A brief history of iPhone.

Last updated: 8 September 2016


A brief history of iPhone.

If you’re a die-hard Apple fan, it’s probably pretty hard to imagine your life without iPhone. But did you know they didn’t even exist ten years ago? As we look forward to what the new iPhone might be like, we also remember life pre-iPhone...

Back to the future: iPhone Original.

The first iPhone was announced on 9 January 2007, and caused an absolute storm. It came hot on the heels of the game-changing iPod, so when the charismatic Steve Jobs announced they were going to merge the tech associated with iPod with a mobile phone and give it ability to access the internet, people were very excited.

When the phone launched on 29 June 2007, technophiles scrabbled to get one. It boasted a 3.5 inch LCD screen, a quad-band 2G EDGE data radio, 802.11b.g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0 EDR, and a 2MP camera – all of which seemed very futuristic. Coming with either 4GB or 8GB of memory (which would be laughed at these days), the phone woke up the world with its game-changing touchscreen. That model was scrapped within the year but still managed to sell over 6 million units, on only four networks in four countries.

Going global: iPhone 3G and 3GS.

When Jobs announced the second generation iPhone (the 3G and iOS 2) on 9 June 2008, he wanted to combat four things: the high price of the original phone, the slow speed of the reactions, the insular nature of the phone and the limited release.

By updating the cellular radio to support 3G UMTS/HSPA networks, the download speed improved to 3.6Mbps, which claimed to be 36% faster any other 3G phone of the time, with better internet access and GPS. Boom, that’s one thing fixed.

It launched on 11 July 2008, and there was an accompanying App Store, for third party apps to expand the reach and functionality of the phone.

It was $200 (£169) cheaper than the original, and available in 70 countries instead of 4, meaning Apple completely smashed their targets and made their phone accessible to everyone. They sold an amazing million units in the first weekend.

A year later, in June 2009, it was announced that an even faster and cheaper iPhone would soon be available. The App Store now had 50,000 apps and iOS 3.0 made usability even smoother.

The iPhone 3GS had an identical design to its predecessor - polycarbonate casing with metal buttons in black or white. The only discernible difference was that the Apple logo on the back shone a little more brightly, and the coating on the screen helped resist oil smudges and grime.

But inside the handset, the innovation was really starting to become apparent. With a chipset that was twice as fast as the former, a 32GB model, increased battery life, hardware encryption and a magnetometer, the sophisticated nature of the phone blew reviewers away.

Apple nodded their head to the image-obsessed of the future by including a 3MP camera, video recording and autofocus features. They also included some rudimentary voice-control commands – maybe Siri in its embryonic state?

The end of an era: iPhone 4 and 4S.

When iPhone 4 was announced in June 2010, it was an interesting time for Apple. iPad had arrived earlier that year – to mixed reactions from the market – and fans of the brand were looking for something exciting to dig their teeth into.

They were not disappointed.

With a starkly different, 24% thinner rectangular design, iPhone 4 was jam-packed with new, interesting features, including FaceTime calling, a space-saving , a dual-mic for noise-cancelling effects during calls, impressive 5MP camera with flash and a front-facing camera for what would become ‘the selfie’.

Despite a better battery and Retina display (with 4 times the number of pixels of iPhone 3GS), there were teething problems with iPhone 4. The stainless steel band around the outside of the glass hardware was supposed to act as an antenna, but holding it could interfere with signal. Additionally, the white variant was shipped late, due to unforeseen issues with yellowing and opacity.

Despite this, Apple managed an amazing 1.7 million sales in the first weekend, and it wasn’t long before minor mistakes were fixed, and even more new ground covered…

On 4 October 2011 the new and improved iPhone 4S was announced, although there was a tinge of sadness with Steve Jobs’ declining health. He passed away the day after the announcement, and never got to see how his latest project would be the most successful iPhone to date.

The design might’ve been the same, but the improvements to the software and hardware were cleverly prioritised. Using the same processor as the one on created an extremely powerful and nimble speed – twice that of iPhone 4, with graphics that had improved sevenfold.

Improvements to the Bluetooth and the battery (now with 8 hours of talk time) appeased usability fanatics, as did the new 64GB storage option. iOS 5 also came with some impressive updates: we were finally introduced to Siri and iCloud and Airplay – features that are now considered the norm.

