History of the Apple iPhone

Apple retro logoIt is hard to pinpoint the exact moment in time that kicked off the smartphone revolution. Apple released the first iPhone in 2007, the iPhone 2G. Whereas the very first iPhone mainly appealed to early adopters and the technically oriented core of the already existing Apple fans, an arguably more intense and lasting change occurred with the advent of the iPhone 3G in 2008. A bunch of new features and a more affordable price point enabled Apple’s “next big thing” to reach many more regular consumers that weren’t tech aficionados at the time.

The following years continued the integration of something that we today take for granted: Apple’s rise to the top cemented the position of smartphone technology in our daily lives, despite initial skepticism on behalf of tech commenters and the general populace. Today, owning an iPhone is not the mark of the nerd, but rather a very normal thing. It is quite formidable to see, how in retrospect this change took place over the timespan of eight years. Comparing this to the relatively small changes that were made to cellphones in the decades before the smartphone age is a great way to put things into perspective. Fast forward into 2015 and we’ve already reached the 8th generation of the iPhone, which is exponentially more capable and popular.

iPhone Overview
iPhone (iPhone 2G) (2007)
iPhone 3G (2008)
iPhone 3Gs (2009)
iPhone 4 (2010)
iPhone 4s (2011)
iPhone 5 (2012)
iPhone 5s (2013)
iPhone 5c (2013)
iPhone 6 (2014)
iPhone 6 Plus (2014)
iPhone 6s (2015)
iPhone 6s Plus (2015)

What follows is a history of the iPhone, segmented into the different models and how they came to be. We have listed milestones of iPhone development as well as details for every iPhone model down the road.

Early days & roadmap to the first iPhone

We can trace back the initial idea by Steve Jobs to develop something like the iPhone to the early 2000s. Names such as TelePod, Mobi and TriPod are said to have been part of the early process in 2004, until it was internally agreed to settle on the much more elegant and straightforward term iPhone. The TriPod name entails a key part of the unveiling presentation of the final product, as it stands on three pillars or is made up of three dintinct features: Making calls, surfing the web, listening to music.

The 29th of June 2007 was the day the iPhone hit the shelves and represented the culmination of years of research and negotiations with services providers in the cellular network business. While it certainly was expensive and thus arguably exclusive at launch, especially when reconciling what it actually could do well with the steep price, it sold very well. The first quarter saw roughly 1.1 Million sales of the initial iPhone. When comparing the specifications with today’s models, the early iPhone seems like a terrible deal. Only 480 by 320 pixels of resolution, a blurry 2 MP camera on the back, an achingly slow processing speed of 412 MHz and only 4 GB of internal storage, of which 3.5 GB were available to the user. Despite the limitations of the hardware and a few serious flaws, the iPhone 2G set an important precedent for the smartphone market upon which Apple would build its legacy.

The iPhone was meant for everyone

The iPhone was meant to reach casual users and appeal to everyone, a goal which was pursued in a focused manner with the next generation, the iPhone 3G. Aside from the largely unchanged internals, the 3G came with a thinner form factor and – most importantly – with much improved capabilities in the communications department. It had gained support for UMTS mobile data and was thus accessing the internet at acceptable speeds now, while GPS enabled users to get directions and navigate using their iPhone.

The next big leap in iPhone evolution came with the iPhone 3GS. The third generation carried the “s” designation we now know for additional speed (hence the name) and fine-tuned features. A new processing unit with 600 Mhz and a doubling of download speeds to 7.2 Mbit from previously 3.6 Mbit as well as double the RAM (256 MB) lead to a far more pleasurable user experience. Additionally, the iPhone’s camera was upgraded to 3 MP as well as autofocus and automatic white balance. This made iPhone photography actually usable and enjoyable, said many users at the time.

How the competition reacted

It was not for long until the competition reacted to the advent of the iPhone and the third generation saw many peers from other vendors. Various Android devices appeared on the market, also driven by touchscreens and now also supplemented by an own store, the Android Market or the Ovi Store by Nokia. Apple was forced to once more innovate and push back the competition. They were successful in this endeavor, which brought us the iPhone 4 in 2010. The general public’s opinion that Apple was a force to be reckoned with was now strongly reinforced, despite the growing competition.

An even thinner case and scratch-resistant glass in combination with stainless steel meant not only great recyclability, but also an irresistible design that drew the attention of the masses. An even more powerful Apple A4 chip with 1.000 MHz  and again double the RAM at 512 MB as well as an increased “Retina” screen resolution at 960 by 640 pixels made the iPhone 4 a highly attractive device. The iPhone 4 was the very first retina display carrying device and set a standard for the later models, as well as some of the iPad models and later on the MacBook and iMac lines. The camera was upgraded to 5 MP and an LED flash, as well as HD video capabilities. This generation also brought along the microSIM form factor for smaller SIM cards. And the operating system known as iPhone OS was simplified in its name, which we’ve known from this day as iOS.

