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The evolution of the iPhone: A decade-plus love affair

As Editor-in-Chief of a technology media company, I have access to all the latest cell phones and news (or at least the most important ones, anyway). Think of any device you want and you’ll find it in a drawer on my desk. My heart belongs to a single model and a single brand, however: The Apple iPhone.

I’ve used every generation; I stood in line in the sweltering Dallas heat to buy them; I bought them the very morning they were released … I’ve done everything for these devices.

So following the recent launch of the iPhone 12 on October 13, 2020, I decided to tell the story of the evolution of this phone. I present: My love story with Apple cell phones.

iPhone (first generation)

Image used with permission by copyright holder

As a general rule, I never miss Apple presentations: I always dreamed of being at one — a dream that came true one day, but I’ll tell that story later.

It was rumored that Apple would introduce a cell phone, but there was no clue what it would look like. Steve Jobs said: “We will introduce a device that will revolutionize the Internet, one that will revolutionize communication, and one that will revolutionize music.” In the end, there were not three products, but one: The iPhone.

On January 9, 2007, not only Apple phones were born, but also all the touchscreen phones you can now find on the market. From that moment on, mobile telephony changed forever.

Jobs was a visionary, an inveterate dreamer — and certainly, the technological revolution can point to that day. Today, we can talk about tablets and touchscreen computers, which were also born at that time.

The device presented would cost $199, with a two-year contract, and was exclusive to Cingular (today AT&T). Nowadays, the most expensive iPhone without a contract costs $1,668 with 512 GB storage and extended warranty; the first iPhone had 4 GB of memory, although there were double and triple the amount of storage. In just 13 years we’ve come a long way.

The first iPhone was a small device, with a mere 3.5-inch screen and not many apps. There was no App Store. It had Safari, Music, and the basic functions of a phone, plus some others like the calendar. In the same way, the browser had the peculiarity of displaying internet pages as if it were a computer; it did not have the mobile vision we are used to.

Time magazine named it the invention of the year, but I would say it was the invention of the 21st century.

iPhone 3G

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

I’ll be honest. As I see it, this is the worst iPhone ever. It just felt cheap and run-of-the-mill, and the back cover was not very good quality plastic. Although I ran to the nearest AT&T store to purchase it, it was without a doubt one of my worst Apple product purchases.

But as always, there was one piece of good news on that July day in 2008: The creation of the App Store with 500 fabulous apps for the iPhone. Besides, the 4GB model disappeared, and was replaced by the 8GB and 16GB models; more capacity was needed to download apps.

iPhone 3Gs

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The worst iPhone ever had a sequel. A year later, on July 9, 2009, Apple introduced the “S” (for speed) model. 3G networks were more common and, for the first time, it featured a different color: white. Yes, white plastic. It also increased the capacity to 32 GB, although 8 and 16GB were still available. It is worth mentioning that the price had not changed for the initial model ($199 with a two-year contract), which was very affordable compared to today’s prices.

This was the first time Apple introduced an intermediate version between generations. It would not be the last.

iPhone 4

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

“This changes everything,” was the slogan Apple used for the release of this phone that would, in effect, usher in a new era.

For the first time, the iPhone would be on another carrier (Verizon). For the first time, the word “retina” was used for the screen resolution. For the first time, it had a front-facing camera. For the first time, it recorded HD video. But it would be the last time Steve Jobs would introduce an iPhone, something we didn’t know at the time.

The design was radical, a stainless steel band escorted by two glass covers. The band would serve as the antenna, which later became the center of the AntennaGate controversy that Apple later fixed and offered iPhone cases for free.

The iPhone 4 was introduced in June during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). This was the first time I lined up to buy a cell phone. It was released on June 24, 2010; the heat in Dallas was unbearable, but my desire to have the iPhone 4 was greater. After a few hours under the sun’s heat, I succumbed and decided to get out of the line: I was not feeling well. I waited a few days to get the iPhone, and when it was finally in my hands, it was the most beautiful thing in the world. The metal and glass felt immaculate, a beauty of the time.

