How Have iPhone Apps Evolved Over the Past 10 Years?

Read Time: 5 - 10 min

It’s been 10 years since Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone back in 2007, and the world has never been the same.


A lot of things were different back in 2007 – the last Harry Potter book had just been published (tear) and the housing bubble had just burst (more tears). Amidst all those tears and turmoil, the iPhone was launched into our lives, bringing a much needed ray of sunshine.


It’s pretty funny to look back at Apple’s press release announcing the first iPhone, referring to the iPhone as a combination of three products: “a revolutionary mobile phone, a widescreen iPod with touch controls, and a breakthrough Internet communications device.”


It’s laughable today to boast being “part iPod” as a major feature, but back then, it helped many early adopters understand what the iPhone was all about (plus, having a phone that could store all your music was a pretty big deal).


While revolutionary for its time, the first gen iPhone had a pretty small offering of applications. It wasn’t really until 2008, when the App Store first launched, that mobile phone applications became a ‘thing’ – and most will argue that it was this move that truly set today’s modern smartphone concept into motion.


Today we’re taking a look at how apps have changed over the past decade since the birth of the iPhone. From gaming to music, apps have grown by leaps and bounds – let’s jump in our Tesla time machine (which will hopefully be a thing any day now) and leap back into 2007 to remember how apps once were - and how better off we are now!



Then: The really original mobile gaming apps were pretty pathetic, but even then we adored them because they were all we knew. Games like Snake were all the rage, if you can believe that.

 super monkey ball.jpg

With the launch of the original iPhone in 2007 (and the app store in 2008), mobile games started to grow into big boy pants. Games like Super Monkey Ball and Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart were actually able to use pretty decent 3D models, giving gamers something to get excited about.


Now: Mobile gaming has come along way since those wigging black and white boxes. Games like Candy Crush have opened up the world of gaming, welcoming retired Grandmas and basement dwellers alike.


Today tremendous amounts of money and research goes into designing free-to-play mobile games that are tailored to encourage in-game spending by taking advantage of human psychology and our hard-wired need for rewards.


Last year, Pokemon Go went on to prove the true potential of mobile gaming, being the first massively popular gaming app to utilize augmented reality and blur the lines between the real and artificial world.


Pokemon go in action image


As augmented and virtual reality grow in popularity, we can only wait with bated breath to see what happens next!




Then: The original iPhone boasted an important-sounding “Stocks” app, which was hard locked into iPhones until iOS 10, finally allowing us poor peasants to remove it and its judge-y implications.


Even for those Mr. Monopoly folks playing the stock market, stocks on the first gen iPhone could only be checked via Wi-Fi internet access (until the release of the iPhone 3G that is).


Now: Finance apps have blown up in recent years, helping money-conscious users manage every asset under the sun.

mint app.jpg 

Mint makes it easy to budget and see where your spending is concentrated, while apps like Robinhood help you manage stocks for free. Still other apps like Wealthfront and Betterment rely on robo-advisors to invest and manage your money.



Then: Messaging apps used to be pretty straightforward back in the day, consisting of simple text. However, even unadorned texting was a pretty big deal with the iPhone, as it was the first mobile phone to ditch the traditional hard button QWERTY keyboard and opt instead for a touchscreen type pad.


Now: Messing apps today can do much more than send a few characters and emoticons between friends.


With apps like Bitmoji and Gify, users can exchange cartoon avatars and full-fledged animated gifts, not to mention the ability to send high-quality photos, videos, and emojis. The touchscreen keyboard was obviously the right way to go too, although I still see the odd senior rocking a hard QWERTY keyboard, which always inspires a sigh of nostalgia in me.



Then: The original iPhone had a Notes app and a Calendar app, which continue to be mainstays today for many iPhone users.

 iphone calendar app 2008.jpg

The streamlined, easy-to-use design of both these organizational apps made task and day planning a real possibility on mobile phones.


Now: While iPhone’s iCal and Notes apps are alive and well, they’ve been joined by a slew of other organizational-oriented apps.


Evernote, Pocket, Dropbox, and Todoist come to mind, along with other apps geared towards productivity in general, like LastPass and IFTTT.


Together, these apps make managing your online presence and activity easier and more efficient than a first gen iPhone user could have ever imagined.



Then: I remember being one of the first of my friends to get a mobile phone with a built-in camera. The quality was… questionable, to say the least. Blurry and very pixelated, the photos only looked good on my phone’s tiny 2 x 2 inch screen, and even then, “good” is probably a stretch.


Of course that was in 2003. By 2007, the iPhone launched with a 2-megapixel camera – very impressive by that time’s standards – and actually, under good quality lighting conditions, the original iPhone’s camera still takes pretty decent shots.

picture taken on iphone 7 


Now: Today, the iPhone’s camera quality is so advanced that the vast majority of the population has ditched consumer cameras altogether, much to Canon and Nikon's chagrin.


The iPhone today can take slow motion, time lapse, panorama photos, and much more. With the ability to easily share and save these photos, we’re able to document our Chipotle salad bowls and ramen dinners for all of future humanity to enjoy.



Then: The original iPhone’s music player was much beloved (don’t forget that before the iPhone, there was the iPod. If you really want to feel old, just consider what an outdated concept an MP3 player is).


Owners of an original iPhone just had to sync their phone with their Mac to have their entire iTunes catalog transferred to their mobile phone, allowing for endless Plain White T’s, Fergie, and Fall Out Boy jam sessions while on the go.

 picture of apple music evolution

Now: Today, the idea of having songs physically loaded onto your phone is quite laughable. Streaming is where it’s at kid, and with services like Spotify, Amazon Music, Google Music, and, wait for it… Apple Music, you can listen to the world’s largest catalogue of music without touching a download button.



Then: One of the biggest features that Steve Jobs was most proud of with the original iPhone was the “Visual Voicemail,” offering, which allowed users to look at a list of all their voicemail messages so that users could pick and choose which messages to listen to.


Now: Do you even remember the last time you listened to a voicemail message? I think I listened to one maybe a month ago. It’s strange to think that a device created primarily to deliver phone calls has strayed so far from its original intention, but that’s the beauty of evolution.

 picture of apple voicemail ios 9

It’s pretty incredible to see how the iPhone has evolved over the years, transforming from a glorified music player into an industry catalyst that more or less single-handedly launched the modern smartphone as we know it today.


What will an iPhone look and act like in 2027? No one knows for sure, but I have a feeling we’ll be looking at today’s iPhone and having a good chuckle at ourselves.


Great Mobile Apps & Why They're Successful: A Case Study