The technological heritage of Apple's iconic smartphone
Created by cmclellan on 11/04/2011
Last updated: 09/10/14 at 11:04
Tags: apple iphone smartphone history
Shortly after the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus went on sale, reports emerged that it could be bent, pivoting around the position of the volume controls, if worn in the pocket of a tight-fitting pair of trousers. Video evidence (shown here) emerged online to show that the device could indeed be bent if sufficient force was applied. The issue became known on social media, and then more widely, as 'bendgate' (echoing the 'antennagate' issue with the iPhone 4). In response, Apple claimed that the iPhone 6 Plus was thoroughly torture-tested during the design process and that only a handful of customers had complained about the problem in normal use. However, the company also said that any bent handsets would be replaced under warranty following inspection at an Apple Store.
Billed as "the biggest release since the launch of the App Store" (in July 2008), iOS 8 became available as a free download for iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s and 5th-generation iPod Touch users (and users of iPad 2 or later) on 17 September.
The Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Apple's hometown Cupertino saw the launch of "the biggest advancements in iPhone history", according to the company. As widely predicted, two new larger-screen models were unveiled: the 4.7-inch (750-by-1,334) iPhone 6 and the 5.5-inch (1,080-by-1,920) iPhone 6 Plus. Featuring Retina HD displays with improved contrast and wider viewing angles (but no sapphire glass, as had been rumoured), the iPhone 6 has a pixel density of 326ppi while the iPhone 6 Plus offers 401ppi. Both of the new handsets come in 16GB, 64GB and 128GB models and, like the iPhone 5s, are available in gold, silver or 'space grey'.
The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus run iOS 8 and are powered by the next-generation 64-bit A8 SoC (with hardware support for the new Metal graphics API) and M8 motion coprocessor (which now adds a barometer to its roster of sensor data). A key new feature in the sixth-generation iPhones is Apple Pay, a secure payment technology based on NFC and the TouchID fingerprint sensor (only available in the US for now). Other significant upgrades include faster 802.11ac wi-fi, enhanced 20-band LTE, Voice over LTE and wi-fi calling, plus improved iSight (rear) and FaceTime HD (front) cameras. The 8Mpixel iSight camera gets improved autofocus (with Focus Pixels), support for 1080p video at 60fps and slow-motion 720p video at up to 240fps, plus 43-megapixel panoramas. The iPhone 6 Plus also gets optical image stabilisation. The FaceTime HD camera gets improved face detection, a burst mode and HDR video.
Claimed battery life for the 129g iPhone 6 is 14 hours of 3G talk time and 11 hours of wi-fi internet use; for the 172g iPhone 6 Plus the equivalent numbers are 24h and 12h. Wireless charging (a form of which was introduced with the Apple Watch) was rumoured but failed to show up on the iPhone 6/6 Plus.
Apple’s Worldwide Developers’ Conference (WWDC) was the stage for the unveiling of the eighth generation of the company’s mobile operating system, which will be available as a free upgrade on 17 September 2014. Key new features are improved Messages and Photos functionality, predictive typing for Apple's QuickType keyboard and Family Sharing (for iTunes, iBooks and App Store purchases). Also new to iOS 8 are the Health app and HealthKit APIs, HomeKit for connecting home-automation devices and iCloud Drive for easy access to stored content and enhanced between-app collaboration (including Handoff, which lets you pass activities seamlessly between Bluetooth- or wi-fi-connected iOS 8 devices and Macs running OS X Yosemite). With the iOS 8 SDK, developers can access new sharing options, widgets, custom actions and document APIs, and also enable secure in-app authentication via TouchID APIs. Game developers get Metal, a new hardware-accelerated graphics API, while CloudKit takes care of server-side application logic. With iOS 8 (and OS X Yosemite), Apple also introduced a new Objective-C-based programming language, Swift.
