The iPhone 7 has finally been unveiled, but it’s not the only iPhone we’ve been thinking about this fall. As The Cheat Sheet reported shortly after the launch of the iPhone 6s, a lot has changed since the first iPhone, or iPhone 1, as some fans refer to it. Most iPhone fans are aware of the major milestones along the way, like the App Store’s introduction with the iPhone 3G, the iPhone 3GS’s 3MP camera with video recording abilities, the first Retina display introduced with the iPhone 4, Siri’s debut on the iPhone 4s, and the switch to the Lightning Port on the iPhone 5. But we rarely talk in detail about the iPhone 1. What was the original iPhone like? What kind of technology and specs did it have? Even though the iPhone 1 has long been considered obsolete, it’s an interesting part of Apple history. Let’s take a look back at the iPhone that started it all.
iPhone 1: The features that changed everything
After years of rumors and speculation, Steve Jobs unveiled Apple’s first iPhone on January 9, 2007, at Macworld in San Francisco. As Peter Cohen reported for Macworld, Jobs said, “This is a day I’ve been looking forward to for two and a half years,” of the iPhone 1 launch at the keynote at the 2007 Macworld Expo. “Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything.” Jobs described the iPhone 1 as three revolutionary products in one: a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a mobile phone, and a breakthrough internet communications device. As Jobs told the audience, “These are not three separate devices. This is one device. And we are calling it iPhone. Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone.”
Jobs explained that while other smartphones available at the time offered phone features, email capability, and “the baby internet,” they were neither smart nor easy to use. According to Jobs, Apple wanted to “do a leapfrog product that’s way smarter than these phones and much easier to use.” And since Apple’s objective with the iPhone 1 was to reinvent the phone, the killer app for the first iPhone was making calls.
“It’s amazing how hard it is to make calls on phones. We want you to use contacts like never before.” To demonstrate how the iPhone 1 made it easier to make calls, Jobs touched the phone icon and scrolled through his contact list until he reached Jony Ive. Jobs called Ive, then Phil Schiller called Jobs, and Jobs merged the calls. The iPhone 1 could synchronize contacts from a Mac or PC, and also featured visual voicemail, which Jobs described as “random access voicemail” that enabled users to go directly to whatever message they wanted to hear.
How the software on the first iPhone “set a new bar” for the smartphone industry
Jobs described the operating system on iPhone 1 as a “solid foundation” that provided “multitasking, networking, power management, awesome security, and the right apps.” Syncing the iPhone via iTunes made tasks like loading your first iPhone with media, contacts, calendars, photos, notes, bookmarks, and e-mail accounts automatic. During the launch of the iPhone 1, Apple marketed the device as “running OS X.” Upon the release of the iPhone SDK, which enabled developers to create apps for the platform, the operating system was called iPhone OS.
The iPhone’s text messaging interface looked similar to iChat with threaded messaging, and reviewers raved about how the photo management app supported a pinching motion to zoom in and out of photos. The email app worked with any IMAP or POP-based email service, with push capabilities for Yahoo Mail, and Jobs boasted that Safari was the “first fully usable HTML browser on a phone.” Safari also supported the same pinching motion, which enabled users to zoom in and out of images on web pages.
The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg and Katherine Boehret reported that “despite some flaws and feature omissions, the iPhone is, on balance, a beautiful and breakthrough handheld computer.” They also wrote that the software of the iPhone 1 set “a new bar for the smart-phone industry.” With “intelligent voice calling, and a full-blown iPod, with a beautiful new interface for music and video playback,” the first iPhone also offered “the best Web browser we have seen on a smart phone, and robust email software.”
The virtual keyboard earned good reviews from skeptical tech columnists, though some complained about having to switch to a different keyboard view to insert a period or a comma. The Safari web browser was lauded for showing pages “in their real layout,” and enabling users to zoom easily with a gesture. Reviewers liked that the email software on the iPhone 1 showed a preview of each message, displayed photos automatically, and could open Word and Excel documents or PDF files.
iPhone 1 design: No keyboard, no stylus, no scroll wheel
The iPhone didn’t have a keyboard or a stylus, and instead used a multitouch display that could ignore unintended touches and support multi-finger gestures. The original iPhone featured a 3.5-inch display, a quad-band GSM radio, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, and support for Bluetooth 2.0. The device could also automatically switch from a data network to Wi-Fi, which many reviewers noted almost made up for the lack of a fast cellular capability.
