Revolutionary iPhone introduced decade ago

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

This week, and you may have seen this reported on elsewhere, is the 10th anniversary of Steve Jobs' introduction of the Apple iPhone. The TWiT newtork was showing a little bit of that introduction on Sunday, and it shows what a showman Jobs could be at such events. He teases the audience with the introduction of three new products -- an improved version of Apple's iPod music player, a new type of cellular phone and a radical new device for using the Internet -- before revealing that they're all actually the same product.

Then he shows a goofy-looking mockup artwork with an old-time phone dial and a tiny LCD screen, which gets a big laugh from the audience.

It's amazing how smartphones have transformed our lives over the past decade. Apple's iPhone was a revolutionary step forward, but it was eventually followed by other competitors, some more successful than others.

The smartphone revolution has transformed our society in many ways, for better or worse, over the past decade.

Today, smartphones have all but eliminated the market for pocketable, point-and-shoot digital cameras. Back in the days when everyone owned a digital camera, it wasn't something you carried with you all the time -- you'd bring it along only on special occasions. Now, you have a camera with you all the time, wherever you go -- because it's part of your phone. Want to take a photo of a spectacular dish you are served at a Thai restaurant? Done. Did the professor write his name, phone number and e-mail address on the blackboard? Many people, now, will use their phone to snap a photo of it rather than scribbling it down on a piece of paper.

Depending on where you bank, you may be able to deposit a check by taking a photo of it with your smartphone.

We have access to the internet wherever we go. Can't remember the name of the actor who starred in last year's big hit movie? Pull out your phone, and it's only seconds away. Want to order pizza? If you have the app for your favorite pizza chain installed, you can quickly submit an order, and the app usually remembers what you had last time, which speeds up the process even further.

Voice assistants like Siri, Cortana and Google Now have also transformed the way we interact with the world. I can pick up my Windows phone, say "Cortana, remind me to buy milk the next time I'm at Kroger," and my phone will notice the next time I'm at Kroger, beep, and remind me to buy milk.

At many stores and restaurants, I can even pay for my purchases by tapping or waving my phone.

The smartphone has also changed how we think about privacy. Young people, who tend to live in the moment, have to be cautioned about posting embarrassing photos of themselves to social media, since their future employers may very well look them up during the interview process. The GPS functions that help make a smartphone useful can also be used to track down whoever is in possession of that phone.

Smartphones themselves have given birth to other new technologies. Tablets and e-readers obviously share some of their DNA with smartphones, and in fact the spectrum from smartphones to tablets to laptops now includes products that straddle the line between phone and tablet or between tablet and laptop. The current state of the art in web site design is "responsive design" -- websites that scale themselves to any size screen, from a small smartphone, to a larger "phablet" smartphone, to a tablet, to a laptop, to a desktop. The Times-Gazette will be moving to this type of website design in the near future, which will eliminate the need for the scaled-back mobile version of our site which smartphone users now see.

Wearable technologies haven't yet take off in the way that was projected a year or two ago, but they, too, owe their existence to the smartphone revolution. Fitness wristbands and smartwatches are designed to be paired up with a phone. The most inexpensive and available forms of virtual reality headset are actually just viewers into which you clip your smartphone, and it's the smartphones which are providing the display and the computer processing power.

Changes in technology are moving more swiftly now than ever before, and it's up to us to try to deal with the consequences and try to steer away the dangers. As we stop and think about a remarkable milestone, we wonder (and maybe even worry) what will come next.

--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government.

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