Fifteen years ago, Apple shipped the first iPhone. Steve Jobs introduced it in January 2007, saying that “every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything… today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products… An iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator…These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone.”
When the iPhone went on sale on June 29, 2007, The Economist reported on the first day our lives and everything changed in Where Would Jesus Queue?: ”The blogosphere had already christened the iPhone, an allegedly revolutionary handset made by Apple, the ‘Jesus phone’ weeks before it went on sale. The actual launch day, June 29th, became known as ‘iDay’ among Apple cultists.”
The iPhone did not “change everything,” just like all other “revolutionary” computer-related innovations. Just scratch the surface and you find that the “revolution”—a word which we now tend to use liberally to describe any technological development—reflects a (mostly forgotten or ignored) specific development in the past while providing a soothing sense of moving forward. Indeed, the first sense of the word “revolution” in the Oxford English Dictionary is “The action or fact, on the part of celestial bodies, of moving around in an orbit or circular course” or simply “The return or recurrence of a point or period of time.”
The iPhone represents the zenith of the most recent stage in the evolution of digitization, the conversion of all media into ones and zeros that can be processed by a computer and a significant reduction in activities that do not create a temporary or permanent presence of data records (e.g., replacing phone conversations with emails or text messages).
Arriving at a time (the right time) when the web (aka “the internet”) provided the means to connect everything with everybody in the world, the iPhone (followed by other, less-expensive versions of “smart phones”) became the greatest facilitator of the of the creation, transmission, and consumption of data.
By 2007, 94% of storage capacity in the world was digital, a complete reversal from 1986, when 99.2% of all storage capacity was analog. The iPhone energized this evolution from analog to digital, accelerating the growth of data. In 2006, the world created 161 exabytes (161 billion gigabytes) of new data, growing rapidly to 2837 exabytes in 2012. In 2020, 59,000 exabytes of data were created, captured, copied, and consumed in the world.
“Data is eating the world” is how I have described this data deluge that has made a certain impact, both positive and negative, on our lives. It certainly did not “change everything.” The data deluge did not help us stop a devastating global pandemic or answer the growing challenge of a mental health epidemic. The iPhone did not turn the “Arab Spring” into the flowering of democracy in the Middle East or brought “the end of history” and the end of war.
On June 29, 1888, Thomas Edison’s foreign sales agent, Colonel George Gouraud, made a wax cylinder recording in the Crystal Palace, London, of a 3016-person choir performing Handel’s Israel in Egypt at a distance of more than one hundred yards from the phonograph. It was the first “field” recording outside of a studio. On June 29, 1969, IBM announced that it will begin to charge for software and services that were previously included in the price of leasing or buying its computers. Software was “unbundled,” creating what today is considered by many the most important aspect of the computer, as in ”software is eating the world.”
The iPhone stood on the shoulders of the giants of this evolution from analog to digital and increasing digitization of our actions, transactions, and connections. It (and its less-expensive imitators) put in the hand and pockets of billions around the world a device that greatly facilitates the recording of sound, images, memories, activities, and communications. With its App Store, the iPhone gave billions around the world the means of developing and distributing useful applications and (for rest of us) the means to easily enjoy them.
The iPhone has been and continues to be the great facilitator, the device that allows anyone with a smart phone to participate in the evolution of digitization.