If you’re an Apple lover, it’s hard to imagine life before iPhones. But it was just a decade-and-a-half ago that the very first iPhone made its debut.
We'll look at the evolution of iPhone, including a brief history and some key dates and milestones that forever changed how we all stayed connected.
The First iPhone (2007)
The first iPhone was released in June 2007. Announced by Steve Jobs in January 2007, the groundbreaking device combined the functionality of an iPod, a mobile phone, and a breakthrough internet communicator. Though it seems impossible to imagine, a lot of reviewers were skeptical of the first iPhone. That’s likely because, despite the 3.5” screen, a multi-touch touchscreen display, microphone, headset controls, the app store wouldn’t be introduced until the second generation. However, it was iPhone’s web browser that dazzled tech fans. Features like touchscreen scrolling and double-tapping to enlarge, as well as getting full web layouts, rather than cellphone-browser versions were revolutionary at the time. As Gizmodo accurately predicted1, “This is what the phone of the future will look like.”
iPhone 3G (2008)
iPhone 3G was introduced on July 11, 2008, featuring 3G connectivity, GPS capabilities, and access to the App Store. It was the first to hit a lot of the Apple iPhone milestones that have made the phone such a game-changer. For example, its iPhone 3G network capabilities reduced web loading times to seconds, making iPhone almost as convenient as desktop.
But eclipsing all these other milestones was perhaps the biggest moment in Apple iPhone history: The introduction of the App Store. In its first iteration, there were just 500 third-party apps in the store. Those numbers would soon boom, and Apple’s slogan, “There’s an app for that” became truer with each generation of iPhone.
iPhone 3GS (2009)
iPhone 3GS was launched on June 19, 2009, offering increased performance, a better camera, and improved battery life. The New York Times’ David Pogue summed up the problems users had with the first few generations of iPhones in a few succinct sentences2: “But the camera’s terrible!” … “It can’t record video! There’s no voice dialing! No copy and paste! iPhone can’t even send picture messages, even $20 starter phones can do that!”
With the 3GS, Apple addressed all these problems, offering upgraded camera and video recording capabilities along with solving issues like lack of voice dialing, copy and paste, and picture messaging. The 3GS also was the first iPhone to boost storage to 16 gigabytes for the base model. Priced at just $200, the third-generation iPhone was still in its infancy, though it was steadily becoming more like the all-in-one mobile devices we’re used to today.
iPhone 4 (2010)
iPhone 4 was released on June 24, 2010, showcasing a new, sleek design and the stunning Retina Display. It’s hard to imagine a world without FaceTime, but Apple didn’t introduce the feature until the 2010 release of iPhone 4. Along with FaceTime came the addition of the front facing camera, an improved Retina Display, and multifunction capabilities.
iPhone 4S (2011)
iPhone 4S was launched on October 14, 2011, bringing Siri, the intelligent voice assistant, and a significantly improved camera.
Do you remember where you were the first time your text bubbles turned blue? With the release of the 4S, iPhone gave us the ability to see at a glance which of our friends had iPhones—and to send messages between iPhones via Wi-Fi rather than SMS—with the introduction of iMessage.
The last phone released before legendary Apple founder Steve Jobs’ death; it was also the last version he worked to develop. In addition to iMessage and iCloud, 4S introduced another legendary name into the global lexicon—Siri, the first virtual digital personal assistant installed on a smartphone.
iPhone 5S and 5C (2013)
iPhone 5S and 5C were released on September 20, 2013, with the 5S introducing Touch ID, while the 5C offered a colorful, more affordable option.
It was the charger switch lamented around the world: In 2013, Apple gave us the lightning charger, which made for faster charging, but it also turned five years of its previous chargers into instant junk, to the ire of some users. At four inches tall, compared to the previous generation’s 3.5 inches, this phone was also slightly larger and thinner than earlier versions, a trend that would continue. LTE capabilities meant that data transfer was faster than ever before.
iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (2014)
iPhone 6 and 6 Plus were introduced on September 19, 2014, featuring larger displays and the introduction of Apple Pay.
While the 5 series tested the waters of bigger phones, it was the 6 that really took the larger display area of iPhone to the next level. iPhone 6 featured a larger 4.7-inch display, while iPhone 6 Plus boasted a massive 5.5-inch display, both of which were larger than the 4-inch display of iPhone 5.
And though it would not really take off for several years, iPhone 6 series first introduced Apple Pay, breaking new ground in payment technology. The touch feature would also boost security, as the phone could only be unlocked with a recognized fingerprint.
iPhone SE (2016)
The first-generation iPhone SE was launched on March 31, 2016, combining iPhone 5S's compact design with the performance of iPhone 6S.
