When Steve Jobs stood on a stage in 2007 and introduced the iPhone, he showed off its various features, most of which no one had ever seen before. One of those was the “slide to unlock” feature, where a user simply dragged their finger across the screen to access their iPhone’s home screen.
As Jobs demonstrated the feature, it was set against what has since become an iconic image of a clownfish. It’s iconic not only because it’s the first impression many people had of the original iPhone, but also because that wallpaper was never actually released in any version of iOS.
Now, according to reports, some users are finding the iconic wallpaper in the latest beta version of iOS 16. A tweet from Jack Roberts, which was later shared by Mark Gurman of Bloomberg, appears to show the wallpaper as an option in the third beta.
Before anyone gets too excited, it’s worth mentioning that just because something shows up in a beta version of software doesn’t mean it will ever ship to the public. It’s also worth noting that the wallpaper hasn’t shown up for every user with iOS 16 beta 3. All of that is to say Apple might not ship this wallpaper in iOS 16 at all.
On the other hand, letting users finally choose the original wallpaper from the original iPhone — as demoed on stage by Jobs himself — would be exactly the kind of thing Apple would (and should) do. Apple, more than almost any other company, understands the value of providing customers with delight.
The new wallpaper on its own isn’t particularly remarkable. There are far more interesting options in the latest version of iOS. The thing is, it’s not about how functional or beautiful the wallpaper is, it’s about the way it makes people feel when they see it.
If it seems silly that people would get excited about something that never shipped in a product but only appeared onstage, OK, but that’s how some people are. Humans are attracted to nostalgia. People love to relive experiences and remember the way they felt.
After all, that’s the point of letting people choose a wallpaper in the first place. You pick up your iPhone and as soon as the display lights up, it’s yours. The photo you see reminds you of a person or an experience. It brings back a feeling.
Feelings are a funny thing. They drive people to make all sorts of decisions, and they create powerful connections. Disney, for example, has built an empire entirely based on the idea that people will spend a lot of money to relive the experiences they had as children. That’s nostalgia.
The clownfish wallpaper is the same. It’s a reminder of the way people felt when the iPhone was first introduced. Sure, the iPhone 13 Pro is a long way from the original iPhone in almost every way you can measure. It’s faster, more powerful, has more storage, more apps, and can do far more things than the first iPhone, but there was something special about the original. It was something new — something people had never seen before. It was different in ways that the latest model can’t match.
The clownfish is a reminder of the way people felt the first time they watched Jobs swipe across a screen and unlock a device that seemed like magic. That’s the most powerful thing of all.
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