Today in Apple history: Relive 10 years of iPhone innovation

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10 Years iPhone
Has it really been that long?
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Jan9January 9, 2007: Steve Jobs introduces the iPhone to an unsuspecting world. It’s immediately clear: Apple’s highly anticipated smartphone is like nothing we’ve seen before.

Standing on the Macworld stage in San Francisco, Jobs describes the new gadget as a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone, and a breakthrough internet communications device.

10 years and more than a billion iPhones later, Apple’s smartphone has become a lot more commonplace — but no less revolutionary! Here’s our guide to 10 years of iPhone history.

1999

December: Apple acquires the domain name www.iphone.org, prompting years of speculation that it is considering building a cellphone.

While the news is met with interest, it’s also taken as a warning sign for a company that only recently moved away from the sort of non-computer gimmicks — like games consoles, PDAs and digital cameras — that proved to be dead ends earlier in the decade.

Over the next several years, Apple steadily and quietly applies for the “iPhone” trademark in countries around the world.

2003

Late 2003: Apple industrial designer Duncan Kerr gives Jony Ive and the rest of the ID team a demo of multi-touch technology, which he had been working on with Apple’s input engineering group. Unlike the crude touch surfaces of the time, which could register only single presses, multi-touch opens up possibilities like swiping, pinching and zooming.

Although the thought is that this could work as a mouse replacement for a future touchscreen Mac, it doesn’t take too long for people to realize that it could work perfectly as the interface for a mobile device. Initially worried that Steve Jobs will shoot down the technology as unfinished, Ive eventually decides to show it to his boss.

Speaking in 2010 at the All Things Digital conference, Jobs claimed credit for noting that the technology could work well for a mobile phone. Not long after, Apple engineers create a test address book app that demonstrates how easy it is to use a multi-touch display to scroll through and select contacts.

2004

Late 2004: Concerned that cellphones might soon cannibalize the iPod’s market share by offering music playing functions, Jobs — in a rare and un-Jobsian move — teams up with another company to bring an Apple-sanctioned, iTunes-friendly phone to market.

Jobs picks Motorola, proposing that the companies produce a successor to the popular RAZR handset that would include a built-in iPod.

Research and development: Inside Apple, two simultaneous iPhone projects get underway: the so-called P1 and P2 projects. P1, managed by Tony Fadell (who would go on to found Nest), basically grafts the functionality of a phone onto the click wheel of the iPod. A mockup of the design is later shown off by Jobs as an illustration of how not to do things. Unlike the eventual iPhone, this concept can’t run apps or surf the internet, and entering numbers is slow.

iPhonealternate
Yep, this is how the iPhone could have looked — had project P1 taken off.
Photo: Apple

The P2 project, built around Apple’s multi-touch tech, is a lot more promising. Jony Ive and his team hammers out the hardware design, which Ive is fond of saying should look like an “infinity pool.” Meanwhile, a team led by Scott Forstall works on the software. Hardly anyone gets to see both hardware and software; the project is one of Apple’s most closely guarded secrets.

iPhone
The iPhone as it appeared in early Apple patents.
Photo: USPTO/Apple

2005

September: Apple’s collaboration with Motorola, the ROKR E1, is released. Although some fans are happy with a phone that doubles as an iPod, Jobs hates it. The ROKR is badly designed, fiddly to use, and inexplicably suffers from a 100-song limit, despite having the capability to store more tracks.

Jobs introduces the phone onstage at an Apple event, where he fails to demonstrate the phone’s ability to play iTunes music correctly. “It was supposed to resume my music right back to where it was,” Jobs says, looking pissed off. “I hit the wrong button,” he continues. “But you can resume your music right back to where it was if you hit the right button.”

2007

January 9: Steve Jobs unveils the real iPhone in all its glory. He also announces that Apple is dropping the “Computer” from its name. The tech world goes all kinds of nuts for the iPhone. Except for …

Steve Ballmer: CNBC interviews Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. In a notorious blunder, Ballmer scoffs at the apparently ridiculous price tag of Apple’s new phone. “If that isn’t the most expensive phone in the world,” he says. Ballmer adds that the iPhone “doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard, which makes it not a very good email machine.”