As iPhones continued to get larger and more expensive, Apple realized that there was still a market for its compact, more utilitarian earlier models. At four inches, the SE looked and felt exactly like an iPhone 5, though it included many of the features of an iPhone 6.
iPhone 7 and 7 Plus (2016)
iPhone 7 and 7 Plus were introduced on September 16, 2016, offering water resistance, improved cameras, and the removal of the headphone jack.
Just like the introduction of the lightning charger made years of charging cables obsolete, the 7th generation of iPhone sent generations of earbuds straight to the recycling bin. The 7 and 7 Plus ushered in yet another of Apple iPhone’s milestones: the AirPod. Getting rid of the headphone jack meant that users would either need to connect with a Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter or wireless headphones. And while a set of lightning cable earbuds came included, many grumbled about the pressure to upgrade to pricy AirPods.
iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and iPhone X (2017)
iPhone 8 and 8 Plus were released on September 22, 2017, featuring wireless charging, improved performance, and a glass-backed design.
On November 3, 2017, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of iPhone, Apple launched iPhone X. The X did away with Touch ID and gave us the Face ID technology we use today. iPhone X also introduced a gorgeous all-glass design and the edge-to-edge screen display. This bold new design added real estate on the home screen and the need for “the notch,” a rectangular black box at the top of the home screen that housed the sensor for iPhone’s front-facing camera.
iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max (2018)
iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max were released on October 26, 2018, and September 21, 2018, respectively, expanding iPhone X series with advanced features and various size options.
As Apple expanded its X series, it also expanded its screen sizes. These larger iPhones meant more powerful cameras—they were the first iPhones to include the dual-camera system.
iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max (2019)
Apple unveiled iPhone 11 on September 20, 2019. Announced during Apple's yearly event on September 10, 2019, iPhone 11 showcased significant advancements in camera capabilities, battery endurance, and processing performance and a few new color options.
iPhone SE (2020)
The second-generation iPhone SE was launched on April 24, 2020, providing a budget-friendly option with the performance and features of modern iPhones.
Likewise, upgrades to the SE series four years after its initial release were minimal. While the first-generation SE was touted as an iPhone 6 in an iPhone 5’s body, the second-generation remained compact and included updates comparable to iPhone 8 technology. One notable addition was the inclusion of portrait mode for its front and rear cameras.
iPhone 12, 12 Mini, 12 Pro, and 12 Pro Max (2020)
iPhone 12, 12 Mini, 12 Pro, and 12 Pro Max were released on October 23, 2020 (12 and 12 Pro) and November 13, 2020 (12 Mini and 12 Pro Max), introducing 5G connectivity, a refreshed design with flat edges, and various display size options.
iPhone 12 ushered in the future of wireless technology. The first iPhone to support 5G networks, the 12 series meant faster download and upload speeds, lower latency, and improved overall performance.
The ultra-wide camera was also a welcome addition for photography lovers because the upgrade came with clearer night mode images and better lighting overall. While screen sizes were getting bigger and bigger, a few people longed for a time when phones were smaller. Hence, the introduction of the first Mini model, featuring a 5.4” display.
iPhone 13, 13 Mini, 13 Pro, and 13 Pro Max were introduced on September 24, 2021, offering improved cameras, longer battery life, and better performance with the A15 Bionic chip.
With the release of iPhone 13, the New York Times3 declared that smartphones had “peaked,” and labeled this generation of iPhones the “most incremental update ever to iPhone.” Still, upgrades to iPhone camera and the introduction of ProMotion technology (which offers a visually smoother experience) were welcome changes for many.
iPhone 14, 14 Plus, 14 Pro, 14 Pro Max and SE (2022)
On March 14, just in time for spring, Apple releases the new yellow iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus, adding a new color choice to the lineup and boasting a powerful A15 Bionic chip and groundbreaking safety capabilities like Emergency SOS via satellite. Another big change: iPhone 14 Plus now offered the longest battery life of any iPhone ever.
Days later, on March 18, the third-generation iPhone SE is released, bringing with it better battery life and durability, plus an advanced camera system.
On September 16, 2022, Apple debuts iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max, proving there are still plenty of exciting possibilities for the evolution of iPhone. This time around, designers removed the notch at the top of iPhone’s edge-to-edge screen, replacing it with a feature called Dynamic Island. In addition to housing camera hardware, the pill-shaped Dynamic Island also acts as a shape-changing hub for alerts and notifications. Meanwhile, iPhone mini did not make an appearance with the 14 Series.
The history of smartphone evolution is also the history of us, and the way most of us began to incorporate the internet into every aspect of our lives. From at-a-glance GPS technology to FaceTime, Apple Pay, and the amazing clarity of smartphone cameras, which have replaced digital cameras for most of us—Apple iPhone history is the story of how the device went from an “iPod with a phone” to a device that many of us can’t live without.
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