Photo of phones before and after the iPhone

Imitation is the sincerest form of imitation. (Via Josh Helfferich)


  1. And if someone were to turn the ones on the right on, like the ones on the left are, the variety of color and design partially returns.

      1. A grid of icons? Sounds like almost every OS gui that has icons on the desktop, unless the user turns off snapping.

      1. Oh, that’s definitely not all of it, but the screen is both display and interface now.  It’s like comparing monitors without turning them on.  Remember how much variation there used to be in monitor design when we were using CRTs?

    1. I agree. It is a shame that the veritable Burgess Shale of phones has become reduced to a single form factor. I note that the before shot also omits touchscreen slabs as one of the many pre-existing designs.

      1.  In the same way that we look back into the age of “PC Compatible” computers and ask “now, why were they all beige again?”, one day we’ll ask the same of that charcoal grey.

    2.  “Premature Optimization is the root of all evil” -Knuth

      It seems that any field in which Apple enters becomes frozen in terms of innovation.
      I’d kill for a jog dial on my phone or tablets. Or page advance buttons.
      As it stands I refuse to use any non slider handset just for some tangible keys.

      Jog dials, rotary encoders, and tactile switches are wonderful things when well implemented.  They are tangible, tactile and haptic. They can be used sight unseen and consume less of ones cognitive budget.     

      1. Unfortunately, Tactile Jog Dials and Rotary Encoders are more prone to failure than capacitive Jog Dials and Rotary Encoders. Moving Parts are a reliability issue.

        1.  I really like that form factor. Like most concepts, it presumes a little on our current ability to miniaturise, uses useless solar panels for coolness, and has moving parts that are guaranteed to break and/or to cause the corner of the keyboard to be driven into the screen.

          But even a little thicker, and without the rotating hinges and solar panels, the design answers every single grumble I have about the current “utterly useless as an actual phone” chocolatebar form factor, while at the same time protecting the screen and so on.

          I do hope someone picks up on it.

    3. I disagree. It isn’t that phones have become boring. Instead, it’s that what is now interesting is what phones can DO for us, rather than how they are shaped. Before, when the most exciting thing a cell phone could do beyond texting and calling was take shitty pictures, the only thing to differentiate them was to make them look exciting. Now, the most exciting things about phones are no longer skin-deep.

  2. My phone was made after the iPhone, but it is a “feature phone”, or “dumb phone”, so it looks more like the ones on the left. Yeah, all smart phones look alike because they are just a big touchscreen, and they deferred the customization/color glitz to a secondary market.

    1. came to say the same thing :)  the only thing that happened after iphone is more manufacturers presented additional models with no keyboard on their “smart” phones. everything else is still the same.

      1.  Perhaps you did not use a smartphone before the iPhone came out… I can assure you the smartphone market pre-iphone was dominated by devices like the Blackberry and the Treo, which look nothing like modern smartphones. Hell, even the few windows mobile phones that went all-screen didn’t look like modern phones.

        1. If you mean twenty months before the iPhone came out, you would be right.  (Though my HTC Apache from that era belongs on the right, if you don’t slide out the keyboard.) 

          If you mean one month before, the HTC Touch, LG Prada and other all-screen modern phones were already in use.  Apple merely followed the industry trend.

          1. How could Apple have followed an industry trend 1 month before the phone actually came out? Either way, the HTC Touch is not really the same design, but the LG Prada is arguable. I am not arguing that there were *no* touch screen phones though, just that there were none that really looked like the iPhone (the prada is the closest, having come out under a month beforehand).

          2. The LG Prada was shown to the public many months before.  The same goes for the HTC Touch.  Both were also released before the iPhone, and both – by the standards of the photo above – have the same look.  But I’m NOT saying that Apple stole their design.

            My point stands:  The industry as a whole was moving in that direction long before the iPhone was released, led by the demand for PDA functions – NOT Apple.  Touch-screen PDAs were responsible for that look a decade before the iPhone, and the trend for phones to look that way started long before even the HTC Touch and Prada.

    2. Same. Mine’s one of those budget ‘dumb’ phones (even lacks a camera.)

      Sure it’s not good for much beyond calls but c’mon. That’s all I want out of it.

