The iPhone is so familiar, it’s actually difficult to remember life before it existed.
What did we play with on train journeys before proper touchscreen smartphones? A glance at Stuff‘s Top 10 smartphones from June 2007 reveals the less-than-inspiring answer: a smart-but-fiddly Nokia N80, maybe a camera-less Sony Ericsson W950i and, if we were city businessmen, a Palm Treo 680 ‘palmtop’.
Yes, smartphones back then were a nerd-only affair. The original iPhone, launched a decade ago today, put them a rocketship towards the mainstream, but it was far from perfect out of the gates.
We’ve weighed up the iPhone’s brilliance and considerable pitfalls as they appeared to us at the time. But first – a look back from our man on the ground at its exciting announcement at Macworld 2007…
A look back at the iPhone launch (by Tom Dunmore, Stuff 1999-2009)
"It seems impossible to believe in this age of rumour and leak, but the arrival of the iPhone was a complete shock. Sure, we suspected Apple had plans to build on the success of the iPod with an iTunes phone.
But when Steve Jobs walked on stage at MacWorld San Francisco in January 2007 and announced that Apple was launching a new widescreen iPod, mobile phone and internet device, we thought he was talking about three separate products. I was lucky enough to witness seven Steve Jobs keynotes in my decade at Stuff, and this was his best.
As the demonstrations began, I realised that he was controlling the audience in exactly the same way as the iPhone, eliciting an extraordinary response with the lightest of touches. When he finished, everyone rose to their feet to give a wild ovation. Well, everyone except us cynical British hacks; the iPhone was too good to be true."
"But then six of us were whisked backstage and given exactly two minutes each to fondle it. We passed it around as if it were some alien artefact, our eyes widening as we realised it really did work like Steve had said.
We were used to dim, unresponsive touchscreens that needed to be prodded with a stylus, but the iPhone offered a bright control panel to a universe of features that could, with a stroke, reconfigure to whatever function was necessary.
Convergence had arrived. I left the room and called the Stuff newsdesk. ‘This isn’t just the greatest gadget ever,’ I gushed, ‘it’s the coolest thing in the universe!’ Even today, I still believe that’s true."
Image credit: Ross Harmes
What was the first iPhone actually like?
Take a look at the screen above and you’ll notice an important icon is missing: the App Store. That didn’t actually arrive until July 2008 with the iPhone 3G, and third party apps weren’t the only thing missing from the first iPhone.
Because it was designed for the US market, where 3G was notable by its absence, the iPhone relied on a so-slow-it-hurts GPRS connection, which somewhat rained on the chips of its otherwise beautiful web browsing experience. The 2MP camera and its big, blurry viewfinder was also for emergencies only.
And yet, even these pretty big oversights couldn’t dim our excitement about how amazing it was to use. A responsive touchscreen, pinch-to-zoom, screens that automatically flipped into landscape as you turned the phone, Cover Flow… these were astonishing treats for us poor gadget fans in 2007.
As we said at the time, "It’s not perfect, but what Apple has got right is so incredibly right that it will change your expectations of gadgets forever." Judging by the excitement that still builds around Apple’s keynotes ten years on, we were spot on.
Should I buy a first-gen iPhone?
A quick search on eBay for ‘first generation Apple iPhone’ might turn up some surprising numbers: you’ll probably see a price tag in excess of £100 – alongside words such as ‘rare’ and ‘collectible’.
Sure, with no app store or 3G – not to mention a lack of iOS updates support – a first-gen iPhone is definitely one for the gadget museum rather than a retro replacement for your current smartphone.
Still, find one in good condition and there’s every chance that the value will only increase. Besides, no Apple shrine would be complete without the ringer that started it all.
Also in 2007…
Film: The Bourne Ultimatum
Hard to believe, but the final – at the time – Bourne film was released a whole ten years ago. Drawing to a close arguably one of the best action/thriller trilogies of the 21st century, The Bourne Ultimatum saw Matt Damon’s amnesiac assasin tying together threads that had kept fans in thrall since the first film five years previously.
Music: In Rainbows – Radiohead
Downbeat rockers Radiohead released In Rainbows in 2007 as a pay-what-you-like download – the first big band to do so. Did it work? Well, reports reckon it grossed more from downloads than all previous Radiohead albums combined. Oh, and it’s also a darn good record.
Gadget: Nokia N800
Officially the ‘Nokia N800 Internet Tablet’, Nokia’s effort at a stylus-tapping pocket browser was announced at CES in January 2007, six months before we saw the first iPhone. With a 4.1-inch LCD, 128MB of RAM and a 400MHz chip it was hardly a powerhouse, but it was the future of mobile computing. Or so we thought…