I don’t have a lot of the detritus that builds up around group memberships. No varsity jacket, no fraternity jersey, no exclusive standard-issue paraphernalia – and what little I do have normally reposes in a repurposed humidor atop my dresser. And one of the things in there, which I pulled out and wiped and charged up last night, is my original iPhone.
I was there, you know. I was sitting in Caffe Macs watching the keynote from the “skybox” – the one remaining booth bench after they cleared out all the tables to make way for rows of chairs, a bench that we routinely squatted three hours before kickoff to be sure our gang would be relaxed and comfy. And it took me a second to get that the revolutionary new iPod, brand new phone and amazing Internet device were, in fact, one thing, and at that moment I was all in. I saved my cash, and then, a week before the thing was released, Himself sat on a stool in Town Hall and told us we would all be given an 8 GB iPhone, gratis, a couple of weeks after the launch.
Looking at it now, you can tell it’s old. It maxes out at iOS 3.1.3, which is before it was even called iOS if I remember right, and the 480×320 screen is a little on the muddy side after three years of looking at retina displays. But it feels compact in a way that even the iPhone 4/4S don’t, despite being the same height and the 4/4S being slightly narrower. Maybe it’s to do with the way the 3G and 3GS looked, with the plastic back that was tapered at the edges but ultimately thicker in the back, and which had that same naff quality as a vinyl “crocodile” wallet. I mean, yes the plastic was necessary for improved antenna performance, but it also took away the premium feel of the device.
Something else I didn’t realize is that both the 3G and 3GS shipped with a smaller battery than the original iPhone. Which makes sense. All the compromises that the original iPhone made were deliberately made in the cause of making the battery stretch as long as possible. Thus no 3G in the original model – coverage wasn’t built out enough to make it worthwhile relative to the hit the battery would take. Thus no GPS in the original model – one more antenna, one more chip to draw power. Thus no CDMA in the original model – GSM, besides being the standard everywhere but Korea and parts of the US, was also less battery-intensive. Thus no apps, so you couldn’t install anything that would pummel the battery to death. I guess by the time the iPhone 3G and 3GS shipped, they’d figured out how to make the battery stretch – enough to add things like 3G and GPS to the first upgrade and then a faster processor and an improved camera with video capture to the 3GS the year after that.
Really, when you think about it, the S-path might have been the better one. Original iPhone, then move to the 3GS and get faster everything plus GPS and a video camera. If you moved to the 3G a year after the original iPhone, as I did, you only got GPS and 3G for your trouble – same RAM, same processor, and a smaller battery. And you had to go an extra year at the old speed and with no video until the iPhone 4 shipped. (Of course, then you got the sexy new Dieter Rams-esque design first and the retina display, but you also got the dicky antenna and had to wait an extra year for HSPA+ support or Siri or an 8 MP camera with 1080p support. And you got the iPhone 5 first, which gave you a bigger screen and LTE, but you miss out on the 5S with its improved LTE support, amazingly better camera and TouchID…)
But that’s neither here nor there. The point is, the original iPhone still feels dead solid perfect in the hand. Not too big, not too small, of a comfortable weight, with pleasantly rounded edges and – despite six years of scratching and a couple of corner dents – the look of a device that could change the world. Which it kind of did, despite everything. No apps, at launch, not even a way to bookmark pages on the home screen. No MMS support, or 3G, or GPS, or even cut and paste. No video capture, and a muddy little 2-megapixel camera that was barely table stakes for a high-end phone at the time. And yet, it’s still as attractive a package as Apple offered in a phone for the first three years of the iPhone age.
And in the beginning, I had it. It was our standard-issue phone for the last two months I was around – everybody had it, because we’d all been given it free. It was our lightsaber, it was our power ring, and it was something that I could take to Paris and Punxsutawney alike and feel like I had dropped in from the future. The newest phones, like the 5S or the Moto X, are amazing indeed. But that first phone was magic.