In review: all the iconic iPhone models that led us to iPhone 15

There are few things in tech that are as familiar to us as the iPhone. These powerful devices, fueled with impressive technological advancements, are now a part of our everyday lives. However, it hasn’t always been this way.

Apple is dropping the iPhone 15 in mid September 2023. It’ll feature four models: iPhone 15, iPhone 15 Plus, iPhone 15 Pro, and iPhone 15 Ultra. They’ll all be switching to a USB-C connector, replacing the Lightning port used by Apple for nearly a decade.

But how did we get here? Let’s take a journey through the iconic life of the iPhone to trace their evolution over almost two decades.

1. The iPhone

iPhone review

Famously, it all started with Steve Jobs. On January 9th, 2007, he unveiled the first iPhone during the Macworld 2007 convention in San Francisco. The device totalled sales of 6,124,000 units before being discontinued on July 15th, 2008.

It traded at $499 for a 4GB model or $599 for the 8GB version (both with a two-year contract). A 16 GB model was released on February 5th, 2008 for $499.

People queued in front of Apple stores for days before launch, with six out of ten Americans reportedly aware of the release ahead of time.

Critics originally deemed the device too expensive to perform well in the market, although later reports largely praised the original iPhone. The Wall Street Journal's technology columnist, Walt Mossberg, called it “a beautiful and breakthrough handheld computer.”

2. The iPhone 3G

iPhone 3g review

The iPhone 3G, or simply the iPhone 2, was the second generation of the iPhone unveiled by Apple on June 9th, 2008, almost exactly a year after the original device’s launch date.

While similar to its predecessor, the new version included a few key features such as GPS, 3G data and tri-band UMTS/HSDPA. It was also much cheaper, selling at $199 for the 8 GB model and $299 for the 16 GB model.

On July 11th, 2008, the iPhone 3G became available in twenty-two countries.

The later-announced version, 3GS (where S stood for speed), was largely similar to the predecessor but was reportedly twice as fast. It was released on June 19th, 2009, selling a million units within the first weekend.

3. The iPhone 4

iPhone 4 review

The iPhone 4 made a splash with a few novelties introduced. Launching on June 24th, 2010, alongside iOS 4, it became the first iPhone to include a front-facing camera. This was the first taste of the now familiar feature we know as FaceTime.

This iPhone also had the first high-resolution "Retina Display,” with Steve Jobs famously saying “Once you use a Retina Display, you can’t go back.”

Despite the praise received by the new device, critics also noted that the iPhone4 had a faulty antenna design that caused cellular signal losses if held in a certain way. Apple aimed to address the issue by releasing iOS 4.0.1. However, this failed to fix the issue.

Priced at $199 for a 16GB model and $299 for the 32GB version, the iPhone4 averaged the longest shelf life among all other iPhones. It was available until early 2015 in some developing countries.

In 2011, the new CEO of Apple Tim Cook announced that the iPhone 4S would go on sale on October 14th, including a new 64GB version that sold for $399. In that case, S stood for Siri, which was initially exclusive to the model before being integrated in other Apple products.

4. The iPhone 5

iPhone 5 review

The iPhone 5 became the first device to be developed fully under the guidance of Tim Cook and the last to be overseen by Steve Jobs. Its design was utilized in two other releases: the 5S in 2013 and the first-generation iPhone SE in 2016.

“This is the biggest thing to happen to the iPhone since the [original] iPhone,” Tim Cook famously said. And unsurprisingly too, with the new model featuring a lighter and thinner aluminum-based body, a 4-inch screen, and LTE support, among other things.

Within 24 hours of the pre-order launch, two million orders were received – selling on average twenty times faster than all predecessors.

The iPhone 5 was criticized for certain hardware issues and the company’s switch to a different dock connector design, which caused compatibility problems with other accessories.

The device was eventually discontinued on September 10th, 2013, as Tim Cook rolled out the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 5C, making it the second shortest-living iPhone in Apple’s history.

The iPhone 5S boasted a new white/gold color scheme, incorporating Touch ID and the first 64-bit processor to be used on a smartphone. It went for a price starting at $199 for the 16GB model.

The iPhone 5C was very similar to the original iPhone 5 but was available in several color options and shipped with iOS 7. It sold for a lower price, starting at $99 for a 16GB model, effectively replacing the iPhone 5.

5. The iPhone 6

iPhone 6 review

Apple unveiled the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus simultaneously on September 19th, 2014. Both iPhones received much praise for their design, camera, and battery life improvements. They featured support for near-field communications (NFC), which was initially reserved exclusively for a new mobile payments system known as Apple Pay.

Additionally, both iPhones had expanded LTE connectivity and an Apple A8 system-on-chip, which included a barometer to measure altitude changes. This ultimately provided a significant boost to CPU and graphics performance.

The iPhone 6 sold at $199 on-contract for 16GB, with the 64GB and 128GB versions available for $299 and $399, respectively. The larger 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus went for $299 for the 16GB version, or $399 and $499 for the 64GB and 128GB options.

The iPhone 6S and the iPhone 6S Plus followed as the ninth generation of the iconic device, featuring a similar design to the iPhone 6. The iPhone 6S came with upgraded hardware such as a strengthened 7000 series aluminium alloy chassis and a new 12-megapixel rear camera that could record up to 4K video at 30fps and take “live photos”.

The 5-megapixel FaceTime camera also received an upgrade with a front-facing "Retina Flash" which improved the quality of selfies.

6. The iPhone 7

iPhone 7 review

The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus repeated the story of their immediate predecessors, launching simultaneously with a similar design to the iPhone 6 and its various model versions.

They included new color options (Matte Black and Jet Black) and a dual-camera setup, as well as a new static home button and revised antenna bands.

