Low End Mac’s Guide to iPhones, Part 1

From the first iPhone launched in 2007 with its 480 x 320 3.5″ display, ARM processor running at 412 MHz, and EDGE networking through today’s iPhone 6S and 6S Plus with their 750 x 1334 4.7″ and 1080 x 1920 5.5″ displays, dual-core 1.85 GHz A9 CPUs, and 4G LTE networking, we’ve seen a lot of changes over the years.

Part 1 of this series covers iPhones with 3.5″ displays and 30-pin dock connectors. Apple moved to larger displays and a Lightning connector beginning with the iPhone 5. The iPhone 5 and 6 families are covered in Part 2.

iPhone 2G

original Apple iPhoneNowadays it’s hard to imagine a smartphone without 3G, just as it was hard to imagine a smartphone without a physical keyboard prior to the January 2007 announcement of the original iPhone.


The smartphone landscape in late 2006 was filled with a wide range of devices and operating systems, many of them simply combining the abilities of a PDA (personal digital assistant, such as the Palm Pilot) and a phone. The industry sold 64 million smartphones worldwide in 2006.

Except for the Motorola Ming, which was exclusive to the Chinese market, they all had physical keyboards, and none had a display to match the 320 x 480 the first iPhone would offer. Some examples: Nokia E61 , Nokia N93, BlackBerry Pearl 8100, Motorola MINGSamsung BlackJack (SGH-i607)HP iPAQ hw6900 (Sable)Palm Treo 680, and HTM TyTN.

Announcement and Release

That’s the backdrop against which Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in January 2007, and potential buyers would have to wait until June 2007 to buy one. Even with its price tag – $499 with 4 GB of storage, $599 with 8 GB (and no subsidies from AT&T Wireless, although purchase did require a 2-year service contract), some people stood in line for days to buy one on the day of its release. Apple sold a quarter-million iPhones that first weekend.

Here’s a list of specifications:

  • 3.5″ 320 x 480 18-bit multitouch display with onscreen keyboard
  • 2 MP fixed focus camera, no video support
  • 620 MHz 32-bit Samsung RISC ARM11 processor underclocked to 412 MHz to improve battery life and reduce heat
  • 128 MB of system memory (RAM)
  • 4, 8, or 16 GB of storage, some used by OS
  • no memory card slot
  • GSM networking only with EDGE support but no 3G – for that buyers had to wait another year
  • iPod dock connector for data and charging
  • Supports iPhone OS 1.0 through 3.1.3

In September 2007, Apple dropped the price of the 8 GB model to $399, discontinued the 4 GB model, and offered $200 in store credit to early buyers. A 16 GB version was added in February 2008.

Perhaps the biggest complaint about the original iPhone was its lack of third-party software. iPhone OS 1 only included Apple apps. The iPhone OS 2 software development kit was introduced in March 2008, giving developers the opportunity to develop iPhone apps, which would be sold exclusively through Apple’s App Store when OS 2 was released as a free upgrade in July 2008.

Apple sold 6.13 million iPhones prior to releasing the iPhone 3G in July 2008, at which time the original iPhone was discontinued.

iPhone 3G

iPhone 3GEveryone who followed the iPhone knew OS 2 was coming, and in June 2008, Apple announced the iPhone 3G for availability in July. The 3G shipped with iPhone OS 2 installed.

The big new feature was 3G networking, which was a huge step forward from the EDGE networking in the original iPhone. But that’s just the most obvious difference:

  • GPS and assisted GPS allow turn-by-turn navigation
  • 3-axis accelerometer
  • 16 GB model available in white or black, although there was some delay in shipping white iPhones
  • Supports iPhone OS 2 through iOS 4.2.1, although some iOS 4 features are not supported by the iPhone 3G

Apple sold 1 million units in the first weekend the iPhone 3G was on sale. Apple sold 20 million in its first year, and the 8 GB version remained in the line as a less expensive alternative to the iPhone 3GS until the iPhone 4 was released in June 2010.

iPhone 3GS

Apple began its tradition of releasing an “s” model that looked just like its predecessor with the release of the iPhone 3GS in June 2009. All the improvements were on the inside:

  • 833 MHz Samsung S5PC100 Cortex-A8 SoC (system-on-a-chip) underclocked to 600 MHz
  • 256 MB of system memory, twice as much as earlier iPhones
  • 24-bit display with oleophobic coating to reduce fingerprints on screen
  • 3 MP camera with autofocus, automatic white balance, and macro focus
  • VGA (640 x 480) video support
  • voice control
  • digital compass
  • magnetometer
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • 16 and 32 GB versions at first, 8 GB version released later as a low-cost alternative to iPhone 4
  • Geekbench 3 score: 150
  • runs iPhone OS 3 to iOS 6.1.6, although some iOS 6 features are not supported by the iPhone 3GS

Overall, the 3GS has twice the power of the 3G, and again Apple sold a million units in its first weekend on the market. It was the first iPhone model to be supported by four different version of iOS, and it remained on the market until September 2012.

iPhone 4

iphone4With the iPhone 4, released in June 2010, Apple streamlined the iPhone, eliminating the curved back of earlier iPhones in favor of a flat, strong aluminosilicate glass back. But the iPhone 4’s claim to fame was introducing the first Retina Display, a 640 x 960 pixel screen that is much sharper than the 320 x 480 of the past with 326 pixels per inch (ppi) compared to 163 ppi in earlier iPhones.

