Only once in my life have I owned the best of anything. That was on June 29th, 2007, the first day the original iPhone went on sale. Purchasing an 8 GB iPhone in 2007 meant I owned the very best mobile phone money could buy1. In 2007 the iPhone was in a league of its own. Android would not be released in the U.S. until the arrival of the HTC Dream on October 22nd, 2008, more than a year later. Windows Mobile still required a stylus. The BlackBerry was an oversized pager2. Nothing else came close. All the other so-called smartphones looked as obsolete as the “feature phones” they had once replaced. This was the start of a brand new era in mobile computing.
Owning an iPhone was a point of interest in 2007. Everybody wanted to see the one-button wonder-phone with the large glass display, if only to witness its innovative multitouch interface for themselves. Strangers would stop you on the street just to have a look. That being said, there is not much you could do with a first generation iPhone back in 2007 once the novelty of pinching, flicking, and zooming wore thin. There was no App Store, only 15 apps were included, and there was no such thing as iCloud or MobileMe. To sync your phone you had to plug it into your computer and wait for iTunes. You could send a text, make a call, read an email, or schedule an appointment. You could not send information from one app to another easily3. There was no copy and paste. I found myself watching stocks regularly, and checking the weather on my iPhone even though I don’t play the market, and already knew the forecast. The Calculator, Clock, Notes, and the Camera were fun pastimes back in those days, even though they did less than their real life counterparts. I must have watched more YouTube videos on my iPhone that first year than I ever did on a computer before or since. I don’t know how many times I saw the Evolution of Dance on that tiny screen. There wasn’t much else to do on the iPhone back in 2007, but it didn’t matter. The excitement came from how you did it, not what you did. You only needed your fingertips.
In the days before the App Store, Mobile Safari was the iPhone’s first killer apps. It brought the desktop version of the world wide web to your pocket in blazing fast 2G EDGE speeds. There were no iPhone optimized versions of popular websites back in those days. You had to wait for things to load. For the first time in human history, the world’s largest library of information was only a few taps away. No question had to go unanswered. Trivia night at the local pub suffered. Paper train schedules became obsolete. Nobody with an iPhone was caught asking for directions ever again. Instead of mindlessly staring into space, listening to their iPods. People on the subway mindlessly stared into their 3.5 inch screens, listening their iPhones. Conversations would never be the same again.
A lot has changed since the original iPhone first went on sale over five years ago. Owning an iPhone is no longer a point of interest. Everybody has one, and thanks to its success, multitouch is no longer a novelty. The word App is common language, the same way AOL popularized the keyword and web address. But instead of visiting the site, we now download the app. The iPhone has gotten faster, its screen has gotten taller, and it is filled with more pixels. People are talking to their iPhones, and their iPhones are talking back without anyone answering the phone. Apps now run in the background. Although their capabilities are still limited, there are millions of them to choose from. Competitors now have iPhones of their own. They come in all shapes and sizes, with their own app stores, but none of them are as good as the iPhone. Apple no longer makes just one iPhone. There is last year’s model, and the model before that to choose from.
The original iPhone is no longer with us. Sure it is still tucked away in that closet somewhere, and we will never forget the way its aluminum body felt in our hand. But the mobile revolution it started, and the app ecosystem it nourished, have left it behind. The original iPhone now makes up less than one percent of all Instapaper users. It is no longer capable of running this year’s OS, or the one before that, or the one before that. The App Store’s most popular apps have all abandoned it, and unless you have backed up copies your favorite apps, it will never run your chosen software again. For better or worse, the iPhone that ushered in mobile computing is dead. It did not give us access to new ground as much as it lifted the limitations of what we could do once we got there. I am sad I cannot go back to that time to 2007 when having unlimited information at my fingertips made me unique. When the joy of multitouch was new and different, and the web was unprepared. Maybe someday I will dig into that closet to show my kids the iPhone that started it all. Remembering the days when 15 apps was all you needed, and the next big thing was copy and paste.