The First iPhone: Revolutionary Smartphone or an Overpriced Toy?

How the Tech World Reacted to the First iPhone

When Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone in 2007, he said, “Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone.” That June, the iPhone released and sold over 6 million units until it was discontinued a year later. Although its sales certainly spelled success, not everyone was convinced by Apple’s promise to change the world with its device.

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO from 2004-2014, dismissed the iPhone 2G as an “expensive gadget”. (Microsoft would later release its own smartphone, the Windows Phone 7, in 2010.) Many critics shared the sentiment that the iPhone was just a toy , and not a serious invention. A common concern was the iPhone’s lack of 3G, citing that drawback as the reason it would fail.

Business Insider released an article in 2007 criticizing the iPhone as overhyped and overpriced . Its chairman, Kevin Ryan, said in an email, “The internet people I know, including myself, have dumped their iPhone and are annoyed they got sucked in by the hype to waste money.” 

Harsh words. Did the doubters have a point, or did they completely miss the mark?

Were the iPhone’s Critics Right?

Let’s look beyond the iPhone 2G’s financial launch success and examine what innovations the device brought to the table. In 2007, the other smartphones on the market were functionally much more limited. They still had those awful qwerty keypads that just sucked to text and navigate. They also had weak processing powers and basic internet capability that could only handle emails and faxing. Yay.


The iPhone 2G introduced these game-changers to the mix that blew the competition out of the water:

  • Operating system: The iPhone 2G ran iOS 1.0, a version of Mac OS X, essentially turning phones into pocket computers. This set the precedence for smartphones to use sophisticated operating systems, allowing for better graphics and more powerful software.
  • Touchscreen: Apple wasn’t the first to use touchscreens on its phones, but it did greatly improve the technology with intuitive UI design and proximity sensors. This erased the inconvenience of keypads and gave apps the freedom to implement touch screen into their own controls and button interfaces
  • Full internet access: The iPhone was the first smartphone to have full internet functionality. You could connect through Wi-Fi or a data plan and browse the net while on the go. This alone completely changed the stage as we know it, leading to payment, delivery, and ride apps. 



So no, I don’t think Apple’s naysayers quite hit the nail on the head (or at all). But I suppose if you say every endeavor will fail, you’re bound to be right once in awhile.


Did Apple Change the World?

Smartphones are so interlaced with daily life, they’ve practically become as essential as your wallet and keys. Beyond needing a phone on the go, we’ve come to rely on the millions of apps on the market, from Venmo, to Uber, to AR rulers. And the statistics back this up. 

In 2011, 35% of adults in the US owned a smartphone. Can you guess where that number stands today? In 2021, a whopping 85% of Americans owned a smartphone. That’s 143% growth in just 10 years! 

But is Apple still relevant, or has the industry outgrown it? Right now Apple and Samsung are the reigning champions of the market, together making up half of all smartphones. The race is neck-and-neck, but in 2021, Samsung sold a grand total of 271 million smartphones to Apple’s 235.9 million .

So, Apple may not be on top anymore, but it’s nowhere near defeated. And without its very first iPhone, the convenience of mobile apps and the industries built around them wouldn’t exist today as we know them. Even with other companies rapidly pushing the boundaries of smartphone tech, we have the very first iPhone to thank for opening the lid. 


I think it’s safe to say the iPhone was more than just a toy.



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