The iPhone 4 was the first device built around Apple’s own A4 processor. The new chip design, higher clock speed, and twice as much system memory made it much faster than the iPhone 3GS.

The rear camera was upgraded to 5 MP with an f/2.8 lens and LED flash. It can record 720p video at up to 30 frames per second (fps). There is a new tap to focus feature allowing the user to specify which part of the image will be sharpest. Finally, it has 5x digital zoom.

This was the first iPhone with a FaceTime camera, supporting 0.3 MP VGA quality. It also introduced a second microphone to assist in noise cancellation.

  • 1 GHz Apple A4 SoC underclocked to 800 MHz
  • 512 MB of system memory, twice as much as iPhone 3GS
  • 24-bit Retina Display with oleophobic coating
  • 5 MP camera with autofocus, automatic white balance, macro focus, and tap to focus
  • 720p video support
  • 0.3 MP 480 x 640 FaceTime camera
  • voice control
  • digital compass
  • magnetometer
  • 3-axis gyroscope
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • 802.11n WiFi, 2.4 GHz only
  • 16 and 32 GB versions at first, 8 GB version released later as a low-cost alternative to iPhone 4S
  • Geekbench 3 score: 207
  • runs iOS 4 to iOS 7.1.2

Apple had over 600,000 online preorders for the iPhone 4 in the first 24 hours and sold 1.7 million units in its first 3 days of availability. At this point the iPhone remained GSM only and an AT&T exclusive in the US market.

Later in 2010, Apple switched from Phillips screws to pentalobe screws, which required a special screwdriver.

There were issues with the white iPhone that pushed its availability back to April 2011.

Some features of iOS 7 are not supported in the iPhone 4, including Siri, 3D maps, turn-by-turn navigation, AirDrop, AirPlay mirroring, and panorama mode, among others.

iPhone 4 CDMA

On January 11, 2011, Verizon Wireless announced that Apple was producing a CDMA version of the iPhone for its network. ending Apple’s exclusive deal with AT&T Wireless. The iPhone 4 CDMA went on sale February 10, 2011, and it broke all Verizon sales records when it became available.

This CDMA iPhone was the first model to support a wireless hotspot, allowing users to share their data connection with up to 5 devices.

The iPhone 4 was discontinued in September 2013.

iPhone 4S

For the first time, there was a lengthy delay between one iPhone model and its successor. Instead of roughly a year between models, there were 16 months between the release of the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S. With iPhone 4 sales still on the upswing and the model having a good reputation, the improved iPhone 4S was poised for record sales.

Although many hoped the next iPhone would support 4G LTE networking, as most Android phones already did, it was not to be. The iPhone 4S, released in October 2011, does support an enhanced data mode called 4G on the AT&T network. It was also the first iPhone to use Bluetooth 4.0.

What we did get was Siri, Apple’s semi-intelligent personal assistant you could ask questions and sometimes get the correct answer. And sometimes it would just make you shake your head – and it still does.

The big step forward, however, was a dual-core processor, the Apple A5 SoC. The dual-core CPU benchmarks nearly twice as high as the iPhone 4 using multicore Geekbench 3. The new graphics engine is up to 7x the speed of the one in the iPhone 4.

The iPhone’s camera, now known as an iSight camera, was also upgraded, this time to 8 MP with support for 1080p video at 30 fps. The f/2.4 lens and Sony sensor improved low light photography over earlier iPhones, and it supports face detection. The FaceTime camera has the same 0.3 MP resolution as the one in the iPhone 4.

The 4S was the first iPhone to offer a 64 GB option. The 8 GB version was introduced as an entry-level model with the introduction of the iPhone 5C and 5S in September 2013, and the higher capacity 4S models phased out. The 8 GB version was discontinued in September 2014.

Best of all for buyers, instead of two different models, the iPhone 4S supports both GSM and CDMA. To date, this was the only time Apple provided a single iPhone model.

  • 1 GHz dual-core Apple A5 SoC underclocked to 800 MHz
  • 512 MB of system memory
  • 24-bit Retina Display with oleophobic coating
  • 8 MP iSight camera with infrared filter, autofocus, automatic white balance, macro focus, and tap to focus
  • 1080p video support
  • video out via AirPlay or AV cables
  • 0.3 MP 480 x 640 FaceTime camera
  • voice control
  • digital compass
  • magnetometer
  • 3-axis gyroscope
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 802.11n WiFi, 2.4 GHz only
  • supports non-LTE 4G on AT&T network, 14.4 Mbps top download speed on HSDPA+ data network
  • 16, 32, and 64 GB versions at first, 8 GB version released later as a low-cost alternative to iPhone 4S
  • Geekbench 3 multi-core score: 404
  • runs iOS 5 to iOS 9

The iPhone 4S was the first iPhone to support five iOS versions, and as of late 2015, it is the only one so far.

Apple received over 1 million preorders for the iPhone 4S, and all three US carriers (AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint) had sold out their initial allocation by preorder by October 8, 2011. It was released on October 14, and 4 million units were sold during its first three days on the market.

Next: Part 2, iPhone 5 through 6S and 6S Plus

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