Road to iPhone X: The evolution of Apple's smartphone

Let's take a trip down memory lane as we look at how the iPhone has changed over the past 10 years.
By Jason Cipriani, Contributing Writer
1 of 16 Apple/Getty Images

Steve Jobs reveals the first iPhone

The iPhone has become a staple of the smartphone industry, time and time again setting the bar for Apple's competitors. Although Apple has, at times, been caught playing catch up.

While the basic form factor and subtle iOS nuances are still present, the iPhone has certainly evolved over the past 11 years. Stroll down memory lane as we look at how the iPhone has changed.

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The original, and an instant classic

On January 9, 2007 Steve Jobs took the stage to announce the first iPhone. It was a smartphone unlike anything we'd seen before with multi-touch gestures, fun animations (remember the first time you saw the iPod app's album cover view?), a 2-megapixel camera, visual voicemail, and a true web browser.

The iPhone shipped with 4, 8, or 16 GB of storage -- a big number at the time. It lacked 3G service, relying on 2G, or EDGE. It also lacked picture messaging along with copy-and-paste.

iPhone OS, as it was called at the time, lacked the App Store, with Apple instead insisting on web apps as the future of mobile computing.

The original iPhone was very clearly a first generation device.

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iPhone 3G

Ditching the half-metal, half-plastic back of the original iPhone, Apple introduced the iPhone 3G in June 2008 with a rounded plastic back.

The iPhone 3G's curved back fit into the palm of your hand and was available in black or white.

Aesthetics aside, the iPhone 3G was much cheaper than the original iPhone, and included support for 3G service (as the name implies) and GPS.

Perhaps the biggest announcement to change the overall course of how we view and use smartphones was the introduction of the App Store alongside the iPhone 3G.

Still missing, however, was MMS support along with copy and paste.

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And thus the "S" moniker is born

Released in June 2009, the iPhone 3GS was the first time we saw Apple use the same overall design two years in a row, going to a tick-tock release schedule.

Despite its identical appearance, the 3GS was full of internal changes. A faster processor, 3-megapixel camera and, more importantly, it was the first iPhone to offer video capturing with the camera.

To accompany a better camera and video capabilities, Apple also added MMS support to iPhone OS 3 in addition to copy and paste.

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Does this look familiar?

Before Apple had a chance to announce the iPhone 4 in June of 2010, Gizmodo found itself with a prototype of the then unannounced phone, and published a detailed look at it.

With the iPhone 4, Apple used a glass back, a stainless steel frame that doubled as an antenna, a front-facing camera (a first for the iPhone!), and a completely new type of display Apple dubbed a "Retina display."

This was also the first time we saw Apple use its own A-series processors to power an iOS device.

Of course, Apple bumped internal specs across the board with a faster processor, improved graphics, and more storage.

With the addition of a front-facing camera, Apple introduced FaceTime, its video calling solution.

Another notable fact about the iPhone 4 is that with it, Apple and AT&T's exclusivity deal in the US was finished. Apple launched a CDMA version in February 2011, adding Verizon Wireless as a carrier partner.

However, not all was well with the iPhone 4. Remember Antenna-gate? The device was plagued with reception issues thanks to the frame doubling as the antenna, meaning you would lose reception if you held it just right. Hence the "You're holding it wrong" meme was born.

Apple eventually gave every iPhone 4 owner a free case or bumper after Steve Jobs cut a family vacation in Hawaii short to hold an emergency press conference to address the issue.

It was a rare moment to see Apple on its heels, defending a product after a few years of looking like it could do no wrong.

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iPhone 4S

Breaking from the yearly June release schedule of a new iPhone, the iPhone 4S was released in October of 2011.

In fact, it was announced one day prior to Steve Jobs' passing, on October 5.

Using the same design as the iPhone 4, Apple focussed on software and internal hardware improvements.

Using Apple's A5 chip and shipping with iOS 5, the iPhone 4S was the first iPhone with Apple's personal assistant, Siri.

iOS 5 also included iMessage, Apple's messaging platform.

To fix the antenna woes of its predecessor, Apple adjusted the frame of the phone to prevent how it's held from impacting reception.

Sprint began selling the iPhone with the release of the iPhone 4S, leaving T-Mobile as the lone major US carrier without Apple's smartphone at the time.

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iPhone 5

In September 2012, Apple unveiled the iPhone 5.

Sharing a similar design to the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S, the iPhone 5 was anything but the same.

Apple replaced the glass back found on previous models with aluminum, increased the screen size from 3.5 inches to 4 inches, and did away with the 30-pin connector in favor of the now standard Lightning connector.

The iPhone 5 was the first iPhone to support LTE.

In March 2013, T-Mobile began selling the iPhone 5.

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iPhone 5S

In September 2013, Apple announced the iPhone 5S.

For the first time, the iPhone line would have more than the standard black and white colors users had come to expect from the company. A new gold option was a hit, with orders taking weeks to fill. Apple also changed the name of the colors, to silver (with a white faceplate), and space gray (with a black faceplate).