June: The iPhone goes on sale, with massive queues of Apple fans outside Apple stores around the United States. Tech journalist Steven Levy — one of only a select group to get an advance unit — gets involved in an altercation as he shows the device on live TV:

Despite the furor, sales at the historic launch were considerably smaller than during today’s iPhone rollouts. In 2007, it took the iPhone 70 days to hit a million units sold.

November: Six months after it was first shown off by Steve Jobs, the iPhone becomes TIME magazine’s “best invention of the year.”

The iPhone beats other contenders from the 2007-era gadget pack, including the Nikon Coolpix S51c digital camera, the Netgear SPH200W Wi-Fi Phone and the Samsung P2 music player.

TIME acknowledges that the iPhone is not yet perfect, but says the smartphone is clearly a massive paradigm shift worthy of celebrating:

“The thing is hard to type on. It’s too slow. It’s too big. It doesn’t have instant messaging. It’s too expensive. (Or, no, wait, it’s too cheap!) It doesn’t support my work e-mail. It’s locked to AT&T. Steve Jobs secretly hates puppies. And — all together now — we’re sick of hearing about it! Yes, there’s been a lot of hype written about the iPhone, and a lot of guff too. So much so that it seems weird to add more, after Danny Fanboy and Bobby McBlogger have had their day. But when that day is over, Apple’s iPhone is still the best thing invented this year.”

TIMEcover
The iPhone was immediately recognized as a breakthrough device.
Photo: TIME

2008

June: A year after introducing the original iPhone, Jobs unveils its successor, the iPhone 3G, at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. The device adds GPS, 3G data, tri-band UMTS/HSDPA, and new plastic polycarbonate housing. Complaints about battery life follow.

July: The second most significant day in iPhone history, after the original unveiling, is July 8, 2008, when the App Store opens for business. Jobs originally fought against allowing developers to create their own apps for the iPhone. Eventually he relented, announcing the launch of an iTunes-style online store where customers could download software programs. At the App Store’s launch, 500 native apps are available to download.

2009

iPhone 3GS
Do you remember the iPhone 3GS?
Photo: Apple

June: Steve Jobs shows off the iPhone 3GS at WWDC 2009. Chief upgrades include better performance and a 3-megapixel camera with higher resolution and video. A white variant makes this the first iPhone to ship in different color options. Some reviewers question whether Apple improved the phone enough to warrant the upgrade. The iPhone 3GS arrives at the same time as…

iPhone 0S 3.0: An update to the iPhone operating system brings more than 100 new features, including cut and paste, parental controls, multimedia messages, and stereo Bluetooth. The last version of iPhone OS to run on the original 2007-era iPhone is iPhone OS 3.1.3.

Also that month: Artist Jorge Colombo draws the cover of The New Yorker using his iPhone and iOS app Brushes while standing outside Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in Times Square. “I got a phone in the beginning of February, and I immediately got the program so I could entertain myself,” says the artist.

New Yorker
This cover was created using an iPhone.
Photo: New Yorker

2010

January: Google and HTC release the Nexus One smartphone, which boasts a touchscreen keyboard and multi-touch gestures. Apple quickly sues HTC and Steve Jobs starts his “thermonuclear” war on Android.

June: Jobs unveils the iPhone 4 at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. The handset’s main selling points include the introduction of FaceTime communications software, an upgraded 5-megapixel camera with LED flash, a VGA-quality front-facing camera, superior Retina display with four times the number of pixels as its predecessor, and flatter, Braun-esque design. The iPhone 4 is 24 percent thinner than the iPhone 3GS.

July: Apple is hit by Antennagate: Some users complain of dropped calls with their new iPhone. YouTube musician and Apple fan Jonathan Mann writes a song about the controversy, which Steve Jobs plays at a press event to discuss the news.

2011

April: Apple sues Samsung for infringing on iPhone patents with its Nexus One handset. Samsung countersues, claiming that Apple has infringed on its mobile-communications patents.

July: Not content to dominate on Earth, the iPhone rockets into space. NASA sends two iPhones aboard the STS-135 space shuttle. Houston-based tech and research firm Odyssey Space Research develops an app called Spacelab for the mission, letting astronauts estimate altitude, attempt to read QR codes in zero gravity, calculate their position in space, and measure radiation.

