The iPhone revolutionized the smartphone world. It lived up to Steve Jobs’ words at the introduction of the original iPhone on January 9, 2007, when he stated, “iPhone is a revolutionary and magical product that is literally five years ahead of any other mobile phone.” Each iPhone model that followed has helped make Apple one of the most valuable companies in the world. Many iPhone fans are aware of the major milestones along the way. There was the the App Store’s introduction with the iPhone 3G, followed by the iPhone 3GS’s 3MP camera with video recording abilities. After that came the first Retina display with the iPhone 4. Then it was on to Siri’s debut on the iPhone 4s, and the switch to the Lightning Port on the iPhone 5.
We rarely talk in detail about those early iPhones now that we’re on to devices like the iPhone 6s and the iPhone 7, but some of Apple’s iPhone milestones are just as interesting now as they were on launch day. That’s particularly true of the iPhone 4. Onstage at WWDC in 2010, Jobs introduced the iPhone 4. It had more than 100 new features, plus an all-new design. It was equipped with an all-new camera, and it was the first-ever iPhone to feature a Retina display.
So what was the iPhone 4 like? What kind of technology and specs did it have? The iPhone 4 is an interesting part of Apple history. And as the company claimed at the time, the iPhone 4 really “changed everything.” Let’s take a look back at the iPhone 4 and why it was an important iPhone milestone for Apple.
iPhone 4: The features that changed everything
Rene Ritchie reports for iMore that the iPhone 4 is the model that “changed everything — again!”Jobs announced onstage at WWDC that the iPhone 4 “is the biggest leap since the original iPhone.” He explained, “FaceTime video calling sets a new standard for mobile communication, and our new Retina display is the highest resolution display ever in a phone, with text looking like it does on a fine printed page.” Jobs added, “We have been dreaming about both of these breakthroughs for decades.”
The iPhone 4 introduced a total of more than 100 new features, but Jobs concentrated on only the most significant in the keynote. At the time, Simon Hill reported for Digital Trends that some of the iPhone 4’s most exciting features were its Retina display, the A4 chip and gyroscope, and a front-facing camera. Hill also noted that the iPhone 4 “looks like the iPhone prototype obtained under questionable circumstances by Gizmodo: stainless steel casing, all-glass front, and a design Jobs describes as the thinnest smartphone on the planet.”
The Retina display featured four times the pixel density of a typical LCD display at 326 pixels per inch. Digital Trends noted that that was “far denser than anything else in the consumer electronics market.” The resolution of the screen was actually higher than what the human eye is capable of perceiving when held at a distance of 10 to 12 inches.
The front-facing camera made it possible for users to easily make video calls. Jobs demonstrated what Apple introduced as FaceTime video calling. The feature was at first only available on Wi-Fi, and only on the iPhone 4. Users would be able to switch to the rear-mounted 5MP camera to let the person they were calling see what they were seeing, or they could stick with the front-facing camera for the whole call. Jobs reported that Apple was working with mobile carriers to make FaceTime available over 3G as well, and he claimed that the technology behind FaceTime would become an industry standard.
How software moved the iPhone 4 forward
With the iPhone 4, Apple renamed what it had been calling “iPhone OS.” The version introduced with the iPhone 4 was called iOS 4 and would power the iPhone, the iPad, and the iPod Touch. The operating system introduced a wide variety of new features, including a form of selective multitasking support that enabled an app like Pandora to run in the background, a unified Mail inbox that supported multiple services, home screen folders, and the Game Center.
The headlining feature of iOS 4 was video calling via FaceTime. But the introduction of iOS 4 also brought some new apps to the iPhone, including the iMovie app. The app enabled users to assemble and trim clips, or even record videos directly to an iMovie timeline. Users could also add photos to their movies, or add titles and transitions. The iPhone 4 camera could embed geolocation information into video, and iMovie for iPhone could display that information. Users could also add music to their videos with the app.
Apple also announced an iPhone version of iBooks. It had the same features as the iPad edition, including PDF and annotations support. The app could sync across devices so that users could start reading a book on an iPad and then pick up where they left off on an iPhone — a feature that we may take for granted these days with all of our accounts and data in the cloud.
Additionally, Apple announced that it was releasing new APIs for developers, and the company made it possible for developers to generate revenue with ads in their apps. iOS 4 supported the iPhone 4’s Retina display with resolution independence, which meant that apps would be automatically scaled for the new resolution to look sharper, not pixelated.
Why the design of the iPhone 4 was a big leap
Jesus Diaz reported for Gizmodo that the hardware design of the iPhone 4 was the same as seen on the prototype that the publication obtained. It featured black glass and a stainless steel rim. The black glass was aluminosilicate glass, which Apple explained is “chemically strengthened to be 20 times stiffer and 30 times harder than plastic.” The idea was to make the iPhone 4 more scratch-resistant and durable than its predecessor. The iPhone 4 was also smaller than the previous generation, coming in at 34% thinner than the iPhone 3GS. It also featured split buttons for volume in a departure from the design of the iPhone 3GS.
