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Five years of iPhone

Five years ago today, Steve Jobs unveiled the new iPhone at Macworld Expo. The company has since delivered five generations of new hardware and iOS software as its mobile competitors have scrambled to defend their positions and take share back.

The 2007 iPhone introduction

Jobs started his keynote with the words, "We're going to make some history together today."

He then spent ten minutes recapping the company's progress in moving to Intel, reviewing the success of iPod and noting that iTunes had just passed Amazon in music sales and was now taking on #3 Target. Jobs then used another ten minutes to detail Apple TV, which the company had offered a sneak peek at the previous September. "Enjoy your media on your big screen TV. We think this is really going to be something special," Jobs said before taking a drink and a dramatic pause.

"This is a day I've been looking forward to for two and a half years," Jobs then stated.

"Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. One is very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career. Apple has been very fortunate that it's been able to introduce a few of these into the world. In 1984 we introduced the Macintosh. It didn't just change Apple, it changed the whole industry. In 2001 we introduced the first iPod, and it didn't just change the way we all listened to music, it changed the entire music industry," Jobs said.

"Well today, we're introducing three revolutionary new products! The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls," Jobs said to applause. "The second is a revolutionary new mobile phone," he added to even more fervent applause. "And the third is a breakthrough internet communications device," to which the audience continued to applaud with less certainty.

"So, three things," Jobs said, repeating each of the three. He then repeated all three again, as his backdrop animated between an iPod icon, a Phone icon and the Safari icon. "Are you getting it?" Jobs asked. "These are not three separate devices! This is one device. And we are calling it iPhone. Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone. Here it is."

iPhone 1.0

The original iPhone took a variety of bleeding edge technologies (including its capacitance screen perfect for touch but incompatible with the standard stylus) and design decisions (such as its full screen display lacking a physical keyboard, trackball, or buttons) that had previously only seen very limited release, and combined them in a package using advanced software that had never before been used in a mobile device.

This gave the iPhone a groundbreaking user interface and overall experience, which coupled with the iPhone's rich and polished apps including Mail and Safari, made the device fun to simply play with and instantly desirable.

At the same time, however, the iPhone lacked a variety of features that were considered standard for a high end mobile device. Apple's deliberate omissions were almost as noteworthy as its unique features. And in each case where Apple dropped an expected mobile feature, it released an alternative obtained from the company's more familiar territory of desktop PCs.

iPhone vs Palm Treo 650

For example, the original iPhone wasn't capable of 3G but instead made wide use of WiFi, something competing smartphones of the day often lacked. The popular Palm Treo offered a $99 WiFi SD Card option, but it wasn't very useful because none of the software on it (including its feeble browser) could make good use of it. Even by the end of 2008 (nearly two years later), RIM was still releasing its BlackBerry Storm on Verizon without WiFi capabilities, clear evidence of the myopic vision of the carriers who controlled the pre-iPhone handset market.

The first iPhone also lacked GPS, but made atonement in the form of WiFi geolocation. Until iOS 3.0, it also lacked MMS, but Apple focused on sending photos via email. While smartphones of the day couldn't handle such attachments, iPhones could interact with the larger population of PC users (who couldn't send or receive MMS either).

The initial iPhone also lacked an SD Card slot for expansion but packed far more storage memory than other phones of the day, making it usable right out of the box. It also lacked the replaceable battery most mobile users had been trained to swap out as needed, but provided advanced power management that limited the need for battery swapping. Additionally, it leveraged the vast market of iPod cables for recharging from USB, a car charger, or within a playback dock.

Jobs also hammered home the advantages of having a "real" web browser, rather than trying to use mobile optimized formats such as i-mode or WAP. Five years after the iPhone, Apple still produces what is indisputably the best mobile browser experience, besting both Microsoft (the former king of browsers), the open source communities of Mozilla and Android (Google doesn't call its moderate-quality mobile browser "Chrome" for good reason), and the former pioneers of mobile apps, ranging from Palm to RIM to Nokia.

Another notable omission of the original iPhone in its first year was a lack of native third party apps. Again, Apple bundled enough high quality first party apps that this failed to become a serious problem for most users. The built in apps on the iPhone were more than equivalent to $454 worth of optional software available for Windows Mobile, for example.

The original iPhone broke into the market by offering standout features in terms of interface usability, hardware design, iPod/iTunes features and "desktop class" mobile applications that were valuable enough to overshadow its initial omissions and drawbacks.

On page 2 of 5: iPhone 3G, iPhone OS 2 and competitors 2007 - 2008