July 11, 2008: The iPhone 3G goes on sale. Expectations for the smartphone sequel run high, and Apple delivers with the addition of GPS, 3G data and a higher-quality build.
To make things even better, Apple’s second smartphone runs on a new mobile operating system. iPhone OS 2 introduces a better Mail app, turn-by-turn navigation and a little something called the App Store.
iPhone 3G: The lure of 3G data and a lower price
In terms of industrial design, the iPhone 3G made the somewhat un-Apple switch away from aluminum. The new phone replaced the flat aluminum back and plastic bottom of the first-gen iPhone with a curved plastic backing made from hard polycarbonate. The iPhone 3G arrived in two colors — black and white.
The biggest improvement came from the addition of 3G data to supplant EDGE. This led to improved data transfer speeds and clearer call reception. GPS, while less important to some customers, proved vital as well. While GPS seems like old news in today’s smartphones, a phone that could reliably pick up satellites in 2008 turned heads.
Alongside the hardware upgrades, the iPhone 3G brought another clear advantage: its price.
It retailed for $199, a massive 60 percent cheaper than the $499 starting price of the original iPhone. Apple previously slashed the price of the first-gen iPhone, but breaking the $200 price barrier made the iPhone 3G far more affordable.
The supreme importance of the App Store
Powering the iPhone 3G, the new iPhone OS 2 packed the single most important update to any iOS version to date. (The named switched from “iPhone OS 2” to “iOS” after the launch of the iPad in 2010.)
Despite Steve Jobs’ initial reluctance to launch an online software marketplace, the App Store fundamentally transformed the iPhone. It turned the device from a locked-down platform into a generative one.
But the App Store did more than open up a massive new source of revenue for third-party devs. It also meant that every iPhone user could enjoy his or her own “killer app,” depending on what type of software proved most important to them.
iPhone 3G: A big hit for Apple
The iPhone 3G quickly became a smash hit for Apple. In its first weekend on sale, Apple sold 1 million devices. That’s a fraction of the number Cupertino sells during opening weekends today (for example, the iPhone 6s sold 13 million units in its first weekend). But it was massive for Apple at the time.