The history of the iPhone
Join Agent Denis Hall for a look at the iPhone 5 and it's predecessors - how did we move from the first Apple smartphone to the new iPhone 5? What has changed and what's stayed the same? To find out, read Geek Squad's iPhone retrospective.
iPhone 5 - what's changed and what's stayed the same?
After the announcement of the new iPhone 5, we thought it would be interesting to take a look back at how the original iPhone was developed and how it has evolved over the 5 years since it's initial release.
History of the iPhone
The idea for some sort of Apple phone first came to Steve Jobs in 2002, shortly after the release of the first iPod. He saw consumers carrying around mobiles, MP3 players, cameras and BlackBerry smartphones, and knew that a device that could combine multiple functions into one piece of hardware would be the next logical step.
With this in mind, in 2004, Jobs began talks with Motorola to develop a handset that would incorporate iPod software into a mobile phone. Motorola had recently developed the massively popular RAZR handset so Jobs thought they would be an ideal match.
The result was the ROKR, which was unveiled in September 2005 and was an unmitigated disaster. The handset could only hold a maximum of 100 songs even if there was more memory free and the interface was slow and difficult to use. Jobs realised that to create the kind of device he wanted, he would have to have complete control over the whole process, which meant both hardware and software would have to be developed in house by Apple.
In February 2005, even before the ROKR had been released, Jobs began talks with American mobile network Cingular (now AT&T) to discuss a partnership to create a true Apple phone. Up until this point, the mobile networks had dictated hardware and software specifications to the phone manufacturers. Jobs wanted complete control over the entire process. Negotiations took over a year but Jobs eventually got what he wanted.
The original iPhone
Before negotiations with Cingular had even been completed, Jobs assembled a team of Apples best hardware and software engineers to work on a top secret project codenamed “Purple 2”. Initially, this was a project to develop a multi-touch screen interface to control a computer but Jobs soon realised that this technology would be perfect for the phone he wanted to develop.
Developing the hardware was only part of the problem. Apple’s Mac operating system OSX was way too large and complicated to be put on a mobile. The software development team had to rewrite OSX from the ground up to optimise it for use on a small touch screen device.
The development process was further complicated by the top secret nature of the project. The hardware development team were kept completely separate from the software team. The hardware team had to test the device with fake software and the software team only had access to circuit boards sealed within wooden boxes to test their software on. When the final product was revealed to the public, only about 30 people at Apple had seen the completed device.
The finished handset was first announced in January 2007 at the annual Macworld convention and was an immediate success. It would be another 5 months before the phone was available to buy in America but 1000's of people queued for days outside Apple stores and stocks began to run low within hours after the original iPhone going on sale.
Despite the overwhelmingly positive reaction, the original iPhone was by no means perfect. It was too expensive (although the price was soon dropped) and it only ran on the slow EDGE network rather than 3G. It was also unable to record video and the web browser did not support Flash or Java. This was much more of a problem in a pre-HTML5 world.
By far the biggest issue with the original iPhone though was the lack of an App Store. This would not be announced untill the release of iOS 2 along with the new iPhone, the iPhone 3G.
In June 2008, Apple announced the release of the successor to the original iPhone, the iPhone 3G. Apart from 3G internet access and a new plastic back, the hardware was broadly the same as the original iPhone. This time it was the software that revolutionised the way people used their mobile phones.
The iPhone 3G came with a new operating system called iOS 2 and introduced the App Store to the public. A lot of mobile phones had been capable of installing 3rd party games and applications for a few years but this was the first time that a phone manufacturer had made it so easy to download and install additional software on to a handset.
Part of the secret of the App Store’s success was that Apple made it easy for software developers to create new applications that took advantage of all the functions of the phone. Apple released the iOS SDK (Software Development Kit) in July 2008, allowing developers to easily create applications that would run on any iPhone. This wasn’t just open to large software developers; the SDK only costs $99 a year, meaning that anyone could use it to create the next Angry Birds in their bedroom.
The ease of use of the SDK meant that the number of applications on the store grew quickly. The App Store launched with 500 applications available. Just 4 years later, there are about three quarters of a million apps available and iPhone users have downloaded over 30 Billion applications.
A year after the release of the iPhone 3G, Apple announced yet another new model, the 3GS. This time, the phone itself was identical to the 3G on the outside. On the inside however, the iPhone 3GS had a major overhaul with a new processor and twice the amount of RAM of the previous models. Apple claim that the 3GS is twice as fast as the old 3G.
