The iPhone used to be just a phone
July 07, 2012
No one sane is going to argue the iPhone hasn’t been a disruptive force across both the telecommunications and computer industries. There’s a good case to be made that the iPhone wasn’t disruptive because it’s such a great phone, but rather because it’s such a great pocket-sized computer. John Gruber makes that point succintly:
The iPhone is not and never was a phone. It is a pocket-sized computer that obviates the phone. The iPhone is to cell phones what the Mac was to typewriters.
Yet that comparison is questionable because back in 2007, the iPhone wasn’t a computer, it was just a good phone. Two years later, I acknowledged how capable the iPhone 3GS was at fulfilling basic computing tasks, but 2007 was a different story. It would be a full year until third-party apps were even available, and the included Apple apps were extremely basic. There was no bluetooth keyboard support at the time, and note-taking was relegated to the ugly Notes app.
That’s not to say it wasn’t always Apple’s intention to make the iPhone into a capable mobile computing device that happened to have phone functionality, rather than a phone that could also run apps. Merely, back in 2007 that was neither obvious, nor how the iPhone was marketed.1
And that makes Gruber’s comparison with the Mac/typewriter scenario quite different, as the Mac was designed as a computer from the get-go, and wasn’t aiming to replace typewriters: it was aimed at replacing competitor’s computers. The iPhone in 2007 consolidated what we expected from a basic smartphone and iPod, and then switched gears in 2008 to really push the “computer-in-a-pocket” mindset.
Just because the iPhone in 2007 ran a proper web browser doesn’t mean it rose beyond the smartphone categorization; it wouldn’t be until “apps” made the iPhone much more useful to many more people that the iPhone would become more than a phone.
Recall, after all, that web apps were Apple’s answer to third-party developers. Not, “wait until we reveal the AppStore”. ↩