June 29, 2017
Here we are. A decade ago today the recently renamed Apple Inc. opened the doors of it’s retail stores around the United States and thousands of people swarmed in waiting to get their hands on the much hyped device that the world had been waiting for since January 9th. Employees applauded and customers held their outstretched arms in the air, crasping a black bag with iPhone branding. For as much as it was a master exercise in brand development, launch hype, and pure innovation, as much as people knew that it was entirely unlike anything they had ever seen before, the ripple it’s caused throughout human culture during the last decade is still a complete suprise, and the impact on my life has been profound.
I was at a play rehearsal on that January day when Steve unveiled the device at the MacWorld Expo. I had followed the rumors, I had heard the whispers, and when I left rehearsal (where no one had internet access, or a device to keep up with the news on, much less live stream a keynote address from half a world away) it was quickly confirmed that it had happened. I wanted into my house and my dad looked at me over the back of the couch. “Have you seen it?” “Not yet.” And I went upstairs and consumed all the news, details, and specs I could find until the Keynote video was made available later that night. I spent the next days examining that bare website, the next six months following every supply chain rumor, keeping up with shipments as they arrived at the Apple retail stores, and eagerly awaiting the moment when I could finally get my hands on an iPhone.
I did miss the launch date by a couple weeks. We were living in Belgium at the time and the iPhone originally launched in the US only, coming officially to a few other countries later in 2007. Of course if you really wanted to you could buy one at a premium, activated with an AT&T account, toss the SIM card, load up your own for your local GSM carrier, and have a EDGE free iPhone experience wherever you were in the world, but we were moving back to the States in July, and I figured I could wait. Once we were in the country though I didn’t wait long. I made sure my parents made it a priority to go to an AT&T store our first day in the country to get our phones.
My dad got a BlackBerry Pearl, because he had real work he needed to do on a phone (he would switch to an iPhone 5 months later when he left his BlackBerry at a restaurant in Louisiana and couldn’t bring himself to replace it with anything else.) My mom got a more basic feature phone, maybe a Motorola RAZR (She would get an iPhone 3G for Christmas, 2008.) Any my sister got herself a little Samsung media phone whose model name I can’t even remember (She was the last holdout, waiting until Spring 2009 to get an iPhone 3G.) I made sure my dad transferred the $600 plus some change from my account, which I earned from a summer job that got me that iPhone and a new, updated iMac, and my mom flipping out once she knew what it would cost. “What in the world on this receipt cost $600!?” I was ecstatic.
I brought the device back to our hotel and started the set up process. I very quickly encountered my first software keyboard based typo, missing a character in my chosen .Mac email address and not being able to fix it, at the time the precursor to iCloud cost $99/year and I had already dropped a lot of money that day. I lived with that misspelled email address for the rest of the year. I spent the next weeks navigating us around our new town with the Google Maps app, watching YouTube videos in the back seat, answering random questions my family asked (after waiting for the EDGE network to respond to my requests), playing limited web based games, and taking 2MP photos of anything and everything around me.
One of the first things I did with the iPhone, after getting accounts set up and having a couple days to get used to it, was hook it up to a jailbreak application that would allow me to rearrange icons on the home screen. It didn’t enable anything like the wiggle mode of iPhoneOS 1.1.3, but rather it let me, from my Mac, arrange the icons on a rendered iPhone home screen, put my phone into restore mode, plug it into the Mac, and reboot while it ran through the teathered jailbreak process, arranged the icons like I wanted, and did nothing else. It was a very early experience of being limited by the device, but I wanted to push the boundries of what I could do. Of course I got scared when at one point my phone couldn’t boot and I spent 30 minutes terrified that I had bricked my brand new device I had waited 6 months to get my hands on, but once I was able to restore it I didn’t take it off stock for a while after.
There’s a lot of little things I remember about that first year. I remember the first time I dropped it, and watched as it fell down a flight of hard wood stairs getting a few dents that I would come to know very well. I remember the first major software update that added cell tower based location estimation, a step towards GPS, to the Google Maps app. I remember finally being able to rearrange my home screen, and finding websites that would let me add quick links to contacts to my home screen. I remember people in my classes in High School begging to check their MySpace from the back of the classroom. I remember my orthodontist asking with shock “What is a 15 year old doing with an iPhone?!” when I pulled it out during a tightening.
Then around April of 2008 I decided to try jailbreaking again. It was very clear that an iPhone SDK was on it’s way, and the “web apps only” direction from Steve Jobs was being corrected. The jailbreak process was finally starting to be ironed out, and
Installer.app was the go-to app store for iPhone software. I spent a while playing around with games like the original Tap-Tap-Revenge, where you could do some really incredible audio and visuals that weren’t possible on web apps, but I remember really being blown away by a Labrynth Balance Board game.
In the original iPhone launch keynote there was an animation used to visualize the accelerometer. It was a square chip with a connected circut at the bottom. When it was rotated 90 degrees that circut would rotate with it, and a new one would be at the bottom. That one would complete, the original circut would be interrupted, and the Safari screen would rotate. That was essentially my whole understanding of accelerometers, 90 degree locked gravitational awareness, and nothing in the original OS lead me to believe that it was capable of anything more than that. When I rotated my phone 90 degrees Safari would go into landscape mode, there was nothing really beyond that. But when I launched that Balance Board game I absolutely couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The movements were so precise, not locked to 90 degrees but rather reacting to my every shift and tilt. I tried a few racing games with steer controls. I showed my dad. I couldn’t believe the capabilities this device was hiding. I was so excited for the future.
The iPhone SDK launched the Summer of 2008, along with the beta previews of iPhoneOS 2.0. I wasn’t really technically inclined at the time, and didn’t understand a lot of the details of the SDK, but having jailbroken my phone I knew what sort of things were now possible and what I had to look forward to. I did download Xcode and tried my hand at following a few tutorials. Unfortunately Objective-C and the original iPhone SDK were not very beginner friendly, and having no idea where else to start, after playing around with the simulator and getting a few Interface Builder only projects to launch I just assumped development wasn’t for me and shut down Xcode eagerly awaiting the App Store launch later that summer.
Looking back I can see that spark of desire, creativity, and passion that eventually led me to pursue my development studies, start projects, companies, and launch my career. I can’t really know, but I seriously doubt I ever would have gotten into development if it weren’t for that experience just trying to teach myself how to build iPhone apps. There are so many moments from the last decade that have come from that day playing with Xcode. The first time I worked with a developer on an app idea and got a demo running on my iPhone 5. The first project I build from scratch. The first app I build with only my girlfriend and I in mind as users. The first sale of an app of mine in the app store. The first time I met a developer I really admired. The first time I walked up to the doors of WWDC as thousands of like-minded developers hustled around me. The first time I was hired to be an iOS developer.
In the last decade whole industries have come into being, and whole markets have fallen, unable to keep up with the competion of the iPhone. So many things about the world have changed in the decade since the launch of this device, and I can see personally just how much it’s done for me. My career and my life have revolved around this device, like so many others. It has been an absolute joy being a user and developer for iPhone, and I’m so happy to have been a part of this incredible market. If you keep your focus on our own little corner of the known universe I think it’s safe to say that Steve Jobs was able to leave his dent.