The iPhone turns 15: A look at the past (and future) of one of the most influential devices of the 21st century

Today marks 15 years since Apple released its flagship iPhone. A decade and a half later, few products have achieved a comparable level of brand recognition.

Announced to an enthusiastic audience in 2007, the iPhone has revolutionized the way we communicate and even how we live day-to-day.

Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone on January 9, 2007.

The revolution on the big screen

The iPhone was released in June 2007 in the United States and in November in an additional six countries (notably Australia).

From the launch of Mac computers in the 1970s to the iPod in 2001, Apple knew how to appeal to its audience — and how to encourage extraordinary hype when launch a product

Early Reviews for iPhone were almost universally glowing, applauding Apple’s attention to detail and style. The only issue noted was network connectivity – and this was an issue with slow speeds on carrier networks, rather than with the device itself.

Consumer appreciation for the iPhone’s style was no surprise. It was indicative of an emerging trend towards smartphones with large format screens (but still reflecting the shape of a phone). The Nokia N95 was another such example that came on the market in the same year.

The 2007 Nokia N95 had a sliding keyboard.
Asim18/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The original iPhone offered Wi-Fi, supported 2G EDGE connectivity, and had internet download speeds of less than 500 Kbps (compared to speeds of several Mbps today).

It was also limited to 4GB or 8GB models. This may sound pathetic compared to the 1TB options available today, but it is enough to hold hundreds of songs or videos and was revolutionary at the time.

Apple’s assembly line

The iPhone 3G was rolled out worldwide in July 2008, with significantly improved data rates and the addition of the Apple App Store† Although it only offered 500 apps at launch, the app store marked a significant improvement in phone functionality.

And just as users started to get used to 3G, it was replaced by the 3GS about a year later.

This cycle of regular product releases has been critical to Apple’s success. By regularly releasing updates (either through entire product iterations or through more minor functionality improvements), Apple managed to attract an enthusiastic audience, who looked forward to new releases every year.

A comparison of iPhone sizes from the iPhone 5S to the iPhone 12
iPhone sizes got noticeably larger from the iPhone 5S release to the iPhone 12.
Tboa/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Because older products were often passed down within families, Apple’s product pipeline helped it build a multi-generational user base. This pipeline remains in operation today.

New Approaches to Old Ways

The iPhone family has seen improvements in size, speed, and storage throughout its 15-year history. Some of its “new” features weren’t necessarily new to the market, but Apple excelled at delivering them in highly integrated ways that “just worked” (as founder Steve Jobs would say).

“It Just Works” – Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

In 2013, the iPhone 5S introduced touch ID, which allowed users to unlock their phones with a fingerprint. Although this was first introduced with the Fujitsu F505i in 2003, Apple provided a robust implementation of the feature. Of course, it didn’t take long for entrepreneurial individuals to learn how to do that bypass the mechanism

The iPhone 8, released in 2017, brought with it the Face ID feature. This still had weak pointsbut was at least immune to being unlocked with a photo.

In addition to security, the iPhone series has also delivered year-over-year improvements in camera technology. While the original model had a meager two-megapixel camera, later models had multiple lenses, with resolution bumped up to 12 megapixels — a competitor to many digital cameras on the market.

Wireless charging was introduced with the iPhone 8 (although preceded by Samsung as early as 2011). And the iPhone X’s bezel-less design, released in 2017, built on features found in the Sharp Aquos S2 from the same year.

Controversy

Still, the iPhone has not been without its problems. With the introduction of the iPhone 7 in 2016, the standard 3.5mm headphone jack was removed – and many weren’t happy.

While an adapter was initially provided for customers to connect their regular headphones, it was only free for about two years. Then it had to be bought. In 2016, there was evidence of a spike in wireless headphones sale† Perhaps somewhat useful, Apple launched its AirPods (Bluetooth wireless earbuds) at the same time.

A similar change came in 2020 with the release of the iPhone 12. Contested that consumers had a multitude of spare devices – and perhaps they were trying to join the green agenda for reuse – Apple removed chargers of the unboxing experience.

Users still got a charging cable, but it was a USB-C to Lightning cable, whereas previous iPhone chargers would have a USB-A connector (the standard USB port).

Apple telephone cable

When Apple stopped offering chargers, it provided a USB-C to lightning cable, despite older chargers having a USB-A connector.
Apple

The justification that iPhone users would have a box full of old chargers overlooked that none of them would likely support the newer and faster USB-C cable.

So you could use your old USB-A to lightning cable and charger to charge your shiny new phone, but you’d be limited to slower charging speeds.

Future

If the past 15 years is anything to go by, the iPhone will likely continue with annual product releases (as we write this article, many will be anticipating the iPhone 14 due later this year

These models are likely to bring improvements in speed, weight, battery life, camera resolution and storage capacity. However, it is not likely that we will see many groundbreaking innovations in the coming years.

The latest iPhones are already very advanced minicomputers, which means that there is little room for fundamental improvements.

Perhaps the most radical change is the shift from Apple’s own lightning connection to USB-C charging, thanks to a new European Union directive† And while a common standard for power connectors is widely regarded as a positive move, Apple wasn’t convinced:

We believe that regulations imposing harmonization of smartphone chargers stifle rather than encourage innovation.

As display technologies evolve, Apple may move to the clam-shell phone design, with a fully foldable screen

Samsung has already brought this to the market† But Apple, in truth, will likely wait for the technology (particularly the glass) to evolve to deliver an experience in line with what iPhone users have come to expect.

While we can’t predict what the iPhone will look like in 15 years (although some have tried), it is likely that demand for Apple products will still be there, driven by Apple’s strong brand loyalty.



Read more:
New USB-C charging rule shows how EU regulators make decisions for the world


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