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How the iPhone changed the world in 15 years

Fifteen years have passed since Steve Jobs declared that Apple had reinvented the phone. Yet, it's not until you revisit the game-changing keynote that you realize just how much those concepts changed our lives.

Suddenly everyone had a GPS system and camera in their pocket. Elsewhere, the adoption of social media appeared to coincide with the rise of the iPhone as the winds of change swept through the industry.

It's hard to comprehend just how much our world has changed since the arrival of the iPhone. But in a world where everyone was addicted to emailing from BlackBerry devices, many thought Apple's vision for the future would fail. Most notably, Microsoft's Steve Ballmer famously mocked the release and predicted that a phone costing five hundred dollars without a keyboard wouldn't appeal to business customers.

The adoption of mainstream audiences usually determines the success of any new technology. Convincing users worldwide to ditch physical keyboards and type directly on the screen instead highlights just how much of a visionary Steve Jobs was. Although many critics derided Apple for using a touchscreen, on June 29, 2007, Apple fans lined up outside stores to secure bragging rights of being one of the first people to get their hands on the new phone.

UX Design matters

Although the touchscreen and the appearance of the iPhone dominated the headlines, the focus on getting the user experience right was possibly the most significant change. Traditionally, brands were all about having the best hardware specifications, with software taking a back seat. The iPhone would change this by putting the user experience at the heart of everything.

The simplicity of the iPhone was arguably the biggest game-changer for the industry. By removing complex menu systems, trackballs, keyboards, or the need for a stylus, the iPhone was designed to make it easier for anyone to get the most out of the device without needing an instruction manual. Steve Jobs took this to another level by insisting that every interaction needed to be completed in three intuitive clicks or less. If it didn't, the team would need to revisit the UX.

This mindset change would impact the entire industry as competitors were forced to admit that a new device with a higher technical specification would not appeal to customers if it were accompanied by clunky software. Simplifying everything and transforming the user experience through software would pave the way for Apple's device ecosystem, enhancing the UX with seamless integration. The result would increase loyalty and prevent Apple fans from leaving the convenience and safety of its walled garden.

There's an app for that

Can you remember a world without smartphone apps? iPhone users patiently waited until July 2008 for the promised App store to arrive. However, upon its launch, there were 500 mobile applications available that promised to make our lives easier. The result was 10 million downloads in its opening weekend, and developers quickly jumped on board to explore the art of the possible.

Many of the best-selling apps at the time would turn the iPhone into a lightsaber, chainsaw, or virtual Ocarina. But there were also many early success stories, such as the struggling magician who created the iBeer app and found himself earning $20K a day. Later in the year, Google also released its app store for Android devices, and developers began to explore how apps could solve real problems rather than offer gimmicks.

Although app fatigue would eventually set in, it's impossible to imagine a smartphone without dozens of apps that take up more time than we would care to admit. Unsurprisingly, in March 2022, there were more than 3.79 million non-gaming apps in the Apple app store alone.

Everything now

In this digital age of instant gratification, we now expect to have everything on demand. An entire box set that took ten years to make can be consumed during a weekend via the smartphone in our pocket. We often take for granted the ability to carry unlimited music, books, movies, and TV shows in our pockets.

Access to a GPS means we can navigate to almost any destination, take photos with a high-quality camera, and seamlessly share them with not just our family and friends but the entire world. All this would have been unimaginable to the audience watching the Apple keynote fifteen years ago. But has our world changed for the better?

Far away from the shiny allure of new technology, the moments we look back on through rose-tinted lenses of nostalgia were built on a toxic culture of secrecy, surveillance, and distrust. We are rightfully beginning to question who we put on a pedestal. In our immediate surroundings, we observe tech-addicted users endlessly scrolling, blissfully unaware of the world around them as they record rather than live in the moment. So, where do we go from here?

What happens next?

Predictably, Apple is heavily rumored to be working on new Apple Watches, AirPods, iPads, and a mixed reality AR device. But critics believe that the tech giant has forgotten how to innovate and has lost its way. As a result, big tech companies are exploring what a world without smartphones will look like as the lines between our digital and physical life begin to disappear.

In the same way that it was unthinkable to create an alternative to emailing from keyboards on a BlackBerry device in 2007, are we ready to simplify things by ditching our smartphones? Instead, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and Google are all chasing a future where a standard pair of glasses will overlay digital information as cameras and microphones seamlessly capture images and sounds from our voice commands.

Sure, this technology and the adoption of new solutions are still several years away, and it's unlikely that Apple will have it all its way this time. Nevertheless, suppose we look back at the arrival of the iPhone fifteen years ago and compare it with our life today. In that case, it provides a timely reminder that technological change is inevitable, and it's probably better to be a little more open-minded than Steve Ballmer was in 2007.

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