Tomorrow, Apple will unveil the iPhone 7. Like clockwork, tech media outlets have been busy with predictions, discussing rumors and examining every leaked detail at length. Hot topics include the possibility that Apple will finally drop the 16-gigabyte model completely, that the iPhone 7 will no longer have a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack and that there will be two different sizes of phones.
It's likely that thousands of people will take time out of the day to watch the press event (or follow a live blog of the keynote). But over the last few years, it seems like excitement for the iPhone has waned and post-keynote conversations seem muted. What happened?
Let's go back in time. In January 2007, Steve Jobs took to the stage of the Macworld trade show to deliver a keynote speech. During that speech, Jobs revealed the first iPhone to the world. It changed everything. Have a look for yourself. He starts discussing the "revolutionary mobile phone" at 26:16.
Before the iPhone, smartphones were rare in the U.S. market. There were the Blackberry owners, but that group almost exclusively consisted of executives who used their phones to organize meetings and compose emails. The Treo and other smartphone devices seemed to fit more into the category of personal digital assistant than the way we think of smartphones today. The iPhone was different. It was a product aimed at consumers. True, it aimed for consumers with disposable income, but the iPhone didn't look like an executive tool. It looked fun.
And beyond being fun, the iPhone eschewed the elements that had dominated smartphones up to that point, like the physical keyboard, which Jobs dismissed as being both inelegant and inefficient.
The presentation went over like gangbusters. It didn't hurt that Jobs gave his presentation to a receptive crowd of Apple fans. But let's not take anything away from the achievement. Apple's smartphone absolutely changed the way we interact with the internet. It's a change that still resonates throughout online industries, from advertising to web page layouts to apps. Entire companies owe their existence to the iPhone.
Of course, there are other smartphones. Today, Android dominates in terms of operating system market share — more than 80 percent of all smartphones sold have some version of the Android operating system. But I'd argue that without Apple igniting public interest with the first iPhone we would have seen a much slower adoption of the technology. And even if Apple represents less than 20 percent of the overall market, many people still look to the company to define the standard of the modern smartphone.
A lot has changed since that Macworld presentation back in 2007. Just a year later, Apple announced it was attending the Macworld Expo for the final time, opting to hold its own press events rather than appear at scheduled conferences. Steve Jobs resigned as CEO in 2011 and passed away later that year, leaving Tim Cook in charge. In 2015, both the Macworld Expo and the 30-year-old Macworld magazine went away.
Throughout the years, Apple has continued to hold press events to launch new generations of the iPhone. The first few events re-energized the customer base, building on the momentum of the first iPhone. Apple was slow to adopt certain technologies, such as the LTE wireless communication standard or near-field communication (NFC) capabilities. The company took its time, making sure each technology was mature before incorporating it into the next phone. In the meantime, the phones would get physical makeovers from one generation to the next, generally with larger screens and thinner phones.
The real problem is that, barring some amazing innovation we've never seen before, there's not much Apple can do to knock our socks off. The new phones might have better cameras, higher resolution displays, more digital storage, better battery life and some cosmetic differences. The new version of the operating system could have some interesting bells and whistles. But without a revolutionary shift, we're bound to be disappointed. This is more our fault than Apple's. We've conditioned ourselves to believe that the company can produce something entirely new in a form factor that's nearly a decade old.
Smartphones have matured as a type of standard technology. Like personal computers, they've reached a level of sophistication that's defined by relatively small advances rather than paradigm-shifting redesigns. It's probably unfair to hold any company, even Apple, to a standard that requires an entirely new iteration every 12 months.
All that being said, next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the iPhone launch. Perhaps Apple is holding back on something that we can't even anticipate yet. Maybe by this time next year we'll all be clamoring for the iPhone 8 because of the way it makes VR happen inside your brain or that it automatically sends unwanted calls to ring your arch nemesis instead.
Just don't feel too disappointed if it doesn't pan out that way.