It’s been more than 10 years since Steve Jobs introduced the original iPhone—a device that had a significant, indisputable impact on the world of technology. And we've been through a lot together: from chunky bezels to the iPhone X; 3.5-inch iPhones to the 5.5-inch iPhone Plus(es); and passcodes to Touch ID (and Face ID).
Before Apple's iPhone X arrives, the company's latest and most innovative device, let’s take a quick look at how Apple made it to this breakout moment.
An iPod, a phone… are you getting it?
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously introduced the first iPhone during the Macworld keynote in 2007. After teasing the audience with the “three” devices Apple was launching that year, he ultimately introduced a single device with three killer features—Apple’s iPhone, which he called, “a revolutionary product that changes everything."
And he was right. The introduction of the iPhone was Jobs’ greatest performance, a pivotal moment that’s still praised by the tech world more than a decade later. Though the iPhone wasn't the first smartphone per se, the entire mobile industry shifted once Apple joined the call.
While we can’t travel back in time to relive Jobs’ speech—outside of YouTube, that is—you can still get a sense of what it was like to open up that very first iPhone thanks to YouTuber DetroitBORG and a super-nostalgic unboxing of the original iPhone.
iPhone 3G — introducing the App Store
Is there an app for that? There is now. In fact, there are plenty of apps for just about every situation you can think of, and that was all made possible by Apple’s introduction of the App Store when debuting the original iPhone’s big sequel, the iPhone 3G. Though Steve Jobs was originally very much against having third-party apps on iPhone, we’re glad he changed his mind.
iPhone 3GS — video recording makes unboxers smile
Apple started to borrow a page from Intel with the introduction of the iPhone 3GS—specifically, the concept of a “tick-tock” upgrade cycle. In other words, Apple would focus on major feature launches and form factor changes in a new version of an iPhone, typically designated by a new number, and then push for performance improvements in a follow-up “S” version.
That’s not to say that an “S” couldn’t have a few new, fun features of its own. The iPhone 3GS kept the same physical design of the iPhone 3G, but brought video recording to the iPhone for the first time. Vloggers rejoiced—except, perhaps, for iJustine.
iPhone 4 — Retina Display and FaceTime
Once Apple introduced Retina Display, quadrupling the number of pixels on the iPhone 4’s screen, there was no turning back. A brand-new front-facing camera also joined the lovely looking display to transform video calls from geeky fad to actual reality. Assuming, of course, you could get a connection—remember #AntennaGate?
The iPhone 4’s sleek and modern design featured front-and-back glass and a stainless steel band that doubled as the device’s antenna, for better or worse. Connectivity issues associated with the antenna design prompted Jobs himself to address the problems in a special press conference. Apple's solution? Free cases for all iPhone 4 owners—killing the "death grip" issues for good.
iPhone 4S — saying hello to Siri
The launch of the iPhone 4S gave all potential purchasers a new Apple friend to chat with—Siri, an intelligent digital assistant that could help you out with everyday tasks and queries. This was a huge moment for Apple and the beginning of a digital arms race for artificial intelligence on smartphones and home devices. It was also the last Apple keynote Steve Jobs would ever see; he passed away the day after the iPhone 4S' official debut.
iPhone 5 — a big refresh to a classic design
The iPhone 5 was the last major iPhone release Steve Jobs participated in, and it represented a significant change in design and function over the iPhone 4S. The glass back? Gone. In its place, a new aluminum unibody that defined the look of the iPhone for generations to come. Apple also added an extra row of icons to the now-taller, four-inch display of the iPhone 5, but not all of Apple’s changes were insanely great.
The iPhone 5 also introduced Apple’s (buggy) Maps app, which replaced Google Maps as the iPhone's default mapping app forevermore. If you’re still nostalgic for the classic iPhone 5 design, Apple has you covered. Check out the special-edition iPhone SE, which combines this classic design with modern, faster components.
iPhone 5S — thumbing your smartphone
Goodbye, passcodes. The launch of the iPhone 5S included the debut of Touch ID, a revolutionary and speedy way to make secure, mobile payments (like buying gear in our Unboxed app). Touch ID also made it a lot faster for owners to buy goods from real-world merchants—no annoying credit card signature needed.
