In Short

Steve Jobs didn't give the WWDC keynote on June 8, 2009. He was away on medical leave. So, a team of Apple executives soldiered on without him. That included Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, Phil Schiller, who's task was to fill the biggest New Balances in the business, for what was becoming Apple's biggest business. Schiller started off quoting Time Magazine's praise for the last generation, "the phone that has changed phones forever." He'd go on to make that phone more affordable forever, while also introducing its successor. It boasted twice the speed, both for processing and data networking. It was the iPhone 3GS.

iPhone 3GS: The S is for Speed

The iPhone 3GS, codenamed N88, and model number iPhone 2,1, was the third iPhone, but the second generation. Confusing, perhaps, especially since it sported an almost identical design to the previous year's iPhone 3G, but it turns out Apple cares more about the guts than the skin. So, yes, the iPhone 3GS sported the same 3.5-inch screen at 320x480 and 163ppi as the last two iPhones. There was one difference, however. With the iPhone 3GS, Apple added an oleophobic coating to the screen to help it better resist finger prints and other oils.

The insides of the iPhone 3GS had far more striking differences. The cellular radio was updated again, this time to a twice-as-fast UMTS/HPSA 7.2 mbps potential. Wi-Fi stayed the same at 802.11 b/g, as did aGPS, but Bluetooth got a bump to 2.1 + EDR.

The chipset, however, got a big bump to the also twice-as-fast ARM Cortex-A8-based Samsung S5PC100 CPU and PowerVR SGX535 GPU. RAM was doubled to a better-if-still-anemic 256MB. Storage got an increase, with the addition of a 32GB model. Battery, to power it all, jumped to 1219mAh, and significantly increased battery life.

Speed wasn't just a factor of hardware, but of software as well. Thanks to Apple's integrated model, both the new processors and iPhone OS 3.0 made everything from app launching to web browsing 2-4 times faster. The iPhone 3GS also added support for OpenGL ES 2.0 for better gaming.

Sensors got a boost as well, with a magnometer (digital compass), which added directional and rotation data to the mix. Combined with the existing accelerometer, it was a huge boom for precision and accuracy, especially for gaming. Nike+ was also integrated, as was hardware encryption for added security.

The camera was also upgraded. It has become hugely popular on sites like Flickr, and Apple had started to pay attention. It went to a slightly-less-terrible 3 megapixels with auto-focus, auto white balance, and auto exposure, and macro. Thanks to the better processing power, could also record video at 30fps... if only at 480p VGA resolution.

The iPhone 3GS also added voice control, a very early, rudimentary precursor to Siri. Activated by a long press of the Home button, it could handle calls and music playback, among select other things. Likewise, Accessibility gained a Voice Over option, and more.

For the third year in the row, there was still no CDMA and EVDO Rev A model, so still no iPhone for Verizon or Sprint in the U.S., but the iPhone was still exclusive to AT&T in the U.S., so it still didn't matter.

Like the casing, the price stayed the same, though you were getting a much faster phone with double the storage for the same $199/$299 on contract.

iPhone 3GS: Scratching the surface

The iPhone 3GS launched on June 19 in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and several European markets. It reached 80 countries by the end of the year. iPhone OS 3.0 came with it. Steve Jobs shared the news that, once again, over a million were sold the first weekend.

By June of 2010 the iPhone 3G was being cleared out, the iPhone 3GS had outsold all previous iPhones combined, and what's more, it had been joined by another iOS device — the iPad. Yet the hardware was ripe for innovation, and we'd see it sooner than even Apple intended...

The iPhone 4 was coming.