If you worked in mobile a decade ago in 2007, the launch of the iPhone felt like all your Christmases had – finally – come all at once. It wasn't really a phone, the iPhone was form and function from the future.
I remember forcing Charlie Rudd to get out his beloved Blackberry and enact a side-by-side demo with my shiny new iPhone, while I jabbed my fingers at the two screens. "Look at the difference! Look at it!" I ranted like a crazed loon. "The pixel density! The screen size! My diary looks so much better than yours!" (At this point I was still stumbling through the basics of how to copy, cut and paste text via touch, even the appearance of the calendar on an iPhone screen looked thrilling).
The iPhone promised us so much. And, just under a decade later in July 2016, the billionth iPhone was sold, no doubt the ultimate proof of the power of that promise.
In truth, the iPhone was a pretty poor telephone for a while; indeed, its ability to make and receive calls and its "iPhone" name felt like bread crumbs designed to get you to buy a hand-sized computer and put it in your pocket, not sit it on your desk.
And mobile display advertising was also only fractionally less rubbish when experienced on an iPhone versus on other mobile devices with their teeny tiny screens. But goodness, no-one outside marcomms cared. The arrival of the device was a flashpoint moment in culture, ushering in an era that saw ‘mobile technology’ move from geekdom to mainstream adoption; and appreciation of user experience and UI move out of design forums and into common parlance.
Then, as the expression "there’s an app for that" took hold and mobile usage spiked, entire industries were aided and abetted by the uptake of the iPhone and its smartphone rivals. With each new release, every social platform and every mobile game had the opportunity to speed up and increase capacity. A virtuous circle ensued as the decade passed, increasing smartphone usage to the insanely high levels of today.
The design of the Apple device unquestionably helped fuel that response. Its carefully proportioned weight and the feel of the screen under your fingertips. The gestural and voice UI that quickly eschewed skeuomorphic design and just felt intuitive. Even the stuttery, early geo-location capabilities felt like technology as magic.
Fast forward ten years, the iPhone is a sleeker, faster, more powerful, smaller-then-got-larger-again version of its forefather. Along with its Android OS competitors, the iPhone is ubiquitous and omnipresent in the lives of its owners.
But, inevitably, I wonder for how much longer this will be the case.
With the advent of AI, our addiction to screens of all sizes looks under threat in the longer term. Wearables are one obvious alternative, but when the very fabric of a wall you wander past is capable of reading your data and serving up answers to questions you barely knew you wanted to ask, that is an altogether different kind of interaction. Whilst it’s premature to think this, once there is a viable alternative, I suspect we will drop our handheld device with its clunky, fragile physicality like a hot coal.
Goodbye smashed iPhone screen, hello intelligent voice assistant.
Right now in my household, Alexa is answering the umpteenth request from my seven-year-old daughter to "tell us a joke"; entertaining but hardly taxing. Rest assured, she is listening and learning behind the scenes though. Reading streams of data. Connecting the binary dots. Making herself indispensable.
I don’t doubt Apple will fight back. It will keep finding ways to bring extraordinarily designed interfaces and products that become habitual parts of our lives. The iPhone was the perfect Apple product both in concept and design in that sense: an upgrade on an understood and familiar tool, in a package that surprised and delighted.
A technological sheep in wolf’s clothing that went on to change our lives.
Perhaps the next generation Siri in development at Apple will emerge this year and take the driving seat. One thing is for sure, ten years after the introduction of the iPhone, it’s time to move the game on again.
Mel Exon is the chief executive of Sunshine