#TBT: The first iPhone will forever be the greatest of all time

A love letter to the original smartphone

On Friday, September 16th, the Apple Store doors will open to the first iPhone 7 customers in the U.S. and several other markets — many of whom have started queuing since Monday.

Five days might seem like an eternity for casual observers, especially for a new phone no one outside the tech scene has seen, much less interacted with; but fans figure it will be worth the effort, worth the nights they spent in the rain and in tents on public property. Eventually, they get to go home with the best iPhone ever — and that’s all that matters.

Except neither the iPhone 7 nor the iPhone 7 Plus fit that description; the succeeding iPhones, including the 10th-anniversary edition, won’t either. The original iPhone, unencumbered by suffixes (no 3G, 3GS, 4, 4S, 5, 5S, 6, 6S, or 7), will forever be the greatest of all time for reasons I will soon discuss.

My argument obviously doesn’t hold up from a technical standpoint; I mean, come on, we live in an age where smartphones can recognize speech, fingerprints, and irises and have more memory than laptops.

The first iPhone, though — it didn’t even come with an app store, didn’t connect to 3G services. Those features would arrive a year later. It didn’t run iOS, not technically; it ran a modified version of an operating system for Macintosh computers.


There was no front camera, and the back was merely a 2-megapixel shooter. The home button was just a button. The handset had a headphone port, though it required a $10 adapter to use with most headphones. Heh.

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But consider how much the iPhone from nine years ago has influenced the present, the fact that it revolutionized the mobile phone and put a miniature computer in our pockets. The late Steve Jobs called it “an iPod, a phone, an internet mobile communicator.” Of course, no one — with the exception of Jobs — talked about the iPhone back then the same way we do today, not with hubris or “courage.”

As with most first tries, Apple’s first smartphone was met with months of uncertainty prior to announcement. It fell under heavy scrutiny when it debuted in January 9, 2007. It’s too small. It’s too big. It’s too damn expensive (Apple eventually trimmed the phone’s price to $400, with a two-year contract). It’s restricted to one U.S. carrier. Typing on a virtual keyboard doesn’t feel right. This touchscreen thingy is hard to use. The list went on and on.


But amid heavy skepticism and a non-existent ecosystem and questions about whether it was ready to mortgage the future of the iPod for a potential best-seller, Apple drove a horde of fanatical consumers into stores at an unprecedented scale.

It sold over six million units in its heyday. Industry veteran Walt Mossberg thought it was “a beautiful and breakthrough handheld computer.” Time magazine declared it Invention of the Year in 2007.

It’s easy to see why. The iPhone was the first phone to make browsing the internet, reading and writing email, and listening to music easy and enjoyable for ordinary human beings. It made everything out there online accessible with the swipe or tap of a finger on a screen. And it made the alternatives — the BB 8800s and Palm Treos of the world — seem primitive, short-sighted, and destined for failure.

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