  3. Also, not shown are the extremely wide variety of customized and colorful cases available to decorate your black phone, even to the point of making it look like a classic camera. Many of these decoration options cost as much as the phones pictured at left. Profit!

    1. Because the only reason people remember that also-ran is because LG managed to stir up some small controversy by claiming the iPhone copied it. Though they never sued, why’s that, you think ?

      1. No, let’s not rewrite history. Rather, let’s post countless whinging comments explaining how everyone is wrong, wrong, wrong. Or maybe you could just go make your own picture that shows history as YOU remember it and post the picture repeatedly instead of your tedious comments. It would take less time and be a lot less annoying to the rest of us.

        1. If you don’t remember, do some simple research.    Wikipedia is your friend.

          Look up the Pilot and iPaq and other PDAs that look like the phones on the right, up to a decade before.  Look at the various HTC,  HP/Compaq, Motorola, O2 and other phones that inherited their look.  Look at the later HTC Touch whose only major difference to that look was rounded corners.  Look at the LG Prada that was all but identical.  All before the iPhone.

          I suspect that the further you wander from the Apple fanboy sites, the more you’re going to be annoyed.

          1. It’s not that you’re right, wrong, or hopelessly myopic, it’s that you’re repetitive and dull.

          2. When Apple fanboys think Apple was first, they photoshop some images and post them to BoingBoing and elsewhere.  When someone shows otherwise, that someone is repetitive and dull.  Right.  Gotcha.  WhatEVer.

          3. I had an O2 smartphone, and an HP palm pilot type thing.

            They had touchscreens, sure; but they didn’t look anything like the one on the right.

            The prevalence of phones that look like the iPhone are due to the success of the iPhone; it’s a simple argument that is unrelated to fanboys.

  4. This is a really misleading title.  These are mobile phones from a few years prior to and following the introduction of the iPhone.  Phones in general have a much longer history.

  5. Other than having darkened a trifle(most noticable because the screen is off in one case) the blackberries look pretty much identical on the left and right.

    Unfortunately for RIM, the software that the blackberries on the left and right are running has also hardly changed a bit…

    1.  I’m not sure what you consider the difference between ‘mixing pre existing concepts’ and ‘originating design concepts’ here. By your logic, nobody has ever originated a concept about anything.

      1. Exactly. There is nothing new. Everything is a remix and a twist on something else. Which is why patent law needs to be reformed.

        1. I think you need to update your definitions a bit. What these are is not just ‘remixing’ and your idea that there is nothing new is not very accurate. The things you consider ‘a new twist’ is what the world calls ‘innovation’.

          1. I’ll ignore your argumentum ad populum regarding what the world calls anything, but the meaning of the word innovation is the act of ‘changing or renewing,’ and it is not the same thing as invention. So your use of the term innovation is accurate in this scenario, even if you’re using the wrong denotation for it.

  6. The person who made this photo hand picked old phones to make a point. While there were no phones that looked like the iphone there were plenty of smart phones. Many made by HTC like the mogal for example.

    1.  There is another version of this floating around that shows off more smartphones and featurephones. This one has too many dumbphones, which still exist today, but the point is the same.

  7.  I have some HP PDA’s that predate the iphone that look quite similar to modern smartphones (rectangular slabs with big touch screens, not many buttons). It could be argued that all they lack is the phone element, and the later ones had this too (they still predate the iphone though). The did have crappy windows CE running on them though.

    1.  I can’t think of any phones that looked like the iPhone, before the iPhone came out. This is a commonly repeated statement but it’s not really true. The closest you will find may be a few Windows Mobile phones but they don’t really look like the iPhone like all modern phones do.

  8. Yeah, this isn’t a great post. An image that ‘proves a point’ where there really is no point to be made (and even if there were the image wouldn’t prove it) a misleading title, and a veiled accusation that other makers of smartphones merely copied Apple. I think I detect a sliiiight pro-Apple bias here.

    1. Not really, the success of the iPhone changed the landscape in terms of phone design, if anything it’s an obvious observation – but yes the image is an exaggeration.