Apple's 2013 flagship iPhone 5s retained the same 4-inch Retina display as its predecessor and came in gold, silver or 'Space Grey' with 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of internal storage. It ran iOS 7 on a new 64-bit A7 processor, which included support for OpenGL ES 3.0. Apple's own iPhone apps were recompiled for the 64-bit CPU, which also ran existing third-party 32-bit apps. In a significant move, the iPhone 5s introduced the M7 motion coprocessor, which offloads processing relating to various sensors (accelerometer, gyroscope and compass) from the A7 for improved power efficiency. Claimed battery life for the iPhone 5s was 10 hours 3G talk and 250 hours on standby, or 10 hours internet use on LTE or Wi-Fi (dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n).
Another key feature was the Touch ID fingerprint reader built into the redesigned home button. Fingerprints can be scanned from any angle, and data is stored securely on the A7 chip rather than in the cloud. Touch ID can be used to make purchases from Apple's iTunes, App or Book stores. The 8-megapixel iSight camera was upgraded with a larger (f/2.2) lens aperture and a sensor with bigger pixels to deliver better low-light performance. Other new camera features included an improved True Tone flash, burst and slow-motion modes and an enhanced front-facing FaceTime HD camera.
Version 7 of Apple's mobile OS was a significant upgrade, not least because it was the first to appear since chief designer Jonathan Ive took over responsibility for software as well as hardware design. The new OS featured a (much-previewed) 'flatter' user-interface, along with full support for the 64-bit A7 processor introduced with the iPhone 5s and backwards compatibility for existing 32-bit apps. New iPhone 5s features like Touch ID, automatic image stabilisation, and burst and slow-motion camera modes were also enabled via 'deep integration' in iOS 7.
Apple claimed over 200 new features for iOS 7, including: Control and Notification centres; improved multitasking; local content sharing via AirDrop; new Camera app filters; a redesigned Photos app; full-screen browsing in Safari with a new smart search field; male and female Siri voices plus Twitter, Wikipedia and Bing search integration; and a (free) Tunes Radio internet radio service.
iOS 7 came preinstalled on the new iPhone 5s and 5c, and was also available as a free upgrade for the iPhone 4 or later, iPad 2 and later, iPad mini and 5th-generation iPod Touch.
Also announced at the 10 September iOS/iPhone event was the scrapping of charges — for buyers of new iOS devices — for Apple's mobile iWork suite (Pages, Keynote and Numbers, at $9.99 each) and the iPhoto and iMovie apps, which cost $4.99 each.
The iPhone 5c essentially repackaged the functionality of the iPhone 5 in a colourful steel-reinforced polycarbonate chassis and became Apple's second-tier smartphone — although it was priced well above the 'affordable' level of pre-launch rumour. The iPhone 5c came in six colours (blue, green, pink, yellow, black and white) with 16GB or 32GB of internal storage. The 4-inch Retina display, A6 processor and 8-megapixel iSight camera were all carried over from the previous model, while the front-facing FaceTime HD camera was upgraded for better low-light performance and audio-only call support. Like the iPhone 5s, the 5c ran iOS 7. The iPhone 5c supported 13 LTE bands, along with dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. Battery life was claimed at 10 hours 3G talk and 250 hours standby, or 10 hours internet use on LTE or Wi-Fi.
The next generation of Wi-Fi is 5GHz 802.11ac, which builds on ideas first deployed in 802.11n such as MIMO (Multiple In, Multiple Out). 802.11n specified up to four parallel spatial channels, with individual channels set to a maximum of 40MHz bandwidth; 802.11ac increases that to eight parallel channels of 80MHz minimum, 160MHz optional. Theoretically, 802.11ac speeds could go up to nearly 7Gbps, but current products only have three spatial streams, with a maximum throughput of 1.3Gbps (3 x 433.3Mbps streams with 80MHz channels).
Although the 802.11ac standard is due to be finally approved early in 2014, the Wi-Fi Alliance began certifying existing equipment for interoperability in June 2013. Samsung and HTC's flagship smartphones already support 802.11ac, but Apple has yet to deploy the new Wi-Fi standard on the iPhone.
