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iPhone: The History (And Future) Of An Icon

iPhone: The History (And Future) Of An Icon

Did you know that the iPhone will turn 15 years old in 2022? 

It feels like just the other day you were lining up around the block to get your hands on that first-generation iPhone in the summer of 2007.  

It certainly did shock us here at Mobile Tech Addicts that Apple’s offering has been around for so long, but it’s absolutely true. 

This persistently popular device has now been a staple in the lives of countless millions of people globally for one and a half decades.

Knowing that, we felt now was a perfect time to celebrate the past, present, and future of this true icon of the digital age. 

Below, we chart the not-so-humble past of the pioneering smartphone. We also go into the future, as many of you may have found this article looking for the answer to the most important question of all:

What’s next for the iPhone?

The History of an Icon: iPhone

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While the iPhone has (quite correctly) been lauded as an absolute game-changer that revolutionized not only the cell phone market but also the way we live our lives today, it was far from the first smartphone to ever hit the market. 

1992: Simon Starts the Smartphone Revolution – Apple Unveils ‘Casper’

In fact, just as we’re now looking back on 15 years of Apple’s flagship product, it was 15 years before that in the heady days of 1992 that the first ‘smartphone’ was created by IBM.

This first phone was called Simon, or the Simon Personal Communicator in full.

The device combined the basic elements of a cell phone (i.e., calling) with the core functions that were around at the time on Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) devices. 

These major features included sending emails, faxes, and pages (remember those?) as well as an address book, calendar, notepad, and other features. 

Though IBM Simon was certainly revolutionary for its time, it was far from perfect. 

For one thing, the battery only lasted for an hour at a time. Additionally, it was a massive piece of equipment compared to the slimline flip phones that were soon to dominate the market during the 90s.

As if that wasn’t enough, the device cost a minimum of $899; the equivalent of roughly $1,435 in modern money. With all of that working against the product, the device was hardly a success. 

It took two years from the first demonstration of a prototype model at the COMDEX 1992 tradeshow in Las Vegas before Simon hit the market. However, there it stayed only for a brief six-month fling between late 1994 to early 1995.

While only 50,000 units were sold during that time, it was still enough for the industry as a whole to take note of. 

Indeed, at the time of Simon’s brief moment in the spotlight, Apple may have been focussing more on its success in the home computer market. Certainly, 4 million users of its computer system and the launch of its new Macintosh LC II was worth celebrating. 

However, you have to imagine that someone at Apple was paying attention to that first smartphone innovation, and that a germ of an idea was slowly- very slowly – beginning to form.

Casper – The Friendly Voice-Recognition Software

Another really interesting thing happened at Apple HQ back in 1992. 

Nine months before Simon’s prototype (known as “Sweetspot”) was revealed to the world at COMDEX, Apple had a big reveal of their own in March of that year. 

That month, then-CEO John Sculley and Computer Speech Researcher Kai-Fu Lee appeared on Good Morning America.

The two introduced the world to “Casper,” the company’s first voice recognition system on the show.

Watching that Good Morning America segment in this YouTube video Casper may seem to be somewhat primitive, but it was a huge deal and certainly ahead of its time. 

Casper could book calendar appointments, operate programs such as word processors on a personal computer, and send voice-activated payments- a feature which still isn’t fully available on the modern-day iPhone (or any other device, for that matter).

If you haven’t quite figured out where we’re going with this, Casper was, of course, a very early precursor to every iPhone owner’s favorite (or not) assistant, Siri. 

In fact, some of the technology used in Casper would go on to be used (albeit in an advanced form) in Siri as we use it here today.

2002: The Blackberry Boom Begins – Apple iPod Takes Off

It took a whole ten years since IBM’s Simon was first conceptualized in 1992 before we saw the arrival of the next true smartphone. Blackberry took these honors with its Model 5810, which was first revealed to the world on March 4, 2002. 

The company behind the device, then known as Research in Motion (RIM) but today known simply as Blackberry Limited, had already developed a reputation as the industry leader in the field of two-way pagers and similar communications devices.

However, it was the Blackberry 5810 that catapulted the brand into another stratosphere at the time.

Though the 5810 was a troubled model in its own right, it would quickly be replaced by newer, better Blackberry devices. It wasn’t long before every business executive in America had a Blackberry in their pocket.

