Why the iPhone is the Greatest Gadget of the 21st Century

Touchscreens. Apps. Built-in GPS. The iPhone wasn't first, but it made these things unimaginably popular. Flora Graham argues the case for it to be deemed the Greatest Gadget of the 21st Century.

Flora Graham
3 min read

Few mobiles elicit the red-hot love and ice-cold hate that the iPhone does. In the passionate world of mobile phones, where a new Nokia can bring tears to the eyes of grown men, the iPhone has managed to stay the latest and greatest since the moment it spawned from the labyrinthine mind of Steve Jobs. Here's why I think it should be crowned the Greatest Gadget of the 21st Century.

Mobile phones have influenced the 21st century so much it's hard to even remember what it used to be like, flailing to get through on a landline or scrawl a message on the wall of a cave with mud. The first mobiles plied their trade at the back end of the 20th century, but it took till the 21st for a phone that would change everything.

The iPhone took mobile phones to the next level -- smart phones. Smart phones may have started with the epic Nokia N95, but its joys were only available to the alchemists who could plumb its fathomless depths of features. Not only did the iPhone popularise phones with touchscreens instead of keyboards, it made smart phones what they are today -- and what they're evolving into.

Surfing the Web, updating Facebook and checking your emails have surpassed making boring old phone calls. Which is lucky, because the iPhone isn't very good at making them. The iPhone made it just as likely that we'll order pizza online while checking in on Foursquare, as quietly ring someone.

The iPhone also created the app revolution. Finger-friendly and designed for a phone's tiny screen, apps allowed us to go beyond the browser and keep playing even when we're offline.

So the iPhone made smart phones worth having, that were fun and easy to use, started the touchscreen trend and introduced us to app addiction. But the real secret of the iPhone's success lurks beyond what we humble users see. With iTunes on board, we can buy songs, games and apps right from the phone. There were low-res ringtone Web shops and apps for sale before the iPhone, but they were tricky to find, install and pay for.

It may hurt to hand over our hard-earned dosh to iTunes and the App Store, but without it, we wouldn't have the thriving smart-phone ecosystem that has exploded in the last two years. Developers know they have a swinging chance at making some money from their work, and 300,000 iPhone apps later we all reap the benefits. Not just iPhone users, either -- users of Android phones, BlackBerrys, Nokias, and everyone else who enjoys a spot of Angry Birds now and then.

I'm not saying the iPhone is for everyone. It has its flaws, and it costs more than some major surgical procedures. But if you have any doubts whether the iPhone is the greatest gadget of the 21st century, just look around you.

Every gadget, from PDAs to sat-navs to compact cameras to MP3 players, has been subsumed into mobile phones. And every phone is trying to be -- or beat -- the iPhone. Touchscreens are the touchstone, apps are where it's at, and we're all caught in the the mobile Web. Love it or hate it, the iPhone started that wave, and it's still riding the crest today.