iPod, iPhone and iPad – A Brief History of Apple iProducts

Early on in his career with Apple, Steve Jobs conceived the idea of a personal computing device that a person could keep with them and use to connect wirelessly to other computer services. Almost 25 years later, Apple and Jobs would upend the world of personal computing by launching the iPhone smartphone, and a few years later a tablet computer counterpart, the iPad. According to the most recent sales figures available from Apple corporate analysis website AAPLinvestors.net, the iPhone has achieved lifetime sales of 590.5 million units; Apple has also sold 237.2 million iPads in just over three years since the release of that product. The iPhone has retained mass appeal despite the presence of the iPad and Apple has even reverted to soft launches for new iPad products, evidence of the incredible hold that the iPhone still maintains over Apple’s core consumer base. In the near future, both the iPhone and iPad may exhibit bendable or rollable displays using plastic OLED screen technologies developed by LG Electronics, one of the suppliers of electronic components for the iPhone and iPad.

We’re inching closer to the holiday season and in today’s coverage of popular gadgets ahead of Black Friday, we’re taking an in-depth look at the development of Apple’s line of mobile computing devices from concept to reality. This story involves one of the most storied characters in the world of technology development and his long struggle to bring about his vision of a personal computing device.

It’s impossible for many people to go through their day without either interacting with their own mobile computing device or seeing someone else use theirs. Although the iPhone is certainly not the only smartphone on the market, its influence on the market cannot be denied. The electronics products developed by Apple and released during the 2000s restored the company to its earlier greatness in personal computing, perhaps even surpassing its heydey in the 1980s. Our readers may be interested to find out that Apple’s first mobile computing device came out many years before the iPod, the company’s first major commercial gadget success of the 2000s. It wouldn’t be until the end of the first decade of the 21st century, however, when Apple would finally launch the product that Jobs first imagined while taking a stroll through the research facilities of Xerox in the late 1970s.



Steve Jobs and the Early Days of Mobile Computing

The role of Jobs as a innovative visionary who served with varying but high levels of success in two stints with Apple is well documented. The story of Apple’s research and development in personal computing inevitably returns to mention of a Steve Jobs visit in December 1979 to the research facilities of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Jobs, along with other Apple engineers working on a project to complete what would become the Apple Lisa computer, visited the facilities of PARC at the invitation of Xerox. Many have noted that the Apple Lisa and future products made heavy use of the graphical user interface and other basic personal computing concepts created by Xerox. Although Apple may have been further in development on many of these ideas than the story typically reflects, it certainly was a major inspiration for Jobs which set him squarely on the path towards mobile computing products.

An audio recording of a Steve Jobs speech from 1983 shows the connection between this visit and marks the first mention of a mobile computing device by the computing guru. One of the things that truly sparked Jobs’ imagination was the realization of how people were sharing information over the local area network created by Xerox. Employees at Xerox were using the network to create distribution lists, the predecessor of online bulletin boards and websites, to share and discuss common interests from volleyball to Chinese food. More than a data service for businesses, the Internet that Jobs saw developing was one which enabled consumers to connect with others over the things that they enjoy.

A passage of that recorded speech, an excerpt of which is provided in this article published by TheNextWeb, outlines corporate goals for Apple which involved pursuing the development of mobile computing devices:

“Apple’s strategy is really simple. What we want to do is we want to put an incredibly great computer in a book that you can carry around with you and learn how to use in 20 minutes. That’s what we want to do and we want to do it this decade. And we really want to do it with a radio link in it so you don’t have to hook up to anything and you’re in communication with all of these larger databases and other computers.”

The iPad is not the first tablet computer released by Apple. In 1987, the corporation marketed its first tablet computer, the Apple Newton. The Newton could not compete with Apple’s Mac computing platform, but it did introduce certain concepts in mobile computing which are commonplace now, such as the automatic updating and saving of data altered through a software application instead of requiring a user to save data manually. The Newton floundered through the 1990s; some commentators feel that it’s larger-than-pocket size hindered its portability characteristics, and sales were further impacted by cheaper competing devices manufactured by Palm.


The Return of Jobs, The Coming of the iPod

Jobs returned to a major role with Apple in the late 1990s when the company purchased NeXT, Jobs’ firm which specialized in the creation of computing workstations. Some of NeXT’s digital technologies were incorporated into future Apple products, but the true windfall of this acquisition would be Jobs’ return to a leadership role with the company and his subsequent development of a series of personal electronic devices that would rock consumer markets.

The road towards a personal device for listening to audio probably began with the 2000 acquisition of SoundJam, a music organization and playback program which would be re-released as iTunes in January 2001. By the end of that year, Jobs announced the creation of the iPod, a personal music playing device which would take advantage of the iTunes music software as a means for organizing personal music libraries stored on the external device.

The iPod has gone through many iterations, including the iPod Mini, the iPod Nano and the iPod Touch, which offered some of the touchscreen and WiFi connectivity offered by the iPhone and was released in the same year as that device. All told, Apple sold just under 386 million iPod units during the life of this product, sales of which were officially ended in September of this year. There was nothing earth-shattering about the technical specifications of the iPod, but its focus on ease of use became a hallmark of the other electronic devices which were to bring commercial success to Apple later in the decade.



From the iPhone to the iPad 

From U.S. Patent No. 8014760, titled “Missed Telephone Call Management for a Portable Multifunction Device.”

The iPod captured the imaginations, and many of the spending dollars, of a young crowd which was growing more comfortable with the use of personal electronics, from desktop computers to cell phones. However, on January 9th, 2007, Steve Jobs presented a keynote speech to the Macworld convention that announced the coming of a new product: an iPod with cellular phone and Internet browsing capabilities. It was to be known as the iPhone.

