Ten years ago, on January 9, 2007, there was a milestone in the history of computing: The launch of the first iPhone.
It wasn't the first "smartphone," or the first phone with a camera. It wasn't the first mobile device to have a touchscreen, or to let users install apps. (In fact, the app store didn't even launch until 2008, a year after the first iPhone was released!)
But it tied numerous disparate features together in a cohesive, well-designed whole — kickstarting a mobile revolution that has transformed the modern world.
Today's app economy is bigger than Hollywood, and WhatsApp, Snapchat, Uber, Tinder, and more are essential parts of modern culture, collectively used by hundreds of millions of people around the globe every day. Seven years ago, none of that existed.
Announcing the first iPhone, on-stage at the Macworld conference in 2007, the late Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs was not humble about the device's possibilities. You can watch the full keynote below — or read on for the story behind it.
Jobs took to the stage in his trademark black turtleneck sweater for the now-legendary presentation.
"Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything," the executive said. "Apple’s been very fortunate. It’s been able to introduce a few of these into the world."
"Well, today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class. The first one: is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second: is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device"
He went on: "An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone … are you getting it? These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone."
The performance was carefully stage-managed — but it wasn't all plain sailing getting there.
According to a report from The New York Times from 2013, rehearsals were plagued with technical glitches. An early iPhone engineer said that Jobs was "intense," telling him: "‘If we fail, it will be because of you," and "you are [expletive] up my company."
Apple is (in)famous for its secrecy — and Jobs reportedly even wanted contractors working on the presentation to sleep at the auditorium to prevent leaks. (In the end he was persuaded against the idea.)
When it launched, The New York Times described it as "not ... for everyone," and a "gamble." That "gamble" has propelled Apple to stratospheric heights, with the largest market cap of any country in the world today.
BBC tech reporter Rory Cellan-Jones recently wrote that he was criticised for giving what some argued was "undue prominence to a product launch." Today, he feels like his coverage was probably justified.
Google and Apple would become bitter rivals, battling for supremacy on mobile. But Eric Schmidt, then CEO of Google, actually appeared on stage at the iPhone launch. He praised it as an "incredible job" that let companies like Google and Apple work "merge without merging."
Although hyped, dozens of features iPhone owners now take for granted were nowhere to be seen at the time. No App Store, no copy-paste, no changeable background, no picture messaging, no video camera, no Siri, no notification centre, and more.
After two and a half years' development, the iPhone was announced on January 9, 2007. It went on sale in June that year.
Since then, more than 1 billion iPhones have been sold worldwide.
In a statement celebrating 10 years of the iPhone, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that “iPhone is an essential part of our customers' lives, and today more than ever it is redefining the way we communicate, entertain, work and live ... iPhone set the standard for mobile computing in its first decade and we are just getting started. The best is yet to come.”
Finally, here's part of the press release that came out alongside the first iPhone, and the keynote again:
Apple Reinvents the Phone with iPhone
MACWORLD SAN FRANCISCO - January 9th, 2007
Apple today introduced iPhone, combining three products — a revolutionary mobile phone, a widescreen iPod with touch controls, and a breakthrough Internet communications device with desktop-class email, Web browsing, searching and maps — into one small and lightweight handheld device. iPhone introduces an entirely new user interface based on a large multi-touch display and pioneering new software, letting users control iPhone with just their fingers. iPhone also ushers in an era of software power and sophistication never before seen in a mobile device, which completely redefines what users can do on their mobile phones.
“iPhone is a revolutionary and magical product that is literally five years ahead of any other mobile phone”, said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “We are all born with the ultimate pointing device — our fingers — and iPhone uses them to create the most revolutionary user interface since the mouse”.