Mobile technology—wow. And of all the mobile devices out there, iPhones in particular have sent us down a path of efficiency, opportunity, and learning, together with the iOS operating system and the App Store.
Monday, Jan. 8, 2023, marked 16 years since Steve Jobs presented the first iPhone at Macworld Expo in San Francisco. We will never forget the words he began with: “Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone.”
And they absolutely did. The 3.5-inch LED glass touchscreen alone was a complete game changer, and that was not all. There was also the super-sleek design, 2-megapixel camera, and the first proper mobile operating system—iPhone OS, which would become iOS in 2010.
It was an astonishing piece of hardware, unlike anything we had seen before. And it was about to change just about every field and vertical market in the world. In 2007, we could not have understood the potential power and adaptability that the iPhone would realize in the coming years. This device, paired with its operating system, would go on to help startups, established businesses, and large-scale enterprises create entirely new business models, disrupting industries from finance to health care to retail to hospitality.
Everything would change because of the iPhone. The media landscape has completely changed along with their business models. Netflix, HBO Max, Apple TV+, Disney+, and ESPN+ have upended media business models because of the iPhone and App Store. Users can stream on demand, and many have largely ditched cable to subscribe to these platforms and get immediate access to streaming massive amounts of content. This also has changed the business models for telecom companies. They now have many different products around data services for users.
Look at personal transportation since the announcement of the iPhone. Companies like Uber, Lyft, Lime scooters, and a dozen others have disrupted the way users travel. From business travelers to families on vacation, the iPhone has led to an entire new way for people to travel in urban areas. Some users no longer even own a car because it has become more convenient and cost effective to just use the personal travel apps on their iPhone.
Personal health management has completely changed since the launch of the iPhone. Users can track personal health data—everything from heart health to exercise activities—right on their iPhone. At MartianCraft, we worked with FallCall Solutions on an app to carefully track elders’ movements, detect falls, and even determine what type and how bad a fall might be. Health providers can now work more closely with patients to offer instant treatment and data capture to bring better health solutions.
The iPhone has even helped transform large-scale enterprises. United Airlines provides iPhones to all employees, as they have internal applications that help with flight operations and scheduling and tracking for pilots, flight attendants, and operational crew.
Back in 2007, when all of that was the unimagined future and the world was still adapting to the iPhone’s innovative touchscreen and operating system, Apple was busy planning. The year after the initial iPhone announcement, Apple launched the App Store on July 10, 2008—another disruptive innovation. Developers and businesses could now create applications to enhance engagement or create a completely new landscape in technology.
Two years later, in 2010, Apple announced the iPhone 4, yet another inflection point in mobile technology history. The design was again innovative, with flat edges and an all-aluminum body. There was a Retina screen, which at the time was the clearest, most crisp screen ever seen. And along with the iPhone 4 came the announcement of the A4 chip that allowed the new iPhone to run extremely fast.
In 16 years, nothing has slowed on the innovation front: Every year, Apple has announced a new iPhone, with still more groundbreaking features. From extraordinarily fast chips to Touch ID and then Face ID, from LiDAR to 4K video recording, Apple really has pushed hardware and software unlike any other company.
What has all of this meant for mobile app development?
The initial apps in the App Store were as clunky and limited in functionality as you might expect (or remember) of first-gen efforts. But consumers had never had access to digital tools and experiences like those early applications, and users were excited.
When development of iPhone apps began in 2007, the ecosystem was tight, as it is today, but the language was much different. The code was mainly Objective-C and C++. It would be seven years before Apple launched Swift at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in 2014. Swift, a hyper-focused language to build iOS applications, was quickly adopted as developers found that it was more secure and allowed them to write fluent, solid code for the specific device capabilities of the iPhone—faster than they could code in Objective-C.
With Swift released, Apple worked even more tightly with the developer community—while consumers adopted the iPhone at record-breaking rates. In 2015, iPhone shipments surpassed Windows shipments, and by then the iOS development community, empowered by Swift, was producing apps that truly innovated and delighted.
iOS 8 and iOS 9 both focused on consistency and features for users. iOS 8, announced in 2014, included a contactless payment system in Apple Pay. This opened up a lot of opportunities for users—and for developers to build Apple Pay into apps. Apple Music also launched with iOS 8, and iTunes was no more.
The next year, after much discussion in the developer community around iOS’s stability and overall foundation, Apple refocused on the core of the operating system and announced iOS 9, emphasizing its speed and performance and bringing the spotlight back to the operating system as a whole. Since then, iOS has remained the top mobile operating system.
Meanwhile, Swift has progressed in the eight years since its release, becoming an extremely stable programming language that helps iOS developers ship incredible apps for the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, macOS, and tvOS. And the growth in the number of applications in the App Store has been exponential: Today, there are 3.8 million apps available.
The latest iPhone (14) and iOS (16) have capabilities that not many would have imagined even five years ago. Apple now manages many frameworks that allow developers to tap into the API and build custom, personalized experiences within an app. HealthKit, for example, lets developers create apps that help users manage their health care information and track their exercise activities. ARKit will enable developers to leverage and craft augmented reality experiences, and so on. And Apple has formed teams to consistently manage these frameworks so that they stay up to date with functionality. In addition, 3D scanning with the latest LiDAR technology on iPhone 14 offers exciting opportunities for verticals from architecture to gaming to design to photography to create a competitive advantage or even disrupt an entire category.
The next 16 years should be exciting for iPhone users and iOS developers. There is still plenty of room for innovation. We imagine this is just the beginning for any and all verticals to create a blue ocean of opportunity with unique mobile solutions leveraging iPhone’s capabilities.