Apple Moves into New Arenas

While Blackberry was shaking things up in the cell phone market, Apple too was breaking new ground. 

In October 2021- six months before the launch of the Blackberry 5810- Apple put the first iPod on the market and famously declared that the new device would put “1,000 songs in your pocket.” 

Though it was roundly criticized at first, it didn’t take long for the iPod to forever change the game for portable music players. 

Just as the iPhone would later change the game for the smartphone industry, there was an early sign that the company could succeed in other markets beyond their familiar territory of personal computers.

The once-popular iPod may not seem entirely related to smartphones, but it was a significant part of the iPhone’s history for three key reasons:

  1. It helped to bring about the launch of the iTunes store, where many of us continue to access content for our iPhone devices.
  2. The first iPhone would eventually launch with a built-in iPod media player, and some of the technology from the iPod remains an integral part of how we consume media on our smart devices.
  3. Steve Jobs noticed that people were now regularly carrying multiple devices such as cell phones, portable email clients like the Blackberry, and an MP3 player at the same time.

Jobs began to consider the fact that people would find it much easier to simply carry one single device that combined the functionality of all of these individual products.

At this time, Jobs could also see that cell phones would continue to evolve to include more features. He saw the inevitability as threatening to the iPod’s prominence as a music player.

As the Apple CEO pondered all of that, the first seed of an idea was planted.

2004: Development of the iPhone Begins

2004: Development of the iPhone Begins
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It took two years from the launch of the first iPod for that seed to begin to germinate.

With 2.016 million iPods sold in Quarter 4 of that year alone, Jobs- who had previously denied having any plans to release an Apple phone- began leading his team towards the creation of the iPhone.

The challenges that laid ahead were both confounding and plentiful.

While a stripped-back version of Apple’s signature Mac OS X operating system was too much for a cell phone chip to deal with, the basic operating system of an iPod wasn’t enough- ultimately meaning that the company would need to design an entirely new OS to run their device.

Eventually, assembling a team of top talents including hardware engineer Tony Fadell, software engineer Scott Forstall, and design engineer Jony Ive, Apple commissioned 1,000 employees in the development of what was then known as Project Purple. 

The original focus of the project was to be a tablet device, but Jobs would switch things up and concentrate on designing a phone as part of a new project called Purple 2. 

An early prototype was put into development, and work on the first Apple phone was underway.

2005: The ‘iTunes Phone’ Launches

2005: The 'iTunes Phone' Launches
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With Purple 2 underway, rumors began to circulate in December 2004 that Apple had begun a collaborative project with Telecoms giant Motorola.

In September 2005, those rumors were proven to be accurate by the arrival of the Motorola ROKR E1. 

The phone was the first to feature iTunes integration, making it the first small step towards Jobs realizing his vision of cell phone and email functions combining with a music player on one device.

That dream would soon fizzle out as despite being informally known as ‘The iTunes Phone,’ the ROKR E1’s firmware would only enable it to load 100 songs at any given moment. 

For users who still fondly remembered Jobs’ “1,000 songs in your pocket pitch,” this meant that a phone like the ROKR E1 held little appeal.

Despite a major promotional campaign for the new device, the limited iTunes functionality combined with other design criticisms levied purely at Motorola ultimately meant that the phone was a flop. 

Making matters worse, the relationship between the two companies quickly soured when Apple decided to launch their new iPod Nano at the same event as the ‘iTunes Phone.’ 

This was a move that unsurprisingly and completely overshadowed the unveiling of the very phone they’d contributed to.

2007: The iPhone Launches

2007: The iPhone Launches
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And then it happened…

On January 9 2007- two years after his company’s brief flirtation with Motorola ended- Steve Jobs took to the stage at the annual Macworld convention in San Francisco and introduced the world to the very first iPhone. 

It’s no exaggeration to say that Jobs’ big iPhone reveal has since gone down as one of the most iconic moments in technology history, with the Apple CEO giving the performance of a lifetime in a presentation that has since been viewed over 8 million times on YouTube (and that’s just on one video!). 

“Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along which changes everything,” explained Jobs, before spending the better part of an hour showing us why the iPhone was precisely that product. 

He demonstrated its call-making features by calling a local Starbucks and ordering. 

He showed off its browsing and reading capabilities by loading up a copy of the New York Times.

