Five Years Later: Reviewing the iPhone review

It’s five years since the original iPhone launched (in America at least—we had to wait till November in the UK) and we thought it’d be interesting to look at our original review of the iPhone, and see how our predications passed.

We’re extremely glad that we didn’t go with the egg-on-face “iPhone is doomed” approach that many tech pundits reached for. But it’s also clear that we had a tact and reserve that really doesn’t seem appropriate now that Apple is selling over 35 million units every financial quarter. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Much of our review seems to hone in on the cost and data plan of the original iPhone, which was at the time a remarkably expensive phone, and to be fair: a poor deal. Although we obviously seemed more hung-up on it than customers.

“The contract starts at £35 per month, so the overall cost of the iPhone will be a minimum £899. For this you get a piffling 200 minutes and 200 texts per month. Although unlimited data access for the internet with no usage restriction is included in this price … One of our friends curtly pointed out that the only way he’d spend £269 on a mobile phone was if it had £300 in cash taped to it.”

What’s interesting to us is how Apple has changed this situation. The iPhone is still an expensive piece of kit, far more expensive than mobile phones used to be (although to be fair the call and text allowance is now universally better). But people seem to be happy to pay this amount of money for the iPhone (or a rival phone like the Samsung Galaxy S3) these days, and to be fair they are worth the money. The feature set and functionality is so much more than the old phones used to have.

When we stopped moaning about the price we started on the lack of 3G coupled with poor EDGE coverage in the UK, and to a lesser extent the lack of GPS. All fair comments, the iPhone became infinitely better when 3G was added and—even though we’re sure Apple had its reasons—it should have been in the device from the start.

The rest of the review waxed lyrical about the style of the phone, and in particular the style of the interface and how this proved to us that design matters. Here’s the key quote

“Of course, this opens up the handset to accusations of style over substance; that the large screen and animated menu gloss over what is a fairly standard device. But we’re not convinced the style of the iPhone interface is a bad, or even insignificant thing. While the fantastic menu design gives the iPhone a visual flair we’d associate with Apple, it also provides a level of interaction sorely missing in other mobile phones.”

We’ll stand by that any day. The amount of attention Apple put in to the original iOS interface absolutely made the device what it is. Apple nailed the iPhone interface right away, and completely changed the way we thought about mobile devices. The interface is what sold the device—so much so that it got away with missing out on a lot of technical features in the first iteration.

Perhaps the only real oversight was that we said “most calls sounded good, although the speakerphone is faint” although over time we noticed just how bad the iPhone was for making phone calls. Much worse than rival handsets. There was some suggestion that networks deteriorated call quality because they gave more bandwidth over to providing data services, but we’re not sure if we just didn’t pick up on it in the review. Call quality on the iPhone is much better now but in retrospect we could have made more of the issue.

We also pulled it up on the camera, which again was an area where the iPhone was poor. Although this didn’t really bother us too much at the time. We were still using digital cameras for photos and being able to take snaps on a mobile phone still seemed like a novelty, rather than a key feature.

In all, we gave it a surprisingly harsh review, which given the fact I used it relentlessly for the next 12 months, to the point where people started making fun of me, seems a little hypocritical. I still think it was the best investment I ever made. Just so far ahead of its time, and I remember almost everybody wanting to see it in action. But telling people how much it cost and seeing the shock on their faces was a wake-up call.

We’re glad we gave it four stars given how many Apple sold. The iPhone 3G was much better though, and the 3GS was the point where Apple truly nailed it. And, of course, when apps were introduced it became a whole new ball game.

Oh! And we still think the original iPhone was a beautiful piece of kit. Truly stunning to hold and in terms of looks it wasn’t bettered until the iPhone 4 came along.

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