Reflecting on 10 Years of the iPhone

The iPhone arrived 10 years ago today. At the time, I was unimpressed. I had a smart phone in my pocket, a Palm Treo with a keyboard and stylus. I had resented Apple earlier in the 2000s for linking hardware with software (iTunes) in a manner I found to be monopolistic and fraudulent (customers thought they owned MP3s when they had actually licensed AACs). I even wrote a law school paper on the anti-competitive nature of the new Apple technology.

But here I am, 10 years later, an iPhone convert. I loved my Treo, and after that, my Palm Pre. But after the fall of Palm in 2011, I fell for the iPhone camera. 5 years ago today, by chance and with more than a little patience, I took the best photograph I have ever taken--a picture of a snail on a New York City street--and I realized long ago that I had been wrong about the trajectory of still photography and video.

I mention video, because 10 years ago, I anticipated the arrival of my first child. I had a vision that I would "interview" my child every day until his 13th birthday, and would edit a second of each day into a coherent video for his Bar Mitzvah. So we got a top-of-the-line Sony camcorder that took High Definition videotape cassettes. I dutifully recorded my son (and then both my sons) every night for years.

On the day after Christmas in 2011, at the tail end of a trip to Atlantic City, my camcorder was stolen. I had a new tape in the camcorder, so I responded by searching for a used camcorder on ebay and CraigsList. By this time, it was difficult to find HD Cassette Recorders, because nobody was using cassettes anymore. It had gone completely digital. But I did find someone who sold me a camcorder late one night on the corner of Queens Boulevard outside of the Queens Center Mall, and I was back in business.

Sadly, our house was burglarized in the fall of 2013, and the camcorder, along with a month's worth of recordings, was taken. I gave up. I decided then and there that the project was coming to an end. I ramped up my Facebook postings instead, thinking they would be preserved forever. They could not be stolen. I still have a case of cassettes that need to be transferred to computer.

But every so often, I like to record video of my children on my iPhone. Not only is my iPhone HD, but it can record slow-motion. I came to appreciate slow motion when I became a film producer. A traditional 35mm film in the theater is projected at a frame rate of 24 frames per second. Old timey nickelodeon Charlie Chaplin-type films were about 16 frames per second, which gives them their sped up stilted feel. Traditional video is 30 frames per second.

An iPhone camera can capture up to 240 frames per second. Think about that. Have you ever tried to capture happiness in slow motion? Even between those 240 frames, there is drama and anticipation--joy dissected 10x is a joy to behold. My boys went up and down on a 1 minute amusement park ride last week, and I recorded in slo-mo, and I took in every slight change in their faces and the movement of their arms and heads.

I have to celebrate my iPhone, the previous object of my scorn. It has shown me new ways of supplementing my appreciation of the world around me. My younger son pointed out the full bloom of a magnolia flower that had been dormant for days. It happened in the course of an hour. We hadn't seen it opening. We didn't notice the mechanics. I wondered if I could have captured its opening at a frame rate of 240 fps. I think about things like that. I'm curious to think about what an iPhone (or its likely successor) will be able to capture in the next 10 years.