When iPhone met world, 7 years ago today

Steve Jobs was right when he declared the iPhone a revolutionary product. It redefined the smartphone category and put a powerful computer in the hands of more than a billion people around the world.

Steve Jobs introduces the first iPhone. CNET

Seven years ago, on January 9, 2007, the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs took the stage at the Moscone Center in San Francisco to introduce the first iPhone. "Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone," Jobs proclaimed:

This is a day I've been looking forward to for two-and-a-half years. Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. And Apple has been -- well, first of all, one's very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career. Apple's been very fortunate. It's been able to introduce a few of these into the world. 1984, introduced the Macintosh. It didn't just change Apple. It changed the whole computer industry. In 2001, we introduced the first iPod, and it didn't just change the way we all listen to music, it changed the entire music industry. Well, today, we're introducing three revolutionary products of this class. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device. So, three things: a widescreen iPod with touch controls; a revolutionary mobile phone; and a breakthrough Internet communications device. An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone...are you getting it? These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone. Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone, and here it is. No, actually here it is, but we're going to leave it there for now.

He wasn't kidding. The iPhone, like the Macintosh and iPod before it, redefined the category. The smartphone revolution started by the iPhone has put a powerful computer into the hands of billions of people around the world.

"iPhone is a revolutionary and magical product that is literally five years ahead of any other mobile phone," said Jobs said in the press release. "We are all born with the ultimate pointing device--our fingers--and iPhone uses them to create the most revolutionary user interface since the mouse."

The iPhone didn't ship until June 29, 2007, however. On January 9, the iPhone was still buggy and prone to crashes. Even after several days of rehearsals, Jobs was walking a tightrope on stage, using prototype iPhones set up with workarounds to avoid glitches and crashes.

"It's hard to overstate the gamble Jobs took when he decided to unveil the iPhone back in January 2007. Not only was he introducing a new kind of phone -- something Apple had never made before -- he was doing so with a prototype that barely worked," wrote Fred Vogelstein in his book, "Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution."

The crowd at the Apple store in San Francisco on June 29, 2007. CNET

But Jobs managed to get through the demos without embarrassment, and Apple's engineers managed to eliminate the critical bugs over the next several months. Nearly 1.4 million iPhones were sold in the first three months of its existence. For its fiscal year ending September 29, 2013, Apple sold more than 150 million iPhones worldwide and generated over $90 billion in sales.

Despite a horde of worthy competitors and declining worldwide market share, the iPhone still has a 40 to 50 percent share of the U.S. smartphone market, led by the success of the iPhone 5S. And, the iPad, which followed the iPhone as another breakthrough, category-redefining product, maintains a strong market position. Whether Apple can continue its streak of reinventing product categories remains to be seen, but Jobs' January 9, 2007 introduction of the iPhone will remain one of the important milestones in computing history.

 

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