The iPhone 5S was the first iPhone to launch with a Touch ID home button, capable of reading a fingerprint to unlock the device and approve App Store purchases.

Alongside the launch of the iPhone 5S, Apple design Jony Ive's team unveiled a completely redesigned iOS 7.

Gone was the skeumorphic design that was commonplace since the original iPhone, replaced instead with a "flat" design with new app icons, and more animated interactions.

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Add even more color to the lineup

Bucking the trend of releasing one iPhone model a year, Apple announced the iPhone 5C alongside the iPhone 5S.

The iPhone 5C was a colorful, less-expensive model available in a myriad of bright colors.

Internally, the iPhone 5C was identical to the iPhone 5.

Until the iPhone 5C, Apple had discounted previous iPhone models and positioned them as entry-level models.

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Going big -- finally

After years of pressure, resistance, and skepticism in September 2014 Apple announced two iPhone models, both of which grew in size. Android smartphones had larger screens for years prior.

The iPhone 6 shipped with a 4.7-inch display, while the iPhone 6 Plus measured 5.5 inches.

Both models featured a more rounded look and feel. Two antenna lines adorned the back of the phone, and the power button was moved from the top of the phone to the right side. Due to its thinner design, the 8-megapixel camera now protruded from the back of the phone.

For the first time, Apple included an NFC chip in the iPhone, however it limited its use to its own mobile payment service, Apple Pay.

Shortly after release the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus were wrapped up in another "gate." Dubbed "Bendgate," widespread reports and numerous YouTube videos surfaced showing how easy it was to bend the phones, rendering them useless.

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Do you like pink?

With the announcement of the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, Apple continued its tick-tock release schedule.

From the outside, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6S lineup look practically identical, save for the new pink -- or as Apple calls it Rose Gold -- color option. This brought the total number of iPhone colors to four: space gray, silver, gold, and rose gold.

With the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, Apple introduced 3D Touch, a second generation Touch ID sensor, and a 12-megapixel camera.

3D Touch is a combination of software and hardware working together to determine how hard a user is pressing on the display of the phone. Using varying degrees of pressure, a user can bring up different menus or preview content such as links or photos in the Messages app.

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A retro iPhone

Breaking from a yearly iPhone announcement, in March of 2016 Apple held a special event where it announced the iPhone SE.

In a conversation I had with Apple's director of marketing, Phil Schiller, at the event, Schiller told me the "SE" stood for "Special Edition."

The new iPhone looks identical to the older iPhone 5S, and is a smaller alternative to the bigger iPhone 6S and 6S Plus.

It's also priced lower, making it an ideal device for first time smartphone buyers and for emerging markets such as India.

Internally, the iPhone SE is a mishmash of parts from the iPhone 6S and and the iPhone 5S, lacking 3D Touch and the second-generation Touch ID sensor.

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So long, headphone jack

In September 2016 Apple introduced the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.

Both devices look very similar to the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6S, however new color schemes and camera modules go a long way in differentiating the new models from predecessors.

The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are available in black, jet black, silver, gold, and rose gold.

The iPhone 7 Plus has two rear-facing cameras and a new depth of field feature, setting it apart from the standard iPhone 7.

Apple sparked controversy with the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus by doing away with the 3.5mm headphone jack.

Apple announced completely wireless earbuds, called AirPods, alongside the iPhone 7 as an alternative to the lack of a headphone jack.

Included in the box with each iPhone 7 is a Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter and a pair of Lightning headphones.

The iPhone 7 line also did away with 16 GB of storage, something critics and users had been asking for for years. The iPhone 7 has 32 GB, 128 GB, or 256 GB of storage.

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The glass back returns

In September 2017, Apple changed things up a bit. The company skipped the iPhone 7S moniker, altogether.

The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus look much like the iPhones of the past few years, but now have a glass back. The change came about thanks to the addition of wireless charging to the iPhone.

That's right, starting with the iPhone 8 you can place the phone on any Qi compatible charging pad and it will charge.

Apple only released two storage options for the iPhone 8: 64GB or 256GB.

Either device is available in silver, gold, or space gray.

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The future

What set 2017 apart for Apple's iPhone lineup was the announcement of a third phone, the iPhone X (pronounced ten).

The iPhone X got rid of the home button and fingerprint sensor, replacing it was a facial recognition system called Face ID.

The display now stretches from the bottom of the phone all the way to the top, getting rid of the ugly "chin and forehead" that added bulk to previous iPhones.

In fact, the iPhone X has a larger display than the iPhone 8 Plus, measuring 5.8-inches, yet it is smaller than the iPhone 8 Plus overall.

There's now a notch along the top of the screen that makes room for the facial recognition system.

The all-glass back is also compatible with wireless charging, and the dual rear-facing cameras are improved.

Portrait Mode not only works with the rear cameras, but also with the front-facing camera for better selfies.

The iPhone X starts at $999 for 64 GB of storage, with a 256 GB device priced at $1,149.

Silver and space gray are your the only color options,

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