Let’s do a fun exercise and compare the original iPhone, circa mid-2007, with a Jet Black iPhone 7 Plus, circa late summer 2016. If you do the count properly, last year’s iPhone 7 Plus, the newest, is the 10th model since the original was introduced.
Those tick tock years of iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s, iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s, ad nauseam, make us think the iPhone 7 is younger than the iPhone really is. It’s 10 years of devices, and 10 years of advancements. And, yes, the original iPhone and those that followed set the tenor and tone and became the mindshare for how a smartphone should be.
It Was Bad
Looking back to 2007, we can call the original iPhone bad but only when compared to iPhone 7 today. For example, the original iPhone had Wi-Fi, too, but only 802.11b/g while today’s iPhone 7 screams with 802.11a/b/g/n/ac with MIMO. The iPhone back in the day had quad band GSM radios. iPhone 7 has too many to list.
The original iPhone had sensors, too. Proximity, ambient light, and accelerometer, to be exact. Today’s iPhones have those plus a three-axis gyroscope, and a barometer. The iPhone has both a headphone jack and Apple’s proprietary 30-pin dock connector while the iPhone 7 has just a Lightning connector but also water resistance rating. The new iPhone 7 Plus has more double the battery capacity of the original. The camera is not even a contest. iPhone’s today have better-than-broadcast capability for video camera and audio capture.
The original iPhone’s display resolution was 320×480 pixels at 3.5-inches, while iPhone 7 Plus comes it at 5.5-inches at 1920×1080 HD resolution and pixel density almost three times the first iPhone.
Needless to say, the iPhone has improved markedly in 9 additional models and it set the standard for how a smartphone is defined. Guess what? Some very powerful, important, and highly paid technology executives thought the iPhone was a bust.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer:
Five hundred dollars, fully subsidized, with a plan?! I said, ‘That is the most expensive phone in the world! And it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard!
Today, Microsoft’s Window Phone is a negligible nearly footnote-ready smartphone with hardly any customers.
Forrester Analyst Charles Golvin:
The iPhone will not substantially alter the fundamental structure and challenges of the mobile industry.” He said the iPhone was “late to the party” and predicted rivals like Nokia would “attack” the iPhone by offering deals to carriers.
Why does anyone bother listening to reports from Forrester, Gartner, and other guesstimators? They are so wrong so often it’s a joke in the industry.
Former Apple executive Jon Rubenstein:
Is there a toaster that also knows how to brew coffee? There is no such combined device, because it would not make anything better than an individual toaster or coffee machine. It works the same way with the iPod, the digital camera or mobile phone: it is important to have specialized devices.
Technology writer John C. Dvorak:
If it’s smart [Apple] will call the iPhone a ‘reference design’ and pass it to some suckers to build with someone else’s marketing budget. Then it can wash its hands of any marketplace failures… Otherwise I’d advise people to cover their eyes. You are not going to like what you’ll see.
Those commentaries came before the iPhone was launched and in the hands of actual customers. iPhone sales took off and kept increasing year over year until just last year when Apple’s iconic devices sold a few million units less than the year before. Apple predicts 1-billion iPhones will have been sold by this year.
Yet, what did actual reviewers of the original iPhone have to say?
Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Himowitz:
Aside from Web speed issues, the iPhone has two serious flaws. First, it’s awkward to handle. At 4 1/2 by 2 3/8 inches, it’s half an inch wider than my regular cell phone — too wide to hold comfortably. And the iPhone is slippery — too easy to drop.
Nearly every smartphone today is larger and the premium models are made with aluminum cases. Case makers are part of the burgeoning accessories industry.
(The handset) can get warm with constant use, and you’ll need to wipe off smudges frequently with the included cloth. We’re still iffy about the software keyboard and predictive text entry: They work reasonably well, but overall text entry is still easier with a hardware keyboard, and the iPhone may not be the best choice for people who need to compose a lot of e-mail.
iPhone criticisms seemed to be all the rage back in mid-2007. What has changed?
New York Times’ David Pogue:
There’s no memory-card slot, no chat program, no voice dialing. You can’t install new programs from anyone but Apple…The browser can’t handle Java or Flash, which deprives you of millions of Web videos.
All of which was true but also true of many so-called smartphones back then.
The iPhone in 2007 was a very bad phone– so said competitors, industry critics, and market analysts. Customers bought about 10-million in the first year. At its peak, just over a year ago, Apple sold almost 75-million iPhones in a single quarter; a rate approaching 1-million per day. Back then, the iPhone was a big hit among customers. Apple doggedly improved the iPhone each year after that while much of the industry slept and rest upon its laurels.
Former CEO Ed Colligan of Palm, an industry-leading smartphone maker, in late 2006, just before the iPhone was introduced.
We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone. PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.
That’s exactly what Apple did in 2007 with an unusual smartphone design with easily navigable applications and a giant screen.
Yes, the iPhone was so bad it was great.