The 2007 keynote where Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone is widely considered one of the most consequential events in the history of technology. Aside from Jobs’s mastery of the art of the product launch, the event itself was significant because Apple was launching something that most of the people who worked for the company had never even seen–and that includes many of the people who worked on the iPhone itself.
More than all of that, however, were four words that Steve Jobs used. At the time they seemed utterly inconsequential, but turned out to be prophetic.
You may remember the beginning of the iPhone announcement. That’s when Jobs talked about how Apple was launching three new products. He described the first as a “widescreen iPod with touch controls.” When he did, the assembled crowd began to clap and cheer.
Next, he said Apple was introducing a “revolutionary mobile phone,” for which the crowd literally began to scream. It wasn’t a secret that Apple was working on a mobile phone, though no one really knew what it would look like. Most of the best guesses assumed it would be some sort of iPod-like device that somehow also made phone calls.
It was the next four words, however, that changed literally everything about not only Apple, but technology as we know it. That’s not an understatement at all.
“Breakthrough internet communications device.”
That’s the third thing Jobs described as a new product. Of course, it didn’t take long to realize that the “three products” Steve Jobs was introducing were actually one–the device people were waiting for. It was a combination of a touchscreen iPod and a mobile phone.
At the time, as Jobs said those last four words, the audience politely clapped, but it seemed that almost no one had any idea what on earth they meant. What’s an internet communications device? And, what would make it a breakthrough?
Obviously, in 2007, the internet was most definitely a thing, though it was a thing we mostly accessed on our computer at work or at home. There were versions of the internet on our mobile devices, but that’s being generous. Everyone in the room wanted a touch iPod and an Apple-made smartphone. No one had any idea that neither of those two descriptions of the iPhone was nearly as important as the final four words.
Those are the words that changed everything.
Think about it like this: During the iPhone keynote, Jobs mentioned that in 2007, Apple was about to ship its 100 millionth iPod. Since then, it has shipped over 1.5 billion iOS devices, most of them iPhones. The company’s annual revenue, at the time, was a little over $22 billion a year. Today, the iPhone alone does more than $140 billion in revenue.
And today, mobile devices (including Android and other smartphones) account for more than half of all internet traffic. That doesn’t even include tablets. In many countries, mobile devices are the primary way people access the internet.
The lesson here is this: Steve Jobs understood something that wasn’t even a thing yet–and built an entirely new way of interacting with information and other people. When he shared it with the world, it almost seemed like an afterthought to those in the room because we have a hard time comprehending that which we hadn’t experienced.
At the time, the two biggest selling points Jobs mentioned for the iPod and mobile phone aspects of the device were Cover Flow and what he described as “random access voicemail.” I’ve literally never used Cover Flow on my iPhone, and I’m not sure the last time I listened to a voicemail (now it just transcribes them for you).
Today, people primarily use their iPhone for things that go far beyond listening to music or making phone calls. We use smartphones for messaging, social media, accessing customer information, running our businesses, keeping track of finances, consuming content and information, and collaborating on projects. In fact, aside from the fact that your iPhone is probably the best camera most people have ever owned, everything else we do on our devices every day falls under “internet communications device.”
Those simple words that changed everything.