off point.

Thanks, I'll check that out.

There are people for whom a computer is a series of stats: a processor speed, an amount of memory, etc. These people buy PCs and Androids.

There are people for whom a computer is an experience. These people buy Apple products.

The iPhone, actually, has tremendous stats. In particular their processors are a marvel.

"There are people for whom a computer is an experience. These people buy Apple products."

I buy (well build) my own PC's. I buy Apple iPads and iPhones. I've never been that impressed with Apple computers (or at least not since the Apple IIe).

The phone war is over and Android won:

The only caveat is that Android manufacturers behave like non-profit organizations. They are on a race to bottom to gain market share. Put on your investor shoes and ask yourself once again who's winning the phone war.

That is a remarkable pair of statistics. Either Apple products are that amazing or Apple customers are that silly. I dare not say which.

The very same can be said for clothing, cars, sports tickets.....either the products are that amazing or ____ customers are silly. But, who do you want to be? The guy selling pet rocks or the intelligent one laughing at the silly customers buying pet rocks?

They both won. Apple in profits; Android in market share.

Other than the Apple brand, what does Apple have that three other Chinese manufacturers selling in China and Asia don't have?

Only economic profit.

As an economist, how long does economic profit last?

"I haven’t even bothered to order one of the larger iPhones, as for me it isn’t large enough and I marvel that others can use it as much as they do." Welcome to my (nearly old) world; I would need a magnifying glass to see the images on my i-phone. Question: does Cowen use his i-pad as a telephone? I don't, using my i-phone as a phone instead. But I do use my i-pad, daily, if for no other reason than as a television (I have cable television - Comcast - and can watch every channel on my i-pad, including the HD channels). I have many friends my age who rely on their i-pads, for the same reason I do: the eyes have it. I don't know if smart phones are for smart people, but I do know they are for people with young eyes.

I want to hear Tyrone's view. My smart phone is useful in ensuring I am never bored and can quickly share media with friends, but my skepticism prevents me from thinking this is world-changing (yet). I still pay with cash or credit card and don't see the utility in using a cell phone for payment. It's nice in a new city when I am out and about but I normally have a plan and know exactly where I am going. It's of limited use to me in a national park.

I love my iphone 7+. I prefer the 5.5inch screen. I have an ipad mini which I rarely use except on flights and my work phone is a 6s which seems too small. Even then, the phone is still just slightly too big to comfortably fit in my and and text one handedly.

As for the iPhone and all the innovation is has brought, most the gains seem to go to the wealthy and upper middle class, and urban dwellers. When I visit my parents home in rural Idaho, there are quite a few apps that are no longer useful. Sure the entertainment options are available everywhere, but good luck finding an uber in a small town, or to use any of the food/service delivery apps. Amazon now, taskrabbit, any food delivery, even the quality/quantity of yelp reviews is lacking. These are all services that really only work in large markets and are aimed at upper middle class and above.

I use my iphone all the time in rural Idaho, sure I don't use Uber, etc., but then much of that stuff is useless in urban ID, but its good enough gps, camera, even the barometer not to mention a bunch of very useful apps mean I don't have to lug so much equipment around at all times.

I think you were - and are - looking at it slightly incorrectly: the real advance was the iOS operating system.

iOS was a groundbreaking amount of functionality and ease of use per unit of processing power. Which particular form factor is best for a given individual is, I think, of lesser significance.

I remember the iPhone being considered a Big Deal and World Changing when it came out, so I don't know that it was underrated. But I don't think many of those who thought it would be World Changing really foretold how exactly it would be so.

Daily life is very different now due to the presence of smartphones. So they have changed the world. I am not sure if I think they have changed the world for the better, at least in advanced economies. The extent to which people can be present in the same room for the same event but be completely detached from one another and off in their own worlds is not something I could have fully envisioned.

On the whole these toys have made us worse..

I'm kind of a techie. Degrees in computer science and worked in the field for 40 years. I agree the iphone is a technological marvel. I don't own one and probably never will. I own a cheap $19 phone and buy 60 minutes every three months. And I keep it shut off. I cannot tell you how happy I am to not have a home phone and not hear a phone ring. I don't text, tweat or play games and I most certainly don't use a phone while driving. I love computers and I love technology but I am disturbed by the iphone zombies roaming around and worse driving around.

Your almost convinced my to buy a $19 phone and buy 60 minutes everything months and keep it shut off.

But that seems too intrusive...

"I own a cheap $19 phone and buy 60 minutes every three months." Such extravagance! I got mine free, but am limited by the need to make at least one call every six months, otherwise I'd lose my pay-as-you-go contract. I can last several years without adding to the credit on my phone. Then I'll go mad and add twenty bucks. I've owned a mobile phone ever since they became cheap enough for everyman, though it was only my first that I actually paid for and even then I got so much back from vouchers and special offers that it cost me next to nothing. Naturally I am a huge fan of mobile phones and of all the mobile phone users who have subsidised me over the years.