Apple finally launched the iPhone 5 at a time when the high-end smartphone competition (particularly from Samsung) was making inroads into its market share. Its (much leaked) key features were: a larger 16:9 aspect ratio 4in. screen (1,136 x 640 pixels, 326ppi), accommodating an extra row of icons; thinner and lighter measurements (7.6mm, 112g); a smaller, 2x faster A6 processor; LTE ('4G') support; dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) 802.11n Wi-Fi; better battery life (8h talk, 10h Wi-Fi browsing, 225h standby); an improved 8-megapixel rear camera and FaceTime over 3G support for the 720p front camera; a third microphone; a smaller 'Lightning' dock connector (adapters available for older peripherals); and a smaller nano-SIM card slot.
The iPhone 5 shipped with a new OS, iOS 6, on-board. New features here were Apple Maps (replacing Google Maps), Passbook, shared photo streams, Siri updates and FaceTime over 3G.
Despite massive expectation that it would unveil the iPhone 5, Apple launched an upgraded iPhone 4, the 4S, to the disappointment of many. Retaining the same design as its predecessor, the iPhone 4S has a dual-core CPU and better graphics, and comes with Siri, a personal assistant app that uses voice recognition to deliver answers to spoken questions. The antenna has been improved, and the camera upgraded to an 8-megapixel unit.
Apple's iCloud service syncs content across all of your Apple devices. It replaced the $99-a-year MobileMe, adding an automatic daily backup of music, books, apps, device settings and app data to the cloud. You get 5GB of iCloud storage free.
The fourth-generation iPhone was a significant upgrade, delivering a new design, a fast Apple A4 (ARM Cortex-A8) processor with 512MB of RAM, a high-resolution 'Retina' display (a 3.5in. IPS LCD with 960 by 640 pixels) and the renamed iOS 4.0 with FaceTime video calling software and multitaksking support for third-party apps. Other enhancements included penta-band UMTS/HSPA at up to 7.2Mbps down and 5.76Mbps up, 2.4GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi, front (0.3-megapixel) and rear (5-megapixel) cameras, and an external two-part (Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/GPS + GSM/UMTS) antenna.
The iPhone 4 was initially well received, until it became apparent that holding the device in such a way as to bridge the two parts of the antenna caused signal strength to attenuate — to the point of dropped calls in areas with marginal coverage. As a result of 'Antennagate', Apple was forced to admit the design issue and provide iPhone 4 owners with a free rubber-and-plastic bumper case to alleviate the 'death grip' problem.
802.11n Wi-Fi operates in either the unlicensed 2.4GHz band or the relatively unused 5GHz band, or both. By adding MIMO (Multiple In Multiple Out) antennas, 40MHz channels to the physical layer and frame aggregation to the MAC layer, 802.11n delivers a theoretical data rate of 600Mbps (with 4 spatial streams using 40MHz channels). 802.11n is backwards compatible with 802.11b/g and (if operating in 5GHz mode) 802.11a. The iPhone 4 supports 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi.
Long-Term Evolution (LTE), sometimes called '4G', is the latest evolutionary development in the GSM/EDGE and UMTS/HSPA family of mobile technologies. Incorporating MIMO and Orthogonal FDMA (Frequency Division Multiple Access) in the downlink and Single Carrier FDMA in the uplink, LTE will provide download speeds of at least 100Mbps and upload speeds of at least 50Mbps.
LTE trials have begun in the UK and elsewhere, with commercial services (in the UK) likely to appear in 2013.
The third-generation iPhone featured a faster processor (833MHz Samsung ARM Cortex-A8, clocked down to 600MHz), an upgraded GPU (PowerVR SGX535), more RAM (256MB) and up to 32GB of storage. The 3.5in. screen retained the same 320-by-480-pixel, 163ppi resolution as its predecessors, but gained 24-bit colour support and a fingerprint-reducing oleophobic coating. On the wireless side, there were upgrades to HSDPA download speed (7.2Mbps) and Bluetooth (2.1+EDR). The camera resolution got a boost to 3 megapixels, with added support for 480p video recording and 'tap-to-focus'; also new were a magnetometer and a compass app.