In the year that followed (2010), Apple released the improved version dubbed the iPhone 4s. One might argue that the “s” in the name stood as much for “Siri” as it stood for the speed upgrade. The new highlight drew in further fans, everyone wanted to give the charming virtual personal assistant a try. The Apple A5 SoC that was part of the iPhone 4s included a powerful dual core CPU with a frequency of 800 MHz, which left the competition far behind in benchmarks and in terms of real world performance. The camera was once again refined to a point that it could shoot images with 8 MP of resolution and full HD videos in 1080p. The new version of iOS 5 brought along GLONASS support alongside GPS, effectively increasing the coverage for navigation and positioning.

The iPhone 5 and how Apple deviated from its yearly cycle

The sixth generation surprised a lot of users, Apple had actually changed the form factor to a taller and larger iPhone 5 with an elongated shape, but still retained the throne of building extremely light devices in 2012. In fact, the taller iPhone 5 was lighter than its predecessors and weighed a mere 112 grams. The 4 inch screen measured 1136 by 640 pixels and allowed for more room for interaction, more text on the screen and another row of icons on the Home Screen.

Despite of the competition betting on quad-core chips, Apple decided to go for yet another round of dual-core processing due to a sweet spot that married energy efficiency and performance in a highly effective manner.

The iPhone 5’s Apple A6 SoC had half of the processor cores when compared to Samsung’s Galaxy S3 flagship model at the time, but benchmarks still proved that the iPhone would perform better in practice. Due to different chip architectures and operating systems, a more strict way of handling the unity of hardware and software as well as optimizations across the board, Apple had once again triumphed in terms of raw processing performance as well as 3D graphics rendering for games and GPU-intensive applications. In terms of camera performance, Apple added new features such as the panorama shot as well as still photos during a videos recording. While the camera’s sensor still clocked in at 8 MP, shots looked more refined due to the improved digital signal processing and taking images was quicker, compared to the predecessors.

In 2013, the successors of the 6th generation iPhone broke Apple’s habit of releasing a single product every year and brought about a new cycle: While the iPhone 5s was predictably an improved version of what we had already seen, the iPhone 5c also made its debut on the world stage as a repackaged and modified iPhone 5 with a polycarbonate shell in five vibrant colors (some argue that the “c” stands for “color”) and many of the internals of the previous generation at a lower price point. Other than that, the 5c was pretty much an iPhone 5 with a fresh coat of paint and a slightly better battery life. As the 5c was shipped earlier than the 5s, it was also the first device to land on shelves with iOS 7 preinstalled.

The new flagship in the shape of the iPhone 5s also came in new metallic shades, including Space Grey, Silver and Gold – effectively setting itself as the premium product in terms of its marketing. Quite impressive and and industry first was Apple’s jump to a 64 Bit microprocessor architecture in the A7 chip, which laid the groundwork for further performance improvements and features. Battery life improvements and iOS 7 sealed the deal for many users looking for a convincing upgrade. One of the major hardware highlights of the iPhone 5s was of course the Touch ID fingerprint sensor that enabled users to unlock their device with a short touch of the Home Button. Furthermore, Touch ID serves as an authentification solution for the iTunes Store and has continued to be an integral part of the security features that later on made it into Apple Pay. The iPhone 5s camera was further improved in terms of the sensor, which retained the 8 MP resolution but boasted a smaller pixel size and better low-light performance. A major feature that was gained in terms of the camera was the 120 FPS slow motion recording.

Thiner, smaller, faster

2014 saw another release of two devices alongside each other. The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus marked the year of another increase in the form factor, with the iPhone 6 Plus sporting a 5.5 inch screen diagonal – a formidable size increase that went against the grain of Steve Jobs’ philosophy of keeping the device easily controllable with a single hand. But the market demanded bigger iPhones and finally got them, sparking demand for both the 4.7 inch iPhone 6 and its larger sibling. The fact that Apple went for bigger iPhone screens was extremely damaging to the competition, as we would see in the quarters following the release of the new models.

Both models are essentially the same device with a different screen size and resolution, although there were a few notable differences. The iPhone 6 Plus had to push more pixels (1920 by 1080 pixels, “full HD”) with the same Apple A8 system on chip (SoC) and thusly 3D performance and overall GPU performance was slightly better on the smaller iPhone 6 with a resolution of 1334 by 750 pixels, running at a notably lower pixel density of 326 PPI versus 401 PPI. Both share the same 1.4 GHz dual-core 64-bit ARMv8-A “Typhoon” main processor and a PowerVR Series 6 graphics processor in their specifications and 1 GB of RAM. Benchmarks saw a 50 percent increase in graphics performance and a 25 percent increase in raw number crunching. Both models carry an upgraded version of the motion co-processor originally found in the iPhone 5s, which was now called the M8 chip. It recorded barometer data in addition to the previously also collected sensory data for fitness tracking and other applications.

