On the occasion of the iPhone's 5th birthday this week, Henry Blodget called it the "the most successful and disruptive product in history." That is fine as far as birthday hyperbole goes, but it's not true.
Is the iPhone extraordinary? Yes, it is extraordinary. Blodget is excellent on this point. The little black brick with a glass window took down Palm, destroyed RIM, and created a business worth $30 billion of profit per year, making it bigger than Microsoft, rivaling Google, and nearing the realm of Exxon. This is one product we're talking about, mind you. The ripple effects in the App Economy, which was shocked into life by the iPhone, accounts for another $20 billion in annual revenue, and has created as many as half a million jobs in the U.S.
But let's be prudent: This is not the most disruptive product in the history of the world. It didn't kill tens of millions of people and reshape foreign policy for the next infinity years, like the nuclear bomb. Its effect on American industry will almost certainly never rival that of the cotton gin, whose invention led to the quintupling of southern slaves and reshaped the global cotton trade, not to mention a century-plus of southern history. Let's not even start with the steam engine and its industrial-revolution cousins, which together threw 10 millennia of economic stagnation out the window and delivered consistent and global rising incomes for the first time in human history. (I'm even tempted to point out that the iPhone might not even be the most disruptive technology with the world "phone" in it.)