How iPhone Changed the World



The Apple iPhone turned 4 this week. And in that short amount of time, the phone has make a huge impact on the world as we know it. In fact, the iPhone is probably the most influential consumer electronics product ever made.

Here are the 12 ways iPhone has changed the world in only four years.

1. Changed the world of cell phone handsets

When Apple shipped the iPhone in 2007, its radical design and incredible popularity caused not a ripple, but a tidal wave of change throughout the mobile phone handset industry. One reporter covering Spain’s Mobile World Congress in 2009 wrote that “the name on everyone’s lips was Apple, despite the Californian company playing no part in the show…. it’s little wonder that many of the devices and services unveiled in Barcelona owe more than a little to the trail blazed by the iPhone.”

Specifically, the iPhone prompted handset makers to abandon physical keyboards in favor of all-screen input and make thinner phones with much better screens capable of multi-touch input.

2. Changed the world of software distribution

A casual observer might be forgiven for believing that Apple invented the App Store, or even cell phone apps. But cell phone app stores and apps had been around for years before Apple showed up.

But before the iPhone, installing phone apps was relatively complicated and problematic. You had to find a good store online, download the app to a desktop computer and follow the unique and often complicated directions for installation to the phone, which happened through the sync process. Each app maker had to be paid using PayPal or credit card. Uninstalling apps was rarely straightforward.

The iPhone App Store made all this obsolete. Apple iPhone forced users to set up an iTunes account with current credit card and password. To get software, users just find the app in the App Store, press “Install,” enter a password and watch the icon status bar for evidence that the install was complete.

The iPhone radically improved the processing for discovering, installing, paying for and uninstalling software. The process was so seamless and easy that it forced Apple-style App Stores on smart phone competitors and even desktop-software makers like Microsoft.

3. Mainstreamed “jailbreaking”

Apple’s granting of national carrier monopolies in the first couple of years, as well as strong control and censorship of apps, legitimized the practice of jailbreaking — the opening up of an iOS device to remove limitations imposed by Apple.

Users jailbreak their iPhones to use them with non-approved carriers, install non-approved software and to enable capabilities that locked phones can’t do.

The iPhone’s popularity and long list of limitations made “jailbreaking” a household word, and the practice of jailbreaking widespread and accepted, even among novice users.

4. Unified music and phones

Everybody had been talking about integrating music player functionality into phones for years, but it didn’t catch on among the majority of smart phone users until the iPhone. Apple even made an iTunes mobile application for other handset makers like Motorola to pre-install on phones. But most people didn’t bother. After the iPhone, music on phones became standard for most people.

5. Made the world safe for software keyboards

Before the iPhone, the idea of using an on-screen keyboard on a phone or tablet seemed unimaginable. The biggest initial complaint with the iPhone itself was about the screen-based keyboard. Rather than giving users what they were screaming for, which was an add-on, peripheral or third-party range of physical keyboards, Apple deliberately made sure they were unavailable. If you wanted to use an iPhone, you had to use an on-screen keyboard.

Apple dragged the user community kicking and screaming into the future of keyboards. After a couple of years, everybody got used to the idea. When Apple shipped the iPad, with its much bigger version, it seemed like a luxury. And ten years from now, when most computing is done with an on-screen touch keyboard, historians will remember that the iPhone made it possible by forcing the user community to overcome their resistance to the idea of an on-screen keyboard.

6. Addicted the world to motion and orientation sensors

Apple’s accelerometer in the original iPhone was something of an exotic novelty to many users. The current model has accelerometer, gyroscope and compass, which thousands of app designers rely on to create really amazing effects. Some apps, like games, can use these sensors to create all kinds of illusions and innovative effects. Others, like Instapaper, use them for simple input (to scroll text).

Thanks to the iPhone, these sensors are now simply expected by both developers and users.

