Well, it’s been more than a decade (twelve to be exact) since Apple first introduced the iPhone. The first generation of the device that would change the world was missing a lot of what we now expect in an iPhone, but it set up the road map for Apple that continues to this day. In this article, we’ll look at how the iPhone has evolved since its first release.
Though every iPhone generation builds upon the last, so each is different, the easiest way to tell iPhones apart just by a glance is by screen size, so we’ll group iPhone eras by that metric.
The story of the original iPhone
For many reasons, Apple’s first-generation iPhone was very different from the ones we see in use today. The first iPhone was quite small; it was just about 4.5 inches by 2.4 inches. A very tiny device compared to the iPhone XS Max launched in 2018 that is 6.2 inches by 3.05 inches. Second, the first iPhone was a closed-off device and had absolutely no third-party apps whatsoever. Its internal flash memory maxed out at 16GB(unbelievably small by today’s standards. Finally, the device was made to run only on AT&T’s notoriously slow and unreliable EDGE GSM network. The first iPhone had a ton of shortcomings; however, it was hugely important. Apple’s first venture into a smartphone and mobile device as the only other handheld released by the company was the iPod.
This device marked the debut of the touchscreen, which would soon become standard in the category. This isn’t to say that it was the first publicly released touch screen phone, but the others had physical keyboards and a much smaller screen.
Before the first iPhone went public, the market was saturated with smartphones. According to Canalys data, 22 million smartphones were sold worldwide, and half of those belonged to then-market leader Nokia. BlackBerry came in second and then followed by Motorola, Palm, and Sony Ericsson. At that time, most smartphones had the same Motorola Q or Samsung Blackjack design. They were all small, rectangular handsets, with a screen on top and buttons on the bottom. With the first iPhone release in January 2007, that whole design idea was scrapped and replaced.
The truth was, before its release, no one took the iPhone seriously. Many thought it couldn’t happen; others thought it wouldn’t succeed. Even during its launch, there were quite a few big-name doubters.
Microsoft’s CEO at the time, Steve Ballmer, said in an interview that the iPhone had “no chance” of taking over the smartphone market. He said:
“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share No chance. It’s a $500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I’d prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them; then I would have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get.” Boy, was he wrong, and he admitted it because, in 2016, he admitted to Bloomberg that he had been wrong and that Microsoft had jumped into smartphones too late.
However, Ballmer wasn’t the only big-name doubter of Apple’s new device. Blackberry’s then-CEOs, Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie watched the iPhone unveiling in disbelief. Some others in the media weren’t even trying to hide their doubts. “We Predict the iPhone Will Fail,” a Techcrunch contributor wrote. Even AdAge was expecting the device to fail as well.
Before the iPhone even started getting developed, Steve Jobs had reportedly eyed using touchscreens on Apple devices as early as 2005. After the failure that was the Motorola ROKR, a phone that came equipped with iTunes, Apple decided to develop its own phone, which would incorporate the iPod’s musical functions into a smartphone. After preparations were complete, the iPhone was announced during that year’s Macworld event in San Francisco on January 9, 2007. On one particular keynote, Jobs said, “This is a day I’ve been looking forward to for two-and-a-half years.” Afterward, he listed the leading smartphones of the time; the Motorola Q, the Palm Treo, the Nokia E62, and the BlackBerry. He didn’t hold back when he basically trashed these products when compared to his new product.
“They all have these keyboards that are there, whether you need them or not to be there, and they all have these control buttons that are fixed in plastic and are the same for every application,” said Jobs. “What we’re going to do is get rid of these buttons and replace them with a giant screen.”
The famous “Hello” commercial, which featured a succession of movie clips of characters answering telephones and saying “hello,” was released a week after.
As of June 29, 2007, the iPhone had released on public markets in the US and was priced at $499 and $599, for 4GB and 8GB models, respectively, along with a two-year contract with AT&T. It ran on a simple OS known as the iPhone OS 1, as the iOS naming convention wouldn’t be adopted until 2010. As said before, the phone had only Apple’s native apps, as third-party applications wouldn’t be available until the App Store launched along with the iPhone 3G a year later.
While it wasn’t a groundbreaking success, the device released largely positive reviews. One David Pogue wrote in the New York Times as follows:
“As it turns out, much of the hype and some of the criticisms are justified. The iPhone is revolutionary; it’s flawed. It’s substance; it’s style. It does things no phone has ever done before; it lacks features found even on the most basic phones.”
In one publication in The Wall Street Journal’s All Things D, Walter Mossberg wrote:
“Despite some flaws and feature omissions, the iPhone is, on balance, a beautiful and breakthrough handheld computer. Its software, especially, sets a new bar for the smartphone industry, and its clever finger-touch interface, which dispenses with a stylus and most buttons, works well, though it sometimes adds steps to common functions”.
