A brief history of the iPhone

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A brief history of the iPhone

Steve Jobs called the first iPhone “magic.” It was a customary bit of showmanship from Apple’s late-founder, but a decade after that announcement, it’s difficult to overstate the profound impact the smartphone has had on the mobile industry.

The first iPhone was met with cautious excitement by many in the press — after all, where did the company get off thinking it could replace a physical keyboard with a touchscreen? But all these years later, the device still serves at the template for a majority of modern smartphones. In the intervening decade, the company has redefined the category time and again, starting the following year, when Apple revolutionized mobile software with the introduction of the App Store.

Here’s a quick look back at the ups and downs of a decade of iPhone, starting with a little bit of pre-history. 

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1993 – The Apple Newton

In 1993, the world wasn’t ready for the Apple Newton MessagePad — or maybe it wasn’t ready for the world. The answer is probably a bit of both. Apple’s first shot at an all-screen mobile computing device was a bit of a wash, in spite of then-groundbreaking innovations like handwriting recognition. The personal assistant carried a $699 price tag (around $1,181 in 2017 money) and weighed in at north of a pound. It would take nearly a decade and a half for the company to really nail mobile computing, but the Newton was an important predecessor to the iPhone and iPad, and at least we got a classic Simpsons bit out of it.

(Photo: Daniele Melgiovanni/Science Museum/Getty Images)

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2001 – The iPod

The iPod is the platonic ideal of an Apple product. It wasn’t the first MP3 by any stretch of the imagination, nor was iTunes anywhere close to being the first digital music player. But Apple was arguably the first to really get the category right, through a dead-simple syncing system and hardware controls. Within a few years, the brand name would become synonymous with the category, starting with the once amazing promise of putting “1,000 songs in your pocket.”

(Photo Courtesy of Apple Corp. via Getty Images)

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2005 – Motorola Rokr E1

In 2005, Motorola was sitting pretty, thanks to the success of the impossibly svelte Razr line. With Apple’s iPod line dominating the MP3 player market, a partnership between the two companies was a match made in heaven — and so, the Motorola Rokr was born. Released in September 2005, the Rokr E1 was the first phone to offer iTunes integration. Apple’s music software synced to the phone, stored on its beefy 512MB microSD card. Its successor, the E2, was released the following year, sporting RealPlayer support. The relationship between Apple and Motorola seems to have fizzled quickly — Apple, after all, had its own plans.

(Photo by Kim Kulish/Corbis via Getty Images)

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2007 – The Original iPhone

Steve Jobs opened his Macworld keynote with the promise of three new products. “The first one,” he told the crowd, “is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device.” Three new revolutionary products was a lot to get through in a single keynote. But then [turntable needle scratch sound effect] he revealed that, “these are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone.” The phone dumped the QWERTY keyboard and used the human finger for a stylus. It synced music, movies and TV shows through iTunes and featured a multi-touch 3.5-inch screen (“It’s really big). The first generation iPhone was released June 29, 2007 and went on to sell 6.1 million units, in spite of its AT&T carrier exclusivity (which would finally end in 2011).

(Photo by Kim Kulish/Corbis via Getty Images)

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2008 – The App Store

As its name implied, the iPhone 3G’s big differentiator was its use of AT&T’s 3G network — a welcome upgrade after complaints about its predecessor’s excruciating data speeds. The phone featured other hardware upgrades like GPS, but the big news was on the software side. The 3G was the first iPhone to ship with support for the App Store. At launch, the store featured a whopping 500 apps, many of which were available for free, including such hits as AOL Instant Messenger and MySpace Mobile. More importantly, the addition of the store marked the transition of the phone from mobile computing device to development platform.

(Photo: via Flickr/PhotoAtelier via a CC by 2.0 license)

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2010 – iPhone 4

The iPhone 4 marked a number of key upgrades for the line, including a new design based around a steel frame, the Apple-designed A4 chip, the first Retina Display, the introduction of FaceTime with iOS 4 and the company’s first front-facing camera, three years before “selfie” was crowned the Oxford English Dictionary word of the year. The handset was also marked by a smattering of controversies, beginning with a leaked prototype rescued from a Redwood City bar. The exterior antenna design also prompted a rare public apology from the company, offering up free phone bumpers to help elevate the reception problems.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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2011 – Siri

Apple’s new smart assistant helped give us the iPhone 4S. Siri would become a central feature in the company’s ecosystem, eventually making its way on watchOS, tvOS, macOS and soon Apple’s HomePod speaker system. The smart assistant also helped usher in the connected-home era, foreshadowing competing offerings like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant.

(Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

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2012 – iPhone 5

The sixth-generation iPhone featured another radical design change for the phone line, with a new aluminum body and a taller four-inch screen, prompting the tagline, “The biggest thing to happen to iPhone since iPhone.” The larger display was, perhaps, the clearest acknowledgment from Apple that the company was no longer the only name in the smartphone game, arriving two years after Jobs told a crowd that “no one’s going to buy [a larger iPhone].” The 5 also added LTE support and traded the longstanding 30-pin connector for the Lightning port. The phone would be succeeded less than a year later by the 5s and budget 5c.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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2014 – iPhone 6/6 Plus

In 2014, iPhones got even larger. The base-level iPhone 6 featured a 4.5-inch display and arrived alongside the 6 Plus, Apple’s 5.5-inch phablet. The new handsets featured the usual array of upgrades to the display, camera and battery, along with a new mobile payment platform through NFC. The handset would go on to break a number of sales records for the company.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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2016 – iPhone 7

The latest iPhone features water and dust resistance, a capacitive home button, an upgraded camera and beefy new internals. So, naturally, all anyone can talk about is the death of the headphone jack. It’s been alternatively referred to as “forward-thinking” and “anti-consumer.” For its part, Apple just had one word to describe the move.

(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

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