When I was a teenager, this time of year would be insufferable. My bedroom would be nearly 90F without air conditioning, but it wasn’t even particularly hot outside. I had at least five tower PCs running inside my bedroom, all contributing a lot of heat to my tiny little room. Each performed its own role in my home network, with a file server, domain server, Exchange server, and media center PC among them. All of those tower PCs are now inside my pocket, thanks to the iPhone.
I used to run a full Active Directory with individual organizational units and push out group policies to manage my family’s local PCs. I had a proxy server set up to control web access, and revoked administrator rights to ensure my family never installed malicious software. All of our email went through my Exchange server, and I had a custom app that pulled mail from ISP and Hotmail POP3 accounts and filtered it through an assortment of anti-spam tools before it was allowed to hit an Exchange inbox. All of my family’s important documents were stored on a file server, backed up in a RAID array. I even used Zip drives for the really important stuff. I was a true IT administrator, and I was only 15.
All of these PCs were built by hand, with custom cases, cooling configurations, and my own selection of processors or RAM. I laughed at the thought of having to buy a Toshiba or Packard Bell PC, and opted for AMD’s Athlon 64 processors. I’d build powerful gaming rigs and spend hours writing scripts to get a better field of view in games, or a slight advantage by squeezing out every single drop of performance by altering textures per map. I would enter contests and win better processors or RAM, upgrade my PC and push the older components down to my servers.
These servers were so powerful at the time that I was able to get push email on my phone, something you couldn’t really do back in 2002 unless you were a business using BlackBerry devices. I’d sit smugly reading my emails on a train with my iPAQ or one of the original HTC Pocket PC devices with a stylus. I couldn’t download apps from an App Store for these phones because those stores didn’t even exist yet. Instead, I’d find apps on the internet and load them on, modifying the registry along the way to tweak things. I used to spend hours browsing on XDA-Developers for the latest ROMs, downloading and installing them to tweak and test the latest software and firmware. It was an exciting time, and I miss it.
All of that tinkering and hacking things ended for me shortly after the iPhone arrived, and the closest I’ve come to it recently is playing around with a Raspberry Pi and Kodi. The original iPhone was locked to O2 in the UK and AT&T in the US, but a hack quickly allowed you to run the phone on any carrier network. I continued to use Windows Mobile devices for a couple of years, but I played with the iPhone on the side as it was always tempting. The interface was smooth, simple, and I didn’t have to spend hours loading on ROMs to get a good experience. Once the iPhone 3G arrived, I switched fully over because of the App Store.
Apple’s App Store and the iPhone have altered computing massively, beyond my own examples. Nokia, BlackBerry, Microsoft, Motorola, and Palm have all had their businesses disrupted by the iPhone. The iPhone’s impact has also shaped how we use PCs today, and our expectations of computing in general. Apple’s iPhone has been on the market for 10 years now, and it hasn’t experienced a single instance of a mass malware attack like we’ve seen twice in the past month on Windows PCs.
Apple’s locked down and sandboxed environment for apps is a new model that has succeeded with consumers and security. Sure, there have been vulnerabilities, bugs, and near misses, but nobody has been forced to pay $300 to unlock their iPhone after a huge malware attack.
iOS itself has also simplified the way we use computers. A lot of what was considered “computing” back in 2002 was done from a desktop PC, but you can browse the web, file your taxes, write documents, send emails, and so much more all from a tiny device in your pocket these days. Apple didn’t invent the smartphone, but it did pioneer its simplicity and the idea of an App Store. Google has followed some of those examples, albeit with a more open Android operating system, and Microsoft responded with its own locked down mobile OS that focused on ease of use.
Even devices that we’d consider “traditional” computing have been impacted by the iPhone. Chromebooks are locked down with an app store, the iPad Pro continues to push what can be done with a tablet, and now Windows 10 S tries to answer both with an OS that only runs Windows Store apps. Windows 8, Chromebooks, and Android all probably wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the iPhone.
When I look at modern PCs, tablets, and phones now I’m surprised at the simplicity of them. Not all of them are perfect, but technology is rapidly turning into something in the background that’s accessible to everyone and doesn’t require hours of configuration. I miss the thrill of hacking away and tinkering, but as I shout to Alexa to turn off my lights at night I can’t help but appreciate just how easy everything is now.