Alex Hern bought the first iPhone a decade ago. As it celebrates its 10th anniversary, he looks back on how it changed the world and his life
Ten years ago today, the first iPhone hit stores in the US. On paper, the device was nothing special: it lacked the 3G connectivity which was becoming standard across much of the world, its battery struggled to last a day, and its camera resolution was just two megapixels. It also came with an eye-watering price tag of $499, and a mandatory two-year contract with AT&T. That was for the smallest version, with 4GB of storage.
But in person, it wasnt the iPhone that looked behind the times. It was everything else. Looking back now, and the sea change is obvious: the first iPhone, a 10-year-old device, looks like something that could reasonably be found in peoples pockets today, while its competition look like historical curiosities.
Right from the start, the device had the full-colour, multi-touch screen which came to define the smartphone, and it had the same basic interface still in use today, from pinch-to-zoom to inertial scrolling on lists. It looked like nothing else, and sold a million units in just over two months.
But there were choppy waters to navigate on the way there. Apple rapidly reconsidered the launch price, cutting $200 from the cost of the 8GB version and scrapping the 4GB model altogether, less than three months after release. While that made the iPhone more appealing to new buyers, it rankled with those who felt robbed, and the company eventually handed $100 in store credit to early adopters, accompanied by a personal apology from its chief executive, Steve Jobs.
The phone was also released with several features strangely absent. Most notably, it lacked any semblance of an app store. For more than a year, until iPhone OS 2 came out in July 2008, the only Apple mobile device onto which you could download and install apps was the old clickwheel iPod, which had a small selection of games for sale.
It feels bizarre to contemplate in 2017, where Apple launches major ad campaigns imagining a world without apps, but the phone was originally released with just 15 native apps not even enough to fill the home screen. Apple tried to palm off users and developers with the claim that webapps single-serve websites, which could be saved to the home screen were the future. To its credit, the phone shipped with an impressive set of features to enable just that, including the ability for websites to save data on to the device and set icons for the home screen. But it was clearly a stopgap solution.
Almost more damaging was the absence of simple feature like the ability to copy and paste text within or between programs. By the time that was added in, with iPhone OS 3 in 2009, it had become a major selling point of the competition. Googles Android had supported it from the start, albeit initially with a clumsy user experience due to its initial conception as a keyboard-based operating system.