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June 29, 2021 marks 14 years since the very first iPhone went on sale, and it’s fair to say that we’ve come a long way since those halcyon days when a 3.5-inch touchscreen was considered leading-edge technology.
Now, however, a new comparison video on YouTube is giving us a firsthand look at just how far we’ve come from that original iPhone, pitting the 2007 iPhone against the latest iPhone 12 in a race for speed.
Of course, it’s going to be pretty obvious that the iPhone 12 will run circles around its 14-year-old ancestor, but YouTube channel PhoneBuff has decided to show us just how extreme those differences truly are.
The video, shown below, opens with Steve Jobs’ famous “An iPod, a phone, and an Internet Communicator” line from Macworld 2007, when the legendary CEO first revealed the device that would redefine the smartphone industry for at least the next 14 years — and likely far beyond.
PhoneBuff then goes on to outline the spec differences between the original iPhone and the iPhone 12, describing it as “night and day,” which of course it is.
For instance, the original iPhone had only a 412MHz single-core CPU, as opposed to Apple’s A14 Bionic, which packs in six cores and clocks in at 3.1GHz. The original iPhone also only packed in 128MB of RAM — around 3% of what’s in the iPhone 12.
This was also long before Apple’s Retina Display technology, which didn’t arrive until the iPhone 4 came along in 2010. This means that the 3.5-inch display only had a resolution of 320×480 — a far cry from the 2532×1170 resolution of the 6.1-inch iPhone 12.
Of course, Apple’s original iPhone also came from an era before Apple was saying much about its own chips — it actually used a 32-bit ARM chip made by Samsung, designated as the APL0098. Apple didn’t start its official A-series names until the iPhone 4’s A4 chip.
For comparison, this first APL0098 was also manufactured using a 90nm process. This allowed it to pack in about 70 million transistors. By comparison, the 5nm process used in the A14 Bionic has just under 12 billion transistors.
PhoneBuff performed the test in an empirical and scientific a manner as possible, right down to using a robotic arm in a controlled environment, and even factoring in thermal throttling with temperature sensors.
In general, the original iPhone was so sluggish in certain areas that the team actually had to program in extra delays in the robotic arm that was being used to run the test just to make sure it didn’t run ahead of the operating system. By comparison, of course, the iPhone 12 was “buttery smooth.”
Browsing and accessing online content was handled using Wi-Fi, eliminating any speed delays that could have been a result of the older EDGE (pre-3G) technology used in the earlier iPhone model. While the iPhone 12 of course also offers much faster Wi-Fi speeds — the original iPhone was a 2.4GHz 802.11b/g device, which would have capped top speeds at around 54Mbps — it’s fair to say that this still wasn’t the limiting factor.
The original iPhone is running iPhone OS 3.1.3 from early 2010, which was the last version supported by the first-generation iPhone. As the video explains, even though the App Store is present, it wasn’t possible for them to find any apps to install, as most developers have moved well beyond supporting such an old version of the iPhone OS. If you were an iPhone user from that era, you may still be able to find compatible apps in your purchase history (I have quite a few available on my 2007 iPhone, in fact), but like the folks at PhoneBuff, you’re not going to find any new apps that can be installed.
Hence, PhoneBuff could only test with the preinstalled apps, which are extremely lightweight, but they still took a noticeable amount of time to load and respond. At least some of that, of course, was also because the scant 128MB of RAM meant that apps have to be swapped out more often to the slower flash memory storage.
As hard as it is to believe now, it’s also notable that iPhone OS 3 didn’t offer any support for multitasking at all. The iPhone would try to keep apps in memory, but they didn’t actually run in the background.
In total, the original iPhone took 2 minutes and 29 seconds to complete a full “two-lap” test, while the iPhone 12 performed all the same tasks in just over one minute.
However, it’s also important to note that these were just tasks using the built-in apps, since it wasn’t possible to install anything even slightly more demanding. There’s little doubt that if the tests had been able to compare things like video export or photo processing, the iPhone 12 would have left the original iPhone completely in the dust.
Watching Steve Jobs unveil the first iPhone today doesn’t do justice to that original Macworld Keynote. I was there at the Moscone Centre to see it in person back on January 7, 2007. The lead-up was true Jobs-style showmanship, teasing the audience with the idea that Apple was about to introduce three separate devices, but when Jobs finally pulled the iPhone out of his pocket, it was a device that nobody was expecting.
Sure, there had been rumours of an “iPhone” for at least a couple of years before that, but most people had a very different idea of what an Apple phone might actually look like.
It’s hard to imagine in the world of modern smartphones, but almost nobody was expecting something as simple and elegant as a flat slab of glass. Even the idea of a touchscreen was too far out for most people’s expectations. After all, the iPhone was born in an era when even the first-generation Android phones looked more like BlackBerry and Nokia devices. By the standards of the day, a 3.5-inch screen was considered massive.
The few devices that had included touchscreens, such as the early Palm and iPaq PDAs, lacked any real telephony features, and also required users to interact mostly with a stylus. Multitouch basically didn’t exist at all back then, and the idea of a working onscreen keyboard was beyond imagination.
Even Wi-Fi was rare on mobile devices of that generation. Smartphones relied on their mobile data connections exclusively, while more traditional PDAs were designed to be tethered with a standard mobile phone via Bluetooth or even a wired data cable.
So, as quaint as the original iPhone may seem by today’s standards, it’s hard to underscore how incredibly revolutionary the device was for its day. It’s no exaggeration to say that, with the iPhone, Apple completely changed how the world looked at mobile devices and smartphones.