      Nokia led the way in candy bar design back in the day too – or is that me being a Nokia fanboy?

    1. A valid point. However, it’s far more likely that the iPhone initiated the assumed effect than the Tocuh Pro 2. You don’t have to be the original inventor to set a standard.

      1.  Possibly, but just because Apple was the first to steal the look doesn’t mean it owns the look, despite all their attempts to litigate to the contrary. They can keep their tiny-screened phones and user- and developer-hostile ecosystem, anyway.

      2. er, no.

        PDAs like my old Palm Pilot (1997) Compaq iPaq (2000) and looked like the devices on the right, long before the iPhone or even the iPod.

        Then those PDAs were combined with cell phones by Compaq, HTC, Palm, LG and others.  Many of these were very successful.  It’s the PDA functionality that determined what they looked like – and they looked like the phones on the right.  In some cases like the LG Prada and HTC Touch they look almost exactly like the iPhone…. except that they came before.

        If you walked into a cell phone store the day before the iPhone was released, most of the high-end phones already looked like the phones on the right.  Apple FOLLOWED the industry trend, and as usual the Apple fanboys claim they led it.

        1. No, not really.  I was a palm user myself and it took quite some time to win me over to the iPhone at first, because it lacked native apps.  Better at communication, though, than the shitty excuse for web and mail usability palm offered.  

          The blackberry-type was already common, but the full-screen front-screen was rather rare.  There was much  hype about android’s capability to support all these many interfaces, down to joysticks. 

          That went away with the iPhones success – even though they indeed didn’t invent the touch screen phone/pda.

          Besides, Apple already had the Newton in 1993, remember? 

          (I actually ditched mine for a Palm III, by the way, for the size factor and the better handwriting recognition.)

        2.  Saying that the iPaq is “like the iphone” is quite a stretch, at least as far as aesthetic is concerned, something that seems not to be so clear to the average geek…
          But the point is not who invented the look or who did full touchscreen – no stilus phones first (I claim to have thought of it almost two years before the iphone but ditched it as “no one will want this without keys” :D ), the point is that pre-iphone this “styling” was absolutely rare in phone design, and now every phone basically looks the same. This is probably a natural evolution, but I think it’s fair to say that the iphone was a great contributor to the incredible “speed” of this evolution.

        1. The LG Prada is a better choice, I think. The HTC Touch looks like a standard WM6 phone which doesn’t have that much similarity to the look of a modern phone.

  9.  It comes very close to being an essay on the decline of Nokia. Of course, Nokia still do make brightly-colored and attractive phones. The all-screen but bright blue Lumia would’ve really spoiled this.

    The image also serves to make you realize just how big the Galaxy Note is.

  10. Sorry, but this is completely unfair, misleading, and wrong.

    The phones on the left are nearly all feature phones. The phones on the right are all smartphones. Many smartphones before the iPhone looked like iPhones (or like a PDA, more properly), and most feature phones today look like something on the left.

    Nothing to see here. (Wondering if this is BoingBoing or Slashdot…)

  11. No no. There are still plenty of “conventional” mobile phones on the market and none of the many pre-iPhone  (and dreadful) Windows mobile phones are pictured. The implication that the iPhone somehow tainted the mobile phone blood lines is false and, frankly, make me suspect that this was actually created by Fox “News”.      

    1. Hopefully the iPhone will *never* have a hardware keyboard, as they are awful. I think Apple knows this already though.

    2.  Before I bought my first iPhone, I was on the cusp of buying a G1. The things that kept me from it? Poor exchange email support (important for me, since my work subsidizes part of my phone bill, and I use exchange for work). Google eventually fixed their exchange support, but I had already realized that hardware keyboards just aren’t important anymore. I talk to people all the time (mostly executives) who won’t give up their blackberries for this reason. Do you really want to be like these people? (by that I mean stuck in the technological past, not part of the 1%)

  12. Yeah, this isn’t a random selection.  Back in 2006, I had an HTC 8125, which is fundamentally similar to the iPhone (large front screen), and there were many others like it from HP and others.  Before that I carried a Dell x51 which is a similarly designed (large screen, no keyboard) PDA without the phone-aspect.  Granted, these devices would be fair-to-poor experience by today’s standard, but that’s a different matter.  Also, there are plenty of flip phones and feature phones still around today.

