Back from the EDGE - a look at the evolution of the iPhone

With the Apple iPhone 5 on deck, we look back at how the iconic smartphone line has evolved

iPhone
What a short, strange trip it's been

The first iPhone was released in 2007, and -- like every subsequent device in the series -- was hailed as revolutionary. That AT&T EDGE network-only 2007 iPhone, however, bore little resemblance to the iPhone 4S (and upcoming iPhone 5) beyond the physical. We take a look at just how far the device has come in five years.

PAST: Apple's early iPhone prototypes

FUTURE: Apple issues formal iPhone 5 invites

original iPhone
Credit: Wikipedia
In the beginning ...

It should go without saying that the original iPhone wasn't nearly as well-equipped in the hardware department as its successors and rivals. With a 32-bit underclocked processor chugging along at all of 412MHz and just 128MB of RAM, the iPhone had a lot of horsepower for its time -- but very little for the present day.

iPhone EDGE
Speed, please?

Although the original iPhone boasted 802.11b/g Wi-Fi connectivity, it was limited to the most basic of cellular data services -- for Internet access, it was AT&T's 75Kbps to 135Kbps EDGE network or bust.

iPhone 4
Credit: Macworld
No carrier choices

Rightly or wrongly, AT&T exclusivity was seen for a long time as a chief downfall of the earliest model iPhones. The iPhone wasn't available on any other carrier until January 2011, when Verizon announced that it would sell the iPhone 4. Sprint got access to both the iPhone 4 and 4S in October.

iPhone built-in apps
Credit: Apple
Apps?

These days, Apple is justly proud of its App Store, which offers about 650,000 third-party applications that greatly expand the iPhone's functionality. It's interesting to note, however, that the original iPhone had exactly zero third-party apps available at launch -- users could only use the basic apps that came with the phone. Version 2.0 of what was then called iPhone OS introduced new application functionality a year after release.

Jon Stewart iPhone
Zeitgeist

While the original iPhone looks badly dated by today's standards, Apple sold 6.1 million of the devices in its first five quarters on the market. Moreover, the iPhone quickly became a part of popular culture, even making an appearance at the 2008 Oscars, in the hands of "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart.

iPhone 3G
Credit: Wikipedia
3G!

The iPhone 3G (the all-plastic model on the right), launched in July 2008, added little besides 3G connectivity and GPS to the base design, but Apple broadened the device's international availability and priced it more aggressively, leading to huge sales increases. Nearly 7 million 3Gs were sold during its first three months on the market.

iPhone 3GS
Credit: Wikipedia
3GS!

The iPhone 3GS hit the market in June 2009, with the first major upgrade of the iPhone's internals. Doubling memory and upping the processor speed to 600MHz helped improve the device's performance, and for the first time, video recording was made a standard feature.

iPhone 4
The iPhone 4 cometh

With a redesigned form factor, further internal improvement and impressive Retina display, the iPhone 4 hit the market with a bang in summer 2010. A controversy over antenna design -- some customers complained that holding the phone in a certain way ruined cellular reception -- did little to stem appetite for the iPhone 4, which sold 3 million units in its opening weekend alone.

iPhone 4S
Credit: AdWeek
Today: The iPhone 4S

Another relatively incremental upgrade, the iPhone 4S was launched the day before the untimely passing of Steve Jobs, in early October 2011. Its most notable feature is Siri -- the voice recognition-based "assistant" which can be used to perform some basic tasks on the phone.

iPhone 5
So what's next?

There's no shortage of speculation about what the upcoming iPhone 5's feature set might look like, but one thing seems pretty clear -- it won't look much like that of the original iPhone. With experts predicting another cutting-edge display, top-of-the-line internals and 4G/LTE connectivity, the iPhone 5 looks certain to be Apple's next massive driver of profits.