The camera also got some serious love – 8MP and 1080p, wide angle lens effect, improved aperture, and facial recognition to improve focus and quality.

With over 4 million units sold in the first weekend, it was a deeply moving tribute to Jobs’ innovative and inspirational role in Apple’s journey to success.

A new beginning: iPhone 5, 5c and 5s.

Three phones in two years seems insane, but somehow Apple managed to pull it off with the 5 range. iPhone 5 was announced on 12 September 2012, and this time we were treated to a slightly new look. It was longer and had a larger screen that was designed to reduce reflections and scratches. Apple wanted something light, delicate and easy to use, so despite its 4 inch screen, the phone was also 12% lighter with a 25% thinner body.

The colour variants were fondly described as Stormtrooper (white and silver) and Vader (black and slate). But the two features that really got everyone up in arms were the new ergonomically designed EarPod headphones and the controversial, but vastly superior Lightning charger.

Of course, this revolutionary 4G supporting phone sold 5 million units in its first weekend, but its reign was short lived.

Just one year later (10 September 2013 to be exact), iPhone 5C and 5s were announced.

Although the 5c enjoyed basically the same features as the 5, it came in brightly coloured polycarbonate casing. The iPhone 5s looked almost identical to the 5 but was now available in a light, champagne-coloured gold with white. The new flagship model included some cutting edge technology - a hugely powerful mobile processor (the ‘Cyclone’) which was designed by Apple themselves, Touch ID fingerprint sensors, slow motion video, live video zoom and panorama functionality all came whizzing in to impress potential buyers.

But it was the astounding iOS 7 update, launched simultaneously with the handsets, which really made an impact. The whole design of iPhone changed – everything was more colourful, flat, and cartoonish rather than in-depth and illustrated. Navigating through the phone became an experience filled with motion and fluidity – something completely unheard of. Of course, there were also new features: live camera filters, FaceTime audio, an extremely useful Control Centre, a whole new organisational structure for photo albums and easy share options. It was a revolution for iPhone users everywhere – so not surprising when more than 9 million handsets sold in the first weekend.

Bigger is better: iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus.

After years of similar designs, Apple enthusiasts were completely stunned with the first images of iPhone 6 on 9 September 2014. Not only did it boast a gargantuan 4.7in display, but there was a bigger handset model too - iPhone 6 Plus - with a 5.5in display.

Despite the shock of such big phones, both sizes were considerably thinner and lighter than previous models, and with a lot more memory, thanks to the new 128GB storage option.

With their rounded corners, minimalist ceramic radio signal lines, moved placement of the sleep/wake button and featherlight weight, the aesthetics polarised fans, but nobody could argue with the brilliant new features. Apple Pay came on board to make buying coffees and sandwiches even easier, while the Health app and predictive keyboard of iOS 8 helped iPhone 6 raise its game with Android competitors.

Of course, the first iteration of an iPhone is always more of an experiment, and glitches are often fixed and improved upon in the next round.

The iPhone 6s, announced on 27 August 2015, was slightly thicker, granted, but was also tougher thanks to the aluminium and glass casing. More importantly, it was also about 70% faster with a 12MP camera, 4k video and revolutionary 3D Touch - the ability to interact with apps and features without clicking into them, using pressure.

There were two new features with iPhone 6s that caught the hearts of the general public. The first was the rose gold colour variant - a beautiful coppery tone that looks completely different in every light and made every fashion blogger lose their mind. The second was Live Photos - a cute feature where you could take micro-videos / gifs while taking a photo and ‘relive the moment’ every time you scrolled through your album.

Incoming iPhone SE.

With over a million apps available in the App Store and well over 700 million iPhones sold worldwide, Apple’s journey through the mobile phone space has been an unprecedented success story based on constant innovation.

Maybe that’s why their last release, iPhone SE, in March 2016, was so nostalgic. Yes it contained iPhone 6’s 12MP iSight camera, the 4k video, Live Photos, Apple Pay. Yes it came in rose gold. But it also had chamfered edges and the same design as the iPhone 5s. It’s a great hybrid of two amazing handsets, and it does a job of providing a more affordable option to people who want iPhone – but more importantly, it looks back at where Apple has come from, and pays homage to its origin.

What’s next for iPhone?

This is the question on everybody’s lips. Stay tuned, and Tweet us on @ThreeUK with your predictions for the next iPhone...