All in all, he went through all of the things that looked to set the iPhone apart from all of its competitors.

Six months later, on June 9, huge crowds lined up in the wee early morning hours to be among the first to get their hands on a new iPhone.

270,000 iPhones were sold in the first week, a figure that almost quadrupled to one million units just three months later. 

iPhone 1 Features

The original iPhone measured 11.6mm in thickness and weighed 4.8 ounces while offering a maximum capacity of only 16GB in storage. 

While that seems like a measly figure today, it’s worth remembering that there was no App Store to fill up your phone’s storage space with as of yet. There also wasn’t a huge amount of data worth storing on the phone either.

In other words, 16GB was more than sufficient to meet the needs of first-generation iPhone users back in 2007.

The phone also offered 128 MB of memory, a 2.0 MP camera, a 3.5″ display, as well as an accelerometer, ambient light sensor, and proximity sensor- all of which are now essential components of basic smartphone anatomy.

With these features alone, Apple had achieved resounding success. 

However, they weren’t done yet. 

Not by a long shot. 

2008 – iPhone 3G and The Birth of the App Store 

2008 - iPhone 3G and The Birth of the App Store 
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Not content to rest on their laurels, Apple quickly got to work on taking a good thing and making it even better.

One year after iPhone 1’s launch, the company gave the world the iPhone 3G- named aptly for its 3G connectivity capabilities.

At 12 mm in thickness and 4.7 ounces in weight, the 3G was chunkier yet lighter than its predecessor. It was also almost identical to its predecessor except in three key ways:

  1. The aforementioned 3G connectivity
  2. The addition of Geotagging
  3. The birth of the App Store

Yes, it was with the launch of the iPhone 3G that Apple first introduced us to the App Store; an online platform through which third-party developers could offer software that would allow consumers to do all kinds of things.

The App Store was an invention that was just as (if not more) groundbreaking than the phone itself, as it was this introduction that spawned a whole new industry. What resulted was the creation of an abundance of job and wealth opportunities in app development.

Those apps would, in turn, help to enrich the lives of millions of people- and as a result, help establish the iPhone as one of the most essential tools of the 21st century.

2009: The iPhone 3GS Launches

2009 The iPhone 3GS Launches
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From then on, the iPhone was off to the races; continually expanding, enhancing, and upgrading what was fast becoming its signature product in order to improve user experiences.

This started in 2009 with the launch of the iPhone 3GS, bringing with it a number of key firsts:

  • It was the first iPhone with video recording capabilities, and the ability to accommodate for those video recordings via an upgraded 3.0 MP camera. 
  • It was also the first iPhone to offer 32GB of storage to make space for those recordings.

Additionally, the 3GS also was the first iPhone with voice control (though we were still a fair way away from meeting Siri).

2010: The Dawning of the Selfie Generation

2010: The Dawning of the Selfie Generation
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On June 24, 2010, Apple released the iPhone 4, which, at 9.33mm thick, offered a more slimmed-down feel. 

The iPhone 4 also boasted increased memory of 512 MP, a retina display, and a gyroscope, though the biggest gift this phone gave us was the introduction of the front-facing camera.

Without it, who knows if selfies would have become the cultural phenomenon they are today?

2011: The Birth of Siri

2011: The Birth of Siri
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In October 2011, the iPhone 4S was released and, with 4 million sales in its first week, quickly proved to be Apple’s biggest hit yet- and for a good reason:

  • The phone now came with a camera that boasted a huge 8 megapixels; and 
  • For the first time, the option to have 64 GB of storage.

Really though, all of those features paled in comparison to the introduction of Siri, the persistent assistant we all know and love today.

2012: Lightning Strikes the iPhone

2012: Lightning Strikes the iPhone
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2012 brought the iPhone 5, which introduced the Lightning connector for the first time. The phone was also praised for its larger screen size and increased 1GB of memory. 

2013: Touch ID and Technicolor

2013: Touch ID and Technicolor
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2013 was the first year that Apple brought us two new iPhone models in the same year. 

First came the iPhone 5s, which was the first to offer Touch ID and an M7 motion coprocessor for improved performance and battery life. 

Later that year, the company released the little-remembered iPhone 5c. It grabbed the attention for its various colored cases and was affordable for budget-savvy consumers.

In essence, the iPhone 5c was basically an iPhone 5 in a colorful plastic case, but it didn’t really take off. 

