iPhone: ‘the greatest product in history’

Revolutionary: Above are four products which changed our lives. Which was the most important?

Is the iPhone really the most influential gadget of all time? Many believe so. But as the iPhone 7 was launched yesterday, others have argued history is full of far more significant inventions.

If you — like many millions of others — own an iPhone, take it out and hold it in your hand for a moment. This small and sleek device, just five inches long, contains more computing power than all of Nasa in 1969: the year that man was first sent to the moon.

It is about to get even better. Yesterday, Apple announced the latest model of its most profitable product: the iPhone 7. It has a new headphone jack, a two-lens camera, and a longer battery life.

Earlier this year, Time magazine declared the iPhone the most influential gadget of all time. In 2007 mobile phones had already changed the way we talk to each other — but the iPhone combined that with a web browser, a touch screen and an MP3 player. Today you can download two million apps, which can be used for everything from finding a date to tuning your guitar.

Is it the most revolutionary product of all time?

In 1908, automobiles were only really made for the wealthy; everyone else used horses or trains. But that year, Henry Ford released the Model T, a comfortable and reliable car that was half the price of its competitors. ‘No man making a good salary will be unable to own one,’ he boldly declared. And, soon enough, the middle classes found themselves with the freedom to travel as far as their 45mph ‘tin lizzies’ could take them. Work and weekends were changed forever.

Around the same time, a relative of William H. Hoover bought one of America’s first vacuum cleaners. Hoover was immediately hooked, and eventually became president of the company — now his name is used as a synonym for the machine itself. By the 1950s, hoovers were found in almost every home. Women’s lives were transformed; freed from endless cleaning, they began to enter the workforce in droves.

But perhaps the most influential product actually came a century earlier. In 1836, Samuel Colt invented the revolver. His small, light Colt .45 could shoot six bullets without reloading. Americans now had access to a powerful weapon which helped them to colonise the west. For better or worse, owning a gun became simpler, deadlier, and far more common.

Eureka!

The iPhone is more important than all of that, say its fans. It did not just change one area of life — it changed all of them. In fact it has become such a key part of the way we organise our thoughts that some philosophers say it is an extension of our very selves. A car or a handgun cannot compete.

Don’t be ridiculous! say others. A world without easy transport where women are enslaved by housework feels unrecognisable in 2016 — and it was far worse than a world without iPhones. All the latter has done is destroy our attention spans and make us obsessed with staring at tiny screens.

You Decide

  1. Could you survive without your smartphone?
  2. Which of the four products in this article changed the world the most?

Activities

  1. Design an invention that you think could change the world.
  2. Choose another invention from history, and write a paragraph explaining what it is, and why it was important.

Some People Say...

“Smartphones have made life worse.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why are we talking about iPhones?
Sometimes it is useful to step back and remember just how remarkable the technology that surrounds us really is. For example, did you know that an iPhone is more powerful than a computer that cost over $1m in the 1970s? That we can buy them for a fraction of that price is amazing, and it is worth considering the ways in which they have changed our lives.
Tell me more about the new model?
The most controversial bit is the new headphone port; the traditional version has been around since transistor radios in 1964. Apple has replaced it with a ‘lightning connector’ to make room in the phone for other parts, and it will encourage people to use wireless headphones (which it calls ‘ear pods’). The iPhone 7 Plus has two cameras to improve its zoom.

Word Watch

Profitable
Apple announced profits of $18.4 billion during the final three months of 2015, the largest quarterly profits in history. It says most of that came from iPhones. However, profits have been declining ever since.
Henry Ford
The businessman revolutionised much more than transport. His factories were a blueprint for the kind of mass production that defined the 20th century, and he paid his workers double the average wage. This decision was astonishing to some — but it made his employees loyal, hardworking, and rich enough to buy the cars they built.
Women’s lives
In the late 19th century, housewives could spend up to 50 hours a week on housework.
The west
The Colt .45 was nicknamed ‘the gun that won the west’, because of its popularity during the early and mid-1800s. This was when American settlers began moving west, often battling with Native American tribes over land.
Philosophers
‘We have no reason to treat the brain alone as the only place where mental processes can occur,’ writes Matthew Noah Smith. Smartphones are as reliable and easy to access as our own knowledge.

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