The History and Impact of the iPhone: FIDM Graphic Design Student Airi Minami Reports

Editor’s Note: Every quarter at FIDM/Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, students of various majors are challenged to focus on a famous design or designer to assess its historical impact on culture and the design community in History of Design class taught by Alex Gardos. In the report below, FIDM Graphic Design Student Airi Minami reports on the history and evolution of Apple’s iconic iPhone. A loyal Apple consumer, Minami was the proud owner of the first generation iPhone which debuted in 2009. Her feelings reflect those of many avid Apple fans whose brand loyalty is largely attributed to the company’s attention to design. 

The iPhone: one of the greatest inventions in the history of mobile devices, practically needs no introduction. With a sleek, simple and elegant design, the Apple device is now one of the most commonly used, and sold, phone throughout the entire world.

“iPhone is a revolutionary and magical product that is literally five years ahead of any mobile phone,” said Steve Jobs. “We are all born with the ultimate pointing device– our fingers– and iPhone uses them to create the most revolutionary user interface since the mouse.”

History and impact of Apple iPhone by FIDM Graphic Design Student.

History and impact of Apple iPhone by FIDM Graphic Design Student.

The first concept for an iPhone type device came about in the year 2000 when Apple worker John Casey sent some concept art around via email called the Telipod – a telephone and iPod combination (which is now known as the iPhone). It was Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder and former CEO, who directed Apple’s engineers to develop a touch screen mobile phone. Apple’s head of design, Jonathan Ive is mainly credited with the design and look of the iPhone. It was the first smartphone that had no hard, physical keypad for dialing. It was entirely a touchscreen device, and this technology was groundbreaking with multi-touch controls allowing you to not only select, but also scroll and zoom. According to Apple, the iPhone also introduced the accelerometer, a motion sensor that allowed you to turn the phone sideways and rotate the display. It was also the first device to have apps or software add-ons. It was the first smartphone to manage the apps market successfully. This concept of the iPhone cost Apple $150 million in initial development costs (gdgt, “iPhone 1st-gen”).

The first iPhone that was released on July 29, 2007 was initially sold for $499 for the 4GB and $599 for the 8GB model on contract. It was the fastest selling smartphone of all time, selling three million units by the end of 2007. About 40 percent of iPhone buyers were also new to AT&T, and the iPhone has tripled the carrier’s volume of data traffic in cities like New York and San Francisco. The height of the first iPhone was 4.5 inches, width 2.4 inches, weighed 4.8 ounces with a phenomenal (at the time) 400-MHz processor, 128 MB of memory, 2-megapixel camera, 3.5-inch display with 320 by 480 resolution, and up to 16 gigabytes of built in storage (Mangalindan, “The iPhone Debuts”).

I was fortunate enough to obtain the iPhone since the very first model, and this was unquestionably an immense change from the previous phones that I had used. Previously, I had an unlocked Japanese black Vodaphone flip phone that had a 1.2 megapixel camera with video recording, voice recording, and three games that were included by default. The iPhone, by contrast, was an mp3 player, a video player, a phone, a gaming device, an alarm clock, a calculator, Internet– everything that you could possibly need. It was like having a computer in your pocket.

With so few people owning smartphones or touch-screen phones during the 2006-2007 period, the ability to use the Internet in the palm of your hand was definitely a big deal. When I had started using the first generation iPhone in public, many people would comment or stare at the phone in amazement, even though it was very similar in appearance to the first iPod Touch.

This attention was also due in part because the design of the phone was also very attractive. It consisted of a two-tone back that was mostly made out of aluminum with skinny plastic control buttons. This immaculate design made the iPhone one of the most attractive phones on the market. This first generation iPhone was announced “Gadget of the Year” (Sloane, “1st Generation iPhone). The only problem with the first iPhone that I had experienced was that standard, regular earphones would not fit into the stereo jack. I had to use either the earphones that came with the iPhone, or earphones that were made specifically for the first generation iPhone. Despite all the features, the attractiveness and the capabilities of the phone, it was still very expensive and considered more of a luxury item, which is why not many people were seen with the iPhone at this time.

First generation iPhone vs. iPhone 3G. History and impact of Apple iPhone by FIDM Graphic Design Student.

