The evolution of the iPhone

Quality is much better than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.
— Steve Jobs

Let's be fair - smart phones and tablets have become standard household objects for many of us; as common as refrigerators or washing machines. In the UK, it is estimated that at least 65% of the nation own a smart phone in some respect. The smart phone has also replaced laptops as the number one device for accessing the internet. 

This all equates to some pretty interesting facts about consumer habits and how marketing is having to adapt to impact on the shorter attention spans we are developing.

Amazingly, this trend has not been long-lived; we are only really just getting started with using technology in this way. In fact, it was only back in 2007 that it all truly began. Yes, this was the year that Apple - led by Steve Jobs - released the first generation of the Apple iPhone.

While there were many shortcomings with the device, it was undoubtedly an exciting and innovative release, which quickly set the bar for other competitors to aspire to. Since 2007, the iPhone has gone through no less than 10 generations of devices - with the 11th (the iPhone 7) now clearly on the horizon. How then have Apple evolved the iPhone to remain fresh and desirable in an extremely competitive market?

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The first gen iPhone might not seem much by today's standards but it really was the first phone of its kind. On January 9th 2007, Jobs took stage as he announced Apple's newest product. He said: 

Well, today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device. So, three things: a widescreen iPod with touch controls; a revolutionary mobile phone; and a breakthrough Internet communications device. An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone … Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone. 
Today, today Apple is going to reinvent the phone, and here it is.

Later that year (June 29th to be exact) iPhone was released to the US market. It took 74 days to hit the first million units shipped mark. Fast forward 9 years and over a billion iPhone units (across all 10 generations) have been sold to a global market.

iPhone (2G) (June 2007)

The first iPhone set the standard for what we see in today's smart phone technology: it was touchscreen; used apps; made large use of digital media; and provided access to the internet. The phone came with a 320 x 480 pixel resolution (the very best of its time), a 2MP in-built camera and 8GB of internal storage. It certainly had it shortcomings (i.e. it did not utilise 3G, and the only available apps were directly from Apple) but it provided a solid foundation for the next version...

iPhone 3G (July 2008)

...the slightly confusingly named iPhone 3G. If the iPhone 1 was a good success, the iPhone 3G was monumental! Consumers were now offered high-speed internet connectivity via 3G, and the App Store was given a huge overhaul to radically improve it. In fact, this overhaul is the same business model you see today - not just on Apple products but Windows laptops, Smart TVs and many other products. Design-wise, the iPhone 3G was sleeker and the back cover changed to a shiny black.

iPhone 3GS (June 2009)

Consumers were largely disappointed with the 3GS launch - citing that not enough had been done to make this stand out against the 3G. However, a new 3.2MP camera, larger storage, significant performance upgrades, video recording capability, and voice control (pre-Siri) all added up to make this model a far more powerful version of its predecessor. 

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iPhone 4 (June 2010)

The iPhone 4 proved to be a massive step-up from the 3G / 3GS. For starters, Apple were able to integrate their Retina Display - pushing the screen resolution up to 640 x 960 pixels. A much-improved camera (5MP) was added and HD video recording became available. 

iPhone 4S (October 2011)

Externally the 4S was exactly the same. Internally however, graphic capabilities were largely improved and a new 8MP camera installed.

The 4S was also the first time that Siri was exclusively available on an iPhone. Ok, so Siri back then (and still today to be fair) was not perfect. However, its introduction was the first of its kind for smart phones. If nothing else, it showed that Apple were still ahead of the game in terms of innovation.


iPhone 5 (September 2012)

The newer model has very little in terms of specific upgrades. Instead, Apple looked to change the screen size and aspect ratio - delivering a longer screen running at 640 x 1136 pixels. While this model lacked the usual technical innovation, consumers were largely pleased with a crisper, bigger display.

iPhone 5C / 5S (September 2013)

The 5C and 5S releases were interesting. It was clear at this stage that Apple stock was taking a slight toll, as more and more Android and Windows based phones were coming to the market. To help stymie the gap Apple released two new iPhone versions.

iPhone 5C was almost exactly the same as the iPhone 5 - barring a few aesthetic and battery-life changes. It was intended fully as the more affordable iPhone option, to directly compete with those competitors who were able to  undercut Apple in terms of unit cost. In fact, the iPhone 5 was taken off the market so that the 5C was the only option for consumers looking for a phone at this spec and price.