2014: Bigger and Bigger

2014 brought with it the iPhone 6, a phone that was very similar to the iPhone 5s except with the addition of a significantly bigger screen.

(If that screen wasn’t big enough for you, the 6 Plus offered one that was even bigger!)

2015: The Only Thing That’s Changed is Everything

“The only thing that’s changed is everything,” was Apple’s tagline for the September 2015 launch of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.

It was a bit of an exaggeration, as the main things that changed were an upgraded 12 MP camera and 2 GB of memory.

Even still, the 6s and 6s Plus were impressive phones.

2016: Goodbye, Headphone Jack

2016: Goodbye, Headphone Jack
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The early part of 2016 saw Apple release the iPhone SE, one of the smallest iPhones in years, as a budget-friendly option.

In the fall of that year, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus brought us the first dual camera, which improved the zoom feature with a Portrait mode. This helped users create some of the best-looking photos to ever come from a smartphone.

However, what people will really remember about the iPhone 7 was that it came without a headphone jack. 

This meant that, instead of traditional headphones, users would now listen to music using wireless earbuds.

2017: A Wireless World

2017: A Wireless World
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As wireless earbuds began establishing themselves as an essential smartphone accessory, Apple proved that we didn’t need wires to keep our batteries topped up either.

The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus were released in September and were the first models to offer wireless charging.

Later that year, the company also offered the iPhone X, which further improved on the iPhone’s impressive camera.

2018: X Marks the Spot

Over the course of 2018, Apple released the iPhone XS, the XS Max, and the XR. 

Despite there being nothing particularly groundbreaking about either of these three models, they did showcase more advanced technology. 

For example, each had a Super Retina HD Display and an A12 bionic chip for improved processing power.

2019: Going Pro

2019 was the year of the iPhone 11, the iPhone 11 Pro, and the iPhone 11 Max, which brought with them new features like a 5.8″ Super Retina XDR display, three 12 MP camera lenses, and a sleek new design.

2020: The SE Returns

2020: The SE Returns
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With the world in chaos, Apple brought out the iPhone SE (Second Generation), a revamped version of a classic iPhone many people still love to this day.

Over the course of the fall and the winter months, Apple also brought us the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Again, improved camera features and under-the-hood performance upgrades were the key selling points.

Unfortunately, as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on, Apple would suffer its worst losses in years.

2021: Bouncing Back

As we mentioned in our featured piece on the State of the Smartphone in 2022, the industry did begin to bounce back from the ravaging effects of the coronavirus crisis.

Last year, the iPhone 13, 13 Mini, 13 Pro, and 13 Pro Max were rolled out- all of which brought more performance upgrades and small-yet-important tweaks.

2022 and Beyond: What Does The Future Hold for iPhone?

2022 and Beyond: What Does The Future Hold for iPhone?
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All of this, of course, brings us today to the important question:

What’s next for Apple?

The company’s flagship product has gone from a tiny-yet-chunky device with a fairly basic camera, limited storage, and memory usage, to a powerful and essential part of many people’s daily lives. 

Features such as a 1 TB storage option and unique camera functions allow it to rival the setup of many professional photographers. The iPhones of today possess the type of performance people could have only dreamed about just a few years earlier.

Still, as we’ve said before, Apple is not one to rest on its laurels. 

According to Macworld, there are rumors that a third-generation iPhone SE (the SE 3) will be introduced to the world in Spring of 20200. 

At the same time, the brand’s new annual fall releases will undoubtedly bring us the iPhone 14 and its variants.

Although nothing has been confirmed about the new models yet, further rumors seem to suggest that Apple will be dropping their “Mini” line of smaller phones.

There’s also a lot of talk about an “iPhone Flip” currently in development, capitalizing on the current demand for foldable phones. 

The iPhone 14 is unlikely to be a foldable option, however. Instead, it will continue to see Apple take what’s already working for them and make it better.

The return of Touch ID (phased out in 2017 in favor of facial recognition) and a potential shift towards a completely wireless design with no ports whatsoever are both key things to look out for in upcoming iPhone releases.

Still, whatever the company decides to add, subtract, or change about this genuinely iconic device, you can be sure that the iPhone will continue to reign. 

It will be just as essential a part of many people’s lives for the next 15 years as it was for the last decade and a half.

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