Commentary

Why I'm still holding on to my original iPhone

The first version is a keepsake - or it could be sold for a small fortune some decades later

On June 29, 2007, the first Apple iPhone was released in the United States after its announcement stunned the tech world in January that year.

And, in the past two weeks, the 10th anniversary of the first iPhone has triggered a flood of articles by tech journalists and critics, on the one device that changed the technology landscape and our lives.

Think about it. If there was no iPhone, we might still be in the era of typing on miniature keyboards or T9 keypads on our mobile phone. There would have been no Android as we know it today.

Android's co-founder, Mr Andy Rubin, reportedly told a colleague after seeing Apple CEO Steve Jobs' presentation on the first iPhone: "I guess we're not going to ship that (Android) phone."

The arrival of the iPhone sparked competition from a new breed of rivals - one was Samsung, which rose to become a smartphone giant - while the likes of BlackBerry and Nokia paled into the technological backwaters. Sales of compact cameras also went south, as more people started using smartphones as their cameras.

It is, of course, presumptuous to say everything that happened was due to the iPhone. But I am certain that it was the iPhone that sparked a chain of events that led to the modern era of mobile computing as we know it.

The original iPhone was not the first smartphone. Neither was it the first mobile phone with a touchscreen display. It had only a 3.5-inch display with a resolution of 480 x 320 pixels. It supported Edge or 2G network, and featured a 2-megapixel camera - ancient by today's standards.

But I think it was the first phone to introduce a multi-touch interface that uses your fingers as a stylus. And, with Mr Jobs' charisma and reality-distortion field, the iPhone became the mobile phone everyone wanted.

The first iPhone launched a decade ago probably sparked a chain of events that led to the modern era of mobile computing as we know it.
The first iPhone launched a decade ago probably sparked a chain of events that led to the modern era of mobile computing as we know it. ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

I still remember my then workplace buzzing with excitement when the first iPhone was unveiled.

Almost all the geeks I know wanted the iPhone, including me.

And I managed to get the first iPhone in early January 2008. A friend who was vacationing in New York City helped me buy the phone.

Because the original iPhone was tied to the AT&T network in the US, I had to learn how to jailbreak the device in order to use it here. It was a great learning experience, even though it was quite troublesome. But the sparks I saw in people's eyes every time I took out my iPhone to use were priceless.

Eight months later, the second-generation iPhone 3G was officially launched in Singapore, with Singtel as the exclusive telco.

With the new iPhone coming, people started selling off the original. But I kept that original iPhone, with its fair share of scratches and knocks. I thought it would be an iconic piece of mobile computing history.

So while new iPhones come and go through my hands, that original iPhone continues to be in my cabinet. I take it out now and then to charge (where's my 30-pin charging cable again?).

And it still powers up even after all these years.

My only regret is not buying another unit and keeping it shrink-wrapped, like those Leica camera collectors. Who knows how much the original iPhone might fetch in 20 years' time? For example, the original Apple I - first sold in 1976 - was sold for US$130,000 (S$180,000) when the original price was US$666.

Another reason I wanted to keep the original iPhone is for nostalgia's sake, like a time capsule.

If you own a car, you will understand that it is not merely a contraption to take you from point A to point B. There are memories, like a first kiss or driving your daughter to her first day of school. That's why people moan about their cars being scrapped (and having to buy a new one).

Smartphones are becoming like that, at least for me. Swiping to unlock the iPhone screen is like a walk down memory lane. I find old e-mails that still reside in the phone, SMS messages from ex-colleagues I haven't seen for ages (time to ask them out for coffee) and ancient photos that make me chuckle.

Rumours are rife about how the 10th-anniversary iPhone will look like. But that's not important to me for, 10 or 20 years down the road, we might not have the iPhone anymore. Smartphones might be something embedded into our brains, or we might be talking via a holographic interface from a wristwatch. Who knows?

But you can be sure that I will still have my first iPhone.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2017, with the headline 'Why I'm still holding on to my original iPhone'. Print Edition | Subscribe