History of iPhone 5: The biggest thing to happen to iPhone

History of iPhone 5: The biggest thing to happen to iPhone

The story of the iPhone, continuing with the 2012 iPhone 5, which added a lighter casing, faster connection, and taller display

WWDC once again came and went without any new iPhone announcements, re-affirming that that 2011 hadn't be a fluke. Fall was the new summer. So it was that Apple announced another iPhone event for September 12, 2012. There Apple SVP of worldwide marketing announced the biggest thing to happen to the iPhone since the original iPhone. Big as in in thinner and lighter. Big as in screaming fast LTE. Big as in a taller screen. Big as in the iPhone 5.

“iPhone 5 is the most beautiful consumer device that we’ve ever created,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “We’ve packed an amazing amount of innovation and advanced technology into a thin and light, jewel-like device with a stunning 4-inch Retina display, blazing fast A6 chip, ultrafast wireless, even longer battery life; and we think customers are going to love it.”

Loving it was easy

iPhone 5, codenamed N41/N42 and model number iPhone5,1, was the fourth major redesign and the second major improvement to the iPhone's display. It went from a 3:2 aspect ration to a more cinematic 16:9. The density stayed the same, at 326ppi, so that resulted in a size increase to 4-inches and pixel count increase to 1136x640 to fill up all that extra space. It allowed for an extra row of icons, an extra message, and extra everything in general. Apple also switched to in-cell technology, which let them combine the touch sensor and LCD into one layer. If the pixels previously looked like they were painted beneath glass, the iPhone 5 made them look like they were painted inside the glass. It also reduced reflections. Somewhat. Apple had succeeded in once again making the best, if not the biggest, display in the business.

Though the overall rounded-rectangle shape of the iPhone 5 stayed the same, Apple rebuilt the casing from the atoms on up. Instead of a glass back and stainless steel band, they went back to the aluminum of the original iPhone but this time made it a unibody that covered the back and sides. Ceramic/pigmented glass was still used on the top and bottom for RF transparency, however, resulting in a two-tone effect. Apple offered both white and silver (Stormtrooper) and black and slate (Vader). The silver was clear-coated aluminum. The slate was anodized. Dark colors, especially black, are hard to anodize and that did cause some issues for Apple when it came to scratching and chipping. It resulted in an iPhone that had a a bigger screen, yet 12% less volume than its predecessor. It also required a machining process that no other company on earth could have produced at that scale. (It was, quite frankly, machinist porn.)

The iPhone 5 also debuted Apple's first custom processor. Previous Apple A-series processors had been based on existing ARM reference designs. For the Apple A6, Apple licensed the ARM v7s instruction set and made their own design -- a 32nm CMOS dual-core Apple CPU that can run from between 800MHz and 1.2GHz. And they topped it off with a triple-core PowerVR SGX543MP3 GPU and 1GB of RAM. It was roughly twice as fast. Again. There was no new storage option, however, so 64GB remained the max. The battery did creep up again, though, to 1440mAh. That, along with new efficiencies, increased useful battery life.

The Apple A6 image signal processor (ISP) added spatial noise reduction as well as increased speed. Because of the 25% thinner body, Apple wasn't able to include a better physical camera (cameras love depth) but they somehow managed to squeeze a camera into it that was just as good as the iPhone 4S. Re-branded under the old "iSight" name, Apple did add a new, dynamic low-light mode which they claimed was up to 2 f-stops better. Apple also claimed the 5-element lens has been aligned with even greater precision for even greater sharpness. Also, the surface of the iSight was switched to sapphire crystal to make it more scratch resistant. The front, FaceTime camera went 720p, becoming FaceTime HD.

In their efforts to save space, Apple once again went to a smaller SIM card. This time, the nanoSIM. They added 4G LTE support, thanks to Qualcomm MDM9615 and RTR8600 chipsets, with a maximum theoretical speed of 100mbps. Because of the thinness and their obsession with battery life, however, they didn't add dual radios. Since LTE doesn't support simultaneous voice and data, the GSM iPhone 5 had to drop down to HSPA+ while talking. Since EVDO Rev. A also doesn't supported simultaneous voice and data, the CMDA iPhone had to drop data entirely. For areas without LTE, Apple added DC-HSPA+, and it's still impressive theoretical 42mbps capacity. Wideband audio was added for the few carriers that actually supported it. Bluetooth was already maxed out at 4.0, but thanks to a Murata Wi-Fi module, which included the Broadcom BCM4334 chip, the iPhone 5 gained 802.11n on 5GHz as well.

Apple also added a 3rd mic for better noise cancellation and beamforming not just for phone calls, but FaceTime, Siri, and other, newer technologies.

