Apple iPhone 10th anniversary: a timeline of the landmark device
Today marks the tenth anniversary of Apple’s iPhone, the first device that defined what a smartphone could and should be able to do, the basic design of which has been copied and expanded upon ad infinitum since its release.
The impact of the iPhone cannot be understated. Its release kick-started a new technological era focused on apps, social media and an endless fascination with photographing and documenting one’s daily life.
Although it wasn’t the first device to contain a touchscreen, a camera or mobile internet functionality, it was the first to combine all of these in a way that felt futuristic and, most importantly of all, intuitive.
Steve Jobs finally unveiled the iPhone in a keynote address at the Macworld Conference in California on 9 January 2007 after a protracted two-and-a-half-year development cycle.
“Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone,” he proclaimed, introducing it as a combination of three devices: a “widescreen iPod with touch controls”, a “revolutionary mobile phone”, and a “breakthrough Internet communicator”.
What Jobs held in his hand that day was a prototype device with limited functionality and hundreds of bugs, spanning issues related to both hardware and software.
Most (but not all) of these bugs were ironed out over the next six months in order to meet the anticipated shipping date for consumers.
The iPhone has gone through many iterations in the intervening years, with every element improved upon and the experience made consistently slicker and more refined. The basic template set by the original device has remained largely unchanged, though, and has been used by a far broader subset of companies than just Apple, most notably in the hundreds of Android devices that are now on the market today.
The first generation model straddled a weird line between old and new technology. It included a multi-touch capacitive touchscreen that didn’t need a stylus to operate – the user’s finger would do, a revolutionary concept at the time.
It included Wi-Fi and a browser that was capable of rendering full web pages with no compromises.
Unfortunately, for a device that leaned so heavily on the possibilities of mobile internet, it only included a chip capable of picking up 2G mobile signal, leaving internet to load at a snail’s pace.
Although even mid-range phones at the time were 3G enabled, the iPhone’s development cycle was so protracted that when they started in 2005 there simply wasn’t a chip that existed that was small enough to provide 3G functionality.
It’s 2MP camera was acceptable for the time, but lacked any kind of video recording and the app store was nowhere to be found – that would come later.
iPhone 3G (2008)
As is evidenced by the name, Apple was keen to point out that the next iteration of the iPhone did finally include a 3G chip, one of the major shortcomings of the previous generation.
Yet again it used an underwhelming 2MP pixel without native video recording functionality, a bizarre omission considering competing devices at the time.
However, the iPhone 3G also launched with an App Store, smashing open the doors of what the device was capable of (including third-party video recording apps!). The App Store may have been underwhelming at first, featuring far too many fart noise and faux beer-drinking apps, but its popularity spread like wildfire, leading to developers quickly jumping on the app bandwagon.
iPhone 3GS (2009)
The 3GS may have mostly stuck to the same design as the preceding two models, but it housed a significantly faster processor (the S stands for speed) that provided a smoother experience and ensured that it was powerful enough to receive software updates for years to come.
The camera was bumped to 3MP (with native video recording) and included a digital compass so that Google Maps could know which way you were facing.
iPhone 4 & 4S (2010-2011)
The iPhone 4 saw Apple making some significant design changes in comparison to the previous generations.
Gone were the rounded backs of the earlier models, to be replaced by straight clean lines that gave it a more modern look.
Most impressively, it was the first device to include Apple’s “Retina” screen, a high-density display that eschewed the grainy look of older models.
The development of the iPhone 4 became surprisingly public when a developer accidentally left a prototype model in a bar months before it was officially announced. The prototype fell into the hands of tech site Gizmodo, who did a teardown for the world to see - much to Apple’s chagrin, naturally.
Gizmodo was subsequently banned from all Apple events for several years.
The iPhone 4S, released the year after, saw many elements of the 4 improved, including the camera and the processor, but failed to make any significant changes in comparison to the relatively seismic shift brought by the 4.
iPhone 5, iPhone 5S & iPhone 5C (2012-2013)
While Apple may have started the smartphone trend, rivals were quick to emulate the success of the iPhone.
Companies such as Samsung and Motorola were pumping out their own devices that typically featured a much larger screen. Although Steve Jobs had railed against the idea of making the iPhone bigger, stating that it wouldn’t be comfortable for one-handed use, market pressure saw Apple lengthen the iPhone 5 to a 4-inch display (while still keeping the same width).
In addition to the larger screen, the iPhone 5 was the first to include the new “Lightning” connector in place of the chunky, ageing 30-pin connector that had been used to charge and connect every Apple device going back to the first USB iPod (the very early iPods were FireWire only).
The Lightning connector was much smaller, reversible and less prone to failure, but criticism was received because it instantly consigned millions of accessories using the older connector to the dustbin.
The iPhone 5S’s most significant improvement, along with the typical processor and camera upgrades, was the addition of Touch ID, a fingerprint recognition system used to unlock the phone that has become a mainstay in later models.
The iPhone 5C was also introduced, a budget offering enclosed in a plastic case, rather than a metal case, and based on the previous generation device. Although doing well initially, it failed to set the world on fire and the range was quietly discontinued in 2015.
iPhone 6, 6S & SE (2014-2015)
The iPhone 6 saw Apple finally embracing modern smartphone trends by expanding the base model to a 4.7 inch screen and introducing the “Plus” variant that included a 5.5 inch screen.
The new displays saw Apple revamp the aspect ratios of the screen, although still maintaining the “Retina” functionality of older models (something that was less impressive by 2014).
It was also the first to add near-field communication (NFC), which allowed payments to be made via Apple Pay.
As is now tradition, the 6S changed little from the previous design, although it did include a new hardware feature called “3D Touch” that allowed users to exert additional pressure on the screen in order to trigger “right-click” functionality and “peek” at content without switching to a separate app, such as viewing a photo attachment in an e-mail without actually switching to the Photos app.
During this time Apple also released the iPhone SE, basically an update to the iPhone 5 due to continued demand from some consumers for a smaller device.
iPhone 7 (2016)
The iPhone 7, Apple’s latest handset, included a few new features including full water and dust-proofing and a new capacitive, static home button.
Controversially, Apple chose to remove the 3.5mm headphone jack for the first time meaning that users were obliged to either use Bluetooth headphones or the included wired adapter if they wanted to use the device to listen to music. The jury is still out on whether this trend will be replicated across the smartphone industry.
The iPhone 7 Plus included a dual-camera system that added an optical 2X zoom, a first for smartphones (although others quickly followed suit).
Rumours are swirling as to what Apple will do for the tenth anniversary of its most popular device.
The company is clearly interested in making a big deal of the iPhone 8, with early leaks suggesting it may get rid of the home button altogether and embed the front-facing camera and fingerprint scanner underneath an edge-to-edge screen in a similar fashion to recent devices from rival manufacturers Samsung and LG.
It may also include wireless charging for the first time, which could see the technology finally enter the mainstream years after its first appearance on some Android devices.
Apple is also rumoured to be looking into updating its displays to use OLED technology, which is typically brighter and has a superior contrast ratio in comparison to LED technology.