First generation iPhone vs. iPhone 3G. History and impact of Apple iPhone by FIDM Graphic Design Student.

iPhone 3G

The second iPhone, the iPhone 3G, released on July 11, 2008, consisted of a completely different design. Apple presents two options for color: black or white. The company states that the back also changed from aluminum two-tone, to plastic. The height was 4.5 inches, width 2.4 inches, and weighed 4.7 ounces (0.1 ounce lighter than the previous). The camera was kept the same at 2.0 megapixels, and the capacity increased to 8GB or 16GB. The three biggest changes for this model were: 1) all standard stereo earphones or headphones were now designed to fit so users did not have to buy headphones or earphones specifically for the iPhone; 2) 3G capability, meaning faster web browsing and video playback on a 3G connection; and 3) the price of the phone on contract. The price was drastically reduced to $199 for an 8GB and $299 for a 16GB on a two-year contract.

I did not see that much improvement in the overall performance in this model. There were also two new apps: the contacts which takes you to your phone book, and the App Store app that opens up the iTunes App Store.

First generation iPhone vs. iPhone 3G. History and impact of Apple iPhone by FIDM Graphic Design Student.

First generation iPhone vs. iPhone 3G. History and impact of Apple iPhone by FIDM Graphic Design Student.

iPhone 3GS

The third iPhone, the iPhone 3GS was released to the public on June 19, 2009. The appearance of the 3GS does not look any different from the 3G; same height and width specifications, but the weight increases a little bit to 4.8 ounces. The talk time on the 3GS on 2G had increased from 10 hours to 12 hours, Internet use on Wi-Fi has increased from six hours to nine hours, and video and audio playback has also increased by several hours. However, the “S” on the 3GS stands for speed, and according to Apple, it was faster at launching applications or rendering web pages. It had a new processor built in and was two times faster than the previous generation. As a result of multiple tests, launching messages is 2.1 faster, and Safari as 2.9 times faster with the 3GS. It also consumed less, which has an impact on the improved battery life.

The camera was also improved in the iPhone 3GS with the increased resolution to three megapixels with auto focus, auto exposure, and auto white balance. There was also a “tap to focus” feature, adjustable white balance, and special macro and low light modes. Voice control was also included where you can now talk with your iPhone and tell it to play songs or call people. The price has also decreased again, $199 for a 16GB model black or white, and $299 for a 32 GB iPhone 3GS.
In this model, I did see a drastic improvement and difference in the overall performance. Safari and messaging was definitely a lot faster than the first generation iPhone and the 3G, and the camera was clearly better than any of the previous models as well. The new features on the camera such as the auto focus, auto exposure and auto white balance made the overall quality of the pictures remarkably improved.

iPhone 3GS. History and impact of Apple iPhone by FIDM Graphic Design Student.

iPhone 3GS. History and impact of Apple iPhone by FIDM Graphic Design Student.

iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S

The fourth iPhone, the iPhone 4 was released on June 24, 2010. The dimensions consisted of: height 4.54 inches, width 2.31 inches and weighing 4.83 ounces. It is also 25% thinner than the previous models, and now consists of an all-glass front and back. It has a retina display, with four times the pixel density of a typical LCD display at 326 pixels per inch. Apple states that this 3.5-inch display was denser than anything else in the consumer electronics market with a resolution of 960 by 640 pixels.

This model of the iPhone has two cameras: an internal and an external camera. The Facetime video calling feature was also added with the iPhone 4’s internal camera feature. Apple’s specifications state that the exterior camera consists of a five megapixel camera, 2592 x 1936 pixels, autofocus, LED flash and 720p@30fps video recording. The iPhone 4 also features an Apple-designed A4 CPU chip, which improved power management and manages 40 percent more talk time on 3G networks (up to seven hours), or up to six hours of 3G-web browsing, or ten hours of Wi-Fi browsing. It can play up to ten hours of video, 40 hours of music, and a standby time of up to 300 hours. The price of the iPhone remains the same: $199 for a 16GB black or white and $299 for a 32 GB on a two-year contract.
This design is probably my favorite out of all of the iPhone models. Although it is not the lightest in weight with the glass material, the front-facing and external camera and the overall design is very elegant. The front-facing camera was well expected after the first three iPhone models with only exterior cameras. To be honest it was “about time” that Apple had released the front-facing camera with their iPhone, especially because it was such a high demand. The camera is also increased by two megapixels compared to the 3GS with a five-megapixel camera, producing improved and exceptional photos than previous models.
Following the iPhone 4, the iPhone 4S was released on October 14, 2011. The heaviest model yet, weighing 4.94 ounces, and the dimensions remaining the same: height 4.52 inches, width 2.31 inches. The 4S has a new system chip called the Apple A5 processor, which makes the 4S twice as fast as the iPhone 4. Apple advertised that it also has an improved data speed at up to 14.4 Mbps download, and an eight megapixel camera, with improved color fidelity and sharpness, better whites, a new light sensor, and faster shutter speed. The camera is a significant change, with a three-megapixel upgrade than the iPhone 4, and includes a 1080p HD video recording with image stabilization. (Holly, “iPhone 5 vs iPhone 4S”). The prices again, on contract stayed the same with $199 for a 16GB, $299 for a 32GB, and $399 for a 64GB.

