iPhone turns 15: How Apple forever changed the way we communicate


It was January 2007 when Apple CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs walked onto a stage at the MacWorld convention and introduced the world to a new kind of phone. It was called an iPhone, and it became available to the public June 29, 2007.

Little did anyone know it would change the way we communicate in general and, in particular, the way we look at our phones.

Carnegie Mellon University professor and computer scientist Tom Mitchell said the iPhone was a “game changer” when it first came out.

“Even though there had been portable phones, they were still a phone,” Mitchell said. “The iPhone was not only your phone; it was your music source, and it was also a camera, and it had the ability to do video calls. And it also had a computer, and it became your navigation instrument.”

Before the iPhone was rolled out, people simply had not relied on their phones to do so many things.

“What we expect from a phone was changed by the iPhone. When I talk to students about telecom history, we talk about pre-iPhone and after iPhone. It was really the epitome of something that established a category,” said Martin B. Weiss, University of Pittsburgh professor of communications. “There were phones out there that did similar things. You think about the BlackBerry that was out. You could check your email. But the way the iPhone combined a variety of different features was novel, and it connected immediately with consumers.”

The arrival of the iPhone also marked the beginning of a significant shift in the relationship between phone manufacturers and communications carriers, Weiss said.

“Prior to the iPhone, the carriers were in charge,” he said. “They told you what kind of phone they wanted you to build, and they got to specify all of the features. With the iPhone, Apple really clawed back an awful lot of control from the carriers over the experience that people would have.”

The experience people have had with their iPhones has only expanded and improved in previously unimaginable ways over the years. Today, Mitchell said, people are likely to look back and be surprised by all the things iPhones could not do when they were introduced 15 years ago with only 16 gigabytes of memory.

“You could not speak to it and expect it to understand what you were saying,” he said. “There was no Siri. Fortunately, Apple bought Siri and integrated it with the phone. And now you can say, ‘Hey, Siri, what’s the score of the Pirates game?’ and it’ll tell you. It’s something we take for granted now.”

There also wasn’t the kind of speed in 2007 that exists today. It began to increase in 2008 with the introduction of the iPhone 3G, which enabled users to quickly access the Internet. Significant advances followed.

In 2010, the iPhone 4 was released. It was the first to feature a front-facing camera and, suddenly, selfies were born. In 2013, the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c added features such as dual flash, Touch ID and slow-motion video.

In 2017, the iPhone X introduced another front-facing camera featuring Portrait Mode, which dramatically improved the quality of selfies.

In 2019, the iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max were released with multiple camera lenses. (The Pro and Pro Max each featured three).

Mitchell expressed amazement with the strides the iPhone has made in 15 years, particularly the creation of the App Store.

“Every week, there would be this new idea that somebody came up with, like taking a picture of a bottle of wine and seeing what the price would be. Or an app for pointing your camera at the sky and telling you which star you’re looking at,” Mitchell said. “The brilliance of that was that it tapped into the creative juices of the whole world.”

It’s also important to consider the impact the iPhone has had on social media.

“I don’t think Twitter and Facebook would have been as popular if it wasn’t for the fact that you could get to it from a phone that was just in your pocket,” Mitchell said. “It’s always there with you.” – The Tribune-Review, Greensburg/Tribune News Service