The History of The iPhone
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Human civilization has successfully grown to what it is today because of the tools we use. In the early days of human history, simple inventions such as cutting tools and the wheel opened countless doors. Later, it was the steam and internal combustion engines, anesthesia, and penicillin. Then it was the telephone and television.
Most recently, computers and the internet have initiated a brand new era in human history, and even more recently, the smartphone. The invention of these tiny devices that connect us to not only one another but pretty much all the information that’s out there has revolutionized how we live, to the point where most people can’t imagine life without them.
There are hundreds of different types of smartphones on the market made by brands such as Samsung, LG, Huawei, and, of course, Apple. While today’s smartphone market is highly competitive, someone did get their first. That was Apple with their iPhone. When it first hit stores in 2007, people went crazy, and they still do every year when a new model is released.
You are likely aware that today’s version is much different from the original. Curious about how we got to where we are today? Read on to learn the complete history of the iPhone.
Timeline of iPhone History
Below we’ve got a detailed description of each iPhone model and how this device has evolved over the years, but to give you a quick snapshot, here’s a timeline of the iPhone’s story over the years:[Graphic]
The iPhone as an Idea
Given its massive success, it would be easy to think that the iPhone resulted from some intentional effort. The idea for the device was conceived, and then people set out to make it a reality. Surprisingly, this isn’t the case. Instead, the iPhone emerged as a result of a few different factors.
The first was Apple’s desire to improve upon the traditional computer mouse. As you know, mouses can only do a few things. You can move the cursor around and click, but wanting to offer more functionality, Apple CEO Steve Jobs put together a team to start working on this new type of interface.
From this project came Model 035, a device that looks a lot like what would eventually become the Apple iPad. This prototype was ultimately scrapped and tucked deep into Apple’s archives (Steve Jobs actually denied that it even existed). One good thing did come out of this: Apple engineers had designed a touch interface that allowed people to pinch, scroll, and zoom, as well as click, using just their fingers. In other words, the touch screen was born.
Interestingly, Apple did all of this work to try and create a tablet computer; they weren’t thinking about making a phone at the time. Yet, several things caused them to start thinking differently, leading to the eventual creation of the iPhone.
The Success of the iPod
At the same time, Apple was working on a tablet computer. Apple’s signature device, the iPod, an MP3 player that made use of its signature click wheel, was one of the most popular tech gadgets globally.
People loved the revolutionary concept of loading up all their favorite songs onto one device and listening to them whenever they wanted. People loved these things so much that they bought more than 400 million of them, or at least until Apple stopped recording iPod sales in January 2015.
Thinking there may be interest in a combined phone/MP3 player, Apple teamed up with Motorola in 2005 to make the Rokr E1. This was a regular mobile phone, but it was compatible with Apple iTunes, which allowed people to use it to play music. However, the device could only hold 100 songs and had a clunky interface, so Apple quickly scrapped it. This venture gave legs to the idea of a phone/music player, but the people at Apple realized that to make this device, they would need to design something of their own.
Sometime in 2006, Apple began recruiting a team to build the iPhone, though this name did not yet exist at the time. Instead, the work was known as “Project Purple.” Apple kept those invited to join the team in the dark about what they would be working on until they agreed to be a part of the project. They were then forbidden from talking about it outside of the room set aside for them, a space known as the Purple Room.
Finally, by Spring 2006, the design was more or less in place. However, the original prototype looked a bit different than the iPhone that would eventually make it to the market. The initial version looked much more like an iPod. A few months before Apple released the iPhone to the public, they changed the design to resemble the rectangular device we now instantly recognize as the iPhone.
The First iPhone: June 29, 2007
After a year or more of dedicated research and closer to five years of conceptual thinking, the iPhone was finally ready for the world. At Apple’s annual MacWorld convention, the event where the company announces its latest models and devices, Steve Jobs unveiled to the world the device he and his team had been working on. The response was tremendous.
Not only did the audience present at the event erupt into a standing ovation, but people all around the world began to tremble with excitement. Never before had there been a device that was simultaneously a phone, an MP3 player, and an “internet communications device.”