The iPhone 5 was also a turning point in another major area. After 10 years of 30-pin Dock connector, Apple swapped it out for the smaller, more flexible Lightning connector. 80% smaller and offering 8 all-digital signals to be precise. It caused a lot of pain for a lot of people who'd accumulated a lot of Dock connector-based accessories over the years, and Apple dropped the ball in a major way by not having their adapters on the shelves in anything approaching a reasonable amount of time. It was a necessary and good change, however, and over time the changing pain diminished.

Pricing was unchanged at $199, $299, and $399 on contract.

Bored all the way to the bank

The iPhone 5 launched in the US, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and the UK on September 21, 2013. By the end of the year it was available in 100 countries on 240 carriers. Apple also launched iOS 6 with it. They sold 5 million the first weekend. Apple:

“Demand for iPhone 5 has been incredible and we are working hard to get an iPhone 5 into the hands of every customer who wants one as quickly as possible,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “While we have sold out of our initial supply, stores continue to receive iPhone 5 shipments regularly and customers can continue to order online and receive an estimated delivery date. We appreciate everyone’s patience and are working hard to build enough iPhone 5s for everyone.”

The iPhone 5 was a completely new design, but thanks to the familiar shape and the familiar button layout, especially the iconic Home button, it led to a lot of negative sentiment. People and pundits alike called it uninspired. They called it boring. It made no sense to people who understood what went into making it. It made no sense to anyone familiar with all the other iterative designs from all the other manufacturers. But perception is reality, and manufacturers disregard it at their peril. Add in the extremely troubled iOS 6 Maps launch that came with it, and gripes abounded. Still, reviews were positive. Tim Stevens of Engadget:

The iPhone 5 is a significant improvement over the iPhone 4S in nearly every regard, and in those areas that didn't see an upgrade over its predecessor -- camera, storage capacity -- one could make a strong case that the iPhone 4S was already ahead of the curve. Every area, that is, except for the OS. If anything, it's the operating system here that's beginning to feel a bit dated and beginning to show its age.

Still, the iPhone 5 absolutely shines. Pick your benchmark and you'll find Apple's thin new weapon sitting at or near the top. Will it convince you to give up your Android or Windows Phone ways and join the iOS side? Maybe, maybe not. Will it wow you? Hold it in your hand -- you might be surprised. For the iOS faithful this is a no-brainer upgrade. This is without a doubt the best iPhone yet. This is a hallmark of design. This is the one you've been waiting for.

Jim Dalrymple of The Loop:

My experience with the iPhone 5, iOS and the EarPods has been great. The iPhone is everything Apple said it would be and with iOS 6 built-in, it’s clear to me that Apple has another winner on its hands.

I can’t think of any good reason why anyone wouldn’t upgrade or purchase the iPhone 5.

Yours truly for iMore:

The danger of being overly focused is that you lose sight of the periphery. The key is to be fixed but not fixated. It can be a razor-fine line, and one Apple often seems to cascade down with reckless abandon. [...] One day Apple will come to the end of this iPhone line and they'll have to re-imagine or replace the iPhone the way they have the iPod. But it won't be this day or this iPhone.

Taller, thinner, faster, lighter, brighter; the iPhone 5 represents nothing more nor less than the latest, relentless iteration on the Platonic ideal Apple has been striving towards for almost a decade. Redesigned in every way but shape, compromised but true to its purpose, the iPhone 5 is once again the best iPhone Apple has ever made, and one of the best phones ever made. Period.

It felt the closest yet to the original iPhone concept Jony Ive had been working on since 2005, the pinnacle of that hardware line.

Six years later

Microsoft had launched Windows 7 and then called a mulligan with the similar looking but NT-powered Windows 8. Steve Ballmer announced his intention to resign and then bought Nokia on his way out. BlackBerry had ditched their dual CEOs, replaced them with Thorstein Heins, and finally launched BlackBerry 10. Samsung and Motorola remained in litigation with Apple, the former leading in marketshare and rapidly gaining in profit share, the latter taking the first careful steps towards a Google phone. Competition for Apple and the iPhone had never been more fierce. Some in the media and in the markets began to run with the "Apple is doomed" meme, and Apple's ability to innovate and excite was called into question. At WWDC 2013, however, Apple began to strike back. iOS 7 was coming. But what would come with it?

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+.

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There are 37 comments. Add yours.

MattLaney22 says:

I have really enjoyed these. Thanks for the history lessons.

Linebarrel86 says:

"It also required a machining process that no other company on earth could have produced at that scale. (It was, quite frankly, machinist porn.)"

Uhh...I'm pretty sure Samsung could have done the same if they chose to use aluminum instead of plastic...seeing as they are the largest phone OEM in the world...just saying.

Also, why did you quote yourself as though you were subjective enough to warrant reading? You write for an Apple-centric site, your observations will be undoubtedly pro-Apple.

