iPhone: 2007 – 2014

I remember June 29, 2007 like it was yesterday. I called the Apple Store, asked the Apple Store employee whether the iPhone was in stock, and upon confirmation that there were iPhones in stock drove to Valley Fair. I waited for maybe ten minutes, charged an enormous amount of money to my credit card, and walked out with an iPhone. Up until that point the only portable gadget I have wanted as badly was a Sony Walkman.

Six months prior to that day I was in San Francisco, and watched Steve Jobs introduce to the iPhone. At the time smartphones were run by Windows Mobile 6.x or Palm OS. Windows Mobile 6.x was the desktop version of Windows shrunk to fit a tiny screen. There were nested menus! It didn’t take too long for me to ditch the Windows Mobile 6.x-based Motorola Q. The Palm Treo was better, but the iPhone was a revolution. Multitouch? On a phone? Just incredible.

Next came the iPhone 3G, which was really fast, though I didn’t care for the name. (3G? Are we later going to get 4G?) Then the even faster 3GS came out. Still didn’t like that name. The year after that Steve Jobs came up on stage and changed the smartphone game with the retina iPhone 4. The display was amazing; so was the industrial design. Yes, there was that antennagate thingamajig, but the iPhone 4 was beautiful. The iPhone, 3G, and 3GS had a 3.5-inch LCD with a 480×320 pixel format. The iPhone 4 quadrupled the number of pixels to 960×640 and increased the resolution to 326 ppi. The experience of looking at images and text on the iPhone 4 was like nothing else. The doubling of pixels on both the x and y axes also made it easy for developers to upgrade their non-retina apps. Then the 4S came out: faster, and with an improved camera. The iPhone 4 was already the most popular camera on Flickr, and Apple made the camera even better.

I loved that the iPhones were easy to use with one hand, not like the enormous Android smartphones. The Samsung Galaxy S2 had a 4.5-inch screen! Huge, and just too big for normal hands. But something happened in 2012, something kind of weird. Apple decided to elongate the display. The original iPhone, 3G, 3GS, 4, and 4S all had a 3.5-inch LCD with a 3:2 aspect ratio. But the new iPhone 5 had a 4-inch LCD with a 16:9 aspect ratio. The pixel format was an even weirder 1136×640. There was one thing Apple did right: the resolution stayed at 326 ppi, so the visual experience remained pretty much the same. I thought, “Why bother going to 16:9 if you can’t even watch 720p videos at 1280×720?” The whole point of a 16:9 aspect ratio was HD video. Now developers had to have three versions of their apps: 480×320, 960×640, and 1136×640.

The year after that the iPhone 5S came out. Just like in prior years the 5S was faster and had a better camera. But the iPhone 5C came out too. The 5C was a lower-cost iPhone 5 (not 5S) with a plastic shell. Mmm… okay. The display remained the same, which was a relief: 4 inches was large enough. I couldn’t believe the size of some Android smartphones; the Sony Xperia Z Ultra had a six point four inch display! That wasn’t a phone it was a tablet. I made fun of those who had these gigantic phones by putting my iPad to the side of my face and pretended I was talking to someone. Ridiculous.

Then the iPhone 6 happened, along with the stupid big iPhone 6 Plus. I wasn’t too happy with the black plastic bits that covered up the antennas in the iPhone 5 and the 5S. Nor was I happy with Apple moving the audio connection from the top to the bottom. There were other niggles, but overall it was a good design. (I consider the 4 and 4S to be the best designed iPhones.) Instead of black plastic pieces the iPhone 6 has toyish-looking antenna bands. I don’t think the designers even tried to hide them. And the cameras stick out. This wouldn’t be a problem if the cameras always stuck out, but the cameras were always nicely integrated into the flat backs of all prior iPhones. Despite the bulging cameras these new ones are even better than the ones before, especially the optically stabilized camera on the iPhone 6 Plus. Still, Apple didn’t need to make the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus so thin that the camera had to bulge out. But the biggest issue I have is with the display.

The iPhone 6 sports a 4.7-inch LCD with a pixel format of 1334×750. (What in the world is that?!? I would have gone with a 4.5-inch display and a 1280×720 pixel format. Nice and tidy, and it would have also resulted in a resolution of 326 ppi.) So Apple is at least keeping the same resolution, right? Not really. The 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus features a 1920×1080 pixel format. The resolution? 401 ppi. That sounds pretty good, but not when compared to the latest and greatest from the competition. The LG G3 has a 5.5-inch 2560×1440 LCD good for a resolution of 534 ppi, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 features a 5.7-inch 2560×1440 OLED display with a 515 ppi resolution. But it isn’t all about the pixel format and resolution. According to DisplayMate’s Dr. Raymond Soneira, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has the best mobile display. The Galaxy Note 4 had the best color accuracy, and that to me is very important. I want to know that what I see on my screen is as close to the real thing as possible. I don’t think making the best display on a smartphone is Apple’s top priority anymore. How can Apple? The company had to split its focus and resources into developing — not just one as it has been doing since 2007 — but two displays.

Let me just briefly touch on how complicated it is for developers to develop apps for iPhones now. Developers need five versions (four if iOS 8.0 is required): 480×320, 960×640, 1136×640, 1334×750, and 2208×1242. Yes, you read that right: 2208×1242, not 1920×1080. Developers need to render pixels at 2208×1242 and then they are downsampled to 1920×1080. I’m not a developer (yet), but that sounds quite a bit more complicated than it should. Read the easy-to-understand explanation by PaintCode. I think simplicity is on its way out Apple’s window.

Apple had a great run with its iPhones, but 2014 was the first year since 2007 when the original iPhone came out that I didn’t upgrade to the latest and greatest iPhone. I think I found a better smartphone: the Samsung Galaxy Note 4.