This last label is most interesting because today, we think of the iPhone as a “smartphone.” This name didn’t come until later. Also, the first iPhone could only do a handful of things. The 3G network was just being rolled out, so it used traditional cellular networks to connect users to the internet. Still a revolutionary concept, but it was far from the version of the iPhone that we now so easily recognize.
Still, the first iPhone completely changed what people thought a phone could be, and it launched a revolution that is still very much going on today.
Some of the features of the first iPhone included:
- Full touchscreen QWERTY keyboard.
- 2-megapixel camera (there was no front-facing camera on this model)
- Bluetooth and WiFi
- HTLM support (meaning it could access the web)
- Google Maps
- 4GB or 8 GB of memory
For modern iPhone users, these features probably seem rather basic and uninteresting. Yet, at the time, they were truly groundbreaking and set in motion the smartphone revolution, defining the modern era and helping us get to where we are today.
Wireless Carriers and Countries Available
One interesting thing about the first iPhone is that it was not available on every wireless carrier. Instead, it was only available to those who used Cingular.
Cingular? What’s that? Yes, we’re digging deep into the annals of mobile phone technology. Cingular was a top wireless company in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but AT&T later absorbed it in 2005.
The first iPhone was also only available in a handful of countries. In addition to the United States, the first model of the device was available in the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France. It was offered under similar exclusivity contracts like the one between Apple and Cingular, but these were challenged in Europe, which delayed the release of the iPhone across the continent.
Lastly, the first iPhone was not cheap. Compared to the price of the latest iPhone, it seems more affordable, but relative to the prices of phones at the time, it blew the competition out of the market. The 4GB version cost $499, and the 8GB version retailed for $599.
Interestingly, by September of 2007, Apple dropped the price of both models by about $200, outraging those who stood in line for the first release. To save face, Apple issued these early adopters a $100 Apple gift card that they could use to buy songs, movies, and other Apple devices.
iPhone 3G: July 11, 2008
The first iPhone was a major success. In the first year, Apple sold more than 6 million devices, and the only reason it didn’t sell more is that it ran out of them. Demand was high, and people loved it. However, the folks at Apple weren’t going to stop there, and so one year after the release of the first iPhone, they came out with the second version, the iPhone 3G.
The naming might seem confusing. You may be thinking, “why is it called 3G if it’s the second version of the iPhone?” Well, the reason for this has nothing to do with how many iPhones there were. Instead, it has to do with the network. The second iPhone was the first model of the phone to use the new 3G wireless network, which allowed for faster internet browsing. Therefore, to make it clear that this phone was capable of so much more, Apple gave it the name iPhone 3G.
In addition to 3G capability, the iPhone 3G also had slightly longer battery life and improved internal storage. Each model had double the capacity (8GB and 16GB) of the first iPhone. Apple also improved the screen resolution slightly and used new materials to make the device a bit lighter.
However, the most significant change to come with the iPhone 3G was the introduction of third-party apps. Apple’s first iPhone used apps, which meant they worked really well, but this limited the number of apps available to users. With the iPhone 3G, Apple also introduced the App Store, and it also shared developer software so that third-party software developers could create apps and give them to iPhone users.
This launched a revolution in its own right. Companies, both large and small, scrambled to release an app that would please users and increase exposure.
So, while the technology inside the iPhone 3G wasn’t exactly groundbreaking, it included some vital upgrades that made the device even more desirable to people worldwide. By making it available in over 40 countries, Apple set itself up for huge success with the iPhone 3G. At this point, however, the iPhone was still only available to AT&T customers in the United States.
iPhone 3GS: June 19, 2009
A year after the release of the iPhone 3G, there was already demand for a new iPhone. However, Apple hadn’t come up with anything new enough to warrant a new release. Not wanting to miss out on this rampant demand, they decided to release the iPhone 3GS.
