Who Invented the iPhone?

Learn How Apple's First Smartphone Came to Be

Illustrated timeline of the iPhone's history
ThoughtCo.

According to the "Oxford English Dictionary," a smartphone is “a mobile phone that performs many of the functions of a computer, typically having a touchscreen interface, internet access, and an operating system capable of running downloaded apps.” As those of you who know your smartphones history are aware, Apple did not invent the smartphone. They did, however, bring us the iconic and much-imitated iPhone, which debuted June 29, 2007.

Precursors to the iPhone

Prior to the iPhone, smartphones were often, bulky, unreliable, and prohibitively expensive. The iPhone was a game-changer. While its technology was state-of-the-art at the time, since more than 200 patents went into its original manufacture, there's no pinpointing a single person as the iPhone's inventor. Still, a few names—including Apple designers John Casey and Jonathan Ive—stand out as being instrumental in bringing Steve Jobs' vision for a touchscreen smartphone to life.

While Apple had produced the Newton MessagePad, a personal digital assistant (PDA) device, from 1993 to 1998, the first concept for a true iPhone-type device came about in 2000 when Apple designer John Casey sent some concept art around via an internal email for something he called the Telipod—a telephone and iPod combination. The Telipod never made it into production but Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs did believe that cell phones with a touchscreen function and access to the Internet were the future of accessible information. Accordingly, Jobs set a team of engineers to tackle the project. 

Apple's First Smartphone

Apple's first smartphone, the ROKR E1, was released on Sept. 7, 2005. It was the first mobile phone to use iTunes, the music-sharing software Apple had debuted in 2001. However, the ROKR was an Apple and Motorola collaboration, and Apple was not happy with Motorola's contributions. Within a year, Apple discontinued support for the ROKR. On Jan. 9, 2007, Steve Jobs announced the new iPhone at the Macworld Convention. It went on sale on June 29, 2007.

What Made the iPhone So Special

Apple's chief design officer from 1992 to 2019, Jonathan Ive, was largely responsible for the look and feel of the iPhone. Born in Britain in February 1967, Ive was also the principal designer of the iMac, the titanium and aluminum PowerBook G4, MacBook, unibody MacBook Pro, iPod, iPhone, and iPad.

The first smartphone with no dedicated keypad for dialing, the iPhone was entirely a touchscreen device that broke new technological ground with its multitouch controls. In addition to being able to use the screen to select and use apps, users could scroll and zoom as well with a finger swipe.

The iPhone also introduced the accelerometer, a motion sensor that allowed the user to turn the phone sideways and have the display automatically rotate to suit. While it was not the first device to have apps or software add-ons, it was the first smartphone to manage the apps market successfully.

Siri

The iPhone 4S was released with the addition of a personal assistant called Siri, a voice-controlled, artificial intelligence-based assistant that could not only perform numerous tasks for the user, it could also learn and adapt to better serve that user, as well. With the addition of Siri, the iPhone was no longer a mere phone or music player—it literally put an entire world of information at the user's fingertips.

Waves of the Future

Since it made its debut, Apple has continued to improve and update the iPhone. The iPhone 10 (also known as iPhone X), released in November 2017, is the first iPhone to use organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screen technology, wireless charging, and facial recognition technology to unlock the phone.

In 2018, Apple released three versions of the iPhone X: iPhone Xs, iPhone X Max (a larger version of the Xs), and the budget-friendly iPhone Xr, all with improved camera technology that enables what Apple terms, "Smart HDR" (high dynamic range) photography. Going forward, Apple is expected to continue with OLED displays for its 2019 devices, and there are some rumors that the company plans to soon retire its earlier LCD (liquid crystal display) displays altogether.