The operating system also had an update and the 3GS came with iOS 3 pre-installed. This included many features that users felt had been missing, including copy and paste functionality and the ability to send and receive MMS messages.
When the 3GS was announced, the reception was mixed. Although it was clearly a better phone than the 3G, many people felt that it was not enough of an improvement to justify the cost of upgrade just 12 months after the release of the 3G. This didn’t stop the 3GS being a huge success though, with over 1 Million phones being sold in the first weekend of release. However, a lot of people were hungry for a major update to the iPhone and eagerly awaited the release of the next model.
In October 2011, Apple revealed the first major redesign of the iPhone hardware since the release of the 3G. The phone now had a flat glass front and back and was surrounded by a stainless steel frame that doubled as the antenna.
Apple had been working on the inside of the phone as well. The A4 processor was now designed by Apple rather than an off-the-shelf part from ARM and the amount of RAM was doubled again to 512 MB. The iPhone 4 also introduced a front facing camera and FaceTime video calling. The biggest change though was the introduction of a new type of screen called the Retina display.
Apple used the term Retina display, as they claimed that the screen was of such a high resolution that the human eye was unable to distinguish the individual pixels. Text looked like a printed page and pictures from the new 5 MP camera looked clear and bright.
The screen was a definite leap forward but the iPhone 4 did take a couple of steps back in terms of making calls. Some users found that if they held the phone in a certain way, it shorted out the antenna and caused signal strength to decrease or drop out completely. While it only seemed to affect some people, Apple received a lot of complaints and eventually offered every iPhone 4 owner a free case that would stop this issue. They also quickly released a software update that claimed to fix the problem permanently.
Despite the controversy over the signal issues, the iPhone 4 was Apple’s most successful launch to date and they sold 1.7 million iPhones during the first 3 days of release.
Announced in October 2011, the iPhone 4S is Apple’s current flagship phone. Like the 3GS, the 4S is basically an upgraded version of the iPhone 4 featuring a faster processor and better camera. The phone also features a slightly re-designed antenna system to permanently put to rest any issues with signal suffered by the iPhone 4.
To prevent the same sort of mixed reception they received when the 3GS was released, Apple introduced a new feature on the 4S that is unavailable on all the older models of the phone. This was a voice controlled personal assistant called Siri.
Siri allows you to call or text contacts, play music, set up appointments or alarms, search the web and search for local businesses if you are in the USA. Siri was built into iOS 5 but was released to the public as beta software, meaning that it was incomplete and could suffer from bugs. Because of this, some people accused Apple of rushing out an unfinished product in order to give people a reason to upgrade to a 4S.
Yet again, the controversies over Siri’s beta status did not manage to affect the sales of the 4S, which sold over 4 Million handsets in the first 3 days of release, smashing the previous record held by the iPhone 4.
Apple have now announced the iPhone 5 and, as well as being thinner, lighter and faster, the new model features a larger screen for the first time ever on an iPhone. Although the resolution changed with the iPhone 4, all previous iPhones have had the same screen size of 3.5 inches. The iPhone 5 stretches this to 4 inches, making room for another row of icons and making the screen ideal for widescreen videos.
The phone now features an aluminium back in either raw aluminium for the white phone or black anodised for the black version. The dock connector has also been changed to make it smaller and easier to use, leaving more room inside for a bigger battery. Lastly, Apple have finally replaced the awful headphones that come bundled with the iPhone. Their new EarPods are supposed to have been designed with sound quality and comfort in mind.
As well as the hardware redesign, Apple has also introduced iOS 6. Along with general improvements to the phone, web browser and email applications in iOS 6, Apple have made major upgrades to Siri. It now integrates with IMDB, to allow you access to movie and actor information, and local businesses can now be searched for outside the USA making it a lot more useful if you are trying to find somewhere to eat or shop while you are out and about in the UK.
Another useful feature when you are out and about is the new Maps feature in iOS 6. This is by far the biggest change in the latest OS as Apple has ended their agreement with Google to provide the map information for the iPhone. Apple have now designed their own maps and have partnered with Tom Tom to include live traffic information and, for the first time, turn by turn navigation dictated by Siri.
Look out for more information on the new iPhone when we manage to get our hands on one.