This device was basically the same as the iPhone 3G except that it included some voice control features (not Siri but rather its predecessor) and things such as Nike + iPod. It also had a slightly improved camera, one that could record videos as well as take photos. In addition, the processor was upgraded, as well as the battery.
Perhaps the most significant development to come from the 3GS in terms of iPhone history is that it launched a trend of releasing modestly improved iPhones without a substantial upgrade. Apple wanted to stay on top of the market, and yearly updates made this possible. The introduction of the S models allowed the company to sell more units without having to redesign the iPhone radically.
Despite this, every few years, Apple did rework the iPhone entirely, helping it maintain its status as the most cutting edge smartphone on the market.
iPhone 4: June 24, 2010
Apple sold more than 30 million of the first three versions of the iPhone, enshrining it in history as one of the most popular pieces of personal technology to ever hit the market. However, Steve Jobs and his team of engineers were only just getting started.
Unlike 2009, when the new iPhone to come out was just a minor upgrade, 2010 was a pivotal moment in the history of the iPhone as it was the year in which the iPhone 4 first hit stores.
If you watch Steve Jobs announcing this version of the iPhone, you can feel his excitement, and this is because the iPhone 4 was quite different from all the models that came before it. Here are some of the things that were brand new to the iPhone 4:
- A front-facing camera that made video chatting easier than ever.
- A stainless steel frame that made it lighter and sturdier than all other models.
- Double the pixel density and a dramatically improved screen resolution
- CDMA compatibility, allowing it to be sold on Verizon’s network as well as AT&T
In addition to these changes, the iPhone 4 also had an improved camera, battery life, and processor, as well as internal storage. You could get it with either 16GB or 32 GB of memory, and both models cost less than $300.
No success story comes without a scandal, and Apple had its biggest one with the iPhone 4. One of the more innovative features of this phone was that the antenna was built directly into the stainless steel frame. However, while helping reduce the phone’s size, this created a problem: if you held your phone in the wrong way, you would lose all reception.
Apple initially denied this was a problem, with Steve Jobs even claiming that the solution was to “not hold the phone that way.”
This troubleshooting tip didn’t fly, and so, after some time, Apple was forced to send out free cases to iPhone 4 users so that they could continue to use their device without having to deal with this problem.
iPhone 4S: October 14, 2011
Like it had with the iPhone 3G, Apple followed up the iPhone 4 with a slightly improved model just one year later: the iPhone 4S.
In addition to the standard marginal improvements made to the processor, screen, camera, and battery, the iPhone 4S also introduced the world to Siri, Apple’s voice-controlled AI program that is still around today. Apple also introduced iCloud, its cloud-based storage system, and iMessage when it released the iPhone 4S.
One other change that came with the iPhone 4s was the timing of the release. After launching the first four versions of the iPhone in the late Spring/early Summer, the iPhone 4S came out in the Fall, a trend that continues today.
iPhone 5: September 21, 2012
The iPhone 5 was an important moment in iPhone history because it was the first device equipped for 4G LTE networks. Now the standard (and soon to be replaced by 5G), these networks were just emerging, but many felt Apple was a year late in including this feature.
Nevertheless, for the first time, the iPhone could take advantage of mobile broadband speeds that were far greater than any previous network.
The iPhone 5 also had a much improved front-facing camera, as well as an improved rear camera. (As you can see, boosting camera functionality is always a priority.)
For the first time, you could FaceTime using mobile data. Previously, you had to be connected to WiFi to use this program. The screen on the iPhone 5 was larger than any other iPhone, making it great for video calling. Also, Apple switched to using aluminum instead of stainless steel, making this the lightest iPhone released up until this point.
One somewhat controversial change to come with the iPhone 5 was that Apple switched to the lightning charging port, meaning the new device could not be charged using older chargers. This move that both confused and frustrated users, but they have since adapted.
iPhone 5C and iPhone 5S: September 20, 2013
Up until this point in iPhone history, Apple had been releasing one phone per year. In 2013, this changed with the release of the iPhone 5C and 5S.