New features in iPhone OS 3.0 included support for MMS, cut-and-paste and voice control. An entry-level 8GB model debuted in June 2010 with the launch of the iPhone 4.
The second-generation iPhone had a very similar specification to the original iPhone, the key addition being tri-band UMTS/HSDPA connectivity with download speeds up to 3.6Mbps. It also added Assisted GPS (A-GPS), which delivers a faster time-to-first-fix by using information from the mobile network to supplement satellite data. The iPhone 3G's operating system was updated and renamed iPhone OS 2.0, and introduced the App Store and Apple's MobileMe service, along with support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync and push email.
Opened in July 2008 via an iTunes update and preloaded for the first time on the iPhone 3G, Apple's App Store has set the benchmark for third-party app distribution on smartphones. As of June 2011 there were over 425,000 iPhone apps available, with more than 14 billion downloads from the store. In May 2011, the combined total of iOS apps (for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad) passed 500,000, of which 63 percent were paid-for (with an average price of $3.64).
MobileMe was a bundle of online services for Mac OS X, iOS and Windows users, including contacts, calendar and email sync, photo hosting and file storage. The $99-a-year MobileMe, which had a troubled launch, replaced the earlier .Mac service, and was superseded in 2011 by the free iCloud.
Also known as HSPA Evolved, HSPA+ is an enhancement to HSDPA and HSUPA (or HSPA), enabling download speeds of up to 42Mbps and upload speeds of up to 11Mbps. Higher data transfer speeds are achieved by using MIMO (Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output) antennas and higher order modulation (64QAM). As yet, no iPhone supports HSPA+.
High-Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA) is an enhanced 3G technology offering upload speeds up to 5.76Mbps. HSUPA was implemented on the fourth-generation iPhone 4.
The original iPhone shipped with a suite of native Apple applications, but did not support third-party apps. A software development kit (SDK) was announced on 17 October 2007 and released in March the following year. The Mac OS-only SDK is free, but developers must join the iOS Developer Program ($99 a year) in order to release software. Apps can be distributed via the App Store, via enterprise deployment or on an Ad Hoc basis to up to 100 other iOS devices. Developers receive 70 percent of the revenue for paid-for apps distributed via the App Store.
Although the concept of computing as a remotely accessed utility has been around for much longer, usage of the term 'cloud computing' seems to have begun in 2007.
When the original iPhone was launched, the operating system was simply referred to as 'OS X', from which it was derived. By the time the first beta of the SDK was announced, in March 2008, it had become 'iPhone OS'. At this stage in the iPhone's evolution, there was no support for third-party apps, multimedia messaging (MMS) or even cut-and-paste.
Subsequent major iPhone OS releases have coincided with new handsets: 2.0 (which introduced the App Store) with the iPhone 3G; 3.0 (which added MMS and cut-and-paste) with the 3GS; and (now renamed iOS) 4.0 (which introduced multitasking for third-party apps) with the iPhone 4. The sequence was broken with the announcement of iOS 5 on 6 June 2011, which saw no unveiling of an accompanying iPhone.
The iPhone's development began in 2005; it was introduced in Steve Jobs' January 2007 MacWorld Expo keynote and shipped in the US on 29 June (buyers in the UK, France and Germany had to wait until November).
A quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE smartphone with a 3.5in. screen, the original iPhone was powered by a 620MHz Samsung ARM CPU (clocked down to 412MHz) and a PowerVR MBX Lite 3D GPU. It had 128MB of RAM, 4GB or 8GB of storage, a proprietary docking connector, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0, GPS and a 2-megapixel rear camera. The lithium-polymer battery was not user-replaceable.
A 16GB model was added in February 2008.