Anyway, I loved your articles regarding the iPhone history. I almost wished though that you had waited to write these on the eve of the 2014 iPhone announcement. I feel that next year will be something more special that what we will probably see this year. This year is about reacting to the market and supplying a cheap iPhone. Next year I believe Tim Cook and Co. will put down the naysayers.

Rene Ritchie says:

I don't think Samsung could have manufactured the iPhone 5 last year. Apple not only designs their products, they design the machines that make their products. Watch the iPhone 5 machining video again. They're manufacturing virtually "in the future". That stuff will filter down, but it takes a unique culture, and frankly a recklessness (because it's needlessly expensive) to do stuff like that. Samsung may not have had the will or the way.

Just like Apple couldn't manufacture their own chipsets, but Samsung could. It's not easy and each company has their own specialities and competences.

Also, I quote myself because I wrote the article and wanted to share my views of the product at the time and the accepted internet convention for that is to quote the material.

I'll update the series next year, so no worries.

BB fan forever says:

Apple gets there stuff from other companies. Foxcon is the one making the products. The only thing Apple does is put a logo on the back of their phones.

Mike Oxlong1 says:

Orly? Well, your name kinda explains your remark. Lol.

Rene Ritchie says:

Not at all. Apple designs machining and processes and then funds those machines at the factories in exchange for exclusivity and preferential pricing. It's a Tim Cook thing. Foxconn can only make iPhones because Apple equips and funds them to make iPhones.

tool022611 says:

Didnt see this post! By the way, I love your writing, keep up
The good work.

SimonCraddock says:

You have no idea about design and manufacturing do you? Apple designed the iPhone only it clearly states on the back 'designed in California'. Component designs for any new device are put out to tender for quotes.

tool022611 says:

Apple designs every aspect of their products and than gives Foxconn the design and blueprints to build them. You couldn't be more wrong.

Rob White says:

Now I'm as big an apple critic as you'll find, but that statement is just stupidly false. If you can't see that Apple has legitimately changed the very landscape of consumer electronics for the better, & judging by your handle you still think its 2007 apparently, you're living in a fanboy fantasy.

Blackberry sure as hell isn't doing the type of machining & fit & finish that Apple is or has done with their entire portfolio. For that matter nobody is. To say Samsung is in the same league is laughable. Yeah Foxconn is the manufacturing partner, & they use the tools & machines Apple designed for them to manufacture Apple products. Not Samsungs.

Orealy YouThink says:

Could have?
But didn't.
Ford or Porsche?
You choose. It's not always about who sells the most. Sounds like someone with buyer's remorse to me.

boovish says:

I love the article, but I am bummed that Samsung is trying to steal Apple's thunder by having the Unpacked event tomorrow. And as always, Samsung will try to out do the iPhone in every which way. But they tain't gonna get the drop on Apple. Just because the Note 3 might be thinner than the iPhone 5/S doesn't make it impressive.

BB fan forever says:

No but the performance is what matters. What u can do for productivity is what matters also, Apple loses there. Not play games for 8 hours and act like a child with a Iphone.

Mike Oxlong1 says:

I almost feel sorry for your mother. Almost.

bigdaddylipz says:

As I feel sorry for yours.. Oh wait trolls hatch don't they.

Orealy YouThink says:

Really?
You clods ruine everything.
Why in the heck you have to start because you are jealous.
You are stuck in a contract or with a company what won't let you use a iPhone and you want to project your pissy, fanboy attitude.
And you are men?
Grow up, put on your big boy pants and suck it up, buy an iPhone or just wait till your contract ends and quick being JERKS! (aka, JACKA****s

prophecyc2 says:

Don't let these Bb and Android and Samsung aka Anti-Apple fanboys ruin genius products and amazing articles! Arguing with people who rep Bb or 41mp Nokias is worthless bc they're worthless. Apply been on top for a long time and will continue. Thanks Rene and iMore

Orealy YouThink says:

Yeah, 41 mp...
Just gobble up that memory and storage.
That's going to last.
...Oh wait, there is that cloud thingy
RAAAIIIIIIGHT!

bigdaddylipz says:

Well said.. I'll forgive your handle.

Orealy YouThink says:

Loses what?
Have you looked at RIM's stock?
You're stupid at best.

Rene Ritchie says:

I think Samsung's been planning this event for a long time. The Note 3 is an entirely different thing than the iPhone 5S anyway. I'm not sure how much the potential markets overlap.

Richard Devine says:

Just like last year, and the year before that. IFA comes, brings Samsung Unpacked with it!

ungibbed says:

I really hope that iOS 7 gives the iPhone the much needed boost to the modern competition that balk the againg look of iOS 6 and adding features to the iPhone that really could use an update.

