The Game-Changing iPhone: Past, Present and Future

Professor Debu Purohit on ways the iPhone reshaped the way we interact with the world

June 26, 2017
Innovation, Marketing


In 2007, cell phones were just phones. Texts were just text. Using a phone to surf the net - as it was called then - took a lot of patience, and squinting.

Then came the iPhone. Apple boldly predicted it would sell 10 million units in six months, then surpassed that goal in less than four. Ten years later, more than 1.3 billion iPhones have been glued to hands worldwide.

A decade ago, Professor Debu Purohit, who teaches the marketing of technology at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, summed up the excitement tech enthusiasts felt about the imminent iPhone launch.

"Apple has a great sense of design and functionality and beauty, and I think it'll come out in the phone," he said just before the first iPhone was unveiled that June 29.

Now, the iPhone, its stream of competitors and the resulting flood of smartphone apps have changed society in ways large and small - how we communicate, travel, work and play.

"The iPhone catapulted us," Purohit said. "It's changed how we interact with the world."

Smartphone adoption has leaped from 2 percent in the U.S. to 83 percent in just 10 years. One third of households in the U.S. have more than three smartphones.

"Everybody is connected," Purohit said. "In my family, everybody except the dog has a smart phone."

Beyond the U.S., cheaper smartphone models have outperformed the iPhone thus far, but Purohit said he expects to see that change.

"The strategy that we're seeing is that Apple is going in with the smaller or the older iPhones that are significantly less costly to produce," he said. "By going in at lower price points, Apple will be able to try and get into the emerging markets."

So what else could the next 10 years hold?

"One of the things I'm looking forward to -- and I hope materializes -- is the ability to use the iPhone to be able to get accurate health data," Purohit said. "This, I think, is going to be a game changer."

The data would come from wearable devices wirelessly connected to the phone, such as the Apple watch.

"One of the improvements that we're expecting in technology is this ability to get vital health information that can be monitored all the time," he said, "and the iPhone will be able to provide that."

Purohit said he also expects to see more kinds of financial transactions being tied to phones.

"You need your phone more than you need your wallet," he said.

One concern Purohit has is the potential dumbing-down resulting from our ability to search anything, anytime. "Do we really need to know everything by heart, or do we need to know enough that we can Google it and understand what's going on?" Purohit said. "I think that is having an effect on how we study and how we learn, and we need to keep that in mind."

So many drivers navigate by phone that we are quite literally lost without our devices.

"If I'm using my phone for directions in my car, I find out that I'm not paying attention to landmarks," Purohit said. "I'm not learning the routes because I'm relying on technology on the phone."

This reliance on our phones has also prompted an explosion of data on where we are, what we buy and everything we do online. That, Purohit said, is likely to be the biggest concern for iPhone users in the future.

"Companies now have an incredible amount of information on their consumers and what they do," he said. "This notion of privacy, it's not that we haven't thought about it before, it's just now we have to start thinking about it much more carefully because we are being tracked pretty much all the time."

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