As mentioned above, the iPhone was not Apple’s first foray into mobile computing devices. It did have a few notable advantages over the Newton, including a more compact size and the touchscreen, the innovation which perhaps launched Apple to the forefront of the mobile computing device field. Other gadgets, especially the BlackBerry, were popular with users but relied on keyboards or stylus pens for user inputs. With the iPhone, a user could complete a text message, send an e-mail or take a phone call by operating the device with their fingers.

The iPhone became even richer in features through the implementation of a few electronic components that can measure certain data or respond to various stimuli. For example, accelerometers installed on iPhone devices could detect when a user turned the orientation of their device, enabling the screen display to switch between a portrait and a landscape rendering. Ambient light sensors included with these devices could control the automatic adjustment of screen brightness in response to the amount of ambient light in an area.

Future iterations of the iPhone dramatically improved on the functions this device could accomplish as well as the user experience. The second iPhone included 3G network connectivity, greatly improving the Internet connection speeds for this device. The iPhone 4 introduced the use of a front-facing camera, which became practical with the increased popularity of video conferencing through mobile programs such as FaceTime. The aluminum construction of the iPhone 5 was a major aspect of the design improvements during that generation of the device, resulting in a very lightweight smartphone. The most recently released models, the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus, brought larger Retina HD displays to owners as well as near field communication (NFC) chips which are used to implement the Apple Pay system.

However, Jobs’ 1983 vision of a “computer in a book” was finally realized with the April 2010 release of Apple’s iPad. First announced at an Apple press conference in San Francisco on January 27th of that year, the user interface borrowed heavily from the iPhone but included a few new features, including sidebars and popover lists, and captured the imaginations of customers and critics alike with it’s immense 9.7-inch display and $499 retail price. The iPad also included Apple’s first branded processor, the Apple A4, a noteworthy development as most Apple products are constructed with electronic components and parts that have been created by other manufacturers.

Most understood the impact that the iPad could have on computing, even if some were confused as to why Apple felt the need to create a device that bridged the mild gap between the iPhone and the Mac computing platform. In the first weekend alone, Apple sold 300,000 units of the iPad. Within two months, one million units had sold, which was much greater than the rate of iPhones sold after its initial release. Over their first four respective quarters, Apple sold a total of 5.4 million iPhones but a whopping 19.5 million iPads.

From U.S. Patent No. 8046721, entitled “Unlocking a Device by Performing Gestures on an Unlock Image.”

We were able to find some intriguing information involving to Apple’s patent holdings relative to the iPhone and the iPad. As of September 2012, Apple held a total of 1,298 patents related to mobile technologies. One of the more important patents held by Apple, and one that has come up before in patent infringement cases, is U.S. Patent No. 8046721, entitled Unlocking a Device by Performing Gestures on an Unlock Image. Issued in October 2011, this patent protects the “swipe to unlock” gesture control for Apple devices with touch-sensitive displays. Another significant IP holding for Apple that we found was U.S. Patent No. 8014760, titled Missed Telephone Call Management for a Portable Multifunction Device. The patent, issued in August 2011, protects methods of presenting information related to missed telephone calls to an electronic device owner. In July 2012, Apple was issued U.S. Patent No. 8223143, entitled Portable Electronic Device, Method, and Graphical User Interface for Displaying Electronic Lists and Documents. Some commentators have reported that this particular patent protects some important foundational aspects of the multi-touch display in use in Apple devices. We also noted a design patent issued for the original iPad, U.S. Patent No. D670286, issued under the title Portable Display Device. Assigned to Apple in November 2012, this patent lists Steve Jobs as one of the inventors, indicative of the large focus granted to the development of this product by the Apple CEO.

The iPhone and the iPad are still conjoined at the operating system, but there seems to be no plans to separate the two as of yet. With the coming of the iOS 4.2 update, which was released in November 2010, was the first iOS system designed for both the iPad and the iPhone. Improvements to the iOS operating system over the years has been almost as effective as any design or electronics component improvements in ensuring the popularity of the iPhone and the iPad.

From U.S. Patent No. D670286, issued as “Portable Display Device.”

Sometimes the iOS updates have come with great fanfare. The iOS 5 update released in October 2011 introduced the world to the digital assistant Siri, the voice command-operated software which created a much more personal link between an iPhone owner and their device; it also greatly increased the ease of accessing information by eliminating any need for text inputs. The iOS 8 update that was rolled out during the fall of 2014, however, caused such an incredible number of technical issues that consumer outcry against the update was pretty consistent across Apple’s consumer base. This is likely due to the incredibly number of devices that iOS 8 has been designed to support, including six iPhone models, five iPad models and one remaining generation of the iPod Touch.

Steve Jobs passed away on October 5th, 2011, about a year and a half after his dream of a portable tablet computer that could communicate wirelessly with other computing devices. The iPod, iPhone and the iPad brought Apple out of its troubled position in the late-1990s to become one of the most fabled tech development companies of our time. The story of these Apple devices shows how a visionary approach to addressing consumer wants might create an entirely new market and build an incredible amount of success for a company.


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One comment so far.

  • [Avatar for Grant Hutchinson]
    Grant Hutchinson
    November 26, 2014 01:28 pm

    I’d like to point out a couple of inaccuracies in your article, specifically relating to the Newton platform. The Newton MessagePad was not marketed in 1987. The first commercial release was not until the summer of 1993. Also, the Newton did not “flounder through the 1990s” … it was continually developed and improved until 1998, when it was deliberately killed by Steve Jobs. Up to that point, it was growing steadily in vertical markets such as education, medicine, and remote data gathering. Indeed, it was less portable than a Palm Pilot at the time, but it was also much more expandable and powerful.