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The evolution of Apple iPhone: a visual history

Posted: , by Victor H. Victor H.

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The evolution of Apple iPhone: a visual history

It's been 10 years since Steve Jobs unveiled the mysterious 3-in-1 device that no one could fully predict: the original Apple iPhone (check out our review back from 2007 here).

And it has changed a lot since its inception, but the foundation that was laid back then was a solid one that ensured every iPhone would deliver predictably smooth performance and come with a set of features that would make it stand out, starting with the iOS platform and finishing with the little details like the useful mute button on every iPhone.

With the tenth-anniversary iPhone just recently unveiled and two new iPhones already on sale, we take a look at all the innovation that came with each new iPhone, starting from these most recent phones and going way back in time to the original iPhone in 2007. Join us for this ride right below.


2017

Apple iPhone X, iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus


The evolution of Apple iPhone: a visual history

Apple introduces a record three new iPhones in 2017 and keeps the iPhone 7, 6s and SE series available, making its overall portfolio of iPhones the biggest ever offered.

In 2017, the cheapest iPhone (the SE) starts at $350, while the most expensive one clocks in at $1,150 for the 256 gig iPhone X version.

And the iPhone X is really the iPhone that paves the way for the future: it is the first one with a bezel-less edge-to-edge screen (yes, with the notch) and it's the first with an OLED display. There is also no Touch ID fingerprint recognition on the iPhone X: instead, it features a brand new Face ID system that recognizes your face and unlocks the phone when you look at it.

The rest of the iPhone innovation is shared between the iPhone X, iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus: the glass back, the wireless charging, the Apple A11 Bionic chip with its neural engine, as well as the new 64GB and 256GB storage options. But also, all these new iPhones come at higher prices: while for years consumers paid $650 for the base iPhone model, the price now starts at $700 for the base iPhone 8.

2016

iPhone 7 and 7 Plus

iPhone 7 and 7 Plus


In 2017, two big things happened to the iPhone: Apple killed the headphone jack and both new iPhones got water-proofing. In a 'courageous', typical Apple move, the company killed our good old pal, the 3.5mm headphone jack. The outcry was huge and while it did not affect sales much as the iPhone 7 broke all previous Apple sales records, many people were annoyed by this move.

Also, the iPhone 7 Plus for the first time differentiated itself as the more capable camera phone, with a dual camera system where a secondary, "telephoto" lens allowed taking zoomed-in photos and applying a new "Portrait mode" effect that would blur the background in an image for a professional, DSLR-like look. The little iPhone 7 also got a better camera: it now came with optical image stabilization (OIS), which contributed to more blur-free pictures and better video stabilization.

The other big news was the new jet black color that was available in very limited quantities and felt almost like glass, but got scratched extremely easily. A new, matte black color was also available and while not as stunning to look at, it was more practical and less prone to scratches.

Apple continued improving the displays of its iPhones as well by introducing a new, wide-color DCI-P3 mode that made everything look more vibrant, more impressive.

2015

iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus


The evolution of Apple iPhone: a visual history

After going on a crusade for thicker iPhones, in 2015, for the first time, Apple actually increased the thickness of its new iPhones. The main reason for the thicker body of the new iPhones was a new display technology that allowed the phone to sense the force of a touch. Apple called the tech 3D Touch and introduced it to a lot of its own apps. It all worked a bit as a right click, a neat time-saving shortcut for many apps.

The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus were the first iPhones able to record 4K video. Android phones had come with 4K video for years, but all of them had annoying limitations such as 5-minute limit to video clips and no ability to edit 4K footage on the phones. The iPhone 6s might have been late, but it got all those things right: video came very crisp, recorded at high bit-rates, and Apple updated its excellent iMovie with support for up to two 4K video channels. At the time, many laptops could not handle 4K video editing, outdone by a phone.

Other cool iPhone 6s features included Live Photos that recorded a short video before and after a still image, a set of new 3D Touch-enabled Motion Wallpapers, a new rose gold color, as well as support for 'Hey, Siri', a hands-free voice command that activated the smart iPhone assistant.

