The iPhone revolution: A timeline
On 9th January 2007, late Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs took the stage at MacWorld to announce that Apple was re-inventing the phone. He showed a product that now we know as the iPhone, which was released publicly on June 29, 2007. Today, we commemorate the fifth anniversary of the original iPhone. With the original iPhone, Apple showed off many groundbreaking user interface elements that have now become ubiquitous in modern day smartphones. At the same time the original device was missing a number of key features. Apple kept at it and continually evolved the product, which has enabled it to become the most popular smartphone of all time. Let’s take a look at each and every generation of the iPhone and see how the device changed the mobile computing landscape. Read on.
The original iPhone was a breakthrough product in terms of industrial design. At the time devices with QWERTY keyboards were very popular and smartphones like the Nokia E61 and the BlackBerry Pearl were standards for what a smartphone should be.
The iPhone abandoned the maxim of having a keyboard and Apple went ahead with an all touch design, with the fascia of the device having only a one button, which would take the user back to the homescreen from anywhere inside the menu. The iPhone was not the first touchscreen phone, but it was among the first devices to adopt multi-touch technology supplemented by a capacitive display. Apple further enhanced the user interface with intangible things like rubber band scrolling and momentum based scrolling which gave the UI an ethereal quality, that was solely unique to the iPhone. Apple even went for a large high resolution HVGA display that converted to 163 pixels per inch, a very impressive pixel count for the time.
Steve Jobs brilliantly broke down the iPhone in three parts – a phone, a widescreen iPod and a breakthrough Internet communications device. In fact, the iPhone was the best iPod Apple had ever made. It became the best mobile device for consuming media.
Keeping all the above things in mind, perhaps the greatest achievement of the original iPhone was its Safari browser, which at the time was the first mobile web browser from which users could properly surf the web. One can say it single-handed kicked off the mobile Internet revolution. And all this was possible due to technologies heralded in Mac OS X that were passed on to the iPhone, in the form of the iPhone OS (now known as iOS) and the unique user interface that allowed gestures like pinch-to zoom. The iPhone even had Google Maps integrated in it and this helped Google beef up its now ubiquitous Maps ecosystem.
But as always, there were naysayers who harped on the lack of 3G, MMS and business features. Even Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer mocked the expensive price of the device, but as they say, the rest is history.
The iPhone 3G was unveiled on June 9, 2008 and it was primarily based on the original iPhone. That said, with iPhone OS 2.0 and some iterative hardware improvements, Apple added a lot of popular features that were missing from the original device. The most obvious of the lot was 3G connectivity. Additionally, Apple added Push Mail capabilities alongside the introduction of the game changing App Store that now is home to 650,000 applications. The device even supported Microsoft Exchange and Apple added a number new hardware features like Assisted GPS, a better camera and much more.
The iPhone 3GS was unveiled almost exactly a year later from the iPhone 3G on June 8, 2009 and with it Apple upgraded the processing chops of the iPhone two-fold. Apple added an ARM cortex A8 chip that was clocked at 833MHz, but underclocked to 600MHz in tandem with a PowerVR GPU, which made the iPhone 3GS arguably the most powerful smartphone on the planet.
Apple further tweaked the multi-touch display for better input and the device even incorporated a new 3-megapixel sensor made by OmniVision that could shoot video, which at the time, was a first for the iPhone. A Magnetometer was added to the suite of iPhone sensors and features like Voice Control, copy and paste of text and MMS were also finally added. Design wise, though, the device remained more or less the same.
The iPhone 4 was the first iPhone to be released after the iPad and was also the last iPhone to be unveiled by Apple’s late CEO, Steve Jobs. It was also the first iPhone to run iOS, after Apple renamed the iPhone OS in the wake of the iPad. The iPhone 4 was perhaps the most hyped iPhone barring the original as it was leaked months before its unveil. An Apple engineer had mistakenly left a prototype at a bar and a gadget blog eventually got its hands on the device after paying $5,000 for it.
Steve Jobs went on to unveil the device on June 15, 2010 at WWDC and in spite of the leak; Apple wowed the world with the iPhone 4. It was a radical redesign of the original iPhone design, which featured graceful use of glass and an aluminum band that surrounded the entire phone, which also performed as the antenna. However, later the aluminum proved to be design flaw as it caused the legendary call drop issue now known as antenna gate. To this date, many consider the iPhone 4 to be the most beautiful and premium smartphone on the market.
But, that was not it. Apple introduced the ‘Retina Display’, which featured a resolution of 960×640 pixels amounting to 327 pixels per inch. This resolution was radically higher than anything on a smartphone at the time and even today apart from the Sony Xperia S, there is perhaps no phone in the market that has so many pixels packed in so tightly.
For driving all these pixels, Apple gave the iPhone 4 a 1GHz A4 processor which was designed in-house, along with 512MB of RAM. This made the iPhone 4, plenty fast and also helped Apple keep up with burgeoning Android brigade obsessed with spec sheets. Apple did not leave the camera alone and added a 5-megapixel sensor that could shoot 720p video and also a front facing camera for FaceTime video chats. The camera on the iPhone 4 went on to become the most popular camera for Flickr.
With iOS 4, Apple added long awaited features like multitasking, background audio, Voice over IP, background location, push notifications, local notifications, task completion and fast app switching. Apple even added the iBooks app and introduced a market for e-books similar to Amazon’s Kindle store. Overall, the iPhone 4 was perhaps the most sweeping update to the iPhone to date.
In 2011, the iPhone 5 became the most hyped phone. Many expected a redesigned iPhone 5, however when Tim Cook took the stage on October 4, 2011, Apple released an iPhone 4S, which was physically identical to its predecessor but with upgraded guts. Apple equipped the iPhone 4S with a dual-core A5 processor with 512MB of RAM, a new 8-megapixel camera with a three point lens system which could also shoot 1080p video and the new voice based assistant called ‘Siri’. Siri was the headlining feature of the iPhone 4S, which helped drive sales of the device. It was such a radical leap in voice recognition technology that it could understand natural speech. It triggered an arms race of sorts, which now includes Samsung’s S-Voice and Google’s new Voice abilities in Android 4.1 Jelly bean.
Apart from this, iOS 5 refined the iOS experience further with the introduction of an Android like notification center, Twitter Integration, iCloud integration, tabbed browsing, iMessage, better Mail, Wi-Fi syncing and a PC free iPhone.
The iPhone 4S has turned out to be a runaway success and many are expecting a redesigned iPhone 5 in October which will run the recently announced iOS 6, so let’s keep our fingers crossed that Apple delivers another breakthrough iPhone later this year.