The first iPhone didn’t dominate the market, but it did sell 1.9 million units in 2007, according to Statista. In hindsight, a small number as they sold 216.76 million iPhones in 2017. This shows that it took Apple a few years to earn a dominant market position; as the device improved, it added more features. It became both more affordable and available on more carriers.
This device left a Legacy that set Apple on its current course as a company in which the iPhone is the product line that both sells the most and is most important to its bottom line and financial health. Moreover, it was a revolutionary device not just for Apple but for the world as almost no mobile devices had touchscreens then, but now, nearly all of them do.
That original iPhone sold just over 6 million in its first year. While current iPhone sales significantly outpace that number, the first iPhone’s legacy is secure as one of the most important products in Apple history.
iPhone: The 3.5in Era
The Apple iPhone first went on sale on 29 June 2007 and featured a 3.5in the display. The slogan for the device was “This is only the beginning”–and boy was Apple right. While the first iteration of the iPhone was revolutionary for its time, by today’s standards, it was archaic. It didn’t have several features we take for granted today, like copy and paste, 3G, or even apps.
Released a year later, iPhone 3G was largely identical to the original iPhone, but with 3G connectivity and raising the minimum storage to 8GB. It also featured a redesigned polycarbonate plastic housing, which replaced the aluminum backing of the original iPhone, a move that made the iPhone 3G slightly lighter. It also allowed Apple to reduce the phone’s retail price by half and to offer the iPhone in different colors, black or white.
The iPhone 3GS followed a year later. And so began the Apple tradition of adding an ‘S’ to the end of the name for a minor iPhone upgrade. For those who don’t know, the “S” officially stood for “speed.” And that’s what this version offered–mainly internal speed improvements such as a faster 600MHz ARM A8 CPU and double the RAM at 256GB. However, this model did upgrade the rear camera to 3MP and increased the max storage to 32GB.
If the iPhone 3GS was a smaller step forward, the iPhone 4 was a big one. Considered by many as the best-designed iPhone ever, it featured an all-glass body that made it look sleeker & more modern and massively increased the pixel count while keeping the same 3.5-inch display size (this was the first Retina display). This is where design and power really jumped up, as it was also the first iPhone to use Apple’s A-series chipset (with the Apple A4) and add a front camera for FaceTime video calls.
The iPhone 4S was announced by CEO Tim Cook on 4 October 2011; Steve Jobs (one of Apple’s founders and one of the world’s most well-known entrepreneurs) passed away on 5 October. Apple swung back to the minor “S” upgrade for iPhone 4S, so there isn’t much to write about in terms of new specs and new features. Though this model did boost the rear camera to 8MP, and perhaps the biggest improvement on the software side was the arrival of Siri, Apple’s then-new digital voice assistant that is still in use today and that in many ways introduced the consumer world to the functionality of Artificial Intelligence.
The iCloud was also introduced, which allowed people to store multimedia files, contacts, and much more in the cloud, which freed up space on the device, something Apple most likely did in response to the complaint that there was never enough storage space on the iPhone.
iPhone: The 4in Era
The iPhone 5 debuted in 2012; continuing the tradition of previous generations, the iPhone 5 was a major upgrade. Along with being the first iPhone with a display larger than 3.5in (the 4in display felt massive at the time), it also introduced the Lightning connector by ditching the old Dock connector. Another major change came with the materials. After switching from glass and plastic to glass and stainless steel with the iPhone 4, Apple decided to change once again and make the iPhone 5 with glass and aluminum, a move that made this the lightest device in iPhone history.
On the iOS side, we got our first look at a rather buggy Apple Maps, taking over from Google Maps as the default option.
The flagship model for 2013, iPhone 5S, stuck to the design of the iPhone 5 but introduced two major enhancements: the Touch ID fingerprint reader (& dropped the home button) and the A7 chipset (the world’s first 64-bit processor in a Smartphone). 2013 was an interesting year in iPhone history because it was this year when Apple decided to start releasing not one but two iPhones every September. Part of the reason for this was because Apple was now up against more competition than ever.
The second phone that was unveiled that year was the iPhone 5C, with “C” standing for “Color”. Basically, a rebadged iPhone 5 with a few cosmetic changes, the device featured a hard-coated polycarbonate shell that came in multiple bright colors (green, blue, yellow, pink, and white). For the first time ever, Apple offered customers the chance to buy an iPhone in color other than black or white. Providing iPhone lovers with an option that was cheaper but still brand new for the first time.
