At the launch of the original iPhone, Steve Jobs claimed it was five years ahead of the competition. Well now here we are half a decade to the day since it went on sale in the US, let’s take a look and consider.
How would it stand up against today’s models?
Let’s be honest, the hardware doesn’t stack up too well. The processor was a single-core 620MHz ARM jobby. The storage was a maximum of 8GB (until the 16GB version dropped in February 2008). The camera was a paltry 2-megapixels, with no video recording. There was no 3G. Put this on the shelves against any modern day smartphone and it’s safe to say it’d remain untouched.
But it’s the software and interface that were really ahead of its time. Apple knew this was far more important than impressive specs, and worked on getting that right before improving the camera, storage, and processor. (It even owned up to it in marketing the iPhone 3G as: “The iPhone you’ve been waiting for.”)
Life pre-iOS and Android
Before Android came along to mount an effective challenge, the iPhone was the only touchscreen game in town. Consider what else was on sale that year.
The Nokia N95 was touted as the best cameraphone going, and it was impressive at the time, with a 5-megapixel sensor and Carl Zeiss optics. But, oh, the bulk of the thing… It wasn’t far off the thickness of a Gameboy.
The Sony Ericsson P1i tried to combine the best of both worlds, with a QWERTY keyboard and a touchscreen. The software featured handwriting recognition, but come on, a stylus? Even in 2007 that was pretty lame.
Samsung’s D840 was a slider (remember those?) with a full number pad. It was fine for its time, but still looked antiquated next to the iPhone.
The mobile landscape in 2007 was a mess of competing operating systems and styles of phone. Flip phones, sliders, some trying a QWERTY keyboard, some a number pad, some trying an odd combination of the above. The iPhone set the template for every mobile on sale today: a black rectangle with a touchscreen.
Some may lament the fact all handsets look the same nowadays, but manufacturers realised they needed to shift the focus onto the operating system if they really wanted to improve usability.
Apps, apps, apps
Then in March 2008, Apple made the software development kit available to third-party developers, meaning anyone could develop apps for the iPhone and sell them through iTunes. And this is the iPhone’s real legacy. Suddenly the handset is just an enabler, providing access to thousands of games and programs. The phone can be anything you want it to be.
iOS has come on a lot since the initial release (the ability to group apps in folders, for example), but the basic design is the same, even down to the layout. To see what an achievement that is, pick up any other five-year-old device and try and use it, and see how long you last. I’d be surprised if you make it past the minute mark without hurling it at the wall.
Android and iOS have been leapfrogging each other recently, but Google Now could be the first feature that truly puts Android ahead. With its life-organising skills, combined with the fact it does it all without you lifting a finger, Google Now really is something else.
But still, it’s been half a decade before anyone’s come up with feature that really puts some distance between it and the iPhone. So was the original Jesus phone five years ahead of the competition? In terms of software at least, I’d say that sounds about right.