iPhone Turns 10: How It Became the Everything Machine

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Happy birthday, iPhone! Today, Cupertino’s most famous device turns 10 years old. From its original release, the story of the iPhone has always been one about pushing the boundaries of what you could do with the power of a tiny computer in your pocket.

But the story of the iPhone decade isn’t really one story at all. Instead, it’s a tangle of narratives about how this device would forever change the way people make and use technology. It’s the tale of the team that clamored to finish the first iPhone by its shipping deadline, despite software bugs and hardware hurdles that threatened to keep the vision from becoming a reality. It’s the story of how the iPhone release marked the most important moment in tech journalism, and how it would ultimately replace some professional photojournalists with iPhone-wielding reporters. It’s the story of Steve Lacey, the hip-hop producer who makes his beats on his iPhone, and the dancers who use the iPhone’s slow-motion feature to fine-tune their movements. The iPhone invites conversations about privacy and security, of science and technology (the time the iPhone 4S went into orbit!), of communication and culture. And the iPhone decade, too, represents the ten years of explosive growth at Apple, and the story of the Cupertino company that became the first to exceed $800 billion in market capitalization.

Few people could have predicted these stories 10 years ago today, when Steve Jobs introduced the OG iPhone to the world. Even Jobs seemed to have a relatively narrow view of what the iPhone could do: Back then, it was presented as a mash-up of a phone, an iPod, and the internet. Amazing, sure, but it would be a stretch to have called it revolutionary.

As the iPhone grew up, though, so too did its potential. Here was one device—the one device—that could do everything. By the second generation, your iPhone was your GPS. By the third, its 3-megapixel camera rivaled your digital camera and made shooting video as easy as tapping the screen. (The front-facing camera, forever changing the selfie game, wouldn’t arrive until the iPhone 4.) By the fourth generation, the addition of Siri made clear that the iPhone would achieve things far beyond the confines of its hardware—the same things that, even today, draw the map for the future of the smartphone. And along the way, a constellation of apps sold through the iPhone’s iconic App Store changed the way people do everything, from finding a ride to finding a date.

No, the iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone, and many of its best features were borrowed from other innovators. These days, it’s arguably not even the best phone on the market. But in large part, it was the iPhone that taught people to tap, swipe, and pinch-to-zoom until they unwittingly fell in love.

As the iPhone turns 10, we can look forward to the next 10 years—a decade that will surely be marked by huge advances in artificial intelligence. (You can read David Pierce’s fascinating predictions for the iPhone in 2027 here.) If the smartphone of today encompasses your camera, your stereo, your GPS, your memory, your entertainment, all of your communication, and so much more, just imagine how you might use it in the future. But for now, it’s enough to simply wish this little guy a happy birthday, and thank it for its part in transforming the phone from something you use to make calls into a pocket computer you use for, well, everything.