The following year Apple unveiled the iPhone 6 (discussed below) & the iPhone SE. The iPhone SE retained the 4in display, but included many of the features of the larger iPhone 6.
iPhone: The 4.7in and 5.5in Era
For a long time, Apple resisted the temptation to follow the industry trend for bigger and bigger Smartphone screens, but it finally bowed to the pressure in 2014. It was also the year when Apple released two flagship iPhones. The iPhone 6 extended the display size to 4.7in, and the iPhone 6 Plus saw a screen size of 5.5in. Both phones also featured a shift to a metal body, Apple Pay, and major speed improvements but were blighted by “bendgate”.
Both offered an exciting new feature known as Near Field Communication (NFC). This enabled the iPhone to be used as a payment device, and it gave birth to Apple Pay, a service that allows people to pay for things by simply placing their phone next to a payment terminal.
In 2016, Apple unveiled the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus. There was nothing surprising about them, as every odd-numbered year has yielded an ’S’ variant of the previous year’s phone, offering a few upgrades but largely keeping the same design and chassis. The big improvements here were the 12MP rear camera, an upgrade to the aluminum used to make it stronger, and the 3D Touch display (a display capable of sensing how hard a user pressed it).
The year after, it came out with the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Many were disappointed with the set as it broke Apple’s tick-tock cycle of introducing new designs every two years. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus looked almost identical to 2016’s iPhone 6S series, to the point that you’ll barely be able to tell the difference if you place them side-by-side. However, the iPhone 7 Plus did offer a first: a dual-lens rear camera system (offering bokeh portrait and 2x optical zoom for quality close-ups).
In 2017, Apple again kept with the relatively same form factor and released the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. However, this model did feature True Tone technology, an all-glass back over metal, double the storage and wireless charging, as well as many of the internals that the iPhone X has. Moreover, it was the last model to offer Touch ID as a biometric option, with the iPhone X setting the standard for the future iPhones with Face ID.
iPhone: The 5.8in Era
2017 was also the year when iPhone X was unveiled. The 10-year anniversary iPhone saw a screen-size boost to 5.8in and, more importantly, ditching one of the iPhone’s most iconic interactions: the home button, in favor of an all-screen design. It is arguably the most radical iPhone ever, as you now need to swipe up with your finger to exit apps and switch between screens. Doing away with the Home button, though, means there is no more Touch ID. But to compensate, the iPhone X has facial recognition, meaning all you need to do is look at your phone to unlock it. It also sets the stage for the company’s next 10 years.
Returning to its tradition of releasing an “S” version, in 2018, Apple unveiled the iPhone XS. The main goal of this upgrade was to improve upon the iPhone X, and that’s what it did, offering an improved camera, dual-SIM support, A12 Bionic chip, and a 512GB storage option, as well as longer battery life and a new Gold finish.
iPhone: The 6.1in and 6.5in Era
2018 also saw the release of iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR. iPhone XS Max is by far the biggest iPhone Apple has ever made, measuring at 6.5in. The phablet came with all the same improvements as the iPhone XS but in a larger, expensive, and fabulous package.
Sitting at the bottom of the 2018 iPhone X range, the XR was billed as the low-end “budget” iPhone, with a cost of £749. While having the all-screen design of the iPhone XS series, the iPhone XR distinguished itself from the XS by squeezing right down the middle when it comes to size. Whereas the iPhone XS was 5.8in and the iPhone XS Max was 6.5in, the iPhone XR was 6.1in.
The iPhone 11 succeeds the iPhone XR, and while it has the same look and feel, it adds a secondary camera on the rear, along with a new camera housing that has a frosted finish. There are also some great new colors (white, black, green, yellow, purple, and PRODUCT(RED)). The iPhone 11 has new hardware over the XR and some great new camera capabilities, including the option to take wide-angle and “Ultra wide-angle” photos. Other features include a new night mode to improve low-light photography and 4k video capability. One thing I personally liked about the release of the iPhone in 2019 is Apple’s decision to abandon its confusing lettering system to return to good ‘ole numbers.
The iPhone 11 Pro succeeds the iPhone XS with an all-new, somewhat polarizing camera housing, a lovely frosted matte glass finish, and plenty of hardware upgrades – especially in the camera department.
The iPhone 11 Pro Max offers an identical design to the iPhone 11 Pro but on a larger scale, succeeding the iPhone XS Max. It is a 6.5-inch beauty – especially in the midnight green color – and its camera capabilities are excellent, with Night Mode making low-light shots much better.
iPhone changes over the years
|iPhone 6 Plus||2014
|iPhone 6S Plus||2015
|iPhone 7 Plus||2016
|5.5||7.0||2 x 12.2|
|iPhone 8 Plus||2017
|5.5||7.0||2 x 12.2|
|5.8||7.0||2 x 12.2|
|iPhone XS Max||2018
|6.5||7.0||2 x 12.2|
|iPhone 11 Pro||2019
|iPhone 11 Pro Max||2019
|iPhone 12 Mini||2020
|iPhone 12 Pro||2020
|iPhone 12 Pro Max||2020
How much does it cost to make an iPhone?