The iPhone 4S also introduces Siri voice recognition, a voice-activated app that allows users to take action on their phone by speaking to it. Apple states that Siri can understand not just basic commands, but also the expressions that are common to human speech.

Despite the numerous amounts of advertisements for the new Siri voice recognition app on the iPhone 4S, it was not the greatest app invented. It did not recognize certain words sometimes, and it would glitch occasionally. Unless the consumer is constantly in-need of a hands-free way to text or have someone read messages aloud, I found that not many people used Siri with the iPhone 4S.

iPhone 4S. History and impact of Apple iPhone by FIDM Graphic Design Student.

iPhone 4S. History and impact of Apple iPhone by FIDM Graphic Design Student.

iPhone 5

The iPhone 5, released on September 28, 2012, adds everything customers wanted in the iPhone 4S: 4G LTE, a larger retina display screen, free GPS navigation system, and a faster A6 processor. The dimensions of the body of the iPhone 5 consist of a 4.87-inch height, 2.31-inch width, and 0.30-inch depth, and weighing only 3.95 ounces. Apple used an aluminum body (same as the MacBook laptops) instead of glass to lighten the mobile device drastically and gave the phone a two-tone look, a nod to the original first generation iPhone.

The iPhone 5 also supports additional wireless standards like LTE and DC-HSDPA. These additional standards allow for faster browsing, downloading, and streaming content. It incorporates dual-band 802.11, which provides for up to a 150 Mbps wireless connection. The A6 chip boosts performance and power use, which means a stronger chip, longer battery life, and faster loading webpages/downloading. The camera megapixel did not change; it remained 8 megapixels. However, new features such as the sapphire-crystal lens, dynamic low-lighting adjustment, panorama photos, face detection, and geo-tagging were added. The front-facing camera has been upgraded to 720p, so both still pictures and recording video on the inside camera is improved. The charging cables have also changed with the iPhone 5. It is a lot smaller and thinner compared to the charging cables of the previous five models. The charger for the iPhone 5 is reversible, and also very easy to remove. The prices remained the same, on contract.

The weight of the iPhone 5 is simply phenomenal, especially after using the previous five-iPhone models that weighed almost five ounces. I liked the design of the 4 and the 4S, but it definitely cannot beat the lightness of the iPhone 5. Putting a near five-ounce phone in your pocket definitely weighs it down tremendously. The reversible charger that Apple had redesigned is also unique and smart, because previously, you had to put the charging cable in the correct way. Although it may not be a considerable deal to add that feature, it caught my attention.

History and impact of Apple iPhone by FIDM Graphic Design Student.

History and impact of Apple iPhone by FIDM Graphic Design Student.

iPhone 5C

In 2013, Apple surprised consumers with the release of two new iPhones: the iPhone 5S, and the iPhone 5C. This was utterly surprising because with the iPhone 5C release, Apple decided to discontinue the iPhone 5 that had only been released for a year.

The iPhone 5S has several new features such as Touch ID, A7 chip, M7 coprocessor, iSight eight megapixel camera, front facing HD camera, LTE wireless, and three colors consisting of gray, silver, and gold. Apple lists every specification clearly, elegantly, and efficiently on their websites, advertisements, and videos.
Touch ID is a brand new feature that unlocks the phone by putting your finger on the home button. Apple states that it is convenient, and one of the securest ways to access your phone. The fingerprint can also approve purchases from the iTunes store, App store, and iBooks store, which replace the password. It also is capable of 360-degree readability, which means that no matter what orientation your finger is in, the iPhone will read your fingerprint. The A7 chip makes it twice as fast as the A6 chip, and makes the iPhone 5S the first 64-bit smartphone in the world. The camera has also upgraded with larger sensors, larger pixels, larger aperture, filters, square photos, panorama photos, continuous burst mode- meaning you can take multiple shots at once, white LED and amber LED flash, image stabilization, and slow motion video features. The pricing for the iPhone 5S is $199 for the 16 GB, $299 for the 32 GB, and $399 for the 64 GB on a two year contract.