7. Killed the stylus as a mainstream input device

It’s hard to imagine now, but before the iPhone, most smart phones has little pens for writing and pushing on-screen buttons. They were clunky, inelegant and easy to lose. And they still exist. But after the iPhone’s elegant touch screen, styli on phones have been relegated to the periphery.

8. Opened the door for PC-to-Mac Switchers

The PC-Mac wars have been raging since 1984. People tend to choose sides and stick with them. Apple, which had one-digit desktop PC market share for most of its history, has always sought ways to get users to switch to Macintosh. Apple launched a famous TV ad campaign staring John Hodgman as “PC” and Justin Long as “Mac” with the explicit message that PC users should switch to Mac.

In the past five years, Apple has in fact made enormous gains in market share, thanks mainly to the iPod and the iPhone. These devices served as a kind of “gateway drug” for PC users to discover the larger world of Apple products.

The vast majority of both iPod and iPhone users were and are Windows users. These devices gradually introduce PC users to Apple’s way of doing things. They get people into Apple stores. The constant iTunes updates bring people to the Apple web site. Eventually, some PC users make the switch, but not after being softened by one of Apple’s mobile devices.

9. Shattered the myth that Japanese consumers only buy Japanese phones

The fourth largest handset market in the world is gadget-crazy Japan. Before the iPhone, it was common knowledge that only Japanese companies could succeed in that market. Nokia spent a fortune trying to succeed in Japan, only to reach the 2 percent market share mark before essentially giving up and going away.

But by 2009, just a year and a half after Nokia left in defeat, Apple had acquired an astonishing 72 percent of Japan’s smart phone market. It turns out Japanese consumers will buy foreign phones — if they’re cool enough.

10. All but killed the mobile gaming market

Before the iPhone App Store came along, mobile gaming meant dedicated pocket gaming systems from companies like Nintendo and Sony. Now, the mobile games market is rising to new heights, and most of the growth is thanks to the iPhone. The stand-alone systems are no longer growing, as gamers and developers increasingly gravitate to the iPhone, and to a lesser extent, the Android platform. Some in the industry even speculate that dedicated handheld gaming systems are on their way out.

When Nokia made a play for a handset that combined cell phone functionality with mobile gaming in their 2003 N-Gage gadget, a few experts thought the convergence of phone and gaming had arrived. They were wrong. The phone was buggy, over-priced, clunky and ultimately rejected by users.

It wasn’t until the iPhone that cell phone gaming really took off.

11. Accidentally brought the world’s attention to the plight of Chinese factory workers

A recurring problem of abuse and suicides at some Foxconn factories where iPhones are manufactured has made the horrible conditions at many Chinese factories common knowledge. While the iPhone factors are far safer and more humane than most, the idea that the warm-and-fuzzy iPhone you carry in your pocket may have been made by a worker driven to suicide has made the issue very real for millions of people, and has driven improvements in conditions in throughout China.

12. Launched the touch revolution

Computer scientists and user interface researchers have been working on touch computing for decades. And a decade from now, most computing will no doubt happen on touch screens.

It was the iPhone that brought the touch screen into mainstream acceptance and use.

The Apple iPhone may be the most influential consumer gadget ever, changing the way phones work, changing the way people see the world and changing human culture. Not bad for just four years.

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  • quietstorms

    The one thing that concerns me is how many jobs the iPhone has killed. So far it has effectively killed Palm, Nokia, RIM, Motorola, Nintendo DS, PSP and will probably kill off the consoles as well. Who knows what else it will do.

    One could say we are in a transition period but that’s a lot people who have to collect unemployment benefits and are now looking for a job in a bad economy.

  • Chris Brunner

    That’s capitalism, consumers vote with their dollars. Each of the companies listed have an opportunity to create better products and put them out on the market. I applaud Apple for staying so far ahead of the game for the past four years!