The screen had a resolution of 160 dots per inch, among the largest and highest-resolution of any smartphones available at the time, and the device had a small Home button. The first iPhone measured 11.6mm thick, which Jobs claimed was thinner than any other smartphone on the market. Nonetheless, many reviewers noted that the device felt solid and comfortable. One one side, the iPhone 1 had a ring/silent switch, plus volume up and down controls. On the back side of the phone, there was a 2MP camera. Along the bottom of the phone, Apple placed a speaker, a microphone, and the iPod dock connector (also known as Apple’s proprietary 30-pin connector).
The iPhone 1 was also equipped with a proximity sensor, which automatically deactivated the screen and turned off the touch sensor when you raised the phone to your face. An ambient light sensor could adjust brightness levels according to the current lighting conditions, and an accelerometer could tell when you switched from holding the phone in portrait orientation to landscape mode.
Because there were no dedicated hardware buttons either for calling functionality or music playback, reviewers and users had to grow accustomed to the idea of tapping on the touchscreen to navigate to those features. For instance, the fact that the first iPhone had all of the features of a regular iPod, but not that device’s traditional scroll wheel, took some adjustment for some users. Instead of using the scroll wheel, reviewers had to get used to using “finger taps and flicking” to move through collections of music, and using virtual controls for all of the iPhone’s features.
Specifications of the first iPhone: Battery life, price, and availability
The iPhone 1 featured a battery that offered up to five hours of talk time, video playback, or web browsing, or 16 hours of audio playback. That may not sound like a whole lot compared to the iPhone 7, which gets 12 hours of LTE browsing or 14 hours of Wi-Fi browsing, but the original iPhone also preceded the launch of Instagram, Snapchat, and all of the apps that regularly eat up your phone’s battery life. Mossberg reported that in his experience, the iPhone’s battery generally lasted all day “with a typical mix of tasks.”
The device cost $499 with a two-year contract for a model with 4GB of memory, or $599 for an 8GB model. Cingular (now AT&T), the North American carrier that had sold iTunes-equipped phones from Motorola, was Apple’s exclusive service partner. That was OK if you had great coverage on the carrier’s network, but the iPhone couldn’t run on AT&T’s fastest cellular data network, and instead used a network called EDGE that was much slower than the fastest networks from Verizon or Sprint.
Cingular offered monthly calling plans for the iPhone 1 with unlimited internet and email usage, at price points ranging from $60 to $220 depending on the number of minutes included. Shoppers who bought the iPhone didn’t choose their plans and activate their phones in the store, and instead did so when they first connected their iPhones to iTunes. Jobs explained that Cingular worked with Apple to develop the visual voicemail technology, which Jobs described as the “first fruit” of the companies’ collaboration.
Speaking of collaboration, there was a time when Apple wasn’t afraid to integrate Google services into its own products. While announcing the first iPhone, Jobs demonstrated how Google Maps worked on the new device. He searched for Starbucks, zoomed in to a location, and then prank-called a nearby San Francisco Starbucks and ordered 4,000 lattes to go, a prank that Apple fans repeated countless times over the years, according to CIO.
Google chief executive Eric Schmidt then joined Jobs on stage, congratulating Apple for the iPhone’s introduction. Schmidt said that the iPhone lets companies like Apple and Google “merge without merging,” to create a “seamless environment.” As we look back on that exchange from the vantage point of the years-long rivalry between iOS and Android, it’s easy to see how much things have changed.
As Time reports, the first iPhone was sold on a first come, first served basis, and was limited to two per customer. On September 10, only 74 days after the iPhone launched, Apple announced that it had sold more than 1 million iPhones. Fast forward nine years, and Apple announced that it had sold its billionth iPhone, and is gearing up to introduce a 10th-anniversary model for which fans already have high expectations.