Although neither phone was markedly different from the iPhone 5, this change did make things more interesting. With the 5C, the most significant changes were with the design. It was made with a plastic backing and offered in four different colors – white, red, yellow, blue, and green. This was the first time Apple offered the iPhone in any other color besides black, white, or silver.
As for the 5S, the changes were less cosmetic and had more to do with the internal functioning of the phone.
The biggest innovation was the introduction of biometrics. This allowed users to unlock their phones by touching the home button, which would scan their fingerprints. In addition, the iPhone 5S allowed people to record videos in slow-motion. Another upgrade was the introduction of Touch 3D, a technology that made it possible to do things on the touchscreen with more than one finger (zooming, for example.)
iPhone 6 and 6 Plus: September 19, 2014
Now a yearly tradition, the iPhone 6 hit stores in late September of 2014. Like every other iPhone before it, there were upgrades to the processor and camera, but the iPhone 6 was also made considerably larger. Following up with what it had done the year before, Apple released two phones at once, the 6 and 6 Plus. The two devices were essentially the same, except the 6 Plus was larger, making it the biggest iPhone released to date.
That Apple was releasing two iPhones at once speaks to their popularity at the time. You could even argue that this period, from the release of the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 6, was the Golden Age of the iPhone. They were so popular that they could release two barely different devices and still sell them like hotcakes.
It also speaks to the smartphone craze at the time. Samsung, LG, Motorola, and many other companies had caught up to Apple at this point, and in the case of Samsung, they may have even surpassed them. This might have been the driving force behind releasing so many phones in such a short timeframe.
One thing the iPhone 6 did give the world that was new was Apple Pay. By incorporating Near Field Communication (NFC), Apple gave birth to a technology and service that today, thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic, has grown tremendously in popularity. It was also the first iPhone to have three options for internal storage: 16GB, 64GB, and 128GB.
Despite it only being slightly different from the iPhone 5, Apple still managed to sell 10 million iPhone 6’s on the first weekend in stores, making it the most popular iPhone to date.
iPhone 6S and 6S Plus: September 25, 2015
One year after breaking its own first-weekend sales record, Apple did it again with the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus release. Essentially just slightly improved versions of the phones released the year before; these devices had better processors, better cameras, and an enhanced operating system.
iPhone SE: March 13, 2016
After releasing the iPhone 6, Apple broke from its long-standing tradition and released a second phone within just one year.
The reason for this was because it found that while the 6(6S) and 6 Plus (6S Plus) were so popular, there was still a market for the smaller, more compact style of phone seen with the iPhone 5.
In response to this, Apple released the iPhone SE, an updated version of the iPhone 5. It had the same four-inch screen but included an improved processor, camera, and operating system.
Despite releasing two phones in one year, this change did not upset Apple’s long-standing tradition of releasing a new model each year.
iPhone 7: September 16, 2016
Just six months after the release of the iPhone SE, Apple pushed out the iPhone 7. The most significant change to come with the introduction of the iPhone 7 was eliminating the headphone jack. At the time, Apple received heavy criticism for this move, though now most people don’t remember a time when their iPhone had a headphone jack.
iPhone 8 and 8 Plus: September 22, 2017
In the years after the release of the iPhone 5, Apple’s creativity started to lag. It seems they were most interested in pumping out slightly faster versions of the previous year’s phone, making sure they had better cameras and slightly improved battery life to please the masses and continue to drive new sales.
Besides these usual changes, the only noticeable difference between the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus and the previous years’ models was the introduction of wireless charging.
This was the first year since 2008 that Apple didn’t release an “S” version of its previous model, choosing instead to skip straight to the name “iPhone 8.”
iPhone X: November 3, 2017
Between 2014 and 2017, the yearly updates to the iPhone were underwhelming. Yet things changed in 2017 with the release of the iPhone X.
Are you confused about what happened to the iPhone 9? Don’t worry, everyone was. Apple switched to the “X” moniker to signify to the world that this model was dramatically different from the ones that came before it.
