This week, 7 years ago, the iPhone was announced.
My first days with the iPhone came as a complete shock to an old school WinMo/Palm/BlackBerry user like myself. I remember playing with the new gadget all day long, discovering new features and things I didn’t even imagine would exist on a mobile phone. Especially after spending years with cranky Windows Mobile devices, Palm and limited BlackBerry smartphones.
Today most of those innovative features seem obvious, but it was not the case back in 2007. Even though the original iPhone missed way too many basic capabilities – it started the mobile revolution and led the way to an even bigger revolution in the entire software industry.
iPhone was focused on getting the core experience right (today we call is UX, but 7 years ago it was still that topic most companies didn’t want to spend a lot of budget on). The operating system had good speed, consistency between apps, and was loaded with innovative ideas.
Here’s a list of my favorite innovative features of the first iPhone, I’m sure there are plenty of others…
- Overall design: a phone with (almost) no buttons and definitely without a ‘Send’ and ‘End’ buttons… How on earth would you make a call?
The original design was bigger than the average phone size, but mostly made out of screen. Today it is considered to be tiny.
- Capacitive screen: Back in 2007 we had to use a stylus (or a trackball) to get things done.
Resistive screens were the standard and we didn’t know capacitive even existed until the iPhone came out…
- Everything is Touch: Apple made touch the primary interaction model.
It was almost as perfect as it is today from the very beginning!
Quick, responsive, accurate, it was as if the technology was brought from outer space.
- Inertial scrolling: today it seems trivial to slide your finger up and get that fun scrolling experience. Elasticity was also part of it, creating what is called today: “delight” in UX. Back then it was just… cool!
And it worked well too. Years later, inertial scrolling is part of any mobile software or OS.
Before the iPhone we had to settle with limited BlackBerry browsers or horrible distorted alignment of web site elements (in Windows Mobile).
We were made to believe that’s the best we could get. Apple proved differently.
- Multi-touch: although Apple did not invent the technology, it was the first one to incorporate it with such elegance into a simple consumer device.Pinch-to-zoom was one usage of it.
- Virtual keyboard: I mean, a virtual keyboard that actually works.
Before the iPhone we had physical keyboards or tiny QWERTY keyboard used with that stylus again… brrr.
After a month with the iPhone I was able to type much faster on that touch-based keyboard than with any other BlackBerry device I previously owned.
- Visual voicemail: remember we used to call a number, then wait for instructions, click some numbers and so on? with the iPhone you had a shortcut that allowed users to jump directly to any voicemail.
- Proximity Sensor: quote from Apple’s first iPhone press release: “iPhone’s built-in proximity sensor detects when you lift iPhone to your ear and immediately turns off the display to save power and prevent inadvertent touches until iPhone is moved away”. what a geeky description for one of the coolest features ever! So simple! So great. So “how come no one did it before!?”
- Accelerometer: iPhone’s built-in accelerometer detected when the device would change orientation and immediately reacted to it.
- Responsive UI – Today a hot trend in the entire software industry, back in 2007 – still unknown.
The calculator app was one of the first mobile apps to automatically change the behavior when switching from portrait to landscape mode.
- Mobile OS as a Platform: Although the AppStore came only in the second version of the iPhone – it was obvious from the very beginning that iPhone is more than a phone. It was a computer. A platform.
- Gestures (as a substitute for buttons): Apple’s design philosophy was to limit the number of buttons on each screen. As such, some actions were performed using gestures, which over time became the standard in the mobile industry and in software in general. (swipe to delete, slide to unlock)
- Magnifying glass: before the iPhone we had buttons with arrows, home, end, and other ways to navigate through text. With the introduction of the buttons-less iPhone Apple invented the magnifying glass concept that was a very creative way to place your cursor on an accurate location. Today’s Android implementation is actually better to be honest. But the original idea belongs to Apple.
- A lesson to all product managers out there: The first iPhone had a lot of limitations and yet it sold 1M units after 7 days. It was another proof that a product can be very successful without being perfect. Users act based on subjective reasons and emotions. Making a great product doesn’t always mean you need to have everything available on first release. Battery that cannot be replaced, no memory extension, no copy paste, years later we have seen companies mimic even those limitations (Microsoft, HTC, and others).
Let’s finish this birthday celebration with the key notes from the first iPhone event: