256GB of storage. 3GB of RAM. A 5.5-inch screen. A dual-lens camera system. Whether or not all of the rumors surrounding the iPhone 7 end up being true, Apple’s smartphone has come a long way since Steve Jobs took to the stage at San Francisco’s Moscone West to introduce the first generation device on January 9, 2007. In the near decade since, the iPhone — originally a collaboration with AT&T, lest we forget, and a followup to the failure that was the Motorola ROKR E1 — has become one of the most ubiquitous gadgets out there and one whose successor continues to be highly anticipated, heavily speculated about and scrutinized months before it ever hits shelves (or even seen an official unveiling, for that matter).
So, as we await the iPhone 7 (not to mention next year’s all-glass overhaul), we take a look back at what made each version of the iPhone so special.
After teaming up with Motorola to launch the first-ever iTunes-supported phone in 2005, Apple looked to leave the failed ROKR E1 behind, secretly joining forces with AT&T while handling all aspects of the phone’s design in-house (the ROKR E1 was designed by Motorola with Apple-licensed technology). 30 months and $150 million USD later, Apple introduced the first generation iPhone. Laying the groundwork for future iterations of the smartphone, the original iPhone’s operating system and design language remain familiar to this day — for example, button placement has remained largely the same ever since while the phone’s 3.5-inch screen size remained the norm until the iPhone 5 debuted in 2012.
iPhone 3G (2008)
“The first phone to beat the iPhone,” the iPhone 3G was exactly what it sounded like: an iPhone with the addition of 3G connectivity. Add-ons didn’t stop with 3G, however. The iPhone 3G also introduced GPS to the device, but will largely be remembered as the first iPhone to offer Apple’s App Store — not to mention features like push email and turn-by-turn navigation.
iPhone 3GS (2009)
“The fastest, most powerful iPhone yet,” the 3GS added speed to the equation, offering up all of the 3G’s features while packing a more powerful processor and GPU under the hood. The 3GS also doubled the iPhone’s maximum storage capacity and RAM to 32GB and 256MB, respectively, while also adding a fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating to the display. Other additions included voice control and a digital compass, as well as a higher-resolution camera capable of recording 480p video. Maybe best of all, the volume controls we all know and love to this day were added to the earbuds for the first time.
iPhone 4 (2010)
Apple’s fourth generation iPhone marked the biggest overhaul yet for the smartphone at the time of its 2010 debut. Billed at the time as the thinnest smartphone in the world, the iPhone 4 introduced a brand new uninsulated stainless steel frame that doubled as an antenna and also saw the first-ever high-resolution 960×640 Retina Display. The A4 also introduced Apple’s system-on-chip while iOS 4 was a major upgrade thanks to multitasking functionality. And while the upgrade to a 5MP camera with 720p HD video was more than welcome, the biggest draw was undoubtedly the addition of a front-facing camera — which was coupled with iOS 4’s brand new FaceTime video chat service. Fortunately for Apple fans, the phone finally ended AT&T’s period as the exclusive iPhone carrier — the iPhone 4 saw Apple’s design available to CDMA networks for the very first time.
iPhone 4S (2011)
The overhauls continued with the 4S and though it may have looked nearly identical to the 4 on the surface, it packed a bevy of brand new features underneath. Announced just one day prior to Steve Jobs’ death, the phone — especially given its “S” moniker, which many thought stood for “Steve” — had added significance from the get-go and, ultimately, was a major stepping stone for the future of Apple’s device. Upgraded to the A5 chipset and a maximum storage capacity of 64GB, the iPhone 4S replaced the 4’s iSight with an 8-megapixel camera capable of 1080p video recording while iOS 5 introduced the likes of iMessage, iCloud, Notification Center and — as a sign of the times — Twitter integration. However, the 4S’s most noteworthy addition was undoubtedly Apple’s very own personal assistant: Siri, the name that was really behind that “S.”
iPhone 5 (2012)
The very first iPhone to be developed from start to finish under Tim Cook’s tutelage, the 5 brought a thin and lightweight aluminum-based body into the fold, combining it with a dual-core A6 processor while changing the display dimensions for the very first time (from 3.5” to 4”). The 4 also introduced LTE support and finally did away with the old 30-pin dock connector, replacing it with the Lightning port utilized by Apple products to this day. The iPhone 5 was also the first iPhone to feature Apple’s current earbuds — which may be on their way out if rumors regarding the iPhone 7 end up coming to fruition.
iPhone 5C (2013)
Whereas past iPhone introductions had always focused on evolution, Apple went in a slightly different direction in 2013 with the 5C. Essentially a cheaper iPhone 5, the 5C swapped out the aluminum-based body in favor of polycarbonate casing that came in white, pink, yellow, blue and green hues. The onboard storage was also downgraded a bit with the availability of 8, 16, and 32GB options, although the phone did have at least one other positive in comparison to the 5 other than MSRP: the addition of a backside illumination sensor to the FaceTime camera.
iPhone 5S (2013)
Those who weren’t interested in the 5C had no reason to worry though as Apple returned to its usual path and upgraded the 5 with the introduction of the 5S. Echoing the look of the original, the 5S boasted a dual-core 64-bit A7 processor — the first-ever 64-bit processor for a smartphone — along with a modified camera that featured improvements like a dual-LED flash and larger aperture. The 5S also came with a M7 “motion co-processor,” thus allowing fitness tracking for the first time. The biggest changes though? The addition of the TouchID fingerprint scanner to the home button and optional gold color scheme.
iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus (2014)
“The two and only” represent yet another major overhaul for the iPhone as Apple, for the first time, introduced two different sized iPhones to better allow the smartphone to go up against the bigger offerings from its Android competitors. Measuring 4.7 and 5.5 inches, respectively, the 6 and 6 Plus were the biggest, most powerful iPhones yet, pairing the A8 chip with a M8 motion coprocessor, up to 128GB of NAND Flash and revamped iSight and FaceTime cameras. Sadly, the larger iSight lens was coupled with an extremely thin aluminum body — meaning that the camera actually protruded from the phone while the device itself was prone to bending under pressure (remember “Bendgate”?). Though perhaps less durable than previous iPhones (maybe with the exception of the shatter-prone, all-glass iPhone 4/4S), the 6 and 6 Plus ushered in the era of Apple Pay thanks to the inclusion of an NFC chip.
iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus (2015)
Just as the 4S and 5S were to the 4 and 5, the 6S and 6S Plus are to their predecessors. Essentially suped-up takes on the 6 and 6 Plus, the “S” iterations of the phone basically offer up all the same basic features, but include Apple’s A9 and M9 processors alongside a hexa-core GPU and double the RAM. The iSight and FaceTime cameras have also seen a major overhaul from 8 and 1.2MP to 12 and 5MP, respectively, and the 6S/6S Plus includes second generation Touch ID along with improved LTE and Wi-Fi connectivity. Apple even addressed the durability issues of the phone with the inclusion of a stronger 7000 series aluminum alloy for the chassis. Aesthetics may be the biggest draw, though: the 6S and 6S Plus are the first iPhones to come in the beloved Rose Gold colorway.
iPhone SE (2016)
Last but not least is Apple’s iPhone SE. Introduced earlier this year as a low-cost, entry-level iPhone, the SE — more or less — combines the specs of the iPhone 6S with the exterior of the iPhone 5. And since it’s smaller than the the 4.7 and 5.5 inches of the various 6s, the SE is the perfect alternative for those that miss their iPhone 5.
iPhone 7 and Beyond
So what does the future hold for the iPhone? It’s a pretty safe bet that the iPhone 7 will make its debut later this year, but what will it look like? Will it be more powerful? Will it be faster? Will it offer more storage? Will it have even better cameras? All seem to be a near certainty. If we had our wishes though, it would be for Apple to find some way to make the camera flush with the exterior again like it was on the iPhones of old. A stronger battery has always been high on the list for users, and perhaps even a Micro SD card slot?
Unfortunately, it looks like we may have to wait for 2017’s iPhone to find out what exactly we’ll get. *sobbing emoji*