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A Look Back At Five Years of iPhone

CBSMiami – Five years ago today, at exactly 6 p.m. in each time zone, the original Apple iPhone went on sale in the United States. At the time I was outside the Apple store in downtown San Francisco witnessing tech history being made. And even though I've been to scores of other product launches since June 29, 2007, I can still recall the day vividly.

Editors' note: This story was originally published on June 29, 2011, but has been updated with the iPhone 4S.

The sidewalk in front of the Stockton Streetstore that evening was absolutely mobbed and a line of eager buyers stretched around the corner and out of sight. Indeed, as I was waiting to pick up our review model, I was nearly flattened against the store's glass wall when the enormous crowd began to surge toward the entrance.

Finally, as the magic hour struck and the doors opened, a line of applauding employees welcomed the first buyers. The line began to cheer "iPhone!, iPhone!" and a few minutes the first guy exited with his handset held high. I quickly sneaked inside to pick mine up and then hurried back to CNET's office with Donald Bell for a long night of writing the review (relive our review in real time!). Yet, that was after Brian Cooley got to take it out of the box on video.

Of course, you know what happened next. A worldwide sensation was born and the smartphone industry has never been the same. Four more models followed, competitors rushed to counter Apple's moves, and the smartphone moved from the hands of high-powered execs into the hands of everyday consumers.

A year later Android emerged as a powerful foe, while RIM and Palm began to crumble under the iOS onslaught. Windows Phone may still make it big, but the iPhone's worldwide appeal shows no signs of slowing. So now, as we again wait through the summer for a possible iPhone 5 (the company moved to a new release schedule with the iPhone 4), join me to a look back at all the iPhones that Apple has grown.

Now, five years and five iPhones later, Apple continues to make its mark in the smartphone world.


Release date: June 29, 2007

Original cost: $499 (4GB) or $599 (8GB). Applekilled the 4GB model two months later and added a 16GB version ($499) in February 2008.

Colors: It was the only model (so far) to feature a silver metal backing.

What made it special? It's not stretching the truth to say that iPhone's new and completely intuitive interface revolutionized the smartphone user experience and made it accessible to any kind of user.

With no keyboard and just one physical button (apart from the volume rocker), the big and bright touch screen was the access point for all user commands. It was light years away from operating systems like Windows Mobile and it taught us such concepts as swiping, double tapping, and pinch-and-zoom multitouch. The iPod feature was the best integration of a music player we'd seen on a phone, and the Safari browser finally made mobile browsing tolerable.

And what didn't: The iPhone lacked many features found on basic handsets, like multimedia messaging, stereo Bluetooth, video recording, and photo-editing features. The battery wasn't (and still isn't) user-replaceable, the handset was stuck on EDGE, memory was small for a music player, you couldn't sync music over the air, and Exchange support was missing. And worst of all, the uneven call quality spawned a new national pastime: complaining about AT&T.

CNET review bottom line: Despite some important missing features, a slow data network, and call quality that doesn't always deliver, the Apple iPhone sets a new benchmark for an integrated cell phone and MP3 player.

iPhone 3G

Release date: July 11, 2008

Original cost: $199 (8GB) and $299 (16GB)

Colors and design: Available in white and black, this model featured a thinner silver rim, tapered edges, and a curved back. Unfortunately, the latter change meant that the handset wobbled when you laid it on a table.

What made it special? Honestly, we still think that the 3G should have been the first model released. Indeed, it offered several advantages over its predecessor, including a cheaper price tag, Exchange support, access to the App Store, 3G, Assisted-GPS, and music purchases over Wi-Fi. There also were a host of other welcome changes to the operating system, like contacts search and bulk delete and move.

And what didn't: Though call quality was somewhat improved, it still had its faults and people soon learned that AT&T's 3G network would stagger under the data load. The 2-megapixel camera was unchanged, while multitasking, multimedia messaging, stereo Bluetooth, a landscape keyboard, video recording, cut and paste, and voice dialing were still missing (most of these features would come the next March through iOS 3). Apple also killed home activation.

CNET review bottom line: The iPhone 3G delivers on its promises by adding critical features and sharper call quality. The iTunes App Store is pretty amazing, and the 3G support is more than welcome. Critical features still are missing, and the battery depletes quickly under heavy use, but the iPhone 3G is a big improvement over the original model.

iPhone 3GS

Release date: June 19, 2009

Original cost: $199 (16GB) and $299 (32GB). Finally we got a 32GB model.

Colors and design: The 3GS's design was almost unchanged from the iPhone 3G and it also came in white or black. It did, however, add a fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating to the display.