Launching the iPhone in January 2007, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that it was "a revolutionary and magical product that is literally five years ahead of any other mobile phone". In fact, it was made out of very similar components to smartphones of the day. But Jobs's famed Reality Distortion Field, plus Apple's formidable negotiating skills, did truly change the mobile phone market.
This March 2006 prototype has a marked resemblance to the form factor eventually used in 2010's iPhone 4. This design was championed by Apple designer Richard Howarth over the P2, despite the fact that he felt it 'looked old' by comparison. Usability won the day for the more recognisable iPhone design.
This distinctly iPod Mini-like prototype was doing the rounds within Apple early in 2006. Commentators have also noticed a marked resemblance to Nokia's current Windows Phone-based Lumia range.
Apple designer Shin Nishibori created this Sony-inspired iPhone prototype in March 2006 — some of his mockups even had the 'Sony' logo (and one was adorned with 'Jony' in Sony's typeface, in homage to Apple's design chief).
Apple's first foray into the smartphone market was an ill-fated partnership with Motorola. Launched in September 2005, the ROKR E1 had an integrated iTunes music player, but was hampered by a dull design, the inability to download songs wirelessly, a 100-song memory, limited Bluetooth functionality, a sluggish iTunes interface, slow music transfer speeds and a low-resolution VGA camera.
Apple reportedly began work on the iPhone in 2004, after CEO Steve Jobs switched development effort from an iPad-like tablet to a smartphone. This prototype, codenamed 'Purple', emerged during the protracted 2011-2013 intellectual property litigation over smartphone design between Apple and Samsung.
High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) is an enhanced 3G technology — sometimes called 3.5G or 3G+ — offering download speeds of 1.8, 3.6, 7.2 and 14.4Mbps. HSDPA at 3.6Mbps was implemented on the second-generation iPhone 3G, and upgraded to 7.2Mbps on the third-generation iPhone 3GS.
Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE) is an add-on for GSM/GPRS networks (often simply a software upgrade) that delivers roughly three times the data transfer rate of GPRS. The original iPhone was a quad-band (850, 900, 1800 1900MHz) GSM/GPRS/EDGE device.
Apple's home-grown web browser, Safari, made its debut as a beta version on 7 Jan 2003, in a Steve Jobs Macworld keynote. It shipped later that year, on 23 June. Based on the WebKit layout engine (which Google subsequently used to create Chrome after WebKit went open source in 2005), Safari is currently on version 5 and is available on Mac OS X and Windows platforms. It is also the native browser on the iPhone, where there are several iOS-specific features.
802.11g Wi-Fi operates in the same unlicensed 2.4GHz frequency band as 802.11b, but — like 802.11a — uses OFDM to deliver a theoretical data rate of 54Mbps, or about half that in practice. It is backwards compatible with 802.11b, but is also prone to interference from other 2.4GHz equipment. The original 2007 iPhone had 802.11b/g Wi-Fi.
.Mac was a subscription-based online service for Mac OS X users. It replaced the earlier iTools and was superseded by MobileMe in 2008.
The first-generation iPod was based around a 5GB 1.8in. Toshiba hard drive and could store up to 1,000 MP3-encoded songs. Designed by Jonathan Ive, it featured a monochrome 160-by-128-pixel display and a graphical interface driven by a mechanical scroll wheel with a central select button. Four additional buttons formed the scroll wheel surround. Equipped with FireWire connectivity and powered by a 10-hour-rated lithium ion battery, the original iPod sold for $399. There were five subsequent generations of what became known as the iPod Classic range.
The Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) is a third-generation (3G) technology for GSM networks. With initial download speeds of up to 384Kbps, W-CDMA-based UMTS was the first technology to be described as 'mobile broadband'. Tri-band UMTS (850, 1900, 2100MHz) was implemented on the second-generation iPhone 3G.
