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The iPhone: How Soon They Forget

10So when Apple decided to make a big deal of the 10th anniversary of the iPhone last week, I was somewhat surprised. Apple hasn’t been that big about doing such things. All right, we had the overpriced, underpowered 20th anniversary Macintosh — which celebrated the birth of the company rather than the platform — that did nothing to honor the success of the platform. Well, maybe it wasn’t such a success in those days, but it was an easy computer to ignore.

While Apple is rarely forthcoming about future plans, some suggest that the company has big changes in the works for the fall 2017 iPhone launch. Maybe it won’t be an iPhone 7s, but an iPhone 8 with a wrap-around OLED display. It may also have wireless charging. The rest will consist of the usual refreshes one expects from a year-to-year upgrade. Or perhaps there will be one premium model to accompany the iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus.

But when you consider the future, it doesn’t hurt to consider the past.

I remember watching the video stream of the 2007 Macworld Expo keynote, when Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone. Although I had usually attended such events, I didn’t that year. I’m not altogether sure if there was a compelling reason other having too much to do to allow for spending a few days away from the home office.

In any case, that first iPhone was quite limited compared to the current model. At a time when wireless networks were rolling out 3G service, best you could get from AT&T was EDGE, based on 2G technology. It was faster than dial-up, but not significantly so. But having a smartphone with a real web browser and an email client was a revelation. While some attacked the concept of typing on glass rather than a physical keyboard, it’s clear Apple knew where the technology should go. The rest soon followed, and BlackBerry — well, we all know what happened to BlackBerry.

Apple’s reason for choosing AT&T, then Cingular Wireless, was a matter of control. Unlike all other contracts with wireless carriers, Apple had full control over their devices, from support, to the software and OS updates. You didn’t have to hope and pray the carrier — or the manufacturer — would push a critical security update. Indeed, that’s the problem that still afflicts Android after all these years. In its quest for alleged openness, Google did not exert meaningful controls over what the carriers and handset makers could do to foul up the bundled software collection, nor demand that the OS receive needed updates.

The first iPhone was also restricted to web-based apps other than Apple’s own. That shortcoming was remedied the following year when the App store debuted. The next generation iPhone 3G supported a faster network architecture that offered decent broadband speeds.

It took several years before Apple built a CDMA version of the iPhone for Verizon Wireless. These days, hundreds of carriers and independent vendors around the world sell iPhones. But nobody exerts control over the device except for Apple.

Now I don’t know how many of those original iPhones are still in use, but as of January 1 of this year, they lost access to AT&T’s 2G data network, because it was shut down. The version one iPhone can still connect to a Wi-Fi network, but that doesn’t mean you can make phone calls on it.

AT&T’s excuse for the decision is to repurpose the spectrum for use on faster LTE networks. While Apple sold six million copies of that original iPhone, I really wonder just how many are still in service. I also understand why AT&T might want to reuse that capacity for more profitable pursuits. The growth of technology over the next decade has been incredible, just incredible. Today’s 4G LTE is capable of speeds of up to 300 megabits, although I dare say you’ll probably never encounter that level of performance with the most capable smartphone on a top-flight network. 5G can manage up to 3.6 gigabits and it’s a sure thing that mobile handsets will be updated soon enough to support that level of performance when the new network architecture is launched.

As the original iPhones are finally retired from active service, you see just one more downside of modern technology. Useful life is extremely short and may only grow shorter.

But you could take an original typewriter from the late 19th century and, if you can find a compatible ribbon, and it’s in decent shape, you can still type a book manuscript on one. The same can be said for electric typewriters, such as an IBM Selectric. I used to have a Smith-Corona electronic typewriter with limited word processing capabilities, which was purchased in the 1980s. Ribbons are still being sold for it. If it’s in decent operating condition, I could still use it — if I still had one.

On the other hand, I suppose I should feel lucky that Macs from 2010 can run macOS Sierra. But I have less hope for Sierra’s successor, which is expected this fall. There is something to be said about the original input devices, typewriters. They still work, and there are people out there who can repair them if need be. You also lived in a world where getting online was an alien concept. In a world where you are expected to be constantly connected to something-or-other, maybe there’s something to be said about the good old days.