iPhone’s 10th birthday: A look back at the last decade of Apple’s smartphone

On 9 January 2007, the first ever iPhone was revealed. We look back at the evolution of one of Apple’s most successful products to date.

Apple's new AirPods, alongside the iPhone 7
Apple’s new AirPods, alongside the iPhone 7

In the early-to-mid 2000s, a high-tech phone was characterised by the ability to take a blurry, low-resolution photo, access a single webpage on a painfully slow 3G network, or just the ability to play Snake II with mildly three-dimensional graphics.

The Nokia cameraphone handsets were in their heyday, as was the eponymous business phone – the Blackberry. The handset kickstarted the mainstream smartphone market with its instant messaging feature, a Word and PDF document viewer, the ability to play music, and its full QWERTY keyboard.

But in 2007, Apple launched its first ever touchscreen iPhone. Described by the company as “a widescreen iPod with touch controls”, and as “a breakthrough internet communications device”, it allowed users to sync their phone with their laptop for the first time, make calls by “simply pointing”, surf the web desktop-style and take photos with a two-megapixel camera.

Since then, the UX design of the iPhone has continued to grow in sophistication, while – perhaps scarily – the models learn more and more about each individual user and creep towards autonomy. The latest handsets host a selection of apps which track our location, tailor services to suit our interests, allow us to pay for things without need for a credit card, and store our fingerprints.

Here’s a look at the evolution of the iPhone, from 2007 to present.

2007: iPhone 1st generation

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The first ever iPhone, which was revealed on 9 January 2007, now feels a lifetime ago. Invented by the late Steve Jobs, Apple’s previous CEO, its main selling points were that it was touchscreen, and it could act as both a music and film player, and a mobile phone. It also included a visual voicemail listing, a two-megapixel camera and photo library, a built-in Safari web browser, and Google Maps – meaning people could start navigating their way around streets without having to hopelessly refer to a printed sheet of directions. The phone used multi-touch technology, which allowed users to pinch the screen to zoom. Some were sceptical about Apple’s venture into mobile phone technology, and about its outlook in the industry – BBC columnist Rory Cellan-Jones warned that “Apple is entering a market where giants like Nokia, Motorola and Samsung are making pretty smart phones.”

2008: iPhone 3G

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The improved iPhone promised to be “twice as fast” as the last through its use of a 3G network. The App Store was also born, opening up the iPhone to games, news, sports, health and business tools. It also came with a built-in global positioning system (GPS) which allowed the phone to track the location of users more easily. A 16GB model became available, alongside the 8GB one. It sold a million phones in the the UK after its first three days.

2009: iPhone 3GS

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The iPhone 3GS saw Apple double-up on storage space, offering a 32GB model. It featured an improved, three-megapixel camera, and the beginnings of Siri, with hands-free voice control. This was aimed mostly at making calls, and choosing songs to play. The App Store exploded, growing in size from 500 to 50,000 apps, and this was the first model to feature the Find My iPhone feature, letting users remotely search for their phone or erase all their content if they’d lost it. In the same year, iPod Shuffles dropped in price, starting at just £45.

2010: iPhone 4

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Steve Jobs described the iPhone 4 as “the biggest leap since the original iPhone”. It featured a five-megapixel camera with a flash, a higher resolution Retina display, and also introduced video calling through FaceTime. There were now more than 225,000 apps available, and the iPhone’s aesthetic design was the “thinnest ever”, made with a new type of glass that aimed to make it “more scratch and oil resistant”.

2011: iPhone 4s

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Siri was born, as was iCloud. The iPhone’s voice-activated controls became more sophisticated with Siri, allowing users to ask the bot what the weather was like, to send a text or set a reminder, while the ominous iCloud allowed users to update and back-up their content across devices wirelessly and automatically. iMessage was also launched, which meant messages could be sent more quickly over a 4G or wi-fi network. The camera increased in quality to eight-megapixel.

2012: iPhone 5

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Aesthetically, iPhones just kept getting thinner and lighter – this was the lightest to date, at 20% lighter than the 4S. A panoramic feature was added to the camera, allowing users to take 360-degree photos, and the smaller, Lightning connector and charger was introduced. The earphones were also redesigned, there was a more sophisticated Maps app, photo streams could now be shared between users through iCloud, and the iPhone began taking more data, such as contacts and event invites, from apps such as Facebook.

2013: iPhone 5s and 5c

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People began giving up their most unique form of identification to Apple – the fingerprint. The iPhone 5s introduced Touch ID, which allowed users to unlock their phone through the touch of a finger. The App Store had almost a million apps by this point. The 5c was introduced at the same time, for mostly aesthetic reasons, offering customers the choice of five brighter colours: blue, green, pink, yellow and white. It was also a cheaper alternative to the 5s. Apple neglected to revive the style of the iPhone 5c in later models, ditching the colourful handsets.

2014: iPhone 6/6 Plus

Chlumcany, Czech Republic, January 10, 2016: iPhone 6 isolated on white

Apple decided to increase the screen size of the iPhone 6, while continuing to make the model thinner. Two screen sizes were made available, with the iPhone 6 sitting at 12cm in height and the 6 Plus at 14cm. Apple Pay was introduced, allowing users to go card-less and pay in shops, on a bus or at a train station by tapping their phone on a contactless reader. The camera’s autofocus was improved, while more of the users’ movements were automatically tracked, such as how many flights of stairs they’d climbed in one day.

2015: iPhone 6s/6s Plus

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Apple started using a stronger glass and aluminium for this model, and added new metallic colours such as rose gold. Live Photos were introduced, which showed split-seconds of motion on still, saved images, to bring photos “to life”, and the camera was increased to 12-megapixel. 3D Touch was introduced, which allowed different pressured finger-touches to provide different functions on the phone, such as a longer touch letting images or pages ‘pop’ up rather than fully open in a tab.

2016: iPhone SE and iPhone 7/7 Plus

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The latest iPhone was released with three screen size options, with the SE having the smallest 10cm display. The latest iPhone updates have a longer battery life and faster wireless internet speed, while the 7 and 7 Plus are also allegedly water and dust resistant, according to Apple. Colours in photos are now more vibrant and brighter, new stereo speakers are two times louder, and Apple also launched its first wireless earphones, EarPods. Storage jumped in size, with 128GB and 256GB models now available – supposedly to make room for the millions of apps now available on the App Store. Apple went from selling 1.4 million iPhones in 2007, to 212 million in 2016.

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