NSFW: The enduring impact of the iPhone, eight years later

NSFW is a weekly op-ed column in which I talk about whatever's on my mind. Sometimes it'll have something to do with the technology we cover here on iMore; sometimes it'll be whatever pops into my head. Your questions, comments and observations are welcome.

Time flies. This past week (Friday, more specifically) marked the eighth anniversary of the iPhone, which Steve Jobs unveiled during a Macworld Expo keynote in San Francisco. It's hard to imagine a time before the iPhone and iOS, but it really wasn't that long ago.

I wasn't there to see it firsthand, but I did play a part in Macworld's coverage of the event, as Jason Snell graciously reminded me in a recent post on his blog, Six Colors. He and I tag-teamed the keynote coverage, because it was the only way we could coordinate liveblogging at the time.

Things have come a long way in eight years, it seems. It's become easier to liveblog events like the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus introduction, at the very least.

Apple wasn't first to market with a smartphone (I was a quite happy BlackBerry user at the time); it wasn't first to market with a touch screen phone, but Apple did bring those things together in a unique and compelling way unlike anything we'd seen before, and changed the way smartphones worked forever.

Don't believe me? Check out the Android prototypes that were in people's hands before the iPhone was introduced — much more like my then-beloved BlackBerry.

This isn't about how much Android aped iOS early on; it's ancient history, and Android has gone from me-too to cutting edge, giving the iPhone a run for its money.

I don't think many of us there at the start knew exactly what sort of impact the iPhone was going to have on Apple's business. Some of us knew that Apple would have a hit, surely. But the iPhone eclipsed the Macintosh to become Apple's biggest money maker, quicker than any of us would have imagined. And it paved the way for the success of the iPad three years later.

While it looked for a while like Apple's efforts with the iPhone and iOS might just eclipse the Mac all together, 2014 showed us a very different future: Apple's trying to achieve a careful balance between the two systems with efforts like Handoff and Continuity. We're experiencing some growing pains, to be sure, but the path forward is pretty clear — the two operating systems and the devices that run them can coexist, and together they offer functionality that exceeds what either of them can do individually.

Eight years ago, Apple's star was on the rise: it was selling more Macs than it had in years, and it seemed like everyone either already had or wanted an iPod. The iPod was enormously popular and had certainly changed the way many of us listened to music.

The iPod and the iTunes Store had proven to be a very disruptive combination to the music industry, and even more so to other companies trying to sell digital music and digital music players.

The iPod is no longer the marquee product it used to be — its functionality has been included in the iPhone, making a wholly separate iPod a niche product. Even the iTunes Store has lost steam as consumers' tastes continue to move to streaming music services like Spotify, Pandora and Apple's own Beats Music.

2015 promises to be an interesting year — we're going to see the Apple Watch finally see the light of day. Wearables have been strictly a niche product up to now, but I wouldn't bet against Apple to transform that business the same way they did smartphones.

This year at the Consumer Electronics Show, Apple itself was nowhere in sight — just like every other CES since the early 90s, Apple didn't exhibit. But its presence was felt almost everywhere, from the myriad devices designed to work as part of the iOS ecosystem, including many new products designed to tap into Apple's HomeKit API, to devices and companies that are clearly influenced by what Apple's doing.

Apple casts a long shadow in consumer electronics these days, largely on the strength of the iPhone and the iPad. But if past is prologue, things can change — and can change rapidly. It'll be interesting to see how this year's crop of new Apple products are received, and to see what sort of impact they have on the industry in general.

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