A lot of people have probably asked this question for several reasons. Some want to know how much is put into building up this device, while others may want to be clued in on their paying. Well, fret no longer as I now delve into the pricing of the iPhone parts and what else is included to make the cost the way it is. For this article, I’ll be using the stable iPhone 11 and the pro max, not the iPhone 12, because that’s still a relatively new device.
The cost of Apple devices is nothing to scoff at, although your money isn’t wasted because these devices deliver more than they are expected to. Still, $699 on that new iPhone 11 Pro is some solid cash. There’s also the $1,449 512GB iPhone Pro Max that will cost just about as much as a few nights out on the town or even as much as a used car. These numbers really make you wonder just how much Apple spends making these devices. Well, the answer is just as surprising as the basis for the question.
Well, luckily for us, there are tons of intrepid technologists at sites like iFixit and TechInsights that do teardown analyses on the newest smartphones every year. These analyses look to examine and inventory the various parts that make up the phones. Most of the numbers in these reports are slightly different from the real deal, so that you won’t get an accurate picture of the actual cost. However, you’ll still have a pretty close idea of what these things cost. Let’s have a look at some of their findings. NBC News and TechInsights gave a report on the 6.5-inch screen on the iPhone 11 Pro Max. The screen on this device is definitely eye-catching, but the price isn’t as steep as Apple makes it out to be. The screen on the 11 pro max allegedly costs Apple roughly $66.50, which is a hell of a lot less than the replacement iPhone screens for this device.
Next up is the phone’s insides, and we’re going to be taking a look at the battery. The iPhone 11 pro max comes with an inbuilt Samsung battery. Again, this part isn’t all that expensive, as TechInsights says the battery goes for about $10.50. We’ll move on to the triple camera module that the device is renowned for. These babies let you take all the glorious shots that you’d expect from a modern Apple device. The camera module costs about $73.50. The remaining parts of the device, namely; the processor, the modem, and the memory, as well as the circuit boards that house these parts, all are bought for about $159. Other minimal parts like sensors, wires, PCBs, and many others are also required in the device to make it a recognizable form factor. These minor peripherals all sell for an average of $181. According to TechInsights, this brings the total cost of the iPhone 11 pro max to about $490.50. Now that’s a surprisingly low price as it’s well under half the device’s retail price. However, that’s just a bill of the items contained in the device. Other factors contribute to the price of these devices. There’s the cost of manufacturing and assembly to worry about. Apple also has to consider the expense of shipping the product to you, the software, marketing, and intangibles such as R&D costs. The price tag on these factors is more challenging to mention. You’ll have to go with your imagination on this, but can they really be up to the $600 difference between the bill of goods and the $1,099 retail price of the entry-level iPhone 11 Pro Max?
There is another common question that arises up from these details. Has the pricing of these devices always been like this? Some people wonder if older phones were cheaper, or is Apple making more money off us today than it used to? These are all valid questions, and to answer them, let’s look at the pricing of some earlier iPhone models. There was an iFixit analysis of 2018’s iPhone XS Max. This analysis put the cost of the 256GB model at about $443 worth of materials. That’s a difference of $807 compared to the 1,259 dollars retail price. This means that the company is making substantially less on its new phones than it did last year.
Then again, you might ask, what about even earlier stuff? Back when the iPhone 6 came out in 2014, A teardown analysis of that 16GB model, which sold for $649 at the time, revealed that components and manufacturing costs added up to $200.10, or about $450 less than Apple charged you at the time. As noted by Times magazine, the price tag on that device was more than three times the cost of components and manufacturing.
This all goes to show you that iPhone parts have gotten substantially more expensive, and there’s more stuff overall getting crammed into phones, especially camera lenses. Well, now you know what the pricing of these devices looks like on the inside. This is how it is for almost every device on the market, so there really are no better ways to get more out of your money, just preferences.
Well, that’s it. In this article, we went through all the iPhones that have been released to this date. The next iPhone models are due to be announced in September this year, with talk of a change in design, OLED displays, and 5G on at least one model. So, what’ll happen?
- Will Apple simply come out with an updated version of its latest device?
- Will they break the mold and come out with something truly groundbreaking?
- Will they finally find a way to prevent people from working out how to unlock their iPhones?
- Will they once again remove the iOS exploits used to jailbreak their iPhones?
- Is the 4 lens camera just hype, or is it the real deal?
Stay tuned for the answers.