History of iPhone: Apple re-invents the phone

History of iPhone: Apple reinvents the phone

The story of the iPhone, beginning with the original in 2007, which wowed the world with multitouch... and locked the U.S. to AT&T

On January 9, 2007 the late Steve Jobs put sneaker to Macworld stage to give one of the most incredible keynote presentations of his life — a life filled with incredible keynotes — and in the history of consumer electronics. There, he said he would be introducing a wide-screen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone, and a breakthrough internet device. But it wasn't three products. It was one product. We got it. It was the iPhone.

After setting up and knocking down everything from the physical keyboard and stylus pens that dominated BlackBerry, Motorola, and Palm smartphones of the day, Jobs went over the multitouch interface that let the iPhone smoothly pinch-to-zoom, and the delightful interface that included touches like inertia and rubber banding in the scrolling, and the multitasking that let him move seamlessly from music to call to web to email and back. Apple:

"iPhone is a revolutionary and magical product that is literally five years ahead of any other mobile phone," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO. "We are all born with the ultimate pointing device—our fingers—and iPhone uses them to create the most revolutionary user interface since the mouse."

Technology alone isn't enough

Mobile Safari

The original iPhone, based on the P2 device of the Project Experience Purple (PEP) team, code named M68 and model number iPhone1,1, had a 3.5-inch screen at 320x480 and 163ppi, a quad-band 2G EDGE data radio, 802.11b.g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0 EDR, and a 2 megapixel camera. It was powered by an ARM-based Samsung 1176JZ(F)-S processor and PowerVR MBX Lite 3D graphics, with an 1400 mAh battery, and had 128MB of RAM on board, as well as 4GB or 8GB of NAND Flash storage. The iPhone could also be charged - and synced to iTunes - via the same 30-pin Dock connector as Apple's incredibly popular iPod.

The iPhone did include several sensors to enhance the user experience, including an accelerometer that could automatically rotate the screen to match device orientation, a proximity sensor that could automatically turn off the screen when close to the face, and an ambient light sensor to automatically adjust brightness. It also had a remarkably good web browser and rendering engine, especially for its time, in Safari and WebKit.

What the original iPhone didn't have was CDMA and EVDO rev A network compatibly. That meant it couldn't work on two of the U.S.' big four carriers, Verizon and Sprint. Not that it mattered; the original iPhone was exclusive to AT&T. It also lacked GPS, or support for faster 3G UTMS/HSPA data speeds. In addition to no hardware keyboard or stylus, the iPhone also didn't have a removable, user-replaceable battery. None of that pleased existing power users of the time. Nor did the absence of features like MMS (multi-media messaging), an exposed file system, copy and paste or any form of advanced text editing, and, critically to many, support for third party apps.

The original iPhone's price was also high. It debuted at $499 for the 4GB and $599 for the 8GB model - on-contract. Those prices weren't unheard of at the time; early Motorola RAZR flip phones were pricey in their day as well. However, it meant Apple couldn't penetrate the mainstream market.

Less for more

On June 6, 2007 Steve Jobs again took the stage at Moscone West, this time for Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference, again showed off the original iPhone, and announced the launch date: June 29, 2007.

At Apple Stores, especially flagship stores like the glass cube in New York City, lineups formed and people waited for hours. It was an event. The novelty and experience were so good, many people simply didn't care about missing features or high price tags. Walt Mossberg and Katherine Boehret of The Wall Street Journal

Our verdict is that, despite some flaws and feature omissions, the iPhone is, on balance, a beautiful and breakthrough handheld computer. Its software, especially, sets a new bar for the smart-phone industry, and its clever finger-touch interface, which dispenses with a stylus and most buttons, works well, though it sometimes adds steps to common functions.

Ryan Block, former Editor-in-Chief of Engadget:

It's easy to see the device is extraordinarily simple to use for such a full-featured phone and media player. Apple makes creating the spartan, simplified UI look oh so easy -- but we know it's not, and the devil's always in the details when it comes to portables. To date no one's made a phone that does so much with so little, and despite the numerous foibles of the iPhone's gesture-based touchscreen interface, the learning curve is surprisingly low. It's totally clear that with the iPhone, Apple raised the bar not only for the cellphone, but for portable media players and multifunction convergence devices in general.

iPhone back

On September 5, 2007, at Apple's "The Beat Goes On" music event, Steve Jobs announced they were dropping the 4GB model entirely, and dropping the price of the 8GB model to $399. Apple:

"The surveys are in and iPhone customer satisfaction scores are higher than we've ever seen for any Apple product," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO. "We've clearly got a breakthrough product and we want to make it affordable for even more customers as we enter this holiday season."