From what I've seen so far from the demos on the Apple website along with the initial announcement. The only bit of history I felt was not really noticed was the iPhone 5 finally reaching all four major carriers and updated for T-Mobile's 1700Mhz AWS 4G network as well as LTE which with my personal experience so far, has been a huge bonus. After carrying a number of different Android devices that none really worked well for me so I had used a unlocked 4S direct from Apple. After so much time being stuck with EDGE when wanting to stick with my iPhone, it was a huge amount of nerd frenzy after getting my T-Mobile iPhone 5 with truly unlimited and uncapped high speed data and tethering.

Ever since getting the original iPhone long ago and having to join AT&T to use it, this is the second time I've been completely captivated by the raw beauty of the minimalist design done do perfection that is the iPhone 5.

Now with iOS 7 on the horizon, I can't wait to see how much further Apple can push ahead.

The toughest decision now is if the 5S is worth the upgrade from the 5. Having my LTE hotspot with my MBP pulling just under 38Mbps, this is the best mobile phone I've ever owned.

prophecyc2 says:

Had iOS 7 for 3 weeks. Ditched my JB for it. Been amazing!

Rene Ritchie says:

I'm hugely impressed with iOS 7. More than I hoped for pre-WWDC.

ungibbed says:

I really want to see it in real action without the crap YouTube videos. I hope it sees full release soon. As soon as it gets released a full clean install is in order

mimllr says:

Seeing screenshots and videos of it don't really do it justice at all. Until you can actually "feel" it in your hands, you won't realize how incredible it is.

I used a very buggy Beta for a few days and tried to go back to iOS 6 and I couldn't stand it. It's beautiful.

djstarion says:

I agree, I'm holding off on using it on my main devices until my most used apps are fully updated for iOS 7, but it really does feel perfect to use, especially on an iPad.

jmush says:

Hi Rene. Mistake I found in the article: It's an A6 inside the iPhone 5. You refer to it as an A5 several times.
Really enjoyed this series!

swarlos says:

Great article Rene, but the iPhone 5 came out September 21, 2012 not September 21, 2013 :)

Stevenojobs says:

Thanks for the article Rene ! Make us remember how time fly, and all the good things apple bring us !
Although i enjoy less the keynote since steve doesn't introduce the product, i download and watch them quickly

025899 says:

Can we stop criticizing Rene and just move on to the iPhone 6. Or do we have to wait a month and do both?

Orealy YouThink says:

I really enjoyed this article.
My wife has a 5 and I have a 4s soon to upgrade.
I never really took into consideration the amount of work, and design, not too mention the technology in these little devices. ALL OF THEM. (quiet fanboys).

The one thing I tell me kids, these are small computers. NOT PHONES, and to this day, most of the masses STUPIDITY out there doesn't realize it.

Any one remember, pagers? Think about it from the business aspect.
Blackberry was certainly the King of business.
But iPhone is slowly nibbling away.
But give credit due.
Samsung. I really don't care. The fill a niche for those that HATE Apple in every fashion.
I bet they all use a ZUNE to this day.

We all have our choices.

I never hear anyone that owns a iPhone beating down someone saying they wish they have a Samsung, Nokia or a Windoze, phone!

Ha, I made a funny.

Great story.
There is a lot to be said.

"could have" best quote of the day.

Samsung sux! Sorry you brought.

LordStickMax says:

really been loving these iPhone history pages. i hope androidcentral.com does a series on the nexus line. maybe even the droid line but that could look insane.

richardpandy says:

I said this same exact thing the last time you posted this picture... You clearly show how the iPhone has grown in size, yet all of the competitors phones look like they have stayed the same exact stagnant size. Why do you have to modify the photos to look like that and not how they actually look?

Joebin says:

Although I only have the 16GB model of the 5 and now dealing with space issues, I absolutely love it. It seems to be the perfect size. Even with a battery case on it, the phone fits comfortably in my pocket. The phone zips and the OS is fluid. I've owned the 3Gs, 4, and now 5. Each one was a great upgrade of the previous model. They've earned my repeat business (and even before that with the Mac). At work, my department is 6 deep. 5 of them own iPhones 4, 4S or 5. None of them care about any specs. They just want their phones to work and they do. The lone non-iPhone owner in the office is anti-Apple for whatever reason. He stuck to his Blackberry despite all of it's limitations then moved to an Android OS phone. I sincerely wished it worked out for him, but after a few months, turn out he doesn't have the geek skills required to make his phone run smoothly and do the things he could do with an iPhone. Looking forward to iOS 7.

kingofkats says:

René, Wonderful series. Really cannot abide the whiners, but I guess it's a sign that even those who don't actually like the series nevertheless love it. Hope you're planning to publish the full series as an Amazon single, or an iBooks equivalent. Please say yes,