When the iPhone was new

It was 2007, and I was a senior in one of the best seminars I took in film studies: Screens. Apple presented their famous “Hello” commercial during the Oscars, building anticipation for the iPhone’s June release. I couldn’t stop thinking about what it mean for Apple to introduce more than just a smartphone, but a computer in our pockets.

Here’s my take on the iPhone, excerpted from a spring 2007 paper about the relationship between Apple and Disney as content and screens converged. I may be just an undergrad, but I see hints of my future vocation as a tech critic…

Apple’s “Hello” ad first aired during the 2007 Oscars.

Most recently, the iPhone has caused a stir, six months before it is available (this coming June). While Apple TV expands content to multiple screens, the iPhone seeks to provide a different kind of convergence of screens into one device. In the Apple keynote where Steve Job first announced the iPhone, he contextualized Apple’s previous successes at changing the industry: with the Apple II and the iPod. He announced that he was revealing three things: a widescreen iPod, a revolutionary mobile phone, and an Internet communications device. Each aspect was represented by a corresponding icon on the screen. Jobs kept repeating each piece faster and faster, while the icons spun around in succession: the point was clear; these were three revolutionary innovations in one device.

The iPhone is unique in that calling it a phone offers a limited description of its capabilities and functions. More accurately, the iPhone is a mini computer, running OS X and applications already established in the computer predecessor. The iPhone offers web browsing, video and photo content, music, telecommunications, and more. This is the device that Jobs waited to revolutionize when PDAs were first all the rage. At that time he avoided that market for lack of a revolutionary solution and he created the iPod instead. Now, this is a super-PDA, with capabilities beyond most “smart phones.”

While the iPhone makes innovations in leaps and bounds, the mobile convergence does not come without criticism. For example, the phone is only on Cingular, a limiting structure for people with established cell phone plans; the phone is not unlocked; and for now, you cannot add your own applications to the phone. Others critique the loss of tangible buttons, mourning the lack of tactile feedback from buttons. The phone’s hefty price tag could also limit adopters. But in Cingular’s position — this is a similar opportunity to create a relationship between service and device, similar to Disney’s, to be the first on the innovation.

The montage of answering phones in the Academy Awards advertisement integrated well with the other historical montages that are an aesthetic feature of the awards show. The focus on recognizable movie and television clips appealed to a nostalgic presentation of the telephone on screen. It also draws attention to the integration of video and music content into the phone that the iPhone makes possible. The sequence ends with The Incredibles, a Disney/Pixar production, leaving the last image for Disney’s special relationship with providing content for Apple products. The ad embodies the “total merchandizing” effect, as [Chris] Anderson described in “Disneyland.” Here, the fusion is all the arts in one technology. The iPhone is the new television [or movie theater], and Disney is again working strategically to place their content in the new screen.