The iPhone at Eight: A Brief Look Back

Eight years ago this month, Steve Jobs stepped onto a stage in California to unveil the first-generation iPhone. The device didn’t come as a total surprise: for months, rumors had circulated that Apple was working on a telecommunications device of some sort. The big surprises would come later, when the iPhone changed how we interact with our devices, with our computing lives centering more and more around smartphones as opposed to the PC.

That change wasn’t instantaneous. The mainstream press gave Steve Jobs’ newest creation respectful but cautious reviews. In retrospect, the first-gen iPhone’s hardware and software seem almost overwhelmingly primitive: it relied on (now hopelessly antiquated) 2G connectivity on one carrier (AT&T), featured no App Store, lacked copy-and-paste or wireless updates, and its rear camera offered a paltry 2 megapixels. As related in a lengthy piece that ran in The New York Times Magazine in 2013, even having a somewhat-working iPhone at Jobs’ presentation was a Herculean feat of engineering and stage trickery.

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For all of its relative crudeness, however, the original iPhone came loaded with something that never grows old: potential. Compared to the Internet-enabled phones on the market at the time, with their clunky physical keyboards and tiny screens, the iPhone was a thing of wonder. It kicked off an arms race of sorts within the tech industry, forcing the engineers at Google to scrap all their existing work on Android and start again on building a smartphone OS for the new paradigm.

As the iPhone morphed into a genuine hit, other firms that specialized in mobile devices—most notably BlackBerry, Google, Samsung, and Microsoft—did their best to catch up. And a few accomplished that feat: Android eventually surpassed iOS as the world’s most popular mobile operating system, while Samsung has managed to carve off a significant share of the smartphone market.

Despite those gains, Apple still looms large over the mobile-device scene. Now eight years old, the iPhone shows no signs of slowing down. But how much longer can Apple—or any company, for that matter—keep a streak going? Because if Steve Jobs proved anything, the Next Big Thing can always be right around the corner.

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Image: Apple

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