Apple’s iPhone didn’t wholly create modern digital life — but it gave the plugged-in world legs and made space in the pocketbook for a whole lot of everything.
Shopping via Amazon, romance through Tinder, connections on Facebook and information delivered by Google. They all now come though our smartphones, the chicest and most revolutionary of which was brought into being by Steve Jobs and first sold 10 years ago this Thursday.
The iPhone wasn’t the first mobile phone or the first on-the-go Internet connection or even the earliest digital media player, but it was the first to combine the three with flair, from how it could be navigated to its sleek design. The gadget also introduced the app ecosystem, an economy in its own right.
By being so ubiquitous and useful, the iPhone and its smartphone followers became platforms for so much more. Facebook, for instance, ended last year with 1.23 billion users who logged on daily — 1.15 billion of them did so via mobile.
Over half of all web traffic is conducted through mobile devices that are either iPhones or smartphones that borrow heavily from its layout. Research by ComScore showed that by the end of last year there were 85.9 million iPhone users in the U.S. and that Apple made more than four out of every 10 smart phones being sold into the market.
Mobile commerce, mobile web searches and apps all happen on a variety of platforms today, but to a large extent they were all shaped by the iPhone.
Jeffrey Gennette, Macy’s Inc.’s chief executive officer, told investors this month: “Customers today aren’t adapting technology, they’re absorbing it and they’re doing it first through their smartphone.
“They use technology to browse — they’re certainly building it to transact,” Gennette added. “They build relationships and they voice opinions all on mobile right now. And starting in 2014, we took a mobile-first approach to our customer-facing technology.”
That evolution all began with the iPhone’s introduction in 2007.
Last summer, after the one billionth iPhone was sold, Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook noted — and credibly — that: “IPhone has become one of the most important, world-changing and successful products in history. It’s become more than a constant companion. IPhone is truly an essential part of our daily life and enables much of what we do throughout the day.”
That rapid shift has fashion charging into the future and struggling to keep up.
For instance, by readily connecting cool from Tokyo to New York to Paris, the iPhone has short-circuited the fashion cycle, leaving many brands stuck on their traditional timetable left behind.
Consultant Marcie Merriman, a culture hacker, experience innovator and brand strategist at Ernst & Young, noted style trends used to start in the major cities and spread slowly.
“You could go over to Hong Kong and Tokyo and Shanghai and see what was hot and plan against that and still beat it to the U.S. a year later,” Merriman said. “Now these trends have become a tsunami.
“For brands, how do you stay on the edge of what’s next?” she said. “Everybody has to create what’s next. Now you don’t have that time to plan and to think. Retail’s always been immediate [but the iPhone has] accelerated that whole cycle.”
The iPhone wasn’t just key in cracking a window open on the world — it, along with Facebook and others, blew that window open, creating communities of people who aren’t linked by geography, but by interest.
And the ceaseless whir of all that information has changed consumers.
“Our brains have definitely changed because of our use of technology,” said Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist at Golden Gate University. “We do have shorter attention spans because we’re just accustomed to getting answers and stimulation. I do think the intuitive design of the iPhone in particular made it something that everybody was attracted to, so it made technology much more universal and portable.”
The iPhone also made people “really receptive to newness,” Yarrow said. “Now, I think everybody’s an early adopter. The iPhone has a lot to do with our receptiveness and optimism around technology and newness.”
To borrow an idea from eagle-eyed media analyst Marshall McLuhan and a quote from his friend Father John Culkin: “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”
Exactly what the iPhone is turning people into as shoppers, parents, employees, friends and more, is still being sorted out.
“The train has left the station,” said futurist Faith Popcorn. “The world’s changed. I can’t say if it’s for better or worse.”
Popcorn linked the iPhone to a generation, or two, of narcissists who have created a selfie culture that’s about “blowing up the most little part of your life to epic.”
“Our brain is in that phone — the app life, the on-demand optimized life,” she said. “When you have a generation that spends 10 hours a day in front of their screens, they’ve created an addiction. We check our phones 150 times a day as Americans. Ninety percent of people fall into the category of abuse.”
But Popcorn contends that people have connected more to themselves, tallying each heart beat and each step, while only updating others on their progress.
“We decorated [our iPhones] we had nice cases and adorable little symbols, smiley faces and all the emojis and all that,” she said. “But really, actually for every emoji, it’s one less word. We can’t even say, ‘I love you.’ It’s a face with a kiss. ‘I love you’ takes too long.”
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