Apple also eliminated the audio jack in the new iPhone, which caused controversy as it forced users to either rely on the Apple-supplied earbuds or use an adapter. Gordon Kelly noted for Forbes that rivals such as the Samsung Galaxy S7 managed to increase battery life and add water resistance while still retaining the headphone jack.

7. The iPhone 8

iPhone 8 review

The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus launched with the addition of a glass back enclosure dubbed “the most durable glass ever in a smartphone” by Apple.

The upgraded device included inductive charging, a Retina HD Display featuring True Tone technology, a 12 MP camera with autofocus, and a 25% faster Apple A11 Bionic system-on-chip.

The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus were discontinued in February 2020 after becoming some of the best-selling smartphones of all time. By the end, they’d topped an impressive 86.3 million sales.

David Pierce of Wired called the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus "virtually perfect phones.” However, he also went on to say that they were overshadowed by the iPhone X, which was released to mark the 10th anniversary of the iPhone.

8. iPhone X

iPhone X review

The most expensive iPhone to ever be released, iPhone X was a true commemoration device. It was priced at $999 for the 64GB and $1,149 for the 256GB and paved the way for some of the most progressive iPhone features.

It included a Super Retina XDR display, a new authentication-type Face ID using TrueDepth camera system, wireless charging, and dual cameras. However, despite the impressive tech advancements, the Face ID did initially cause privacy and security concerns. For example, United States Senator Al Franken demanded that more information regarding the functioning of this technology was made available to the public.

9. The iPhone XS

iPhone XS review

The iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max were announced alongside a lower-end model, the iPhone XR on September 12th, 2018.

The XS and XS Max both offered dual-SIM support, had improved water resistance, and allegedly faster Face ID technology than the iPhone X.

These models also became the first to record stereo audio for videos. On top of this, the XS Max boasted the largest iPhone display to date, with over 3 million pixels, and had the biggest battery.

10. iPhone 11

iPhone 11 review

Despite minimal cosmetic changes from the preceding iPhone XR, iPhone 11 was a significant upgrade for Apple users. It featured Apple's new A13 "Bionic" processor, had a 6.1-in. Liquid Retina HD display screen, and an ultra-wide dual-camera system capable of capturing more than four times the scenery and 4K video at up to 60 frames per second.

iPhone 11 became the tenth-best selling iPhone worldwide with 159.2 million units sold by March 2022. However, it followed the fate of the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 13 Pro, which were all discontinued after the announcement of the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro on September 7th, 2022.

The iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max were both unveiled alongside the standard version. As a novelty, they featured a USB-C to Lightning cable, which for the first time provided a direct connection between iPhones and Macs.

These versions included a new Midnight Green color and rear camera design with three lenses and a flash in a larger, square-shaped bump. The device received an overall score of 117 from DXOMARK, becoming the second-best smartphone camera tied with the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+.

11. iPhone 12

iPhone 12 review

iPhone 12 marked the first time we heard commercial talks about 5G, offering the network in both the sub-6GHz and mmWave varieties. The fourteenth-generation range was unveiled with the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini alongside the "premium flagship" iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max.

iPhone 12 featured some major upgrades from its predecessor, including the A14 Bionic chip, a Super Retina XDR OLED (as opposed to the Liquid Retina LED-backlit LCD IPS panel on the iPhone 11 and XR), a dual 12MP camera system with Ultra Wide and Wide cameras, and high-dynamic-range video Dolby Vision 4K up to 30 fps.

All four models became the first not to include a power adapter or EarPods headphones. The iPhone Pro and Pro Max had larger storage capacites of 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB, going for the starting price of $999 for the iPhone 12 Pro and $1,099 for the Pro Max. In March 2022, Apple started selling refurbished iPhone 12 Pro models for $759.

12. iPhone 13

iPhone 13 review

The announcement of the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini coincided with a variety of other releases. These included the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max, as well as other Apple products such as the ninth-generation iPad, 6th generation iPad Mini, and Apple Watch Series 7.

Prices started at $699 for the mini and at $799 for the full-size version. Both models used the new A15 Bionic chip, the three-camera system featuring Smart HDR 4 (which offered a range of photographic styles during capture), and a new Cinematic Mode which allowed rack focusing between subjects.

Both iPhones were released with iOS 15 but were also compatible with the later iOS 16 version.

Prices for the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max were the same as their predecessors, with storage capacity reaching a whopping 1TB. They featured a variable 10–120 Hz display and were praised for their improved battery life and cameras.

13. iPhone 14

iPhone 14 review

The iPhone 14 and 14 Plus were released on September 16th, 2022 and October 7th, 2022 respectively. They were unveiled alongside the iPhone 14 Pro, iPhone 14 Pro Max, Apple Watch Series 8, Apple Watch SE (2nd generation), Apple Watch Ultra, AirPods Pro (2nd generation), and an update to Apple Fitness+.

This time around, Apple ditched the mini version, likely due to poor sales. Instead, it released a Plus model which hadn’t been seen since the iPhone 8 Plus in 2017.

Both the iPhone 14 and 14 Plus feature an updated version of the Bionic A15 processor, 6 GB of RAM (in comparison to 4 GB of RAM on iPhone 13), and Super Retina XDR OLED technology. They have an identical design to the iPhone 13, only lacking the physical SIM tray in US models.

These latest iPhones have a two-camera system with one front-facing camera and two back-facing cameras. The front camera features autofocus for the first time.

The Pro and Pro Max models include the new A16 processor and a new type of display cutout called "Dynamic Island.” Prices remained unchanged from 2021, with storage options ranging between 128GB and 1TB. The iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max can go all the way up to 1,600 nits while watching HDR videos, and 2,000 nits outdoors with a Super Retina XDR OLED display.

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