Cheat Sheet: Apple iPhone

The iconic handset explained

This iPhone thing - I've heard about it but I'm not entirely sure what all the fuss is about... It's just a phone isn't it?
Here's the skinny: the iPhone is a mobile device made by iPod-maker Apple, the first version of which was unveiled at Macworld back in 2007.

It's a touchscreen device with all the mobile phone functionality you'd expect, plus iPod capabilities and a mobile browser.

Is that it? I thought it was some kind of life-changing uber-gadget.
It's easy to be underwhelmed now, more than two years after its debut, but the mobile industry is a different beast post-iPhone.

It's worth highlighting that Apple didn't actually invent converged mobile devices - there were mobile phones back in the day that incorporated web browsing, multimedia playing abilities and more.

Sony Ericsson's music-playing Walkman phones debuted in 2005, for instance, while Nokia's flagship N95 - which launched a few months before the iPhone - included 3G, GPS, wi-fi, a five megapixel camera, multimedia playback, web browsing and even an accelerometer.

That's more than Apple managed to squeeze into its first device - which begs the question: what's so special about the iPhone?

Brits queuing to get their mitts on the first iPhone in November 2007 (photo credit: Natasha Lomas/

So why all the fuss?
In a word: usability. The first iPhone may not have had 3G, GPS or even a 5MP camera but it did have Apple's particular brand of UI magic dust.

The problem with many mobile phones in the pre-iPhone era was they were not very user friendly. While the high-end smartphones of recent years could technically already do all the stuff the iPhone could do, actually doing it was probably not very fun - if not utterly infuriating.

As such the iPhone came as a breath of fresh air - if not a force-10 gale - by making a virtue of its easy to navigate UI.

Given the importance of the UI to the iPhone, it's no wonder the screen was a key focus for Apple - the iPhone has a 3.5-inch capacitive touchscreen, a noticeable jump up from the competition (Nokia's N95, for instance, had 2.6 inches of unresponsive TFT).

While Apple did not invent touchscreen mobiles - both Palm and Windows Mobile devices have had touchscreens for years - once again the company used some of its magic dust to transform the status quo, doing away with a fiddly stylus in favour of a tactile capacitive technology that allowed users to control their devices through tapping and pinching.

While these may sound like mere details, you could argue Apple made usability mobile's killer app. By revamping the humble UI, the iPhone shook up the mobile world, even if it didn't technically have the best specs.