  • Francisco García

    in 2007 I had a Sonny Ericsson, I didn’t have an iPod or a Mac, when I saw the iPhone Classic I wanted that immediately, I’m from Mexico and I got it from USA, did the jailbreak to use it with my carrier and started to immerse in the Apple world. After that I bought an iPod Shuffle to use at the gym, changed it several times by getting the newer model, bought a white MacBook and was amazed by the solid OS. Started to organize the iTunes library like an obsession, with covers and all. Bought an iPod nano just because of the looks of it, I didn’t need it anyway. Then I started to convince my family to get an iPod or iPhone LOL!

    I had the chance to be using an iPhone since the launching, and experience all of the added features like the AppStore, the mobile iTunes Store, the new ways of using it, the addition of 3G, etc. And I’m impressed how the device just gets better every time. New users don’t get the way it works immediately since they haven’t experienced the evolution of the iOS, but once they get used to it, can’t go back to other phones.

    Seems the strategy to make people switch to Apple is working really good, now with the iPad they are bringing new customers who didn’t use a computer or a smartphone before. And they accomplished that by just focusing in us, the common users.

  • Giovanni Savino

    Perhaps one more point for your list: the iPhone enabled a brand new photographic experience and opened new horizons to image- making expression, ranging from street photography to fine art photography to photo reportage. The main assets of iPhone photography (or iPhoneography) are ease of image capture and instant sharing via web. The powerful image processing capabilities through apps on the iPhone itself, allows the photo to be creatively manipulated as soon as it is taken.  As the iPhone camera  resolution and photo software become better and more sophisticated every day, this could lead toward an interesting  stylistic shift in photographic techniques and could even become instrumental to the exploration of new territories in the visual arts .    

  • tiresius

    Yeah, just like the touch panel killed the Elevator Operators in Days of Yore.  Or the CD player killed (or definitely damaged) the record player.  Or the automobile killed the horse and buggy. Or desktop publishing killed type setting.  Or eBooks is killing print.
     Need I go on?    Progress is not a friend to interim technologies or antiquated technology.  Or those who are employed designing and manufacturing them.

  • nthnm

    Isn’t it unlocking that allows you to use a locked phone on another carrier? I didn’t think jailbreaking did this.

  • Tom McGrath

    From what I remember, the apparent best phones used to be Nokia, then Sony Ericsson, then Blackberry, and now Apple. Or at least, that’s how it was for the people I know.

  • quietstorms

    This is not the same thing. It’s not one form of technology being replaced newer technology. This is several companies getting replaces by one or two companies while thousands of people are losing their job. The iPhone was a disruptive device but it is still a smarthphone that replaced other smartphones.

  • Tim Pease

    You have to jailbreak first before you can unlock.

  • Tim Pease

    My original iphone was a halo product.  I was so impressed by how easy the iPhone OS was to use, that I bought my first MBP, and I love both products.  I now intend to save up for the iPad 3 when it becomes available.  I probably don’t NEED the iPad, but the games are so much more fun on a larger screen, and there are so many other uses for it.  Apple has done well with most of their products.  I hope they don’t screw it up like MS did.

  • mlokubo

    all of the other manufacturers had an equal opportunity as Apple to have created the next big shift in handheld computing, but arguably, most sat on their laurels and kept pumping out evolutionary devices instead of a revolutionary device. you can’t fault Apple’s choice to innovate in the marketplace, resulting widespread consumer acceptance, or the collapse of their competitors’ business models and product lines.

    in 2007, Motorola was working on another version of the RAZR for crying out loud. RIM had just converted from a notched wheel to a trackball, Palm was pushing the 2 year old Treo 650, HTC was still making Windows Mobile devices as a nameless entity, Samsung was copying BlackBerry with their BlackJack, and LG was making Chocolate branded phones in one building and Armani branded phones in the other. it seems some of you have forgotten what kind of crap the established makers were spoon feeding us in 2006-07.