The following year, on October 4, 2011 — already with Tim Cook at the helm of Apple — the iPhone 4S was introduced. Its main novelty was the introduction of Siri. Unfortunately, a day later the death of Steve Jobs was announced. It is said that Jobs designed up to the iPhone 5, a model that would be presented a year later.

iPhone 5

tim cook iphone 5 intro
MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images / Getty Images

I must confess this is my favorite iPhone ever. It had a different screen size ratio than the iPhone 4, hence some apps had to be displayed with two black borders since they were not optimized for the new screen size. The most noticeable difference in the design was a better integration of metal and glass, the edges were almost null and it felt great to the touch. Another new feature was the Lightning connector: Goodbye to the 30-pin plug. 2013 would start the tradition of Apple presentations every September, something that only the current pandemic has broken.

iPhone 5c

phil schiller iphone 5c intro
picture alliance / Getty Images

A year later an alternative version of the iPhone 5 was released. This was the first time that Apple offered a more economical version of its products. The plastic covers were back, like those of the iPhone 3, and although the novelty was the variety of colors, it was not tempting enough to make me wait in line to buy it. It was a good option for many, but not for me. I was still in love with my iPhone 5.

iPhone 5s

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

That day, a new color and a new feature were also introduced: The gold iPhone and the fingerprint reader. Certainly, having the ability to unlock the phone with your thumb was appealing. But not enough to buy it.

iPhone 6

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Once again, on September 9, 2014, Apple “changed everything.” With a new design, the iPhone slimmed down, its screen grew, and, for the first time, there were two sizes. My choice, the Plus version, was introduced.

The iPhone 6 Plus was a 5.5-inch “giant,” 1.5 inches larger than my iPhone 5. The screen was the nicest thing I had ever seen (it was huge), even the iPhone 6 was 4.7 inches, almost 20 percent larger than the iPhone 5. The edge was gone, the cover was aluminum, and the display glass had nothing in between; glass and metal, two opposing materials, blended seamlessly into a device that was only 6.9 mm thick. This phone was worthy of camping outside an Apple store to buy it … I didn’t, but I considered it.

iPhone 6s

Stephen Lam / Stringer / Getty Images

Apple once again released an intermediate version in September 2015. The biggest new feature was the 12-megapixel camera (the iPhone 6 only had an 8MP). The dimensions also changed a bit, as this model was 0.2 mm thicker. There were enough reasons to trade in my iPhone 6 Plus, such as the ability to take better photos (a feature I judge phones by), but it wasn’t worth standing in any lines either, so I waited until this model was available in stores. There wasn’t as much of a furor as there was for the iPhone 4 or iPhone 6.

iPhone SE 1st generation

iPhone SE 1st generation
MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images / Getty Images

This model continued the tradition of selling an iPhone for the masses, one accessible to all (for $499 you could enter the iOS world). Apple surprises everyone by introducing an iPhone in March 2016; the main new feature was the price since it was actually an iPhone 5c with better components.

In July of the same year, Tim Cook reported that Apple had sold more than one billion units of its flagship cell phone since its launch in 2007.

iPhone 7

Stephen Lam / Stringer / Getty Images

In September 2016, the month in which the new iPhones were announced, I was already Editor in Chief of Digital Trends en Español. The design was overall very similar to the iPhone 6s, but what was interesting were the new colors… I fell in love with the glossy Piano Black. I was also a bit tired of having such big phones, so I went for an iPhone 7 (not Plus) in that color: it was the worst mistake I’ve ever made in terms of cell phone purchases.

The unit was small and the glossy black was a fingerprint magnet; it never looked clean. Still, I used it.

For the first time a PRODUCT(RED), or red phone, was introduced. On the other hand, the 3.5mm headphone port disappeared. The latter was Apple’s most controversial modification. We know that they were the pioneers in disappearing this connector, which was then followed by other brands.

