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The Evolution of the iPhone

Can you remember a time in recent years when you left home without your smartphone? No? Me neither… Over time, that small device has become as essential to us as clothes, cards and keys. It’s hard to fathom now how we ever survived without one. It has become indispensable. 

To understand our ever-increasing reliance on smartphones (iPhones, in particular), is to consider their evolution over the past 13 years... 


A cartoon image of a figure in motion, pasting a yellow poster with the word "NEW" and an image of a smartphone onto a pink-coloured brick wall.

The original iPhone launched in 2007. It was the year that Gordon Brown first held the keys to Number 10, Serbia won the Eurovision Song Content, and that lovable rodent Remy was cooking up a storm in Disney Pixar’s Ratatouille.

 

The first model was available in the US, Canada, South Africa, the UK and several countries in Western Europe. With prices starting from $499 for a 4GB model and $599 for an 8GB model, the cost alone set it apart from competitors — including Blackberry, and the trusty Nokia 3310 which had sold over 126 million units worldwide. According to Wired, it sold 270,000 units on its first weekend, and hit one million sales by Labor Day (a U.S. federal holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September). It’s not hard to see why…

I’d been a huge fan of Apple since the early days. Being a self-confessed computer nerd, I’d been using their hardware for years. Their big move into the mobile market felt like a natural progression, and one us Apple advocates had been waiting on for a long time. We were not disappointed. 

Before the iPhone, touchscreen technology was rarely used. Introducing touchscreens to the masses was a genuine game changer. No more cursing your chubby thumbs whilst hammering away on keypads. It’s no wonder that kids invented text-speak. IT TK 2 LNG 2 WRTE OTHRWSE & THY HD BTTR THNGS 2 DO…

I got my first iPhone from the US before they came out in the UK. Friends, co-workers — even passers-by — literally stopped what they were doing to take a closer look at it. The only problem was that decent data plans didn’t exist like they do today, so even with that slow edge connection I still managed to run up a £500 bill in the first month! Oh crumbs, as Penfold would say!

A little over a year later, a second-generation model was released: iPhone 3G. The new model offered faster connection to 3G networks, and incorporated a built-in GPS system. It was also cheaper, with prices starting from $199 for an 8GB model and $299 for 16GB. With the addition of the newly launched app store — “There’s an app for that” — it’s no surprise that the iPhone brand was on course to reach stratospheric levels of success. 

Apple’s genius sales strategy of offering new models to market every 12 months or so has ensured they remain a dominant player in the field. Between 2007 and 2018, approximately 1.5 billion iPhones were shipped worldwide. What’s more, as of 2019 the US is home to around 266 million smartphone users, of which over 45% own iPhones. That’s seriously impressive and is testament to Apple’s innovative approach — not only in technology and design, but in sales and marketing too. 

Apple’s latest models — at the time of writing — are the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone SE. The iPhone 12 was expected to launch later in 2020, but with global uncertainty stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak, there is talk of potential delays

There are many predictions as to what we can expect from the next release — if and when it happens — but in the meantime, let’s enjoy a trip down memory lane at how far the iPhone has come since those “normal” days of 2007…


A cartoon of a living room scene viewed over the shoulder of a person, who is viewing the scene via their smartphone. In the room, there's a pink armchair, a small yellow table with a pink vase, and a framed picture of a mountain on the wall. The scene is set against a cream wall and blue floor.

When considering changes over time, it is perhaps the camera that offers the clearest picture of progress. 

 

For the less tech-savvy out there, a 1.9 megapixel camera may sound impressive.

Indeed, back in 2007, carrying a 1.9 megapixel camera with you at all times which — wait for it — ALSO HAPPENED TO BE A PHONE, was a really big deal. Most of us had probably grown used to lugging around a Sony Cybershot camera on our holidays or nights out, only to lose it in the back of a taxi after a few too many beers… Back then, a standard Cybershot camera had 7.2 megapixels. Today’s iPhones have as many as 12 megapixels, with the latest models also offering 4K video, slow motion selfies and portrait modes. 

Past advertising campaigns on billboards and in Tube stations showcase jaw-dropping photographs with the words “shot on iPhone” emblazoned across them, drilling home just how high a quality of images we’re talking. 

Everyone is an amateur photographer nowadays, and I mean everyone. How many of your friends post pictures to social media — Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat? It’s no longer enough to share a few basic snaps from that family BBQ or of your new puppy. Everything must look perfect. Greener grass, bluer skies, smoother complexions, sunnier sunbeams... the list goes on. And Apple is partly responsible, putting high quality equipment in the pockets of millions. 

Since 2007, we have also seen vast improvements across a variety of other elements:

  • In 2010, the iPhone 4 boasted a front-facing camera and introduced us to FaceTime.

  • In 2011, Siri said “Go ahead, I’m listening” to the world for the first time thanks to the iPhone 4s. 

  • 2012 saw the introduction of a larger four-inch screen — and our rows of apps increasing from four to five. When pre-orders opened, Apple received more than two million in the first 24 hours.

  • 2013 offered us two new models — the 5c (a cheaper, more colourful edition) and the 5s, when the original home button was replaced with fingerprint recognition technology.  

  • Screens sizes jumped again in 2014 with the release of the iPhone 6 — this time to 4.7 inches. The 6 plus — at a whopping 5.5 inches — was also released. A clear indication that bigger was once again considered better. Apple Pay also made its debut.

The iPhone 6s, SE, 7, 7 Plus, 8, X, XR, XS and XS Max followed suit, offering a range of sizes and specifications for all tastes and budgets. Improved battery life, the removal of the headphone jack and the introduction of facial recognition technology all stand out. As does the increase in storage capacity, with newer iPhones offering up to 512GB! That’s quite a leap from the humble 4GB available way back when. 

Arguably, there are downsides to the influx of smartphone usage — phone addiction, cyber bullying, the presentation of “perfect lives” that look nothing like the (often harsh) reality faced by ordinary folk. But I still wouldn’t be without mine. 

 

It’s a means of staying connected — to enjoy face-to-face chats with my children when I’m on the other side of the world. It provides entertainment — films, music, games — for when I’m travelling, a map for when I’m lost, an online shop, diary management, a personal assistant and a payment tool, all in one. 

Apple knew what they were doing when they put the “smart” in smartphone. At some point in the future, I expect “phone” will become entirely superfluous. It is so much more than a means to talk, after all…

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