On the iPhone's 10th anniversary, how it revolutionized smartphones

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, a device that quickly impressed consumers and took over the smartphone industry.

'Everyone copied it thereafter because there really wasn't any other way of doing it,' said one expert

The iPhone changed the smartphone industry forever. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, a device that quickly impressed consumers and took over the smartphone industry.

When the first smartphone was introduced — IBM's Simon in 1992 — it was viewed as a technological leap. 

The first smartphone was IBM's Simon Personal Communicator. (Wikimedia Commons)

Though it opened the door to future smartphones, it didn't catch on quickly. In fact, it took almost 10 years for the smartphone to achieve widespread public appeal.

BlackBerry quickly took a foothold in the market, with its business platform that allowed consumers to use Microsoft applications such as PowerPoint and Excel on their mobile phones.

However, on January 9, 2007, Apple announced the iPhone: a sleek device that looked like something out of Star Trek. It was released on June 29 that year.

This wasn't a phone that was geared to the business world; it was a phone that was designed to appeal to the general public. A review by Gizmodo accurately predicted, "This is what the phone of the future will look like."

It's important to note that, while Apple didn't invent all the things that it used in its iPhone, its packaging and integration of all that functionality certainly turned the smartphone industry on its head.

It's all about touch

The first touchscreen dates back to 1965. It even has a Canadian connection, as researchers from the University of Toronto played a crucial role in the development of multitouch and gesture technology.

After the iPhone, all phones looked like it.- Joshua Gans, Rotman School of Management

But when Apple introduced its first iPhone, the idea that you could use your fingers to zoom in on images and more was something revolutionary.

Instead of a phone that came with a screen and a keyboard, all consumers had was a flat, black screen that turned on when you touched its home button. Owners could use their fingers to scroll, click on applications and more. It was as though technology had leaped into the future.

"It was a dominant design," Joshua Gans, professor of strategic management at Rotman School of management told CBC News. "After the iPhone, all phones looked like it."

Goodbye, physical keyboard

Looking back to the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, which ran from 1987 to 1994, the tablets the crew used seemed to belong to a future of space travel. 

Our phones were used mostly as, well, telephones, and even as new technology was developing, keyboards kept their traditional form.

However, 13 years later, Apple chose to do away with that, creating a keyboard that was instead integrated into its screen. Within a year, other phone manufacturers began to follow suit. 

"You had to get rid of a physical keyboard because ... it was the only way you were going to get apps, because each app had a different keyboard need," said Gans.

"Once you had apps, you had an entire economy that could be built off mobile devices."

The iPhone 4, Samsung Galaxy S3 and Nokia Lumia 820 and the iPhone 4 (L-R). Smartphones introduced by companies other than Apple have all adopted the features it introduced along its evolution. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Cameras, cameras, everywhere

Many dislike the modern-day proliferation of selfies and they might want to blame Apple. When the first iPhone was introduced in 2007, it came with what today is considered a measly two-megapixel camera.

Apple wasn't the first to introduce a cell phone camera (that goes to Sharp with its whopping 110,000-pixel camera — though it wasn't widely available outside of Japan). However, Apple soon realized that it could capitalize on a better camera, and was quick to make changes.

Fast-forward to 2017 and the iPhone 7 comes with a 12-megapixel camera, optical image stabilization, and an f/1.8 aperture which allows it to photograph in low light. It also comes with 4K high-resolution video.

The whole package

Many people accuse Apple of ripping off already developed tech, but what Apple seemed to do right was package it all together. 

"It's not the stuff inside, it's the way it's put together," said Gans. "That's the key … the whole device was something that other phone makers didn't think was possible, and yet they knew the parts. And everyone copied it thereafter because there really wasn't any other way of doing it."

The App Store, introduced in 2008, was what likely propelled the iPhone to "it" gadget status. It made smartphones go from technology that people used to actually speak with one another, to devices that allowed users to lose themselves in games, chats and social media. 

"The iPhone killed the phone. The phone is so unimportant now," Gans said. "People never really wanted to talk on the phone, it turns out."


Nicole Mortillaro

Senior Reporter, Science

Nicole has an avid interest in all things science. As an amateur astronomer, Nicole can be found looking up at the night sky appreciating the marvels of our universe. She is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and the author of several books.