The iPhone 5S also came with iOS 7, a completely redesigned version of Apple's mobile operating system that focused on displaying authentic content in a flat design instead of featuring user interfaces that resembled real-world objects—skeuomorphism, in other words. Simply put, Game Center no longer looked like a digital recreation of a felt table; it looked like a mobile app.
iPhone 6 and 6 Plus — bigger is better
For years, Apple stuck to a single form factor for every new version of the iPhone. Sure, the sizes of its mobile devices evolved slightly over time, but if you wanted a new iPhone 5S, for example, its display came in a single size—four inches. That's it.
With the iPhone 6, Apple launched two iPhone variants: a 4.7-inch version and a larger iPhone 6 Plus with a “whopping” 5.5-inch display. Customers loved the bigger screens and Apple sold a record-breaking 10 million units of the larger iPhone over launch weekend. The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus also gave a bit of an indirect boost to the unboxing community—great for content creators, but not-so-great for Apple.
On September 23, 2014, a guy named Lew with a YouTube channel called “Unbox Therapy” taped himself successfully bending the iPhone 6 Plus with his bare hands. The video received over 70 million views, Unbox Therapy became one of the most followed tech channels on YouTube, and Apple had another design headache to deal with: BendGate.
iPhone 6S and 6S Plus — when 'everything' changed
Apple threw in tougher glass to beat BendGate and updated its iPhones’ cameras—per usual—but the major feature it packed into the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus was 3D Touch. Now, a pressure-sensitive display allowed users to interact with apps in new and innovative ways, jabbing their fingers as hard as they can into their devices to activate an app’s contextual elements.
Apple's motto for the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus launch? “The only thing that's changed is everything.”
iPhone 7 and 7 Plus — not just black, jet black
Besides adding an extra telephoto camera lens to the iPhone 7 Plus, Apple also introduced a brand new color for both the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus—Jet Black. Apple developed this new aluminium finish using crazy technology like "rotational 3D polishing" and "magnetized ionized particle baths," as Jony Ive so nicely narrated in a video shown at the device’s launch.
This “unicorn phone” was so-named due to its scarcity at launch. That said, I was lucky enough to find not one, but two unicorns, and I sold one to TechSmartt who used it to make this video: “The Holy Grail iPhone 7.”
iPhone 8 and 8 Plus — really, the “iPhone 7S”
Reviewers and customers criticized Apple for the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, noting that the devices didn’t seem to contain as much of a technological leap from the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus to warrant an upgrade. Worse, Apple hamstrung itself by simultaneously announcing the iPhone 8 smartphones at the same time as the iPhone X—the first time the company attempted to premiere two flagship devices at one keynote.
The result? iPhone 8 sales are allegedly lagging, a rare misstep for the company. The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus share the same dimensions as their predecessors, though their backplates are now made out of glass—a throwback to the classic iPhone 4/4S design. The design is for function and form, however; the glass black allows Apple to (finally) debut wireless charging on iPhone.
The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are Apple’s fastest smartphones yet, and a brand-new studio portrait mode is fun to play with on their upgraded cameras. Still, customers—and reviewers—wanted more. If iPhone X represents the future, iPhone 8 would be the best and most refined representation of the current generation of iPhones Apple has to offer. And it’s a great “fallback” device for the many, many people who will be unable to get an iPhone X within months of its launch.
iPhone X — the future is here
The future of the iPhone sounds like buzzword bingo: Super Retina, True Tone, HDR, OLED, TrueDepth, Face ID, Dual OIS, A11 Bionic, Notch.
With the launch of the iPhone X, Apple is attempting to redefine the next decade of its mobile devices, a future that features edge-to-edge display technology, facial recognition and mapping, animated poop, augmented reality, and more gesture-driven user interfaces. Some of these techniques will find great success. (We do love animojis.)
Others will be a bit more controversial or, in some cases, finicky—here’s looking at you, Face ID. There’s no denying that the iPhone X represents a big turning point from Apple, and it’s going to be very interesting to see how the company continues to push innovation and design in its next batch of iPhones—whether they’re the iPhone 9, the iPhone XS, or iPhone XI, the iPhone X2, or the...
...one more iPhone
Yes, we left the iPhone 5C off our list of milestones. That’s purposeful. This colorful, low-cost, unapologetically plastic device was meant to give Apple a foothold into the budget smartphone market, but its entry cost of $549 was far from affordable. iFlop.
...or all the iPhones?
If prefer a more graphical look at every iPhone released ever, be sure to check out EverythingApplePro's comparison of all the iPhones that don't have an "X" in their name—though we assume an updated video will be arriving within the next week or so once the iPhone X officially launches.