What made it special? The changes were small for the most part, but still welcome. Outside of a faster processor (hence the "S" in "iPhone 3GS") you gained voice control, a compass, accessibility features, Nike+ iPod integration, and all the benefits of iOS 3 (though we had to wait longer for MMS). The camera resolution also increased to 3 megapixels, and Apple added video recording and a useful tap-to-zoom feature.

And what didn't: Voice and data quality were the same, we still didn't have a flash for the camera, and multitasking remained absent at a time when many competing devices offered it.

CNET review bottom line: The iPhone 3GS doesn't make the same grand leap that the iPhone 3G made from the first-generation model, but the latest Apple handset is still a compelling upgrade for some users. The iPhone 3GS is faster and we appreciate the new features and extended battery life, but call quality and 3G reception still need improvement.

iPhone 4

Release date: June 24, 2010

Original cost: $199 (16GB) or $299 (32GB)

Colors and design: Again, you could get it in black and white, though the latter didn't go on saleuntil almost a year later. The design was almost completely new, with sharper edges, a more rectangular shape, and a flat glass covering on the back side. A new antenna also circled the full exterior, which would quickly prove to be problematic.

What made it special? Actually, there was quite a lot to like. It offered the biggest upgrade yet, starting with the benefits of iOS 4. Among other things, that software update brought multitasking, home-screen folders and wallpaper, e-mail improvements, a camera zoom, an enhanced Universal Search, geolocation, text-message search, and a better spell check.

The new design also delivered a 5-megapixel camera, a front-facing VGA shooter, a camera flash, a three-axis gyroscope, the superior Retina Display, and FaceTime video calling. We also got longer battery life and sharper AT&T call quality, at least when we could make a call.

And what didn't: Even before the device went on sale, users and reviewers started complaining that the design of the antenna was causing serious issues with call and data quality. As CNET later found, reception would cut out if you touched a gap in the antenna on the phone's left side. Apple denied that there was anything wrong at first, but it issued a software update and called a press conference three weeks later to address the concerns over what it called "antennagate." Though CEO Steve Jobs continued to deflect criticism of the handset's design, Apple issued free cases for a limited time. Those cases, or even a piece of tape over the gap, solved the attenuation problems.

Multitasking, though welcome, entailed some trade-offs, and FaceTime was available only over W-Fi. Also, our hopes for a 64GB model were dashed.

CNET review bottom line: With the iPhone 4, Apple again shows that it is a powerful player in the smartphone wars. It won't be for everyone, the call quality and reception vary if you don't use a case, and AT&T's network remains a sticking point, but the handset's striking design, loaded feature set, and generally agreeable performance make it the best iPhone yet.

Verizon iPhone 4

Release date: February 10, 2011

Original cost: $199 (16GB) or $299 (32GB)

Colors and design: Almost identical to the AT&T model, though Apple moved the ringer mute switch on the left side slightly closer to the volume controls.

What made it special: Though essentially the same as the AT&T handset, Verizon added a wireless hot spot feature for up to five devices. AT&T later added that feature as well, but AT&T limited the number of devices it could support to three.

In our tests, Verizon's model offered improved call quality and data performance. To hear how the phones compare, check out the voice quality sample comparison.

And what didn't: Because of the way Verizon's CDMA technology operates, Big Red's phone can't support simultaneous voice and data. That's means you can't stay on a call and locate a restaurant's location on Google Maps at the same time. Also, the handset is not dual-mode (CDMA/GSM), so coverage outside ofNorth America is limited.

CNET review bottom line: The Verizon iPhone 4 has much in common with its AT&T counterpart, but varying features and different performance give it enough room to stand apart. It won't vastly change your iPhone experience, but we welcome the consumer choice that it brings.

iPhone 4S

Release date: October 14, 2011

Original cost: $199 (16GB), $299 (32GB), or $399 (64GB)

Colors and design: Outside of some internal modifications to the antenna and a different location for the ambient light sensor, no changes from the iPhone 4.

What made it special: For the first time the iPhone came to Sprint (AT&T and Verizon got it, as well). What's more, we finally got a 64GB model. New features included the Siri voice assistant, a faster dual-core processor, and an 8-megapixel camera. The 4S also was the first iPhone to come integrated with iOS 5, which brought changes like a long-awaited notifications center, iMessage, camera editing controls, Twitter integration, and wireless software updates and device activations.

And what didn't: The iPhone 4S wasn't the 4G we hoped and the 3.5-inch screen size was unchanged even as most rival Android devices crept above the 4-inch mark.

CNET review bottom line: The iPhone 4S isn't the king of cell phones, but it's part of the royal family nonetheless. Even without 4G and a giant screen, this phone's smart(ass) voice assistant, Siri, the benefits of iOS 5, and its spectacular camera make it a top choice for anyone ready to upgrade.

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