The iPhone’s Design Evolution to Its 10th Anniversary
“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs
The original iPhone was released in 2007. It was a technological breakthrough and a champion of design. It boasted an unusually large display for the time (3.5 inches) with an aluminium casing and a stainless steel rim. It was sleek and minimalist, with an industrial edge – both in terms of how it looked and how it operated.
Perhaps the most recognisable hallmark of the original iPhone – both then and now – is its single-button control below the screen. No one had ever seen anything like this before, and it utterly changed what people expected from their phones.
iPhone 3G: A Restrained Redesign
Subtle changes came with the iPhone 3G (2008) and 3Gs (2009). The aluminium back casing was replaced with glossy black plastic, and some edge-mounted controls were added. The iPhone 3GS also came in white. But at this point, Apple was sticking with what worked. It still looked and felt very much like the original iPhone – and that level of continuity was important for early adopters who absolutely loved their phone and wouldn’t have changed anything about it if they had the chance.
Apple Introduces Major Changes in 2010
In 2010, the first major redesign was introduced. The phone become sleeker, and the rounded back and silver frame were gone. In their place was a pane of glass on the back to match the one on the front, and a metal band around the perimeter to hint at the previous metal frame. It was a continuation of the original aesthetic – but it was distinct enough to stand out. This was also the first time that the model name matched the actual number of iterations the iPhone had gone through.
After the spec-boost seen with the iPhone 4s, the iPhone 5 was released in 2012 and continued the product’s design evolution. The device was thinner and lighter, and the silver band around the edge had changed colours to either black or white (depending on the model). Gold accents were made available for the iPhone 5s (2013), with even a few more colour options for the iPhone 5c.
Thinner and Sleeker – But Still an iPhone
In 2014, the iPhone 6 emerged as an even thinner model in distinct sizes. The rectangular band was gone and replaced with a metal frame reminiscent of the current iPod touch. In this sense, we saw continuity within the brand even when the current model broke from the previous iterations.
In many ways, the iPhone 7 looks similar to the iPhone 6s, but it added an array of colour options. At this point, the main difference between models comes down to hardware and specs. But aesthetically, the phone was quite similar to its immediate predecessors.
This is certainly intentional. Apple wants you to know the phone you’re holding in your hand is an iPhone. It should look and feel like an iPhone – as well as operate like one.
Apple Excels at Evolving Design without Changing It
This is perhaps the single greatest lesson we can learn from Apple, at least from a design standpoint. Companies are wise to begin with a well-defined set of branded guidelines and then evolve the product within them. This keeps the design fresh without making it foreign, encouraging customers to return and purchase new models in the future.