The bands around the side of the iPhone 4 were the topic of intense speculation following prototype leaks. Jobs identified them as part of the phone’s antenna system. He explained that the stainless steel band was also a structural element of the design and noted that the antenna supports all of the iPhone 4’s wireless capabilities, from 3G to Wi-Fi to Bluetooth to GPS. The iPhone 4 measured 4.6 x 2.31 inches, and was 0.37 inches thick. It weighed 4.8 ounces.
Rene Ritchie for iMore reported that the display improvements brought by the iPhone 4 were significant. Apple chose optical lamination and an in-plane switching (IPS) panel with light-emitting diode (LED) backlight. According to Ritchie, “it made images look as if they were painted just beneath the glass, and greatly improved viewing angles.” Apple doubled resolution both horizontally and vertically in order to boost pixel count yet maintain compatibility with existing apps. The iPhone 4 took the iPhone’s screen from a resolution of 480 x 320 to 960 x 640, and from a density of 163ppi to 326ppi. Apple claimed that the pixels were dense enough that, at a normal viewing distance, they disappeared.
The iPhone 4’s camera featured a bigger sensor than the iPhone 3GS for its main camera, plus bigger lenses. Instead of adding a higher resolution, Apple chose to stick with the same 5MP count. That meant that the iPhone 4 had a higher sensitivity to light, and therefore the ability to take better photos and videos in low-light conditions. The iPhone 4 also introduced the front-facing camera to the iPhone design. The camera was leveraged both by Apple’s apps and by third-party software.
iPhone 4 specifications: The first Retina display
The Retina display measured 3.5 inches and had a resolution of 960 x 640 pixels. Jobs claimed that the screen looked more like a high-quality printed book than the other screens available at the time. The Multi-Touch display had a 326ppi resolution and a 800:1 contrast ratio, and it featured a fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating.
The phone also featured a 5MP camera with a backside-illuminated sensor. Jobs said that the setup increases the amount of light captured by the sensor, which resulted in better photographs. The camera could also record HD video at 720p resolution at up to 30 frames per second. The front-facing camera could capture VGA-quality photos and videos up to 30 frames per second. You could tap on the screen to focus a video or an image, and the device featured LED flash that could be used for photos or videos.
The iPhone 4 was powered by an Apple-designed A4 chip. The RAM was increased to 512MB, and the battery was increased to 1420mAh. Jobs told the audience at WWDC that the A4 processor improved power management and enabled the iPhone 4 to get 40% more talk time on 3G networks (up to 7 hours). Alternately, it could get up to 6 hours of 3G web browsing, or 10 hours of Wi-Fi browsing. The device was also equipped with up to 32GB of storage. Digital Trends noted that the device offered “quad-band HSDPA/HSUPA for mobile broadband speeds up to 7.2Mbps downstream, 4.8Mbps upstream…assuming carrier networks support that technology.”
Also onboard was support for 802.11n Wi-Fi, assisted GPS, and Bluetooth. The phone was equipped with accelerometer, a compass, a proximity sensor, and an ambient light sensor. It also featured a gyroscope to enable six-axis motion sensing, just like a game controller. It also featured a 30-pin dock connector, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a built-in speaker, a microphone, and a micro-SIM card tray.
How the iPhone 4 launch went
When it was introduced, the iPhone 4 was available in the United States through AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint. Prices started at $99 for an 8GB version with a two-year contract, and the device was offered in either black or white. (A 16GB version would cost $99 and a 32GB version would cost $299.) Gizmodo explained that if you were an existing iPhone user, an early upgrade would cost you $399 or $499. And without a contract, the iPhone 4 was $599 or $699. In the box, users would get the iPhone 4, Apple’s earphones with a remote and microphone, a dock connector to USB cable, a USB power adapter, and documentation.
iMore reports that the iPhone 4 launched on June 15, 2010. It would be available in 88 countries and on 185 carriers by the end of 2010. Apple also launched iOS 4 alongside the iPhone 4. Despite its initial rollout in just five countries, and significant supply constraints at launch, the iPhone 4 sold 1.7 million units in its first weekend on the market.
The iPhone 4 launch wasn’t without its issues, however. The iPhone 4 prototype, which was left by an Apple engineer at a Redwood City bar, not only resulted in Apple’s biggest product leak ever, but also led to a police investigation and repercussions for both Gizmodo and Apple. The rollout of the white version of the iPhone 4 was also a challenge for Apple. The engineering team had to prevent UV rays from yellowing the finish over time, and they also had to prevent the opacity of the paint from interfering with the device’s sensors. The result was that the white iPhone 4 didn’t ship on time, and in fact, it took until April 28, 2011, to hit store shelves.
Additionally, the new external antenna design posed some problems. It became a weak point when signal was low, since you could kill the reception completely by placing your fingers in the wrong spots on the phone. Moving your fingers or insulating the phone with a case would solve the problem, but people complained vocally nonetheless. Apple eventually redesigned the antenna to eliminate the problem.