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June 29, 2023 · 19 min read

Season 4, Ep. 12 – TWiTH: The first iPhone goes on sale, with

The way smartphones changed our interactions with technology is hard to understate. When Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, we had no way of knowing how reliant we would be on them in the very near future. On This Week in Tech History, Abbey and Haley discuss the wait, the features, and how it could take 1,000 people almost three years to deliver something so game-changing.


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Abbey (00:05):

Are those your new curtains?

Haley (00:08):

Right there.

Abbey (00:09):

I need something that blocks like, that <emphasis> amount of light.

Haley (00:13):

Yeah, definitely. [I’m] figuring out the lighting situation in here. This is my temporary office while the shed office is being created. There’s no windows in there, so that’s better.

Abbey (00:26):

I feel like there just always has to be somebody working here who’s getting a shed office.

Haley (00:33):

Absolutely. Just continuing to carry the torch for Faith.

Abbey (00:36):

I’m sure she appreciates it. (Haley: Yes.) How’s the rest of the house going?

Haley (00:40):

It’s good. You know, moving is always a disaster in some capacity, (Abbey: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) so that was accurate this weekend. (Abbey: Yep.) But we are here, so…

Abbey (00:51):

Nice. It feels good when you get to the end.

Haley (00:53):

I found my charger. (Abbey: Good.) Yeah, yeah. I made it through Monday on one laptop charge, and then I went, “Oh shit. I don’t know where my office box is.”

Abbey (01:06):

I was lucky that both of my like, my work laptop and my personal laptop are the exact same computer, like, down to the color. (THE FRONTIER THEME FADES OUT)

Haley (01:15):

Yeah. I mean, diving into Apple compatibility issues, why do all of their laptops not have the same charger? It’s frustrating.

Abbey (01:27):

Don’t know. Don’t know. That’s probably, I’m wondering if that’s how they designed it from the get go. I’m excited to have you on today, because you’re our resident product guru, and today we are talking, to that point, about the first iPhone that ever went on sale.

Haley (01:45):

Very exciting.

Abbey (01:46):

I’m gonna try…I’m like, trying different spots in my office to see what works best for recording. There’s a lot of noise bouncing out of my little closet office back there, so. (Haley: Mm. <affirmative>.) Now I’m facing the window, and I feel like all the light’s hitting my glasses. (RETRO SYNTHESIZER MUSIC PLAYS)

Steve Jobs, via Macworld 2007 clip (02:04):

(VIDEO CLIP AUDIO PLAYS) Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along. That changes everything. (VIDEO CLIP AUDIO ENDS)

Abbey (02:11):

On June 29th, 2007, six months after the iPhone was introduced to the world, it finally went on sale.

Rich DeMuro, via 2007 CNET clip (02:18):

(VIDEO CLIP AUDIO PLAYS) Rich DeMuro, with CNET TV, in New York City at the Apple store, where the iPhone is set to launch later today at six o’clock. Right now, it’s about 4:50 in the afternoon. Yesterday, when we were here, there were about 19 people waiting in line for this phone. Today, as you can see, hundreds more, all waiting for this brand new device. (VIDEO CLIP AUDIO ENDS)

Abbey (02:35):

They sold 1 million phones in the first 74 days, which is like, insane to me. Since those early days, the ensuing iPhone models have continued to set sales records and have completely changed, not only smartphone and technology industries, but the world as well. Development of the iPhone began in earnest in 2004, when Apple had a team of one-thousand employees that they had hired for the highly confidential project. It was led by hardware engineer, Tony Fadell, software engineer, Scott Forstall, and design officer, Jony Ive. Then CEO, Steve Jobs, steered the team away from the tablet they were initially working on to build the phone, which was done in conjunction with Cingular Wireless, which would later become AT&T. It costs about 150 million dollars to produce, which is about $220 million in today’s money, and took about 30 months to do. Steve Jobs unveiled the first generation iPhone to the public on January 9th, 2007, at the Macworld 2007 convention, which I’m sure was like, the most exciting of the Mac conventions to ever happen, considering this phone came out,.

Abbey (03:45):

It incorporated a three and a half inch multi-touch display with very few hardware buttons and ran the iPhone operating system with a touch-friendly interface. At that point, it was marketed as Mac OSX. It launched on June 29th, 2007, at a starting price of $499, which is $730 today, and still seems cheap, considering how much we spend on phones. It required a two year contract with AT&T, which I remember being really bummed about. Like, I think everybody was like, “I want the iPhone, and I don’t have AT&T.”