October: The iPhone 4s gets shown off, at its own media event for the first time, just one day before Steve Jobs passes away at the age of 56. The first iPhone released while Tim Cook is CEO, the 4s’ biggest selling point is the arrival of Siri, which kickstarts an interest in AI assistants across Silicon Valley.

November: Celebrated photographer Annie Liebovitz claims that the iPhone is the “snapshot camera of today,” passing some kind of cultural baton to the device that is increasingly becoming people’s go-to camera. “It is so accessible and easy,” she says.

2012

July: The Apple-Samsung patent trial begins. The following month, the jury awards Apple $1.05 billion and Samsung nothing. As decisive a victory as this seems, however, it is step one of a long, convoluted lawsuit that is still raging today.

September: Apple introduces the iPhone 5, boasting a design that’s thinner and lighter than previous models. It sports a taller display in close to 9:16 aspect ratio. Among other hardware upgrades, Apple makes the controversial decision to include a new Lightning connector, which replaces the 30-pin connector used on previous iPhones.

2013

September: Apple breaks with tradition by offering two distinctly different models of new iPhone: a flagship iPhone 5s with Touch ID and a colorful, lower-spec version called the iPhone 5c. Apple continues to release multiple new iPhones each year, although the “c” variant doesn’t get a follow-up, due to slightly disappointing sales.

December: Apple finally makes a deal to bring the iPhone to China Mobile, the world’s largest telecom company by number of customers — with 760 million potential iPhone buyers in the offing. Tim Cook ramps up his talk about how China will one day be Apple’s biggest market, and claims that Cupertino designs its new products with the Chinese audience in mind.

5c
The iPhone 5c was Apple’s most colorful iPhone yet.
Photo: Apple

2014

September: Apple shows off its biggest (no pun intended) refresh of the iPhone in years, with totally redesigned form factors sized at 4.7 inches and 5.5 inches for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. A combined 10 million units sell in the opening weekend. The larger-size iPhone 6 Plus shows Apple’s eagerness to jump on the “phablet” bandwagon, although it opens up a whole new controversy in the form of…

Bendgate: Word spreads that Apple’s ultra-thin iPhone 6 Plus is susceptible to bending if people sit on it. Immediately, the Bendgate controversy gets seized upon by other brands — including Samsung, LG, Nokia and even non-tech brands like Whattaburger — to promote their products.

burger
The Bendgate phenomenon was referenced everywhere for a while.
Photo: Whattaburger

December: Photographer Brooks Kraft uses an iPhone 6 Plus to photograph Christmas decorations in the White House. “If you are looking to capture something candid, people are so used to seeing mobile devices that their reaction time is slower,” he says in an interview. “You have a better chance of getting the shot, and that was the case at the White House.”

2015

Acclaimed Sundance Film Festival movie Tangerine makes waves in Hollywood because of its unflinching look at a world filled with transgender prostitutes, meth addicts, pimps and beat cops. It makes waves in the tech community because director Sean Baker shot it on an iPhone 5s.

September: The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus go on sale. A record 13 million units sell in the opening weekend; that number includes Chinese sales for the first time. The new models rectify Bendgate with a reinforced chassis, and feature improved hardware and Apple’s pressure-sensitive 3D Touch inputs.

2016

iPhone sales fall: A theme throughout the year is that iPhone sales continue to fall in each quarter. Having seen almost a decade of sustained growth, the eventual peak and decline is disappointing, but inevitable. With that said, Apple did hit a pretty significant sales target…

July: Apple sells its one billionth iPhone. “iPhone has become one of the most important, world-changing and successful products in history,” Tim Cook says. “It’s become more than a constant companion. iPhone is truly an essential part of our daily life and enables much of what we do throughout the day.” It’s hard to disagree!

September: Apple announces the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. A lack of major upgrades suggests that Apple is switching to three-year instead of two-year total product refreshes, but the handset nonetheless earns good reviews. Plenty of rumors indicate Apple is planning a significant update for iPhone 8 the following year.

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