5 Years Of The iPhone

iphone sales

iPhone sales by quarter, courtest of Wikipedia

The world of technology crossed a threshold yesterday, as the iPhone officially turned 5. As enthusiasts eagerly await the release of the iPhone 5 in 2012, expectations remain high for the smartphone that became a cultural icon.

Apple news and speculation for 2012 will be dominated by discussion of the long-anticipated iPhone 5, but today we have a different permutation of “iPhone” and “5,” as the tech world acknowledges five year anniversary of the iPhone. Back on January 9th, 2007, Apple launched the original iPhone at the Macworld convention in San Francisco. The iPhone was immediately heralded as a landmark device — an innovation that would inject the term “smartphone” into the mainstream. Just as the tech community held the expectation for years that Apple — and Apple only — could develop the first viable tablet PC in the iPad, the iPhone marked the first serious foray into smartphone technology — a next-generation device that would eventually replace the standard mobile phone.

Sure, the original iPhone ran between $ 500 and $ 600, with no carrier subsidies. But in spite of its hefty price tag, the sense then was that the iPhone would usher in a new wave of mobile computing that would challenge laptops and mobile telecommunication combined. And because the iPhone incorporated iPod functionality as well, from the very beginning, Apple had created a “wonder device.”

For as much as the iPhone made a dramatic impact in 2007, no one could have expected it to become Apple’s flagship product — and a cultural phenomenon. At the end of 2011, all iPhone iterations since 2007 accounted for over 146 million units sold. But more than that, the iPhone has transcended being merely a successful product. Thanks to Apple’s unmatched ability to market its products, combined with the cult of personality engendered by the late Steve Jobs as well as the innovative, reliable features and performance of the device itself, the iPhone is a cultural artifact: its iconic form factor and icons have become a ubiquitous symbol of 21st century ingenuity.

The iPhone is for many of its users more than a quirky gadget for users to occupy themselves with. Instead, it has become a means by which the modern individual expresses themselves — a kind of “cyborg” component to the human experience. For better or worse, traditional society and communication have given way to virtual communities, online social networks, and digital mobile lifestyles. While Facebook and Twitter have become the platforms by which many people conduct their personal and social lives, those platforms would have hit an impenetrable ceiling had the iPhone not come onto the scene. Access to these social networks, e-mail, personal address books, and texting allowed users to take their virtual lives with them on their daily routines.

Moreover, the iPhone user’s ability to have access to their favorite music and video, as well as the eventual addition of the front- and rear-facing cameras for shooting photos, video, and communicating via FaceTime, completed the virtual, digital, mobile life experience. Remember: the vast majority of photos uploaded to Flickr, a photo-centered social networking community, are uploaded from iPhones.

Because of these features, the iPhone has had more of a cultural impact than even the likes of the automobile and lightbulb. Neither of those two inventions, while indisputably life- and culture-changing, enjoyed the sustained excitement and interest of popular culture like the iPhone. The closest analog to “iPhone buzz” would have to be the advent of the modern motion picture, and how some movies come to be incredibly anticipated, even before their release. But in these cases, it is not the invention of the motion picture itself, but its by-products, which become buzz-worthy. It would be like the iPhone apps becoming more popular than the iPhone itself.

But that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

All indications are that Apple will continue to enjoy incredible sales of the iPhone for the foreseeable future. Just yesterday, we wrote an article about how the iPhone remains the most coveted smartphone on the market today, even while users and prospective buyers are once again anticipating the release of the iPhone 5 in 2012. And don’t forget the long-standing prediction by analysts that, by the end of this year, 35% of all people will own an iPhone. That’s an almost impossible prediction to imagine coming true.

And yet, it very well might.



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