2014

iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus


The evolution of Apple iPhone: a visual history

In 2015, after years of waiting, Apple - finally! - showed an iPhone with a bigger screen. In fact, there was two of them: the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus.

The pair sold like hotcakes: it brought both a Galaxy S and a Galaxy Note competitor, but it was also clearly better designed, with a thin and streamlined, durable aluminum body. It felt on another level than the cheap-feeling plastic designs from Samsung. It's safe to say now that the iPhone 6 was an important step towards establishing premium, metal designs as the standard among flagships.

The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus also introduced a much better camera with faster auto-focusing and support for continuous auto-focus in videos.

There was a change in storage options: the iPhone 6 base model was still a 16GB one, but there were 64GB and 128 gig options for more demanding users.

2013

iPhone 5s


The evolution of Apple iPhone: a visual history

As competitors had already moved to bigger-screen phones as the standard, all eyes were on Apple in late 2013. Everyone expected a bigger phone, but the company was not yet ready to show that. What it had up its sleeve was the iPhone 5s, which featured the same size and design. 

Yet still, this was an important 'S' update with two key features that were years ahead of the competition: a new Apple A7 'Cyclone' chip, the first 64-bit chip on a phone, years before others even had started work on 64-bit chips, and then also 'Touch ID', the fingerprint-based secure identification system that would take years to properly implement on Android phones. It also brought improvements to low-light camera performance and other minor enhancements.

The iPhone 5s also marks a new era for iOS: in June 2013 at WWDC, Apple announced a radical change to the iOS design with iOS 7. The new Jony Ive-designed interface did away with the old-fashioned elements in iOS in favor of a flatter, transparency-rich interface that felt like a huge step forward.

2012

The evolution of Apple iPhone: a visual history

The Apple iPhone 5 brought a slightly bigger and taller display than previous iPhones, but it was not the radical change that many users expected: it grew from 3.5 inches to 4 inches in screen size, and with it came a 16:9 aspect ratio (different from the 3:2 used before), which proved to be more practical for video, traditionally shot in 16:9.

The iPhone 5 also marked a monumental moment for Apple: it was the first phone with a chip that Apple itself made as it sought independence from Qualcomm. The Apple A5 impressed with its design and speed improvements, and set an important foundation. Apple was now able to better optimize the performance of its phone to the chip that it itself made. The new iPhone 5 design was also thinner and lighter. 

It was - finally! - the first iPhone with 4G LTE support. The display was also improved in terms of color, it was well-balanced for the sRGB standard used across the web for images and video.

This was also the time when iOS software chief Scott Forstall was shown the door as the newly-launched Apple Maps app, a project that he led, failed spectacularly at start. This would later lead to a huge change in the iOS interface that would move from the old-fashioned skeuomorphic design.

Months after the launch of the iPhone 5, the last big U.S. carrier finally got the rights to sell it: T-Mobile joined AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint in carrying the iPhone. This was around the time when John Legere started the massive change at T-Mobile and grew it to where it is now.

2011

iPhone 4s


The evolution of Apple iPhone: a visual history

2011 was probably the toughest and saddest year for Apple, its fans and the community: on October 5th, 2011, just a day after the introduction of the iPhone 4s, Steve Jobs, the man that created Apple, shaped it as a company and single-handedly led it with his unique vision for technology passed away. Jobs left Tim Cook, Apple's former logistics chief as the CEO, and Cook hosted the iPhone 4s unveiling.

The big feature of the iPhone 4s was Siri, the smart voice assistant that impressed with its ability to ask tricky questions with a pinch of humor and who would console you with a joke when you need it. It also set alarms and calendar appointments. The newer iPhone, however, remained a 3.5-inch phone, smaller than the Android competition that was getting a foothold among customers who wanted bigger devices.

The iPhone 4s debuted with a new, two-antenna design and fixed the dreadful 'antenna-gate' problems of the iPhone 4. The major new features introduced with the iPhone 4s included a more powerful, dual-core chip, the Apple A5, a new 8-megapixel camera capturing more detailed pictures, with better white balance, and iCloud, a cloud-storage solution.

In October 2011, Sprint also finally got the rights to sell Apple's iPhone and started offering the iPhone 4s, iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS to its customers.

