Modern icon receives coat of many colours

Iphone, therefore I am: The new version of the most profitable product in history.

How will historians remember the iPhone? As a tech marvel that gave the gift of knowledge and brought us together, or a false idol that ushered in an era of self-obsession and isolation?

It was the tech event of the year. The modern equivalent of the 1886 unveiling of the Statue of Liberty.

Last night in Cupertino, California, Apple CEO Tim Cook proudly showed off the next generation of iPhones. Naturally, the event was streamed across planet Earth.

This time round, there are three new handsets in the iPhone 11 range. They come in impeccable, eco-friendly colours and with super-powerful cameras.

“By innovation only,” read the invite to the Apple Special Event.

To the devotees, it didn’t matter that Apple’s innovative streak has been called into question — or that some curmudgeons accuse Apple of dressing up minor tweaks as major technological leaps, while competitors like the Huawei make all the running.

Apple insists that its big game-changers, such as folding screens and 5G connectivity, are coming in 2020. (Yes, Samsung and others have already beaten them to it.)

But the iPhone was where it all began.

“Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone,” said founder Steve Jobs in 2007. He fulfilled his promise. The deliciously slim handset, like a shard of black marble, set the model for all modern smartphones — complete with big screens, sleek designs and advanced cameras.

Back in 2007, mobile phones had already changed the way we talk to each other — but, for the first time, the iPhone combined that with a web browser, a touch screen and an MP3 player.

Today, you can download two million apps for everything from finding a date to tuning your guitar. The typical smartphone user now touches their phone 2,617 times a day.

Has any other invention shaped an era in the same way? Perhaps the contraceptive pill in the 1960s, which let women control their own fertility and careers, bringing with it the ageing populations and smaller families we see today.

Earlier, in the 15th century, the printing press facilitated the spread of ideas and put the Bible in the hands of common people, launching the Reformation and giving individuals the power to think for themselves. Will the impact of the iPhone be as lasting and how will historians of the future remember it?

Forbidden fruit

As the symbol and essence of everything that is great about the first quarter of the 21st century, say many. The iPhone allowed us to slip all of human knowledge, music and art into the back pocket of our jeans. It allowed us to sit by a campfire and, as long as there was a signal, to pretend we were at work, or talk to our friends 700 miles away. As the crucifix was to the Holy Roman Empire, so is the iPhone to the information age in which we live.

Dream on, say others. The truth is altogether more depressing. Historians will write chapters about the iPhone as the moment when it all started to go horribly wrong for humanity. It was the time when we became totally absorbed in ourselves and lost our connection with reality, or with others. The iPhone 4’s selfie camera ushered in the age of anxiety and narcissism. And we never found our happiness or balance again.

You Decide

  1. Is Apple the best brand of smartphone?
  2. Has the iPhone had a positive or negative impact on the world?

Activities

  1. Invent your own smartphone. Label its original features, and give it a name.
  2. Class debate time! “This house believes that the iPhone has improved modern life.”

Some People Say...

“I think the iPhone was as significant an invention as the Gutenberg press.”

James Woods, American actor

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The new iPhone 11s will cost between $699 (£566) and $1299 (£1,000). As well as the new phones, Apple announced a new video game subscription service called Apple Arcade.
What do we not know?
How well the new models will sell. It faces stiff competition from China. Huawei overtook Apple as the second biggest smartphone seller in late 2018, and is aiming to beat Samsung to the number one spot by 2020.

Word Watch

Colours
The iPhone 11 is expected to come in space grey, gold, silver and blue. There are rumours that the handsets could also come in lavender, green, black, white, yellow and red.
Curmudgeons
Bad-tempered people, especially old ones.
5G
Experts say this super-fast connectivity will revolutionise how we live by connecting many different smart products in our lives and homes.
Beaten them
Samsung Fold has a foldable phone. Both Samsung and Huawei have 5G handsets.
Steve Jobs
He co-founded Apple in California in 1976; died in 2011, aged 56.
Reformation
When Protestants broke away from the Catholic Church in early 16th century Europe.
Narcissism
Condition named after Narcissus in Greek mythology, who fell in love with his own reflection. A ‘narcissist’ is someone who is self-absorbed.

Subjects

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