On February 5, 2008, at the they introduced a 16GB model. Apple:

"For some users, there's never enough memory," said Greg Joswiak, Apple's vice president of Worldwide iPod and iPhone Product Marketing. "Now people can enjoy even more of their music, photos and videos on the most revolutionary mobile phone and best Wi-Fi mobile device in the world."

There was still no subsidized price, even on contract, but there was movement.

Competitive contempt

While the iPhone certainly wasn't universally adored, the entrenched incumbents in the smartphone space were, as was absolutely expected, some of its harshest critics. Ed Coligan, former CEO of Palm:

We've learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone. PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They're not going to just walk in.

But they did, and precisely because they weren't making a phone that was smart, they were making a PC that could make calls. Palm figured that out too late, struggled to launch the excellent webOS, ended up being sold to another set of PC guys - HP - and then discontinued and licensed to LG for use in TV sets. Maybe.

Steve Ballmer, now retiring CEO of Microsoft:

You can get a Motorola Q for $99. [...] [Apple] will have the most expensive phone, by far, in the marketplace. There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.

Apple reduced price, first total and then, thanks to the subsidy model, up front as well, making it competitively priced, and its market share grew steadily. Ballmer was correct, at the time, but failed to foresee the future. Now he's leaving Microsoft as their mobile phone platform has become a distant third place.

Mike Lazaridis, former CEO of RIM (now BlackBerry):

Talk -- all I'm [hearing] is talk about [the iPhone's chances in Enterprise]. I think it's important that we put this thing in perspective. [...] Apple's design-centric approach [will] ultimately limit its appeal by sacrificing needed enterprise functionality. I think over-focus on one blinds you to the value of the other. [...] Apple's approach produced devices that inevitably sacrificed advanced features for aesthetics.

Yet it turned out consumers valued design and experience so much, they eventually forced iPhones into enterprise, beginning the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement. It was Lazaridis' insistence on hardware keyboards and data compression as primary consumer demands that lacked perspective. And now he's gone and BlackBerry remains years behind, struggling to catch up.

None of them realized the game had changed, and none of them would respond for years to come. Ironically, the only company that did realize what had happened, and was able to spin on a dime, wasn't a competitor at all. At least not yet...

One year later

By June of 2008, when Apple discontinued the original iPhone - later to be nicknamed the iPhone 2G - total sales had reached over 6 million units. That was on four carriers in four countries. But its impact was felt far beyond those numbers or borders. And it was just beginning...

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

More Posts



← Previously

What would you like to see Apple add to iCloud.com next?

Next up →

Apple launches new look Applecare support website with 24/7 voice chat

There are 25 comments. Add yours.

Adem Reka says:

Steve Jobs was a legend. Since his death Iphone is not surprising anymore. I hope for something new (not leaked and not predictable) this year.

Derrick4Real says:

many will dispute it but i think Apple misses Job's directional guidance and his standards. I think it started before he left but when he sort of stepped a way. but upon reading the autobiography it's replete with examples of Jobs fixating on details. And there are some design choices that I think he'd have looked at and said, "no way. Fix that. Change that. That's illogical." Like there are parts of the ios 7 music player that i think make it worse not better. I think album art in many places makes it harder to navigate. I'd be jobs would go "i'm not sacrificing usability cause you want a tiny tiny image in a superlong list." I'm not sure he'd have like having every album all of a sudden expanded when you click on albums. seems if he wanted that he'd have done it long ago. I don't think they did that for a good reason. Cause if you're looking for a specific album who wants to scroll through an expanded list of songs for every album. I think they thickened up the font in one beta update. i bet jobs would have taken one look at the original and gone "that's too thin. make it thicker." But my two cents. I

Plazmic Flame says:

He'll be a legend in the hearts of those close to him, forever. He'll be a legend to the masses for as log as apple is relevant. I say for the next decade or so.

I don't think there will be anything unexpected this year though...

Maxpower1980 says:

Great article overall, but it looks like there might have been a typo here. I don't know if the original iPhone came with 128MB or RAM but I'm pretty sure it didn't come with 128GB of it, as indicated in this line "Powered by an ARM-based Samsung 1176JZ(F)-S processor and 128GB of RAM, The..."

BB fan forever says:

Ever since Steve Jobs passed away, Not much has changed in the user interface. We will see what ios 7 has to bring to the game. I seen a guy here in Missouri that looked just like Steve Jobs though. Kinda strange. And he was using some type of Apple product iv'e never seen before.