Haley (04:25):

I was one of the lucky few who already had AT&T.

Abbey (04:30):

Nice. I’ve been on Verizon for like, an absurd amount of time, 20 years or something. They released to other providers in like, 2011. As of November 1st, 2018, more than 2.2 billion iPhones have been sold, and right now, they account for about 15.6% of the global smartphone usage. (RETRO SYNTHESIZER MUSIC FADES OUT)

Haley (04:55):

Fifteen percent? That number is astonishing to me. I would’ve thought it was at least 50.

Abbey (05:02):

For the number of things that exclusively exist for the iPhone, I agree with you.

Haley (05:06):

I mean, just this morning I had a conversation with a client who is building an iOS app, and I had the question, you know, “Do you also plan to release this on the Android store?” I don’t even know if that’s what it’s called. And they said, “No, you know, we’re just, we’re exclusively building it for the iPhone app store.” And now just to know that that’s, you know, 15% of global users, that’s a really interesting choice to make.

Abbey (05:37):

But I feel like a lot of times, I mean, I think I looked up something that, the amount of apps there are for the iPhone versus Android is significantly larger for Android, but any product I’ve ever worked on, iPhone was the first thing they wanted an app for.

Haley (05:58):

Super interesting.

Abbey (06:00):

From a product standpoint that doesn’t make sense <laugh>. You would think you wanna market for [the] most amount of people, but maybe not?

Haley (06:10):

And, you know, something that the 15% doesn’t tell us right off the bat, is what cohort of the global population does that 15% make up? If it’s 90% of your target users, then yeah, it makes sense to build exclusively, or at least first, for iPhone users.

Abbey (06:32):

Oh, that is a really good point, though. If you’re developing, you know, like, what is the breakdown of that 15% in like, the biggest technological markets? Maybe half of the people who live in the Bay Area have iPhones, half of them have Androids. So in that case, it’s like, it makes sense to go about it that way, I guess. Yeah, I don’t know. I’ve had a couple iPhones, I think, but on the whole, I love my Android phones.

Haley (07:06):

Oh, I don’t know if I’ve met someone who’s had both.

Abbey (07:11):

Yeah, I’ve gone back and forth.

Haley (07:12):

What’s been your experience, yeah, switching back and forth?

Abbey (07:15):

I prefer like, the customization, what is the word, customizability of the Android interface. I do acknowledge that it is harder to get used to, and it is harder to master. I feel like, iPhone was designed right off the bat to appeal to the largest number of people to make it the easiest as possible to use. (Haley: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) I like, conned my husband into getting a Google phone at one point, and it turned out to be like, the worst Google phone I had ever had. It was the only one, the only Android-powered phone he ever had. He’ll never let me live it down, (Haley: Bad first experience.) and he’ll never get another Android. Yeah, yeah <laugh>. His user experience wasn’t great.

Haley (08:01):

Yeah. I mean, so in 2007, June of 2007, I was about to go into high school, and I think I was rocking a pink Motorola Razor at the time.

Abbey (08:16):

Oh, yes. Yes.

Haley (08:17):

Which now, they’ve brought the razor back, which I’m very tempted to get one, and I think I didn’t get my first iPhone until maybe a couple years later. Still very early user, relatively, now that I’m looking at the numbers. But I’ve had an iPhone ever since then, probably since 2010.

Abbey (08:42):

I mean, I probably have gone back and forth. I’m sure I started on the Android, because I’ve had a smartphone since I can remember, but (Haley: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) obviously I couldn’t get, having Verizon, I couldn’t get an iPhone until at least 2011, (Haley: Right.) which seems like so long ago and really isn’t.

Haley (09:05):

Yeah, not in the long arch of technology history, but it was super interesting. I had no idea that the initial project that the one-thousand engineers were working on was a tablet and then converted to a phone project, which, you know, really kind of makes sense with the functionality that the iPhone has today. Maybe not initially when it was released, but our iPhones and our smartphones can do pretty much everything that a tablet can do, just on a smaller screen, and I think that’s the expectation that most people have today of that. But it’s funny that we still call it a phone, because I probably use the phone functionality on my iPhone like, 2% of the time.