    Apple chose to take a different path in design, input, and capability. their gamble paid off… had it not been accepted by the masses, we’d all be laughing at Apple’s “second coming of Newton.”

    but everyone had a fair chance to innovate. it’s just Apple was the only company that chose to take the risk while everyone kept pumping out safe bets. don’t blame Apple… blame those companies for not taking the proper measured risks to advance the state of technology when they had the opportunity.

    it is those companies and their leadership decisions that failed their employees, not Apple. to blame Apple for advancing the technological landscape is the battle cry of the Luddite.

  • Bob Whipple

    I think camera phones (and particularly the iPhone 4) are in the process of dealing a devastating blow to the point and shoot camera business. “The best camera is the one you have with you”, and my iPhone is always there. I bought the P&S camera of my dreams about the sames time as my iPhone 4, and I take far more photos and videos with my phone than my camera. The camera is much better, but my phone is always there when I want to take a pic. 

  • mlokubo

    I still remember chuckling when Steve Jobs said, from the safety of the vacuum within the reality distortion field, “we are 5 years ahead of everyone else.”

    and now 4 years later, hardware-wise the rest of the manufacturers have caught up and can go tit for tat in a specs battle. but had they not borrowed many of Apple’s gestures and creative use of the capacitive multitouch display technology, they wouldnt be nearly as competitive as they are today.

    and from a usability standpoint for the general public, his proclamation did ring true… after 4 years, Android is the closest competitor but still has usability, development and security issues that still have it lagging behind for the majority of users. (technophiles obviously excepted, but they aren’t the status quo no matter what they want to misbelieve.)

    maybe next year, after 5 years, Android will finally be prepared to take on the collective pokings of millions of everyday users whose IQ’s barely cover half the device’s average selling price. unlike iOS, the Android OS still isn’t consistent and intuitive enough (or dumbed down enough, depending on who you ask) for the majority of users. how do I know? because the iPhone comes with a manual called, “finger tips” that teaches you how to touch the screen… that’s all. all Android phones still require a 60+ page manual as their “quick start guide,” and another 120+ page manual to help users navigate the menu system.

    and the iPad comes with no manual at all.

    that’s the difference between a thoughtful, intuitive, elegant user experience and a dissatisfied customer return.

  • Nikhil Deveshwar

    I agree with this article, however, out of the 4 major products Apple has released (Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad) I think the Mac was the most influential of them all. Don’t get me wrong, all four have changed the world, but I think without the Macintosh having the GUI, the iPod, iPhone, and iPad wouldn’t exist today, neither would any computers with a GUI. 

  • Michel Vega

    Brilliant article. Great analysis about a gadget that launched a revolution.

  • Thurston Howell

    great comment, should probably be added as an update to the article!

  • baby_Twitty

    You FORGOT ONE MAJOR thing the iPhone changed. IT ALMOST CHANGED
    the ENTIRE internet landscape, forcing MILLIONS of websites/web-masters to adapt to HTML5
     and/or abandon flash so that their webpages would load beautifully on the iPhones and iPads.

  • James Katt

    Regarding Suicides:

    1. Foxconn workers have a suicide rate that is MUCH LESS than the suicide rate of China, itself.  
    2. Foxconn workers have a suicide rate that is MUCH LESS than the suicide rate in the United States.  

    So you would have to ask, what magic is Foxconn doing that saves lives?  And what are we in the USA doing that doesn’t? 

    You can conclude that Foxconn SAVES LIVES.

    If only we, in the US, can do as well as Foxconn for our citizens.

  • Harry Panchal

    I agree with Thurston completely. All of Apple critics should read this user comments thoroghly, i am sure they won’t have words (even characters) to comment on Apple Devices.

  • HerbalEd

    But what about the new jobs Apple creates as it has  to make more iPhones to displace Palm, Nokia, etc.?

  • Faixan Amjad

    Nice, you really highlighted some important point that made iPhone rule the world..!

  • bradisrj

    @quietstorms:disqus  – mlokubo has covered your assertions, but I’ll emphatically add: that Apple didn’t displace any workers for those other companies.  The lack of vision and execution is what lost other company’s employees their jobs.  Not the iPhone…