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The Apple iPhone at 5: a potted history

David Price | July 3, 2012
The iPhone is five years old today. That's right: it was only five years ago that Steve Jobs turned the technology world upside down with his company's take on the smartphone. It feels like it's been around forever.

15 July 2010: Apple addresses 'antennagate'

Apple tackled the problem head on, holding a press conference where it argued that

a) Not many users were affected: "0.55% of all iPhone customers have called AppleCare with an antenna issue. The data leads you to the conclusion that it's been blown so out of proportion, it's incredible."

b) It was a problem that was common to all smartphones: "Phones aren't perfect, and it's a challenge for the entire industry. This happens to all phones. We haven't found a way around the laws of physics... yet." (Can I just add that this may be the most gloriously cheeky use of the word 'yet' in history?)

c) But Apple was taking the situation seriously: "We want to find out what the real problem is before starting to work on solutions. So we've been working our butts off to come up with real solutions. And today we want to share with you what we've learned."

d) One 'solution' was to change the algorithm that controlled the signal bar display, which Steve Jobs claimed was making users think there was a problem when there actually wasn't: "We had incorrect bars, so when it did drop, the drop looked far more catastrophic than it really was. We've released iOS 4.0.1, which fixes the wrong formula for bars."

e) But most importantly, the antenna problem (where it really did exist) could be alleviated, if not entirely fixed, by the use of a 'bumper' case. And Apple would give these away for free, or refund anyone who had paid for one already. And if people still weren't satisfied, they could return their iPhones for a refund.

Despite the aggressive tackling of the problem, the iPhone 4 is still remembered as the antennagate iPhone. But an exceptionally popular phone for all that. Apple pointed out at the press conference that it had sold well over 3 million iPhone 4s since it launched 3 weeks previously.

4 October 2011: iPhone 4S is announced

June came and went with no word on the next iPhone, and speculation went through the roof about what many of us assumed would be called the 'iPhone 5'. (It now seems unlikely we'll ever see a product with that name, if Apple's policy with the third-gen iPad is any indication.)

Eventually a press conference was called, the first iPhone event to be compered by Tim Cook, who had taken over from Steve Jobs after his health-related resignation.

The 4S was physically almost identical to the iPhone 4, but saw extensive incremental updates internally.

The new A5 processor was far faster and allowed for vastly improved graphics and gaming. (Apple claimed it allowed the 4S to process graphics seven times faster.) The rear-facing camera was significantly improved to an impressive 8Mp (although some were saddened that the front-facing camera remained a weedy 0.3Mp) and Apple added Siri, a voice-activated 'personal assistant' feature that turned out to be odd, quirkily humorous and not always practical - especially in this country, where local business search was among the features that didn't work. But it also caught the imagination and struck many users as something that would blossom in the future.


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