Abbey (09:56):

Yeah. Yep. I rarely use the phone. I remember like, when you had to have, you had minutes, (Haley: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) when unlimited wasn’t a thing. I don’t know how I would ever reach minutes at this point. You can communicate solely through text, email. That’s fine.

Haley (10:14):

I’m sure that that’s a metric that is in settings, “how many minutes I have used this month”.

Abbey (10:20):

I do think it’s interesting that they still kept with the tablet idea in building out iPads. Did you find it? How many minutes?

Haley (10:28):

No, I couldnt.

Abbey (10:30):

It’ll be it. I’ll find it and message you later.

Haley (10:35):

I mean, it used to be very prominent, but now, the key metric that they show you in cellular settings is how much data you’ve used.

Abbey (10:46):

Yup, Yeah, which mine is usually high. I use it also for like, if I wanna work somewhere that’s not home, I’ll use, I have this, I have my phone, and then I have a separate hotspot, depending on where I am. Service in Asheville’s atrocious, so you have to have options. You’d think being in the middle of a city, you’d have great service, and you just can’t do anything.

Haley (11:15):

I mean, frankly in Austin, as well, the neighborhood that I just moved into, I’m on Verizon now, but I’ve got like, one bar of service in my house, and if I go two streets over, it’s perfect. So, unpredictable.

Abbey (11:30):

Never can tell. I think it’s crazy that it took, I think that this is a theme that’s kind of been coming up a lot this season in the History episodes is like, how long it took to do an initial idea, (Haley: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) and then how relatively short all of the innovation was after that.

Haley (11:52):

Mm-hmm <affirmative>. The iterations.

Abbey (11:53):

So if you think like, a thousand people working for three years is a lot of manpower, brainpower, figuring out technological capacities, and now you look at like, you know, every year there’s a new phone. Every year there’s a new iPhone.

Haley (12:11):

I think that, I mean, at least to some degree, that’s explainable by, it’s far easier to iterate than it’s to create from scratch. And you know, there was, I think like, one prototype of a smartphone, before the iPhone was released, but really not comparable at all to the functionality that the first iPhone released with. So I can imagine that, you know, probably half of the half or more of the complexity was just deciding what to release with, Like, what was enough, or what was too much?

Abbey (12:54):

Oh, that’s a really interesting concept.

Haley (12:56):

Yeah. And how do you like, get…that was probably one of the first like, personal computers of that size, and how do you get that much functionality into that small of a space?

Abbey (13:10):

It’s already gonna blow people’s minds, you know, (Haley: Right.) no matter what you do. If you give somebody a tiny computer with a touchscreen, (Haley: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) and it’s the first one anybody has really interacted with, like, it’s gonna be amazing, no matter how far you got in the project. Do you think there were things that they like, tucked back in the corner, and they were like, “We’ll save this for a future release.”

Haley (13:35):

I don’t know. I mean, I didn’t pull up the, like, what were the standard apps that came with the first iPhone. I did find that the app store was part of the initial release, and there were like, 500 apps that were there, (Abbey: Oh, wow. Okay.) initially. So even before they launched the phone, they had to have been in contact with other independent developers who wanted to put apps on the app store. So I mean, developing the iPhone was a feat, in and of itself. Can you imagine trying to be an outside development team, trying to create an app for a new <laugh> operating system that doesn’t exist yet? That sounds (Abbey: Oh, gosh.) impossible.

Abbey (14:25):

And even, you know like, I’m sure that they were given like, beta versions of whatever the iPhone was to test the app, (Haley: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) but how stable were those? I think that, though, that was the time where it was like, the big thing about the app store was like, “There’s an app for that.” (Haley: Yes.) The madness around apps…

Haley (14:42):

Overnight, there was an app for everything and too many things.

Abbey (14:47):

Yeah. Like, that didn’t need an app. It still doesn’t. (Haley: Right.) I’m sure I have multiple apps in here, I mean, well, now mine does the thing where it’s like, “Hey, you haven’t used this app in forever. We’re removing it from your phone,” and then you need it at a time when it’s very inconvenient to try and get the app back on the phone. (Haley: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) Yeah. I wonder what it was like to kind of be a part of the team that competed with that.

Haley (15:16):

Like, against the iPhone?