2010

iPhone 4


The evolution of Apple iPhone: a visual history

For many Apple customers, the iPhone 4 was the best iPhone design of all time. The iPhone 4 was the first major redesign within the iPhone series, introducing a stunning for the time glass construction with a metal frame. It was also the first iPhone to come with a 'Retina' display, a new screen resolution of 640 x 960 pixels that was so sharp Apple said it compares to the the natural limits of the human retina. This was the first phone with such a high resolution and it remained so for the next couple of years.

There was also a big scandal around the iPhone 4, the so-called antenna-gate. The issue was that when held a certain way, cellular signal got easily blocked by your hand and while Apple never formally fixed this, it did offer free bumpers that alleviated the issue.

The list of innovations in the iPhone 4 is too long, so we'll just quickly go through the most important ones right below:

  • Highest phone resolution of the time, 'Retina' display
  • First iPhone with a front-facing, selfie camera
  • New 5-megapixel camera capable of 720p HD video recording
  • Smaller, micro-SIM card slot
  • New glass-and-metal design
  • Secondary mic for noise cancellation

A few months after its launch on AT&T, Apple's exclusive partner, the iPhone 4 finally launched on Verizon Wireless in the beginning of 2011.

2009


The iPhone 3GS was a gradual upgrade rather than a radical move, but it still brought important speed improvements and faster 3G connectivity.

The S in 3GS stood for speed, as the phone was more powerful, zippier, but its most important novelty was probably that it was the first iPhone that could record video. The iPhone 3GS' new 3-megapixel camera debuted a video mode and was able to record videos at VGA (480p) resolution.

It was also the first iPhone with a digital compass that allowed it to correctly show you your orientation in space in Maps.

The rest of the innovation here was a lot about software: core features like copy and paste, push notifications, landscape keyboard and more arrived in 2009.

2008

iPhone 3G

The evolution of Apple iPhone: a visual history

Just a day before the launch of Apple's second-generation handset, the iPhone 3G, on July 10th, 2008, the App Store officially opened for business. It was made available on the original iPhone, of course, and in hindsight it was clearly as big of an event as the phone launch itself.

The iPhone 3G kept the same screen size, but went with a new, glossy plastic design and added 3G connectivity, making it much faster to load webpages. The iPhone 3G was also the first iPhone with GPS, the satellite communication that allows your phone to know its exact position and a quintessential part of a better maps and navigation experience.

The iPhone 3G did away with the 4GB storage option and was only available in an 8GB and 16GB versions. This new iPhone also fixed an important oversight: the 3.5mm jack on the original iPhone was deeply flawed, it was way too recessed inside the body of the device and this made actually using many headphones impossible without an adapter (ah, the irony!). Apple itself admitted on its website for the OG iPhone that "some stereo headphones may require an adapter (sold separately) to ensure proper fit."


2007

Original iPhone


The evolution of Apple iPhone: a visual history

"iPhone combines three products — a revolutionary mobile phone, a widescreen iPod with touch controls, and a breakthrough Internet communications device with a desktop-class email, web browsing, maps, and searching — into one small and lightweight handheld device."

The original iPhone was the thing that started it all for modern smartphones: while there were smartphones before it, they were nothing like Apple's iPhone that trumped them with its radically bigger screen, mind-boggling multi-touch interface, and the first on-screen keyboard that actually worked well. It was the ultimate Apple 3-in-1, but while Apple thought of the original iPhone as a phone first, iPod second and a 'communicator' third, it's interesting how most people would probably rank the 'communicator' aspect as what makes the iPhone and smartphones special.

The list of break-through innovations in the original iPhone is so long and has so much history that an article (heck, a book) won't be enough to properly describe it, but here is a very short summary:

  • 3.5-inch display with a resolution of 320 x 480 pixels
  • iOS, a new multi-touch interface controlled entirely by your finger
  • Internet Connectivity (2G) with native email client and web browser
  • 2-megapixel photo camera with NO video recording capabilities
  • Ambient light sensor, proximity sensor
  • On-screen keyboard
  • 4GB / 8 GB / 16GB storage models
  • YouTube and Google Maps applications, Google Search
  • iPod music / video player with support for iTunes

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