The iPhone: Change the Way You Use Your Phone

An imagined poster advertising the first iPhone.

Though we now treat iPhones and other smartphones as pocket computers meant to keep us connected to whatever information or person we want at any given time, when the iPhone was first released in June of 2007, it was released as what its name implies: a phone. That expectation is strongly reflected in the attitudes of its reviewers in the discourse surrounding its release. By 2007, mobile phones had become commonplace (though not pervasive to their current extent). But when the iPhone came out, it was like nothing we had ever seen before. In the words of USA TODAY reviewer Edward Baig, “Apple has delivered a prodigy—a slender fashion phone, a slick iPod and an Internet experience unlike any before it on a mobile handset.”

Apple was able to build this kind of hype through the process of defamiliarization, “refashioning discourse away from the automatic so that the familiar becomes strange and can be rediscovered in its sensual specificity and vividness” (Gunning 45). This allows for a new sense of wonder about a technology that has already been incorporated into habitual daily use. For the iPhone, much of that renewed wonder revolved around the interface. As Baig said, “the most remarkable thing about iPhone is what’s missing: a physical dialing keypad and/or full qwerty, or traditional, keyboard.” Jason Snell of Macworld echoes this sentiment, asserting that “using the iPhone is a tactile experience—it’s all about touching your fingers (or, if you’re daring, your thumbs) to that screen.” Even Apple’s senior vice president of Retail, Ron Johnson, acknowledged this key aspect of the iPhone’s appeal, saying that “Apple retail stores were created for this moment—to let customers touch and experience a revolutionary new product.”

Being able to engage with a product that performed familiar tasks (placing phone calls, playing music, and accessing the internet—remember that the Blackberry and other mobile phones already offered these same services) in such a profoundly different way renewed the public’s sense of wonder at the mobile phone. Eventually this would shift expectations for what a phone should be (i.e. a smartphone with a touchscreen interface), but at its release the iPhone was an “expensive, glitzy wunderkind [that was] indeed worth lusting after.”

Works Cited:
Baig, Edward C. “Apple’s IPhone Isn’t Perfect, but It’s Worthy of the Hype.” USA TODAY. USA TODAY, 27 June 2007. Web. 30 Jan. 2015.
Gunning, Tom. “Re-Newing Old Technologies.” Rethinking Media Change The Aesthetics of Transition. Cambridge: MIT, 2003. 39-59. Print.
Snell, Jason. “The IPhone: Complete Review.” Macworld. IDG Consumer & SMB, 03 July 2007. Web. 30 Jan. 2015.