Abbey (15:18):

Yeah. I feel like one of the things that I’ve always liked about Android, as well, is that a lot of times features or…features or like, I can’t think of another way to say it, things that happen on iPhone that my husband gets like, real excited about, and like, I had that on my Android two years ago.

Haley (15:38):

Oh, really?

Abbey (15:40):

But I wonder where and when that shift took place, because obviously, (Haley: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) these phones, I’m sure somebody else would’ve come along with a smartphone, but I feel like the majority of what we have now is based on the model that iPhone started out with. So at what point did that kind of shift to where, (Haley: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) you know, like when the first iPhones came out, iPhone had to have 100% of the market share of smartphones, because they were it.

Haley (16:13):

Right. They were the only ones. Their iterations after that came with, you know, these annual product releases and so much fanfare and excitement around this new feature. Like, even if it was inconsequential, it kind of makes you feel like, wow, this is the coolest thing ever. And since then…

Abbey (16:32):

Yeah. It’s almost consequential, ‘cause it exists for the first time.

Haley (16:38):

Right. But even to your point, if it doesn’t exist for the first time, I bet you that Apple’s marketing team finds a way, each time that there’s a new iPhone release, to make it feel like it’s the first time, or that they’ve put a spin on it, which is just great product marketing on their part.

Abbey (16:56):

It is. Like, Apple’s marketing, bar none, some of the best technological marketing that’s ever existed. (Haley: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) You really buy into like, the feeling that they want you to have. And, you know, I mean, I do use an Android phone, everything else is Apple. Like, I haven’t, I only own MacBooks, iPads, you know, I’ve never delved into what those other companies offer for those, and I think it’s because I’m still so tied to like…Apple’s marketing, Apple’s product marketing is amazing. I wonder how much of that innovation that they’ve had to have, or had to kind of explore, is because they have, like, if that is kind of like, a catch 22. Like, we have this great marketing, so we need something great to market.

Haley (17:52):

It would be fascinating to know who holds the influence in Apple’s product development team.

Abbey (18:02):

I mean, my gut says product. Everything’s product driven in the end. (Haley: Yeah.) But if you don’t have a great product to market, your job is so much harder, and I feel like Apple has just made it…Apple’s always made it easy. Like, the iPhone, even the very first one, there is nothing you could do, there are no metrics you could produce that would be better than, “We sold a million of these in 74 days.”

Haley (18:29):

And I know that, you know, their contract with AT&T and that exclusivity, you know, you mentioned that it kind of limited the user base for the first four years. Super interesting move, and I’m sure that if we were back in those meetings, discussing the pros and cons of that, there probably were some very different strong opinions. But I can imagine after having spent three years and hundreds of million dollars of investment, partnering with a company like AT&T, to probably subsidize the manufacturing and distribution of the phones was the way to make it happen. And so it was probably a trade off decision, but one that obviously paid off for them.

Abbey (19:26):

Yeah. Hugely. (Haley: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) You couldn’t get, I couldn’t get it. I wanted one. Two thousand and eleven rolls around, and it’s finally like, I’m sure that if we looked at the numbers, there would’ve been like, a huge explosion in purchases of iPhones in 2011, because everybody could finally get them on the provider they’d been working with or running with, for however long they had.

Haley (19:50):

And then jailbreaking became a thing.

Abbey (19:52):

God, I forgot about jailbreaking <laugh>. (Haley: Right <laugh>?) I think I have a friend who still does that, because he buys like, weird phones from China. I’m not sure why. Maybe he enjoys the challenge of it.

Haley (20:07):

And just like, slightly incorrect grammatical everything <laugh>.

Abbey (20:15):

<Laugh>. Yes. Like, what did you load this with? It’s like, British slang. Where do you think the next iteration of this could go?

Haley (20:25):

You know, looking back at all of the different iPhone models that I’ve had, it feels like, from a hardware perspective, there’ve been a couple of big changes that they’ve made and lots of mixed feedback about, you know, when they took the button away, like, oh, that was a huge deal, and then when the charging port changed, and when the headphone jack disappeared. It feels like every time that they do something big like that to the hardware, people are pretty frustrated, but then almost overnight it’s just like, oh, this is the new way. And on the operating system, it feels like, it’s hard to say this, because it was so revolutionary not so long ago, but really, what more could they do, other than incremental improvements?