Mac OS X is Apple's current desktop and server OS platform, at the core of which is the NeXTSTEP operating system that Apple acquired after buying Steve Jobs' NeXT company in 1996. Like its parent, Mac OS X is derived from Unix, using the Mach kernel and code from BSD. On top of this base platform — which is available as the open-source Darwin OS — sit Apple components such as the graphical interface (currently called Aqua) and the Finder file manager.
During Mac OS X's lifetime Apple has overseen a platform change from PowerPC to Intel x86, beginning with version 10.4.4 (Tiger) in 2006. Mac OS 10.5 (Leopard), released in October 2007, was the last version to support the PowerPC architecture. The iPhone OS (now called iOS) is derived from Mac OS X.
During its 10-year history, Apple's iTunes has evolved from an audio player to a multimedia control centre for Mac OS and Windows PCs, and iOS devices. Most recently, iTunes has moved into the cloud, automatically downloading new songs, apps and books to all your devices over Wi-Fi or mobile broadband.
The General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) sits on top of GSM networks and provides always-on, modem-speed (56-114Kbps) connectivity. It is sometimes called '2.5G', as it sits between 2G GSM and 3G UMTS.
iTools was a free collection of internet-based services for Mac OS 9 users; it was superseded by the .Mac service.
802.11a Wi-Fi operates in the lightly used 5GHz frequency band and, thanks to orthogonal frequency dependent multiplexing (OFDM), delivers a theoretical data rate of 54Mbps, or about half that in practice. It is far less prone to interference from other equipment than 2.4GHz 802.11b.
802.11b Wi-Fi uses the unlicensed 2.4GHz frequency band and delivers a theoretical data rate of 11Mbps, or about half that in practice. It is prone to interference from other 2.4GHz equipment such as microwave ovens, Bluetooth devices and cordless phones.
The Wi-Fi Alliance is an industry body devoted to promoting IEEE 802.11 wireless networking standards, and certifying interoperability-tested products.
Biometric security in the shape of a fingerprint scanner was first added to a mobile phone in 1998 by Siemens PSE, working with Triodata and Bromba Biometrics. The prototype shown here, based on a Siemens SL 10 phone, was exhibited at the 1999 CeBIT trade show in Hannover.
SoundJam MP was a Mac OS audio player from Casady & Greene. It was bought by Apple in 2000, re-engineered and released as iTunes 1.0 on 9 Jan 2001.
The original version of the 802.11 wireless networking standard was released in 1997 and clarified in 1999. It used the unlicensed 2.4GHz frequency band and specified data rates of 1 or 2 megabits per second (Mbps).
The first portable MP3 player was Audio Highway's Listen Up Player, which was announced in September 1996 with a suggested price of $299. It measured 4in. by 2in. by 1.5in. and weighed less than four ounces. AudioWiz software allowed users to download content from Audio Highway's web servers to a PC, which connected to the player via a parallel port docking station. The Listen Up Player was introduced at the 1997 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), where it won an Innovations '97 Award.
Using the same basic chemistry as Li-ion cells, lithium polymer batteries hold their lithium salt electrolyte in a solid plastic matrix instead of the solvent used in earlier designs. This makes them cheaper, more rugged and able to take a much wider variety of shapes — ideal for handheld devices, where fitting components into ever smaller and thinner cases is one of the major design challenges facing engineers.
Lithium polymer technology is also seen as having great potential for electric vehicles, although it's still too costly for widespread adoption in this role.
PowerVR is a processor technology initially developed in the mid-1990s for general-purpose PC and gaming console graphics by UK company VideoLogic. Although initially successful, other architectures by ATI and Nvidia became more popular. However, PowerVR's abilities to work at low power helped Imagination Technologies — as VideoLogic was renamed — move into the mobile and portable market.
PowerVR works by building images out of polygons, but doesn't calculate the areas of objects that won't appear in the final image. This approach minimises the number of calculations necessary, and also allows large portions of the display to be held in on-chip memory: both of these substantially reduce the power needed to drive the chip. Apple and Intel are both major shareholders.