How the iPhone changed the world

Ten years ago today, Steve Jobs first unveiled the original iPhone to the world. That unassuming little slate has since gone on to change the world, totally redefining the way we do things in ways you may not even have realised.

The most obvious impact it's had on the technology sector has been on phone design. Prior to the launch of the iPhone, mobile handsets came in all kinds of shapes and sizes there were flip phones, sliders, and even whatever the hell the Nokia N-Gage was.

Now, however, every single smartphone on the market is a flat, uniform glass slab. While designs like the Moto Razr might inspire pangs of nostalgia, the enduring popularity of the iPhone-style form factor suggests that it really is the best option for smartphones.

By the same token, it also helped to popularise touchscreens as a form of interaction. While touch-enabled devices existed before the iPhone, it was one of the first to really popularise the technology, and one could argue that without it, we wouldn't have the current crop of tablets, detachables, convertibles and 2-in-1s that we do today.


Apps on smartphone

Apps, too, only took off in the post-iPhone age. The introduction of the App Store prompted the creation of a wave of centralised distribution platforms for lightweight, third-party software packages. Of course, there are now apps for almost anything, from booking a holiday, to watching TV, to even doing your laundry. Apps have completely changed many business models, too the go-to examples being Uber and Airbnb, which have both made millions with nothing more than an app.

Like these services, a huge proportion of apps are reliant on the cloud, and it's not unreasonable to suggest that the iPhone's influence has had a huge role in creating modern cloud technologies. Mobile devices have traditionally been more limited that PCs in terms of both processing power and storage space, which means that developers have had to turn to the cloud when writing iPhone apps in order to make up the shortfall. It's driven consumer cloud take up as well, and services like Dropbox and iCloud have done a lot to get the public on board with the concept of cloud computing.


Picture credit: Bigstock

Part of the reason that iPhone owners adopted cloud technologies so quickly is that the device quickly led to a massive increase in mobility. The ability to check emails, view and edit documents, and quickly and efficiently browse the web meant that people didn't need to be shackled to their desks in order to get work done. Once this trend started to develop, more and more technologies started emerging to support this. Cloud-based sharing, synced storage and even social media all allow people to do traditionally office-based jobs from wherever they are in the world.

Continuing the trend set by texting, social media and instant messaging apps cemented society's switch from longer, more time-consuming forms of communication to instant, bite-sized updates. Twitter in particular 70% of whose users are primarily mobile has become simultaneously a source of breaking news, a professional networking tool, and a personal blogging platform. We can get instant updates from anywhere in the world at the push of a button, in 140 characters or less.

Of course, this ever-present access isn't without its downsides. Because we carry all of our work tools and emails with us wherever we go, the concept of a work/life balance has been radically altered. Staff now reply to work messages outside of office hours, or even while on holiday. It's an easy habit to get into, and the iPhone - by bringing work to our devices via apps and email - must shoulder part of the blame.

Social life and privacy

A padlock on a motherboard surrounded by keys

The rise of smartphones, spurred by the iPhone, has also had a negative effect on socialising. It's all too easy to become engrossed in your phone when you should instead be spending time with friends and loved ones, checking Twitter or reading a Slack notification rather than chatting with the people you're with. And being able to instantly answer any daft question you can think of has killed the art of the pub chat'. Rather than spending half an hour having an entertaining argument over whether the first Superman film made more money than the first Batman film, you can simply look it up thereby killing a perfectly good conversation.

Privacy has taken a series of huge body blows since the launch of the iPhone. Social media encourages us to broadcast pictures of ourselves, our personal information, and even minute-to-minute updates on our lives; and that's on top of all the location and usage information that we give up as the price of admission for using these services in the first place. If you collated all the data from a person's smartphone, you would have a near-complete record of their private and public life.

Hand in hand with that comes an incalculable security risk, for enterprises as well as individuals. Not only do mobile devices present a whole new attack vector for hackers looking to infiltrate your company, it also means that the security perimeter is effectively shattered. Employees now carry corporate data and networks with them wherever they go, thanks to their phones, which means that simply policing your own IT equipment is no longer sufficient. The aforementioned social media sharing has also made social engineering attacks easier than ever before.

Whatever you think of the iPhone, or of Apple as a company, it's hard to deny that Apple's first smartphone was impressive, innovative and influential - in the decade since it was first announced, it has changed all of our lives in numerous ways. In a century's time, the iPhone might even be mentioned in the same breath as the camera or the printing press.

Main image: Wikimedia Commons

Adam Shepherd

Adam Shepherd has been a technology journalist since 2015, covering everything from cloud storage and security, to smartphones and servers. Over the course of his career, he’s seen the spread of 5G, the growing ubiquity of wireless devices, and the start of the connected revolution. He’s also been to more trade shows and technology conferences than he cares to count.

Adam is an avid follower of the latest hardware innovations, and he is never happier than when tinkering with complex network configurations, or exploring a new Linux distro. He was also previously a co-host on the ITPro Podcast, where he was often found ranting about his love of strange gadgets, his disdain for Windows Mobile, and everything in between.

You can find Adam tweeting about enterprise technology (or more often bad jokes) @AdamShepherUK.