Abbey (21:21):

It almost feels like we’re at like, a bit of a plateau with new hardware, aside from I think…

Haley (21:28):

Yeah. Like, there’s not nothing that can be done. I think it was within the past week that they made an announcement of new iOS updates and the feature to like, very targeted Gen X/millennial feature of get the transcription back of the person leaving you a voicemail, while it’s happening, so that you can decide if you wanna pick it up. Like, spot on <laugh>. Good feedback there.

Abbey (21:57):

I would love that. I would love that.

Haley (21:57):

Right? So like, yeah, there’s still ways that it’s evident that they’re taking user feedback and understanding ways to be, I mean, that’s not even revolutionary. That’s going back to when we used to have house phones and voicemail recorders that would play things out loud, (Abbey: Yeah <laugh>.) but just like, continuing to improve.

Abbey (22:23):

It’s crazy how like, it kind of changed the whole…I feel like smartphones coming about changed the way that we feel like, we have to be available. (Haley: Mmm <affirmative>. One-hundred percent.) Like, when you have everything at your fingertips, you have a phone, you have your email, you have (Haley: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) your messaging system for work, you have a phone, you have the Internet. (Haley: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) It’s almost like all of that just means that like, everything can happen immediately. You’re always available; you’re always on. I would be interested to find like, you know, some sort of feature that lets you not always be on, aside from those like, the NoPhones. (Haley: Yeah.) I dunno. I can’t remember if that’s what that’s called.

Haley (23:13):

Oh man. I’ve been tempted so many times to go to those, (Abbey: Oh, yeah.) but I can’t navigate without Google Maps now <laugh>. (Abbey: Yep.) What would I do?

Abbey (23:26):

I think I was talking to Regis about this, maybe (Haley: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) about, you know, like, I’ve lived here a year now, and I still can’t get anywhere without Google Maps. How long will it take me to learn? I have no idea. Some days you just, you’re like, do I have time to get lost?

Haley (23:42):

Yes. See, that’s my thing. I am totally fine with getting lost at times. My partner, on the other hand, if I drag without directions, it’s like, “Where are you going? Why are you taking this route?” (Abbey: <Laugh>.) So we just look at Google Maps now.

Abbey (23:56):

Because I work from home, my husband has done, he’s been out, you know. Like, he goes to work three days a week, he drives all over the city, his job is on like, basically the complete opposite side of the city from where we are, and he drives a different route every time to get himself familiar with the city.

Haley (24:18):

Oh, interesting.

Abbey (24:19):

Which I thought was really smart. I’m not gonna do that <laugh>. I’m gonna rely on my smartphone.

Haley (24:29):

Like, the predictability. Yeah.

Abbey (24:31):

Yeah. As with all technology, there’s good and bad that’s come from it. The first iPhone really enabled the portability of people’s lives. (Haley: Absolutely.) Yeah. I mean there are many aspects of my job that I can do from a phone, not that it’s convenient or easy, (Haley: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) but you know, it’s kind of like, if you need to leave the house, and you need to stay connected, because you need to go pick up your kid from school, it’s just as easy to carry your phone with you as it is a computer.

Haley (25:07):

I’ve tried walking around mobile with my computer before. It’s not very convenient <laugh>.

Abbey (25:15):

<Laugh>. My boot camp, I went to school with a kid who was like, super excited about everything. He was always working, so even walking to the train from class, he’d have it. He would like, hold his computer.

Haley (25:27):

Oh my gosh.

Abbey (25:28):

(THE FRONTIER THEME FADES IN) Yeah. It’s not a choice I would’ve made in downtown Chicago, but that’s cool. He never, (Haley: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) yeah, never dropped it. Never got stolen. So that’s not the kind of portability I’m here for.

Haley (25:46):

No, I am here for, it fits in my pocket.

Abbey (25:50):

Yes. Yeah. Which it does. I say “cheers” to iPhone.

Haley (25:57):


Abbey (25:57):

Cheers my seltzer water, my soda water…and Dr. Dre. (Haley: <Laugh>.)

Faith, via previous recording (26:02):

Thanks for listening to the Frontier Podcast, powered by We dropped two episodes per week, so if you like this episode, be sure to subscribe on your platform of choice, and come hang out with us again next week, and bring all your internet friends. If you have questions or recommendations, just shoot us a Twitter DM @theFrontierPod, and we’ll see you next week.