Adem Reka says:

Yeah...and Fbi has implanted a chip in your brain and controls you.

BB fan forever says:

And what was the point in saying that?

Adem Reka says:

That the guy in Missouri was not using an Apple product that you had never seen before. It's just the Fbi that implements this idea in your head with the chip. Have you encountered UFO-s last days?

BB fan forever says:

Whatever. I wish i could have got a pick of the phone. It had the Apple symbol and it was Plastic. It was very dark Black and the light reflected off the back. The people were trying to cover the symbol up the best they could and sat in a corner with no people near.

enots27 says:

You wish it had 128GB of ram lol.

iDisturbia says:

Thanks Rene for another great article. Brought up some memories ....

I am truly honoured to be one of many many who watched this great man's presentation on that day and live!

Yep, that stupid google and samsung also did a great job switching from Blackberry design to ...

BB fan forever says:

Are you saying they are bad? Because a bunch of things you use on IOS is based on Google and Microsoft. Apple uses a bunch of other services to be put into their phones. I wish everything was pulled for one day to see how much Apple really is.

abazigal says:

You have just hit the nail on the head why Apple tries to provide as many of their services in-house as possible. Exactly to avoid getting burned by partners like they did with Google Maps.

Anyways, he was talking about the way those companies designed their phones (Android was initially designed to emulate blackberry), and not the services they provide.

Dark_Blu says:

Apple achieved that due to Jobs leadership, pure and simple. Under Cook? Not so much. Cook doesn't have the mojo. He's going to prove that even more on September 10th. Does Apple make great products? Sure. I can't argue that. I use them. But Cook doesn't have the mojo and it's going to get worse before it gets better.

Trappiste says:

2007 iPhone was a multimedia phone, not a smartphone. Though I am not sure, since it could not actually send or receive multimedia messages or make video calls, had unusable camera and connectivity was poor. Maybe it was just a... phone. Though the earpiece was so cheap it was painful to listen to.

DowCo1 says:

Imagine that! :-)

How's your Android hand piece coming along, BTW? :-). ...or did you opt for the Windows one? Oh wait, how thoughtless of me... It must be a BB 10. Good luck finding apps for THAT! :-D

Carioca32 says:

I agree, and most of what it showcased was already present on the costly LG Prada, so it wasn't even revolutionary or new. It did not sell well either.

I argue that what reinvented the phone was the app store, not the phone itself. Although the concept of an App Store was not new, Apple did it better and potentialized it to the max.

lbaxter says:

I keep imagining what would have happened had the original iPhone been launched with a $199 price point on contract. How much more market share, etc. would they have now? Would the innovation be pushed faster due to the competition being heated up sooner?

Or, would it have been labeled a commodity too soon and the prestige of owning one waned too thin years ago so that no one wants the new one anymore?

Orealy YouThink says:

Someone once said, would you rather drive a Porsche or a Ford?
Porsche doesn't sell as many as Ford, but I am sure we would all choose a Porsche.

DowCo1 says:

Extremely well thought out and written article. Great business strategy lessons to be learned.

Ben_Trovato says:

Great article! Lots of fun to go back to the Steve Jobs days of presentations. Someone like Jobs that I find similar today is Marissa Mayer. Dictator type that understands what people like. It's such an important quality in tech to develop intuitive products that everyone will like. Steve was meticulous over every aspect. These people are often criticized for their ways but they deliver outstanding results.

Jay Imerman says:

Back in 2007 I was not an Apple fan. So I never did catch this keynote address. What really strikes me as I watch it now in 2013, is that all of these features that the Apple team demonstrates have become the de facto standard on all phones now. If you don't have it, customers don't even consider buying your phone. RIM is nearly bankrupt as revenue sources dry up and sales continue to plummet - and they were the #1 smart phone in the world in 2007. Knowing how, in true Apple fashion, every huge claim that Jobs made was really an understatement, and that it was actually better than he showed, and knowing the future to come (iPads, etc.), it is kind of fun to remind ourselves just how revolutionary it was when the iPhone came out. And just wait! As Rene has indicated on multiple posts, iOS 7 is a major rework of iDevices. Now it's about time for Apple to revolutionize again - hopefully something totally new in 2 weeks!

Stevenojobs says:

i watched this, and was even in front of an apple store in los angeles for the release !!

What amaze me, is how the audience are screaming for things that are standard !
Like "how do i scroll through my music ?? i just take my finger and BOOM" and everybody goes crazy (me first)...

But now everything is amazing and nobody's happy !! (louis C.K)