The worst purchase of my life only lasted a year, since in 2017 and on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, the new models were released.

iPhone 8

tim cook iphone 8 launch
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

I did not get this version, as it was very similar to the previous ones and was only a footnote to the stellar September 12, 2017 presentation held for the first time at the Apple Campus and Steve Jobs Theater: The iPhone X had arrived.

iPhone X

tim cook iphone x apple event
VCG / Getty Images

Innovation again was present in Cupertino: The iPhone X was something that had never been seen before. Goodbye home button, fingerprint reader, and edges on the screen; hello facial recognition and phone with two cameras. A beauty that I still keep. The bad news was the price: The iPhone would reach $1,000, something unimaginable 10 years ago when the first model was presented. But innovation is priceless. I had to have it and it had to have it soon. By then the purchase system was very good; you bought it online and it was delivered to your home. Goodbye to the long lines at the stores (although there were still a few).

One year later, one of my dreams would come true: For the first time, Apple would invite me to the presentation of an iPhone. The excitement was very significant, especially for someone who watched the presentations from Mexico and dreamed of attending one someday. I was also able to enter the Apple Campus, something reserved for only a few. The reason? Siri learned Spanish. As for the iPhone, the XR, XS, and XS Max models were introduced.

iPhone XS

tim cook iphone xs launch
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

At the Steve Jobs Theater, I fell in love with the gold XS Max. It had a special finish, it was like the iPhone X but bigger, and its color was pinkish (like a Rolex), elegant and unique. It was also expensive: $1,100 for the most basic version, plus Apple Care, plus taxes… about $1,500 in total. Prices were still on the rise, but as always, having the latest in technology is my thing. As for the specs, there’s not much to say, it was an iPhone X with more screen: 0.7 inches bigger, 6.5 overall compared to the X’s 5.8 inches.

iPhone XR

iphone xr launch
NOAH BERGER / Getty Images

Apple doesn’t forget about those who don’t want to spend a gazillion bucks on a phone and introduced that same day a $750 option, with similar specs to the XS line. Honestly, it is the best iPhone that money can buy: It has a single lens on the camera, compared to the two lenses of the XS, but when you look at the photos of the XR, you see no difference. I can say that, to this day, it’s the best affordable iPhone you can buy.

iPhone 11

tim cook iphone 11 launch
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Three lenses instead of two and a military green color were the new features at Apple’s September 10, 2019 event. Beyond the new color, I found no reason to buy it.

iPhone SE (second generation)

The fingerprint reader and screen borders return on a tiny iPhone, but so does the reasonable price. Apple provided me with the (PRODUCT)RED model and I loved it; it was a trip back in time that could be put in the smallest pants pocket (a 4.7-inch screen compared to the 6.5-inch screen of my iPhone Xs Max). It was a huge sacrifice, but seeing that the iPhone SE was worth $399 and not $1,100, the sacrifice was forgotten.

iPhone 12

apple iphone pro 12

For the first time in a long time and because of the pandemic, Apple did not introduce any phones in September; the virtual presentation was changed to October 13. There was an iPhone for everyone, four models in total: iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and my favorite, the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Remember when the iPhone 5s came out I told you it was my favorite? Well, well, the iPhone 12 features a similar design: The aluminum edge returns — which in my opinion is a good gripping point for the device. It also features the blue color, my favorite — it’s simply spectacular. For me, this model brought back an old love from the past, from 2012 to be exact. I hope Apple never changes the current style. Since the Pro Max has a bigger screen (it is the largest iPhone ever with a 6.7 inches screen), I no longer have to constantly open my laptop. I can do much of my work from my phone.

I’m a perpetual iPhone user and I’m already looking forward to the iPhone 13, but for now, this is my use history from the first iPhone to the 12 Pro Max. A lot of evolution in just over 13 years. Many trends that others will first criticize and then follow, always emulating the leader. Apple will generate applause or criticism, but it will never go unnoticed.

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Juan Garcia
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