The most obvious difference with the iPhone X is that it doesn’t have a “home” button. Once a staple of the iPhone, Apple did away with it, eliminating fingerprint-based Touch ID at the same time. This technology was replaced by facial recognition software.
The iPhone also received a screen update with the X. Apple installed an OLED display (the best screen type out there), making it the most vivid screen in iPhone history. Also, Apple added a camera to the back, increasing its functionality. Also, the iPhone X made iPhone history by being the most expensive model ever. The smaller model (64GB) cost $1,000, far more than any other model that came before it.
Reviews for the iPhone X were mixed. Lauded for its innovative technologies, people criticized the price and some of the more radical design changes. However, with the iPhone X release, sales of the iPhone 8 improved, and the X also laid the groundwork for the following few iPhone models, including the ones in circulation today.
iPhone XS and XS Max: September 21, 2018
After taking a big step forward in 2017, Apple slowed things down in 2018 with the iPhone XR release. The improvements included in the model were minor and expected: better camera, faster processor, expanded internal memory.
While somewhat underwhelming, this was also expected after the company took such a dramatic leap just a year prior.
iPhone XR: October 26, 2018
The XR release just a few weeks after the XS and XS Max demonstrates Apple’s ability to adapt to the market: the XR is a more affordable version of the XS and XS Max. To do this, Apple changed the screen slightly on the XR, using a Liquid LCD instead of an OLED, which made the phone cheaper without dramatically reducing the quality of the screen.
The XR also had a bit less RAM than the XS, slowing it down a bit but also dropping its price.
While marketed as the budget option, the XR was still not cheaper. The 64GB model still cost $749.
iPhone 11: September 10, 2019
After a brief venture into the world of Roman numerals, Apple returned to a more familiar system with the release of the iPhone 11 in September of 2019.
Very similar to the iPhone XR, the 11 has a front camera that allows for slo-mo shooting and a better battery. It was also offered in six different colors.
Other than that, the differences between the 11 and the XR were negligible.
iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max
To bring back some of the iPhone XS and XS Max elements, Apple released the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max. Both devices have an OLED screen, and they also have three cameras on the back, up from two on all previous iPhone models.
The 11 and 11 Pro are also larger than the XR and the 11, resembling the XS and XS Max size. In this sense, this phone release is just an update of the XS and XS Max and not the iPhone 11.
iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini: June 22, 2020
With the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini, Apple decided to return to its past, designing a device that looks much more like the iPhone 5. However, while it may look more like a phone released in 2012, the technology inside is very much from 2020.
Featuring Apple’s fastest processor to date, the iPhone 12 is also a 5G device; the first one Apple has released.
The iPhone 12 Mini brings us back to the days of the iPhone mini and offers consumers the chance to get a smaller device in an era where phones just seem to keep on getting bigger and bigger. However, the trade-off for this is that the iPhone 12 Mini has slightly less battery life than previous models.
Also included in the iPhone 12 is MagSafe charging technology, which allows users to charge their phones wirelessly using a secure magnetic charger, perfect for the car.
One significant change with this device is that it no longer ships with a power adapter. Apple has caught flak for this, but who doesn’t have a million of these things lying around?
iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max
At the same time, Apple released the iPhone 12 and 12 Mini. It also released the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max. These devices are very similar to the 12 and 12 Mini except that they have a handful of camera options explicitly designed for “pros,” hence the name. These include the ability to shoot in 4K Ultra HD and image stabilization, among many other things.
This means that 2020 was a record year for Apple: it was the first time in the history of the iPhone that they released four devices simultaneously.
The latest model of the iPhone came out just about a year ago, which means we are on the verge of the release of the newest model.
At the moment, there is no planned release date for what many expect to be the iPhone 13, though Apple is liable to change the name on us as they have done many times before. However, despite the lack of a firm commitment from Apple, this hasn’t stopped people from speculating.
No matter what comes next, the history of the iPhone has already been robust and revolutionary. It completely changed our world, and while Apple’s latest devices have hardly done the same, it’s hard to imagine what life would look like without the iPhone.