Happy 14th birthday iPhone

First edition released June 29, 2007

The iPhone, the first widely accepted consumer smartphone that changed the world, turns 14 today, June, 29, 2021.

I was there, chronicling its birth, at 6 p.m. on Friday, June 29, when the phone first went on sale, interviewing the lucky ones who got their models before others.

Six p.m. was an odd time to launch a consumer product, but at the time, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs explained his rationale. “People are off work,” he told me for USA TODAY. “It's a time that's democratic. It's still light out. Everybody is available at that time. We didn't want people to have to take time off from work. We wanted everybody to have the same chance.”

In other words, Apple wanted to turn the launch into a party. A shindig that has never ended.

We knew back in 2007 that the iPhone was ground breaking. A phone that could also play music and surf the internet, but little did we realize it would also change photography, transportation, bill-paying and so many other daily activities.

The iPhone brought us Uber, Venmo, Google Maps, streaming music and so much more. There were smartphones before the iPhone, most notably the Palm Treo and Moto Q, but they were slow, clunky and not popular. The BlackBerry had its fans, mostly in politics and news, for e-mail.

The iPhone was announced in January at the now defunct MacWorld conference, with the 6/29 release date announced, which set forth six months of pent-up demand, leading to the launch.

A Harvard professor told me in 2007 that Apple had reaped $400 million of free publicity in the build-up to the iPhone launch. “No other company has ever received that kind of attention for a product launch,” David Yoffie said. “It's unprecedented.”

The funny thing is—the attention never waned. The iPhone is the best-selling consumer tech product in the world, to the tune of about 200 million phones yearly, and represents over 50% of all Apple revenues. Further, the strength of its base of over 1 billion iPhone owners has enabled it to build businesses that profit from selling directly to iPhone owners, like Apple Music, the iCloud backup service and companion products like the Apple Watch and iPad.

In my interview with Jobs, I asked him why people had responded in 2007 in such a big way to the iPhone.

“Mobile devices are really important to people. It's not like this is an obscure product category that affects just a small part of the population. People have seen in the demos and our ads something they instantly know they can figure out to use. People throw technology at us constantly, and most of us say ‘I don't have time to figure that out.’ Most of us have experiences with our current mobile phones and can't figure them out. As people have read about the iPhone, they've seen amazing capabilities, capabilities they themselves could figure out to use.”

The brilliance of the iPhone is truly that anyone could use it, and that Apple got in early. Google is Apple’s true competitor, with its Android operating system that more people use, mostly due to Google’s terms: it gave the software away for free, enabling many cheap phones to thrive, mostly in places like India, Brazil and Russia. Android has an 85% market share and Samsung generally sells more phones than Apple does—253 billion in 2020 compared to 199 billion.

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But when it comes to specific models, Samsung clocked in with just 1% for its recent S21 Galaxy, compared to 6% for the latest iPhone. Year after year, the iPhone is hands down the best-selling consumer device in the world.

In 2017, when the iPhone turned 10, I wondered if people would still be using it ten years down the line, in 2027. Some experts though it would morph into something else. The interesting thing is how different today’s 12 series models are to that first $499 model with just 4 GB of storage. My former partner in crime, Ed Baig, wrote on his blog today about how the iPhone has evolved since then.

For many years, Apple’s new updates have been minor, but for me, the 12 Pro is hands down the best one ever, with a camera that continues to knock me out on a daily basis for what it can do.

Now, we look forward to the iPhone 13 in the fall, which is expected to look to the camera for the biggest innovations.

I can’t wait, and despite the experts who saw the iPhone going away in the coming years, mark it down, I’m a skeptic on that one. I look forward to welcoming the 20th anniversary of what Apple called a “a revolutionary mobile phone, a widescreen iPod® with touch controls, and a breakthrough Internet communications device,” in 2027.

How different do you think it will look? What features do you think will get added or subtracted? Let me hear from you!

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