At a 2007 product roll-out, Steve Jobs came on stage and announced that Apple was introducing three new products that morning — a music player with touch controls, a cellphone and a mobile Internet device.
And the Apple faithful in the audience began to laugh and cheer. They knew the Apple CEO was about to unveil a single device that did all those things and more.
"Every once in a while," Jobs said, "a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything."
So was born the iPhone. It wasn't the first smartphone by a long shot, but its design proved to be the game changer. This was the device that made the world fall in love with smartphones. (Videos of Jobs' 2007 MacWorld introduction of the first iPhone, a signal moment in the history of technology, are widely available online.)
Only five years later, it's astonishing to think about how much people's lives have been changed — for better and worse — by these devices.
Until 2007, the experts who designed and built phones thought most people were too dumb or too disinterested to use a phone that was more than just a phone, much less a device without a built-in keyboard.
Today, tens of millions of Android and Apple smartphones and tens of thousands of smartphone applications testify to an industry that was guilty of underestimating its audience. (Devices using Google's Android system outsold Apple's iPhone in the second quarter of this year.)
I love my smartphone for the applications I use every week — e-mail, calendars, text messaging, reading, news, music, camera and photo editing, games, restaurant reservations, maps and navigation, research, Twitter and Facebook, RSS feeds, weather reports, task management, note taking and so much more.
You're at dinner with friends and you can't remember the capital of Mongolia? No problem. The answer is just few touches away. (Give yourself bonus points if you thought, Ulan Bator.)
There are apps (for applications) that identify stars, constellations and planets in real time, and that stream music and video to your home entertainment system. There are apps that read bar codes and tell you where you can find the best price for that particular product. There are apps to help you identify birds and flowers. There's even an app that turns the phone into a flashlight. From the practical to the arcane to the simply weird, there are apps that perform all sorts of useful and not-so-useful tasks.
And, oh yeah, there's a phone.
But there's something else about my smartphone: I wish I weren't so addicted to the damned thing.
I've become one of those people who lives in fear of missing some important piece of information if I'm not constantly checking my phone.
Unless I watch myself, I'll start fooling around with one app or another, and the next thing I'll know, 30 minutes will have passed, and I'll have nothing to show for it.
If this means I am weak-minded and easily distracted, well .<TH>.<TH>. never mind.
A couple of years ago, my wife and I checked into a lodge in one of the most beautiful places on earth, Yellowstone National Park, only to discover there was neither cell nor Internet service at the lodge. A day later, we checked out early, anxious to find the nearest ridge with a cellphone signal.