The technological heritage of Apple's iconic smartphone
Created by cmclellan on 11/04/2011
Last updated: 13/09/12 at 11:22
Tags: apple iphone smartphone history
Apple finally launched the iPhone 5 at a time when its high-end smartphone competition (particularly from Samsung) has never been stronger. Its (much leaked) key features are: 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); LTE ('4G') support; a smaller, 2x faster A6 processor; 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 ships with a new OS, iOS 6, on-board. New features here are 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 will sync content across all of your Apple devices. It replaces 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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Unlike TN (Twisted Nematic) LCDs, the liquid crystal molecules in an IPS display always remain parallel to the panel's plane, reducing the amount of light scattering and resulting in more accurate colour reproduction over a wider range of viewing angles. Early IPS LCDs were expensive and had moderate pixel response times. Subsequent developments have addressed these and other issues. The 'Retina' display on Apple's iPhone 4 is an IPS LCD.
Founded by ex-GriD Systems VP Jeff Hawkins in 1992, Palm Computing had launched an unsuccessful PDA (1993's Zoomer) before being bought by U.S. Robotics in 1995 and releasing the genre-defining Pilot 1000 in 1996. It wasn't the first pen-driven PDA with handwriting recognition, but the combination of a pocketable form factor, reliable text entry (via Graffiti), easy PC/Mac synchronisation (via the HotSync cradle) and good battery life proved to be a winner. The original 160g Pilot 1000 had a 16MHz Motorola 68328 CPU, 128KB of internal storage, a 160-by-160-pixel monochrome screen and ran on two AAA batteries. The Pilot 1000 sold for $299, while the higher-spec 512KB 5000 model cost $369.
The US military declared GPS at Full Operational Capability (FOC), with a constellation of 24 satellites, in April 1995. The following year President Bill Clinton issued a policy directive declaring GPS to be a dual-use (military and civilian) system, establishing an Interagency GPS Executive Board to manage it as a national asset.
Named after the 10th-century King Harald I, who ruled Denmark and parts of Norway and southern Sweden, Bluetooth is a short-range, low-power wireless technology for creating Personal Area Networks (PANs). Developed by Ericsson, Bluetooth uses frequency-hopping spread spectrum in the unlicensed 2.4GHz band. Typical applications are connecting a mobile phone and a headset, or a PC with a wireless keyboard, mouse and/or printer.
The MessagePad 100 was the first pen-driven handheld to be called a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) — the term was coined by Apple's then-CEO John Sculley. Although the device is commonly called the Newton, that name strictly belongs to the OS platform, which included (initially less than accurate) handwriting recognition and a suite of applications — Notes, Names, Dates, Calculator, Currency Converter, Time-Zones Maps. The original MessagePad weighed 410g, had a 20MHz ARM 610 processor, 4MB of RAM and 640KB of RAM, a 240-by-336-pixel monochrome touchscreen, a Type II PCMCIA card slot plus serial, LocalTalk and infrared connectivity. It ran on four AAA batteries and cost £699.99.
IBM's Simon is considered to be the first 'smartphone'. It combined mobile phone, fax and PDA functionality, and used a touchscreen rather than physical buttons. There was also an on-screen QWERTY keyboard with predictive text capability. BellSouth, IBM's joint-venture partner, sold the Simon for $899.
Created by Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina at the University of Illinois' NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Applications), Mosaic is regarded as the browser that brought the World Wide Web into the mainstream in the early 1990s. Originally developed for Unix's X-Window System, Mosaic was soon ported to Windows and the Macintosh, among other platforms. Mosaic was supplanted in popularity by Netscape Navigator, also co-written by Andreessen, in the mid-90s.
British-born (Chingford, London, 1967) Jonathan 'Jony' Ive joined Apple in 1992 and became Senior Vice President of Industrial Design in 1997, shortly after Steve Jobs rejoined the company. Responsible for a string of iconic Apple products since the original 1998 translucent iMac G3, Ive leads a small, secretive (even for Apple) design team that puts as much emphasis on perfecting production processes as design aesthetics. He is widely considered to be the foremost designer of the computer age.
Finnish Prime Minister Harri Holkeri made the world’s first GSM call from a carphone over the Nokia-built Radiolinja (now Elisa) network in July 1991. Holkeri called the vice-mayor of Tampere, Kaarina Suonio, and discussed the benefits of the GSM system. During the conversation, Suonio asked: "When will this spread outside Europe?". Holkeri replied: "With this pace of technology development, it will not take many years". He was not wrong: according to the GSM Association, GSM networks now cover over 80 percent of the world's population, providing mobile connectivity in more than 218 countries.
Until the early 1990s, portable equipment relied on either non-rechargable batteries or nickel cadmium (NiCd) rechargeables. Invented in the 19th century, NiCd batteries could be recharged hundreds of times but held only a quarter as much energy per unit volume as alkalines.
Lithium ion, which exploits the movement of lithium ions between electrodes, can hold up to four times as much energy/volume and is lighter. First proposed in the 1970s, it took a while to commercialise as the battery chemistry can deliver a lot of energy very quickly. Lithium itself is also highly reactive — leading to the danger of ferocious overheating and fire if a battery is faulty or abused.
Sony built on research by Professor John Goodenough at Oxford University in the 1970s and 80s to produce the first commercial Li-ion battery in 1991. It was used in minidisc recorders and portable CD players. A combination of better chemistry, physical construction and smart charging circuits made the technology safe, and subsequent developments helped increase its capacity even as electronics got smaller and less power-hungry, making it the default battery for portable equipment.
The first fully digital camera to reach the consumer market was the Dycam Model 1, sold by Logitech as the Fotoman (pictured). It had a fixed-focus 8mm lens, a 376-by-240-pixel CCD with 256 grey levels and could save 32 compressed images on its 1MB of RAM. It had a flash, but you had to connect the camera to a PC to turn it on and off, as well as to get images off the camera.
In March 1989 Tim Berners-Lee, a physicist at CERN, wrote a proposal showing how information could be transferred easily over the internet via hypertext. After considering 'Mesh', Berners-Lee settled on 'World Wide Web' as the name for the system he and his collaborator Robert Cailliau created the following year. The first web site was at http://info.cern.ch/, running on a NeXT computer.
GRiD Systems made a number of advances in mobile computing, including the GRiD Compass, the first clamshell laptop. Another was the GRiDPad, the first pen-based computer, which ran DOS on a 10MHz Intel 80C86 proccessor with 256KB or 512KB of RAM. The driving force behind the GRiDPad — and author of its character recognition engine— was Jeff Hawkins, who would go on to create the seminal Pilot and PalmPilot devices.