10 Years of the iPhone

Apple’s iconic phone range is now ten years old. I look back at its launch, its impact, and its legacy.

It’s hard to believe the iPhone is ten years old, but on the 9th January 2007, Steve Jobs announced a product that would take the world by storm – and change the way we look at mobile phones.

Launch

The keynote was very interesting and full of Apple wow, and while smartphones weren’t a new thing, they had – as Steve pointed out – been clunky, chunky devices with fixed buttons and designed to be used with a stylus rather than your finger. The iPhone was a sleek, smart looking device with no buttons on the front – except the home button – and no physical keyboard. This was designed to allow complete freedom for designers to use onscreen controls where they felt.

Design

The 3.5” device had a glass front with a metal surround. It featured a metal back with a plastic section at the bottom, which is the antenna cover. The power button, SIM tray, and recessed headphone socket were on the top. The bottom featured the 30-pin dock connector as well as speaker and mic grills. The left side had the volume rocker and a silence switch. The right side had nothing.

Impact

Nobody could predict the impact the iPhone would have on the tech world. The big players at the time couldn’t see how a non-phone company could break into an established market, and even Steve Ballmer of Microsoft famously laughed at the notion.

Apple have a good history of putting its own media spin on things, but the iPhone really did shake things up. It only took a few years, and the iPhone and Android platforms had toppled the previous giants such as Nokia and Blackberry – who failed to keep up, and by the time they realised this, it was too late.

iPhone and Android dominated the smartphone market and continue to do so, and others just can’t cut in. BlackBerry are trying to make a comeback with Android-based handsets, and even Microsoft can’t edge their way in with their mobile platform. Sadly, Nokia have dropped out of the high-end phone market releasing budget and feature phones.

Let’s get back to the original iPhone.

Good & Bad

Its 3.5” multitouch display was one of its major selling points. This was a big deal for its era, in terms of quality and design. For all its wow factor, the original iPhone severely lacked in other areas, which in true Apple style they just glazed over.

The original iPhone – as with all that followed – lacked expansion, meaning that there was no way of adding extra storage, unlike most other phones, which offer card slots for expansion. The common model was the 8 GB model, which was a decent size for 2007 – holding about 500 songs – with an additional 16 GB and rare 4 GB models also available.

For a company with such an importance on media, the paltry 2 megapixel (MP) fixed focus camera was terrible and a real puzzler. Other handsets on the market were pushing 5 MP decent shooters and even had front facing video calling cameras.

It also lacked high speed mobile internet, being stuck on 2G/EDGE speeds. I thought this very odd at a time when others were offering high speed 3G. For a device touted as a revolutionary internet device accessing desktop sites and not cut down mobile versions, using a slow mobile network seemed a ridiculous idea. Of course, its built in WiFi helped improve browsing speeds.

It featured a 412 MHz processor and 128 MB RAM, ahead of the 332 MHz in the Nokia N95 or the 208 MHz in the Sony Ericsson P990, both having 64 MB RAM. The iPhone was no slow coach on its release, and its full touch interface made it a dream to use – but it was by no means perfect.

OS

The OS was in its infancy on release, and this showed. It had some large bugs and lacked some major functions. It would be over a year before the App Store arrived with iPhone OS 2.0, meaning you were stuck with stock apps. Other platforms, such as Symbian/UIQ, already had installable apps and games for a long time.

Growing with each release, new features were added, but it wasn’t until the release of  iPhone OS 3.0 over two years after the release of the original iPhone that copy and paste was added – something that became a running joke at the time.

iPhone OS 3.0 shipped with the launch of the third iPhone, the 3GS, in 2009, and it marked the end of life for the original iPhone, which didn’t receive all the features – they were only given to the 3G and 3GS – and didn’t receive any further major releases.

By the time OS 3 had hit the original iPhone, it brought a whole new device, adding features and fixes that should have been there from day one. It also didn’t slow down the device. OS 3 runs beautifully on it.

Ecosystem

Unlike previous phones, the iPhone expanded on the iPod ecosystem, linking it with iTunes for media transfer. Adding music and removing pictures was done via your computer running Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger or Windows XP upwards. It was – and is in some ways still – a very locked down phone system. It is locked to one computer via iTunes, and there is no file sharing to other devices via Bluetooth, and receiving files is even more awkward.

Music and ringtone sharing was rife with other platforms in 2007 via Bluetooth-to-Bluetooth, but this wasn’t possible with the iPhone – and still isn’t today. Even custom ringtones weren’t available for some time, no chance of setting a music track as a ringtone like other handsets at the time.

Jailbreak

The locked down approach Apple attaches to nearly all its systems can infuriate some. Shortly after the release of the original iPhone, people started hacking them – known as jailbreaking – in an attempt to add features or get around the SIM lock to use the iPhone on other networks. While this still happens, iOS has matured enough for most people to be happy with everything it offers.

Cost

Then there is the cost. I remember watching the keynote with amazement, almost drooling over it until the price came at $600 and a two year contract on either AT&T in the US and O2 in the UK.

iPhones commanded a high price, as with most Apple products, known as the Apple Tax. They aren’t as expensive these days but still command a good price, even used ones.

Legacy

Looking back at the original iPhone, it always amazes me how it became successful. The true power of the Apple hype machine overshadowed some seriously major flaws. Charging so much for a phone that was far behind its competition in many ways shows how well Apple can market something.

The original iPhone created a legacy and following on the iPod success; it brought Apple even further into the public eye – and not just a niche and slightly nerdy computer company.

In 2008, Apple released the iPhone 3G. It featured the same specs as the original but brought with it 3G connectivity, GPS, and a plastic back. Further releases brought faster iPhones with front cameras, Retina Displays, and even bigger screens.

The design has essentially stayed the same – easily identifying an iPhone. The home button was replaced with Touch ID in later models, SIM slots and power buttons were moved to the side, the headphone socket was moved to the bottom, and the biggest change was the move to Apple’s Lightning port instead of the 30-pin dock connector.

iPhone 5C

It has also subsequently been available in various colours, from white, gold, black, grey, and rose, to the brightly coloured 5c.

But essentially it still looks like it did on release in 2007.

Still Going Strong

Between 2007 and 2017, Apple have released 15 different versions of the iPhone, but the original still holds a special place for a lot of fans. I still own one and love it, but sadly it doesn’t cover my everyday needs, so it sits as a spare, a reminder of what started it all.

I still know people who use them everyday. They are amazingly sturdy devices and still capable of calls, text messaging, music, and a bit of light surfing.

whited00r

Their popularity spawned a custom firmware called whited00r. After Apple left behind the original iPhone in favour of newer ones, the whited00r team began producing a customised firmware, which while still OS 3 backported features from newer versions and optimised the speed. whited00r 7 even introduced the new UI look from iOS 7, creating an amazing looking custom firmware.

Sadly, even the whited00r team are struggling these days to push any more out of this ten-year-old 412 MHz single-core device in a world where we are seeing quad-core iPhones with 2 GB of RAM, 128 GB built-in storage, and offering 120 times the performance of the original iPhone.

Conclusion

I’ve had one, used one, and still keep one for articles like this. The original iPhone is an amazing device. I’m not sure what it is, but no other older iPhone holds a special place – or indeed price tag – as the original.

It is a beautiful device and one that launched Apple in to the smartphone world and changed the way we use our phones.

Happy Birthday iPhone


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