The iPhone turns 15: A look at the past (and future) of one of the most influential devices of the 21st century

Today marks 15 years since Apple released its flagship iPhone. A decade and a half later, few products have achieved comparable brand recognition. Announced to an enthusiastic audience in 2007, the iPhone has revolutionized how we communicate and live daily.

The iPhone turns 15: A look at the past (and future) of one of the most influential devices of the 21st century

The iPhone was released in June 2007 in the United States and in November in six countries (notably Australia).

From the launch of Mac computers in the 1970s to the iPod in 2001, Apple knew how to appeal to its audience and encourage extraordinary hype at a product launch.

Early reviews for the iPhone were lauded almost everywhere, applauding Apple’s attention to detail and style. The only issue noted was network connectivity – a problem with slow speeds on carrier networks rather than with the device itself.

Consumer appreciation for the iPhone’s style was no surprise. It was indicative of an emerging trend towards smartphones with large format screens (but still reflecting the shape of a phone). The Nokia N95 was another example that came on the market in the same year.

The original iPhone offered Wi-Fi, supported 2G EDGE connectivity, and had internet download speeds of less than 500 Kbps (compared to rates of several Mbps today).

It was also limited to 4GB or 8GB models. This may sound pathetic compared to the 1TB options available today, but it’s enough to hold hundreds of songs or videos and was revolutionary then.

The iPhone 3G was rolled out worldwide in July 2008, with significantly improved data speeds and the addition of the Apple App Store. Although it only offered 500 apps at launch, the app store marked a significant improvement in phone functionality.

And just as users started to get used to 3G, it was replaced by the iPhone 3GS about a year later.

This cycle of regular product releases has been critical to Apple’s success. By regularly releasing updates (either through entire product iterations or more minor functionality improvements), Apple managed to attract an enthusiastic audience who looked forward to new releases every year.

Because older products were often passed down within families, Apple’s product pipeline helped it build a multi-generational user base. This pipeline remains in operation today.

The iPhone family has seen size, speed, and storage improvements throughout its 15-year history. Some of its “new” features weren’t necessarily new to the market, but Apple excelled at delivering them in highly integrated ways that “just worked” (as founder Steve Jobs would say).

In 2013, the iPhone 5S introduced Touch ID, allowing users to unlock their phones with fingerprints. Although this was first introduced with the Fujitsu F505i in 2003, Apple provided a robust feature implementation. Of course, enterprising individuals didn’t take long to learn how to get around the mechanism.

The iPhone 8, released in 2017, brought the Face ID feature. This still had weaknesses but was at least immune to being unlocked with a photo.

In addition to security, the iPhone series has also delivered year-over-year improvements in camera technology. While the original model had a meager two-megapixel camera, later models had multiple lenses, with resolution bumped up to 12 megapixels — a competitor to many digital cameras on the market.

Wireless charging was introduced with the iPhone 8 (although Samsung predated it back in 2011). And the iPhone X’s bezel-less design, released in 2017, is based on features found in the Sharp Aquos S2 the same year.

Still, the iPhone has not been without its problems. With the introduction of the iPhone 7 in 2016, the standard 3.5mm headphone jack was removed – and many weren’t happy.

While an adapter was initially provided for customers to connect their regular headphones, it was free for only about two years. Then it had to be bought. In 2016, there was evidence of a spike in wireless headset sales. Perhaps somewhat usefully, Apple launched its AirPods (wireless Bluetooth earbuds) simultaneously.

A similar change came in 2020 with the release of the iPhone 12. As consumers had many spare devices — and perhaps they were trying to follow the green agenda for reuse — Apple removed chargers from the unboxing experience.

Users still got a charging cable, but it was a USB Type-C to Lightning cable, whereas previous iPhone chargers would have a USB-A connector (the standard USB port).

The justification that iPhone users would have a box full of old chargers overlooked that none would likely support the newer and faster USB Type-C cable.

So you could use your old USB-A lightning cable and charger to charge your shiny new phone, but you’d be limited to slower charging speeds.

Suppose the past 15 years are anything to go by. In that case, the iPhone will likely continue with annual product releases (as we write this article, many will anticipate the iPhone 14 coming out later this year).

These models will likely bring improvements in speed, weight, battery life, camera resolution, and storage capacity. However, it is unlikely that we will see many groundbreaking innovations in the coming years.

The latest iPhones are already very advanced minicomputers, so there is little room for fundamental improvements.

Perhaps the most radical change is the shift from Apple’s lightning connection to US Type-C charging, thanks to a new European Union directive. And while a common standard for power connections is widely regarded as a positive move, Apple was unconvinced: We believe that regulations imposing harmonization of smartphone chargers would stifle rather than encourage innovation.

As display technologies evolve, Apple may move to the clam-shell phone design with a fully foldable screen.

Samsung has already brought this to market. But Apple, in truth, will likely wait for the technology (particularly the glass) to evolve to deliver an experience in line with what iPhone users have come to expect.

While we can’t predict what the iPhone will look like in 15 years (although some have tried), there will likely still be demand for Apple products, driven by Apple’s strong brand loyalty.

Lori J. Kile
I love to write and create. I love photography, design, travel and art. I am a full time freelance writer and photographer.I am very excited to be creating new content and opportunities for my readers.