The brand new iPhone 5C that took everybody by surprise is a colorful, plastic iPhone that comes in five colors: blue, green, pink, yellow and white. It is 4.90 inches in height, 2.33 inches in width, 0.35 inches in depth, and weighs 4.65 ounces. It includes an Apple A6 chip, which is the same as the iPhone 5, and the same eight-megapixel camera. It has the some of the same camera features as the iPhone 5S such as filters, square photos, and panorama photos. It also records 1080p HD videos with zoom features, and an HD front-facing camera. The biggest difference between the 5S and the 5C: the price. The 5C is only $99 for the 16 GB model, and $199 for the 32 GB model on a two-year contract. It does not come with a 64 GB option unlike the iPhone 5S.

iPhone 5 and iPhone 5C. History and impact of Apple iPhone by FIDM Graphic Design Student.

iPhone 5 and iPhone 5C. History and impact of Apple iPhone by FIDM Graphic Design Student.

Apple is an extremely smart company and is very successful with the iPhone beginning from the first generation model. The very first generation sold 700,000 within the first weekend it was released (Riley, “iPhone Weekend One…”). According to the article, Apple is said to have sold out of iPhones in 95 of 164 stores and AT&T had nearly depleted its entire stock. Within the first iPhone, the report quotes American Technology Research predicting that the iPhone would likely be AT&T’s fastest ever selling product, and that the iPhone could rank among the fastest-selling consumer electronic devices of all time, which is definitely the impression that I have. Since AT&T had reduced their on-two-year-contract prices of the iPhone, I have seen iPhones everywhere. Since the release of the iPhone 3G when I was in high school, I noticed a large amount of people bragging about their “brand new iPhones” in class. Since then, every year when the new iPhone was released, I saw an increase in the number of people who had iPhones.

History and impact of Apple iPhone by FIDM Graphic Design Student.

History and impact of Apple iPhone by FIDM Graphic Design Student.

This chart in the article “CHART OF THE DAY: The Case Against Apple In One Chart” by Jay Yarrow displays a considerably accurate estimate of Apple’s sales for their iPhone next year. I have been loyal to Apple products since I had purchased the company’s very first iPod. From then on, I have always purchased the new iPhone, the new MacBook, the new iPod, etc. I find that this is similar with many of the people that use Apple products, which is incredibly interesting. Not many people use the iPhone, and then switch to a different smartphone such as Samsung, or Android. I know several people that have done the opposite, switching from an Android to an iPhone, but hardly ever the other way around. The elegant and simple design of the iPhone and the features of the iPhone is very difficult to dislike, which I believe is how Apple does remarkably well in obtaining and keeping their loyal customers.

The company’s head designer, Jonathan Ive, has been responsible for leading a design team widely regarded as “one of the world’s best” according to Apple. He holds a Bachelor of Arts and an honorary doctorate from Newcastle Polytechnic. In 2003, he was named Designer of the Year by the Design Museum London and awarded the title Royal Designer for Industry by The Royal Society of Arts (Molina, “The Core of Apple Design). Jonathan Ive is undeniably successful with the design of the iPhone since the first generation model. I certainly did not expect a gadget that combined a mobile phone with an iPod touch, which is the reason it caught the public’s attention. With the release of a new and improved iPhone consistently every year, it definitely continues to increase in sales every year.
The current iPhone that I own is the iPhone 5S. I have the 32 GB in silver/white, and I am very satisfied with the overall design and improvements in this model of the iPhone. Apple listens to customer requests and constantly continues to update their iOS, which I think is another reason why Apple is so successful. In the previous iOS, there was no feature enabling to conveniently and quickly access the brightness, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, alarm clock, flashlight, or calculator, which are some of the most accessed apps on the phone. Apple took these requests into consideration, and added a quick access feature by swiping your finger up from any application to access these features. For a company to be successful, it is incredibly critical to listen to your customers and respond to their feedback.
The overall design of the iPhone is elegant and simple every year; the design does not change excessively, which is another method I believe they use to keep their consistent sales. Although they may not change the style and shape of the iPhone extensively, many of the current iPhone users prefer the traditional design standards. As an avid Apple product user, I look forward to seeing what’s next in iPhone design.

History and impact of Apple iPhone by FIDM Graphic Design Student.

History and impact of Apple iPhone by FIDM Graphic Design Student.

Works Cited

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Author: Mani O'Brien

Mani O’Brien is the Online Editor for the FIDMDigitalArts Blog and the Social Media Marketing Manager for FIDM/Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in print journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communications at Arizona State University in 2006, and Associate of Arts degree in Graphic Design (Professional Designation) at FIDM in 2010. When she’s not brainstorming social media marketing ideas or writing about the graphic design and digital media, she enjoys practicing yoga, reading magazines, and hanging out with friends and family in Los Angeles.

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