People tend to project memories of later iPhones onto the first one. Reminder: the first iPhone had no apps. Whatever basic functions it came with, you were limited to that forever. Just that fact alone meant that first iPhone was way behind other smartphones available at the time.

Is that true I could have sworn I got the first iPhone and that it had the App Store.

iPhone App Store did not open until July 2008.

"Reminder: the first iPhone had no apps."

It came with Safari, a YouTube app, Google maps. And Apple announced that the ability to download additional apps from a centralized source would be coming within the next year.

The original phone was an AT&T exclusive, so all official apps had to come via AT&T for the first year.

wiki: "The passionate reaction to the launch of the iPhone resulted in sections of the media dubbing it the 'Jesus phone'."

When did the mobile phone/cell phone/handy become cheap enough for the mass market? Was it about 1995; was it earlier? I'm confident that I didn't have one in '88 and certain I did by '95, but when can I first have bought one?

I was in Japan in 1993-1995 and remember in the spring of 1994 that suddenly guys in suits in their 20s and maybe 30s were walking around with cell phones. I returned to the U.S. and didn't see the same thing, although remember a woman talking loudly in a library on her new cell phone, which was annoying. Later I was taken aback by someone in my building talking to herself loudly - but she was also on a cell phone.

I went back to Japan in the fall of 1997, and it seemed like half of those under 40 were talking on cellphones, often ignoring a boyfriend or girlfriend at fast food places.

Thanks: between you and my wife I've narrowed our first to 1996.

Or maybe autumn '95. So much for "certain".

I meant that I saw cell phones become noticeable in spring *1995*, not 1994. My impression when I returned to the U.S. in the summer of '95 that cell phones were not nearly as common as in Japan yet but a few used them.

The certainty that I was mocking is my own.

Amazing piece of technology ( hardware + software) Probably the most useful invention of the last 30 years after the Web considering the amount of time people spend with them (Smartphones not just the iPhone)

The smart phone, the decapitalization of the American economy, two examples of Shiller's narrative economics (and Cowen's last two blog entries). The cultural impulses that move the herd in this direction or that are indeed powerful. But are they rational, are they predictable. One thing seems predictable: as the population ages (along with the population's eyes), the smart phone is likely to go the way of the hula hoop. And as China firms produce more and more goods for China firms to compete with goods produced by American firms (including goods produced in China for American firms), the decapitalization of the American economy will go in reverse. The interesting political question is whether Trump actually foresaw the reversal in the zeitgeist and devised a political strategy to exploit it or, like the captain of the Titanic, is stumbling around in the dark without a clue as to what lies ahead. In any case, Shiller is the economist of ___________________'s [fill in the name of most any economist] nightmares.

Smart phones answer a simple question: "Do you want to know now, or later?" Whether it is gas station tacos or where the girls are hanging out (for me and the kids, respectively), most people prefer to know now.

"One thing seems predictable: as the population ages (along with the population’s eyes), the smart phone is likely to go the way of the hula hoop. "

LOL, that seems such an obviously wrong an horrible prediction.

I had been expecting the "convergence device" since Xerox, the MIT Media Lab, and Steward Brand told me to (1987?). I understood the iPhone was one, but wasn't quite ready to spring. Luckily, my boss bought me one as a spiff and so I was on-board earlier than I might have been. Moved to Android since because I think Apple's wonderful margin is actually my out of pocket loss. And at this point, I find the Android interface much more intuitive.

Bursa'nın en dinamik ve güçlü sigorta acentası Candaşım Sigorta ile siz de en uygun sigorta teminatlarına ulaşabilirsiniz.

I think you give the iPhone too much credit for being 'world-changing'.

We already had 'handheld personal computers and personal entertainment centres' for several years before the iPhone showed up. Remember the HP iPaq? Before the iPhone killed it off it was getting ready to introduce a version that, along with the already integrated GPS, had built-in phone functionality. That was on top of the Windows CE OS, full-color touchscreen (by the time the iPhone was released they had already dumped the physical keyboard and input was by stylus/touch) , etc.

I will grant that the iPhone was an amazing piece of industrial design - and that was the last bit that *forced* the turnover to combined PDA/phone devices - but I don't think there's any one gadget that you could point out to as the *defining moment* that changed everything, only an evolution of gadgets leveraging newer tech to get closer to the fusion consumers wanted.

IMO, the cell-phone *alone* was and is more world-changing than what is effectively just combining it with a PDA.

Augh. Need to read better - Now I see that you made that prediction in 2007. So my comment is basically worthless. My bad.

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