One of the more noticeable improvements, next to the redesigned and extremely thin and more rounded chassis that took design cues from Samsung’s Ativ S series, was the camera of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Both sport an 8 MP sensor with 1.5 micron pixel size and an f/2.2 aperture opening with sensational digital signal processing and tone mapping, better noise reduction, high performance in low light, a sapphire glass cover protecting the lens and a dual-LED flash with two color temperatures. The new “focus pixels” introduced with this generation were basically something photographers know as phase detection autofocus, which lends itself to extremely fast focusing speed and accuracy. In practice, this meant that the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus not only shot great images and 1080p video at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second, but also focus while taking a video. Slow motion videos were even more impressive at double the frame rate of its predecessor (240 FPS). The larger 6 Plus even gained optical image stabilization (OIS), which allows for clearer and less shaky shots, especially when shooting with little available light.

The new design made the iconic devices appeal to an even broader range of customers, as the reduced thickness and simplicity complemented the rounded corners and a nearly gapless transition from chassis to the slightly rounded glass at the front.

All iPhone models

iPhoneiPhone 3GiPhone 3Gs
Size11,5 x 6,1 x 1,16 cm11,5 x 6,2 x 1,23 cm11,5 x 6,2 x 1,2 cm
Display3,5 Inch, 480 x 320 Pixel3,5 Inch, 480 x 320 Pixel3,5 Inch, 480 x 320 Pixel
Voice Call / Standby8/250 Hours10/300 Hours12/300 Hours
OSOS XiOS 4.2.1iOS 5
Processor412 MHz400 MHz600 MHz
ConnectivtyGSM, EDGE, WLAN, BluetoothGSM, EDGE, UMTS, HSDPA ,WLAN, BluetoothGSM, EDGE, UMTS, HSDPA ,WLAN, Bluetooth
Internal Memory4, 8, 16 GB8, 16 GB16, 32 GB
Camera2 Megapixel2 Megapixel3 Megapixel with Autofocus
Release PrizeAb 399$Ab 199$Ab 369$


iPhone 4iPhone 4siPhone 5
Size11,5 x 5,8 x 0,9 cm11,5 x 5,8 x 0,9 cm12,38 x 5,86 x 0,76cm
Display3,5 Inch, Retina, 960 x 640 Pixel3,5 Inch, Retina, 960 x 640 Pixel4 Inch, Retina, 1136 x 640 Pixel
Voice Call / Standby7/300 Hours8/200 Hours8/225 Hours
OSiOS 5iOS 5iOS 6
1.000 MHz
A5-Dualcore Chip
800 MHz
2×1 GHz
Internal Memory16, 32 GB16, 32, 64 GB16, 32, 64 GB
Camera5 Megapixel, Autofocus, LED-Flash, Front-camera, HD-Videos8 Megapixel, Autofocus, LED-Flash, Front-camera, HD-Videos8 Megapixel, Autofocus, LED-Flash, Front-camera, HD-Videos
Release PrizeAb 629$Ab 629$679 $ (16 GB)
789 $ (32 GB)
899 $ (64 GB)


iPhone 5ciPhone 5s
Size12,44 x 5,92 x 0,89 cm12,38 x 5,92 x 0,76 cm
Display4 Inch, Retina, 1136 x 640 Pixel4 Inch, Retina, 1136 x 640 Pixel
Voice Call / Standby10/250 Hours10/250 Hours
OSiOS 6iOS 6
2×1 GHz
A7 64-Bit, M7 CoProcessor
2×1,3 GHz
Internal Memory16, 32 GB16, 32, 64 GB
Camera5 Megapixel, Autofocus, LED-Flash, Front-camera, HD-Videos8 Megapixel, Autofocus, LED-Flash, Front-camera, HD-Videos with 1,5µ Pixeln
Release Prize599 $ (16 GB)
699 $ (32 GB)
699 $ (16 GB)
799 $ (32 GB)
899 $ (64 GB)


iPhone 6iPhone 6 Plus
Size13,80 x 6,9 x 0,67 cm15,81 x 7,1 x 0,778 cm
Display4,7 Inch, Retina, 1334 x 720 Pixel5,5 Inch, Retina, 1920 x 1080 Pixel
Voice Call / Standby14/250 Hours24/384 Hours
OSiOS 8iOS 8
Processor64 Bit-Dual-Core Apple A8, 2x 2 GHz64 Bit-Dual-Core Apple A8, 2x 2 GHz
Internal Memory16, 64, 128 GB16, 64, 128 GB
Camera8 Megapixel with Full-HD-Video with 60 FPS
(Slow Motion Function with 240 FPS)
Front-camera: 1,2 Megapixel 960p-HD-Video
8 Megapixel with Full-HD-Video with 60 FPS
(Slow Motion Function with 240 FPS)
Front-camera: 1,2 Megapixel 960p-HD-Video
Release Prize699 $ (16 GB)
799 $ (64 GB)
899 $ (128 GB)
799 $ (16 GB)
899 $ (64 GB)
999 $ (128 GB)

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