The iPhone 5S was the notable upgraded version. It provided more power, a better battery, a better camera, and a new fingerprint scanner for added security / fun. It was also this year that Apple released the newest version of their operating system (iOS 7). This was a significant upgrade for Apple users and was perhaps the biggest selling point for the phones.

iPhone 6 / 6 Plus (September 2014)

Consumers were taking note in 2014, ahead of the iPhone 6 launch. Last year had seen two new iPhones introduced and successful sales had led to the product officially being the top-selling smart phone of all time. What could Apple do this year to ensure that this fact became legacy?

At the iPhone 6 announcement, Tim Cook (CEO of Apple) stated that:

Today, we are launching the biggest advancement in the history of iPhone.

And so, for the first time, two completely different sized models were announced!

While this is not the most exciting news, it does point towards one major thing - understanding how consumers are using their devices. In having a larger model, Apple are offering a choice between function and aesthetic; that is to say those who want to continue using their smart phone as it is vs. those who want to get more out of their smart phone, from a watching and interacting point of view. 

Aestheticism is the major selling point for the iPhone 6. Both display size and quality were radically improved - the 6 gaining 0.7" in screen size and the resolution jumping up to 1334 x 750; whereas the 6 Plus had a mammoth 5.5" and full high definition display of 1920 x 1080 (that is TV quality in your hand). 

It is important to note that the 6 Plus is not a tablet device - but somewhere between phone and tablet (phablet). Yes, it is a word that now exists!

To date, this is the most pre-ordered Apple iPhone; the record being absolutely smashed on just the first night it was available to order.

iPhone 6S / 6S Plus (September 2015)

In terms of hardware, much stayed the same from the previous year's models. Apple used a tougher alloy to create a sturdier, more resilient product, and the rear-facing camera got upgraded to 12MP. To accompany the new camera was a new feature - Live Photo - allowing a few seconds of video to be recorded for every photo taken.

The major new feature however was Apple's new 3D Touch technology. This allows different functions to be used dependent on the amount of pressure applied to the phone. For example - users can preview messages by pushing down on the Messages icon lightly, or quickly go to the Alarm window by pushing down on the Clock app. 

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iPhone SE (March 2016)

The latest version of the iPhone, the SE, holds nothing new compared to the iPhone 6 models. It basically is a newer version of the iPhone 5S with new camera, higher storage and the new iOS 9 software. 

This is intended to be a cheaper option to keep Apple competitive against their mid-range competitors. 

iPhone 7 (September 2016)

Apple's big reveal for the iPhone 7 happened this month and the first pre-orders will be shipping out very soon.

Apple have upped their game once more and there are some new features to take special note of:

  • No headphone jack: Yes, perhaps most controversial of all is Apple's decision to totally remove the usual 3.5mm audio jack port at the bottom of the device. Initial response was not good, as many consumers feared that they would have to buy new equipment just to use this feature, but all is not lost. While there are new, Bluetooth earphones that can be bought (£159), Apple will be shipping out both a set of Lightning EarPods (which connect via the charging port) and an adaptor so you can use your normal earphones (again connecting via the charging port). This has already caused quite a stir but it could be said that innovation has to start somewhere. With wearable accessories becoming more marketable, why not have wireless earphones? 
  • Dust and water resistance: this year Samsung have sold their latest phone, the Galaxy S7, very well on the strength of it being resistant to water and dust. While you can't take it on a Jules Verne adventure, it will survive the typical slip into the bath or toilet. It is unsurprising that Apple have followed suit.
  • Battery life: Apple have vowed that this is their best ever battery, with an expected life up to 2 hours longer than that of the 6S.
  • iOS 10: The launch of the iPhone 7 will match the launch of iOS 10, which promises to have the most intelligent version of Siri yet!

It can certainly be said that Apple have done their utmost to pioneer this technology sector. The initial release of the iPhone in 2007 has inspired other companies to create smart phones - but it is always Apple that seem to remain ahead in bringing simple, incredibly effective and very creative innovations to consumers.

Do you think Apple are pioneers? Has the evolution of the iPhone always been ahead of the curve? We'd love to hear your views on this article. Please comment below.