iPhone 5? Well, not exactly. Apple’s iPhone turns 5.

June 29, 2012

Wish a happy birthday to your iPhone! June 29 marks the fifth anniversary of the day the first iPhone hit store shelves and Apple began its climb in the mobile market.

The first iPhone may have sported a metal and plastic back, but the general look of the smartphone hasn’t changed all that much in the past five years — new materials here, a nip or tuck there — and has kept to its same general size.

What has changed, dramatically, is what the phone can do. At launch, it sported a 2 MP camera, ran on the EDGE network and touted its visual voicemail. It came in a $499 4GB version or a $699 8GB version. Users couldn’t download programs from other developers, but the introduction of a more complete Web browser on a smartphone was enough to impress reviewers.

While it’s hard to separate the iPhone and the App Store in our minds now, the iPhone didn’t have its app ecosystem until a year after launch, in July 2008. Four years later, there are over 650,000 apps in the App Store, and the marketplace has 400 million accounts.

Looking back at Apple’s press release for the original phone’s debut, we’re reminded that the tech giant mostly promoted the smartphone’s connection to the iPod — Apple even called it a “widescreen iPod” in its January 2007 product announcement.

At the time, there was skepticism about whether the iPhone could really take on market leaders Research in Motion and Nokia — companies that are now struggling to hold on to their shrinking slices of the market. Both have announced job cuts: Nokia is set to cut 10,000 of its staff by the end of 2013, and Research in Motion said Thursday that it will drop 5,000 jobs.

The iPhone, however, hasn’t stopped climbing — though it has occasionally slowed — even as Android-based competitors have crowded the field and taken the majority of the smartphone market. Demand for Apple’s ubiquitous smartphone is still red-hot: It took the first iPhone 74 days to hit 1 million sales; the latest version of the iPhone hit 1 million pre-orders in its first 24 hours.

To date, Apple has sold over 217 million iPhones and has expanded to more networks and countries. According to the company’s last earnings call, the iPhone is now on 230 carriers in 105 countries.

It will be interesting to see how the device evolves over the next five years, particularly with the advent of prepaid iPhones from Virgin and Cricket and the company’s push for overseas expansion.

And, of course, it’s almost a given that Apple fans will keep watching excitedly for any hint of what Apple plans for the iPhone’s next incarnation. Top wishlist items include a bigger screen and support for 4G networks.

Related stories:

WWDC: Apple announces new MacBook Pro with retina display

Pre-paid iPhone: Virgin Mobile offers cheap, month-to-month data plan

Chrome tops App Store list of free apps

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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