I geeked out big time when Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone.
It was Jan. 9, 2007, a Tuesday, and I raced into the Apple Store in Arlington, Virginia, where I worked, to gush over the news. A magical software keyboard! A stylus-free touchscreen! In a world of slow, clunky, button-laden phones with pens and scroll wheels, the iPhone appeared to come from the distant future.
Several of my co-workers huddled around an iMac, playing and replaying a video of Jobs effortlessly touching the iPhone’s on-screen keyboard, the keys popping above his finger like a reverse typewriter. The response was a mix of awe and proud laughter. We’d never seen a mobile device do that before.
We’d never seen anything like the iPhone.
Whether it was making phone calls while using different apps, or displaying the slick animations, or even scrolling through a list by flicking your finger, I was eating it up. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one.
When the iPhone finally went on sale six months later, I was given the enviable job of walking up and down the waiting lines of hard-core, must-have-it fans. I gave them their first in-person demos, sliding through the album covers in the music app or demonstrating Google Maps, all while they waited for their chance to go into the Apple Store and plunk down at least $499 for one of their very own.
I felt like a nerdy version of Jobs, showing people a piece of the future. Everyone wanted what I was holding in my hands. It was a “wow” moment.
This was also the last time I felt that way about Apple’s phone.
Some people buy new clothes each season, others go to sporting events. I buy new phones. (And yes, I bought the very first iPad and Apple Watch, too.)
I was as excited as all the other fanboys when I saw the glass front and back of the iPhone 4 in 2010. I loved the fingerprint sensor in 2013’s iPhone 5S. And I gushed over the portrait mode on the iPhone 7 Plus last year.
That said, they’re all more or less the same. After all, the iPhone, at its essence, is a sheet of touchable glass plated on a metal body. Sure, Apple improves its chips and refines its well-regarded iOS software every year. But all of that is around the edges of an already snazzy product. It’s important, but incremental.
The bottom line is the iPhone has become predictable. Expected. Boring.
Blame whatever you like. Maybe we’re inundated with so many leaks and rumors that are spoiled. Perhaps the original iPhone was so revolutionary it’s hard to top. It could be we’re surrounded by so many bleeding-edge devices we’ve lost our sense of wonder.
It may simply be that we take phones for granted because they’re so much a part of our daily lives. Like television in its day.
Regardless, I’m here to say Apple’s new glass-and-metal slab isn’t going to be earth-shattering.
And that’s OK.
Welcome to Yawn City, population: us
Apple is a titan of the consumer electronics industry and one of the most innovative companies in Silicon Valley. Any of us would love to have Apple’s cash problems (more than $256 billion sitting around.)
But if you look at its major announcements over the past few years, the headlines that followed were some combination of “this was expected” or “booooooring!”
Even Apple’s controversies don’t drum up that much excitement. We’ve largely accepted the iPhone 7’s missing headphone jack (#courage), and we’ve learned to live with batteries that don’t last a day.
Take the iPad. When Jobs introduced it in January 2010, people joked the name sounded like a feminine hygiene product.
And the tablet itself? “Apple’s iPad – fat iPhone without the phone” wrote the UK tech site The Register. Or if you want to be kinder, go with The New York Times headline, “With iPad Tablet, Apple Blurs the Lines Between Devices.” CNET wondered, “What is the purpose of this device and will it succeed?” Business Insider cut to the chase, “It’s A Big Yawn.”
Remember, those were responses to a big, new product release. After nearly every major Apple event, the world’s largest publications have pronounced they were underwhelmed.
Part of it is that the tech press is jaded. We’re surrounded with so much new stuff that we lose perspective.
“They should do a stint at a local daily in Indianapolis,” offers Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, who’s been following Apple for decades. “Then they can go back to covering Silicon Valley and thinking about how this stuff makes a difference.”
Maybe all of us tech watchers just want to be contrarian, something Kay admits he felt at times as a way to emphasize his independence.
Apple declined to comment about its yet-to-be-introduced iPhone, due Sept. 12 at its new campus in Cupertino, California. But CEO Tim Cook told CNBC in August the hype for its upcoming products feels different from before. “The noise or reports, some rumors and so forth, are at a different frequency and volume than we’ve ever had before,” he said.
Which means this year we might get more than a handful of tweaks to Apple’s hardware design. I hope so.
Still changing the world
It’s fascinating that the technorati who trip over themselves to declare Apple’s latest product a bore often miss how much impact these devices have.
Devices like the iPhone keep changing people’s lives. They’ve become primary tools of protest and political upheaval. They’re helping people with disabilities live their lives more easily. They’re changing the way we connect with each other.
As for me? I could go on about how I’ve written stories on my iPhone from a mall food court. Or how the always-there camera let me capture my son’s first smile. The iPhone has changed my life.
And like I said, I’ll likely end up spending more than $1,000 for the next iPhone. But the day I get it, don’t be surprised when, after fidgeting to set it up and try out whatever new feature it has, you see me slide it into my pocket and move on with my day.
It may be the best iPhone yet. But it’s still boring.
Goodbye, home button? Get ready for the iPhone’s biggest change ever.
Apple event: What we expect at the big Sept. 12 iPhone (and more) launch.
Do you have an unusual story to tell? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org