Five years ago today, a nifty little gadget appeared on the scene—a palm-sized color tablet with cell phone connectivity. Owing a lot to the design of the old Palm Pilot (before Palm went all QWERTY thumb-boardy), the iPhone quickly became one of Apple’s most popular products. (Of course, Apple had announced it months earlier so it’s not as if it was a big surprise.)

Although it didn’t ship with e-readers included, early TeleRead looks found it could be used to read e-books via Manybooks’s web interface. But for the next year, e-book reading apps would remain the exclusive province of those who jailbroke their phones. Even so, there was at least some evidence that, at least for a short while, a surge in e-reading was driven not by the Kindle (which was introduced soon afterward) but by the iPhone. Even now, it still offers a number of advantages, such as being able to fit into a pocket where the Kindle would never go.

But the e-book is not the only form of e-reading that the iPhone affected. In fact, as Mathew Ingram points out at GigaOm, it probably had a much more profound influence on news reading. The iPhone was the first really popular hand-held device that had the Internet designed into it from the ground up—unlike the Palm, which was originally an offline-only device that was retrofitted with connectivity. It also arrived at about the same time as (and was also at least in part itself responsible for) the huge upsurge in popularity of social media and the subsequent wide sharing of news links. And it changed the way news was reported as well.

Regardless, over 30 million people now have some kind of iPhone—and that’s not counting all those who have the spinoff iPod Touch as well. Future versions may include a bigger screen, and it’s even (finally) becoming available for prepaid use in the US as well.

Who knows what the next five years will bring?


  1. It’s fascinating to watch how we expand our awareness and capability through technology. What more will we live to see and do? My grandmother lived to 96, and saw the development of the automobile, aeroplane, radio, the national electricity grid, automatic telephone exchanges, television, mainframe computers and personal computers. When I was an undergraduate (late 70s), our University had a huge mainframe which took up a whole building. Now we hold that much computing power in the palm of one hand.

    Roll on wearable computing, and (as reported in a paper last week) spray-on batteries. 😉

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