    1.  Fundamentally, the big difference was that (costs aside), they could have put a cell phone in a Dell X51, but it would have been a pain in the ass to use a stylus to answer calls and use the phone normally. Capacitive touchscreen and smart UI design made all the difference.

      1. You didn’t have to use the stylus.  I rarely did.  When I did, it was for precision (it is harder to be precise when using a finger on a resistive-touch screen).  Apple definitely helped move the industry toward capacitive-touch screens, but they didn’t invent the smartphone as many like to claim.

  13. The objects on the left are telephones, some of which include limited data features.
    The objects on the right are nanocomputers that include telephonic features.

  14. wait.. so.. the fact that some smartphone manufacturers made phone similar to the iPhone… heck, for the sake of argument, let’s say they COPIED the iPhone.. so, if they copied the iPhone… this means they aren’t better phones because Apple had the design before them?

    I still don’t see what the design of the case has to do with the functionality. Well, except if you place the antenna in the wrong place, but apparently other manufacturers didn’t want to copy Apple in that respect….

    1.  If you have used many other smartphones you would realize that they pretty much ALL copy Apple in respect to the antenna position. My old Nexus 1 couldn’t even do 1 bar if I was holding it. You should know your facts before you repeat random information.

      1. hmm. never seemed to have that problem. still doesn’t change the fact that the copying has anything to do with whether a phone is better or worse.

        1. I agree entirely. I think this image is mainly pointing out how a lot of companies followed Apple’s design, is all.

        1. Hopefully you understand that an external antenna doesn’t actually matter for signal attenuation. I’m sorry if you think this isn’t the case, it’s not a question of opinion.

          1. I merely responded to your claim that Android phones copy “the antenna position” from the iPhone.

  15. They should show the smart phones in profile. At which point the Galaxy Nexus will look vastly different from an iPhone, for example.

  16. I-mate had a phone similiar to the iphone, and all of the HTC phones were close… the OS and solid screen where the fucking worst though.

    A photo gallery of all the phones I’ve owned, not including my current iPhone 4

    I am a phone addict. I am going to go ahead and say that my opinion is worth more than most peoples…(jk sorta) The iPhone was the end of switching for me, except for a brief run in with android nad hte nexus(HTC) when I decided to try the new googs dealy because my home button was sticking…

    I would say the form factor is nowhere near as important as a finger friendly OS and a solid glass screen instead od a squishy shitty one. Nothing came close to the first iPhone, anyone who says otherwise is clearly insane. I remember people bitching about not having a stylus…

  17. I’m sure others have pointed out that the change in design may have something to do with the iPhone, but more to do with the affordable touch screen technology.

  18. It would be much more fun, not to say more honest, to have a timeline of phone designs without the iPhone, and then to ask readers where they would place the iPhone.  As it is, it’s just a cute joke.

  19. Yeah, the iphone came out BEFORE the palmOS using Handspring with a GSM module … oh, wait.

    Hell, when I got my first pda (the IIIc), my first thought was “all I need now is an integrated cellphone in this thing and I’m set!”

    Immitation of the iphone? No.

    Funny thing, too; the Handspring also came in bright colours (one of the reasons /i never wanted one, to be sure, not when there was the gorgeousness of the Tungsten|2).

  20. So in other words, phones before the iphone used to innovate on useless (or at least less important) features, such as the shape of the case, rather than the user interface? Yeah, I’m OK with this.

    To those that think we’ve lost something, have fun with your Nokia 1100.

  21. i can’t tell if this is supposed to be funny or if people actually think this is even remotely true? not only were phones with capacitive screens, no dialpads, and no keyboards around for up to 2 years before the iphone, there are still hundreds of phones that have dialpads and keyboards.

    either way, i think you should stay away from “comedy” or do more fact checking.

  22. Looks like this post has more comments than any other on the front page, which is an interesting reflection of what people are interested in (care about?).

  23. How about ‘photo of phones before and after we got decent touchscreen tech’?

    Once you’ve got a touchscreen that works properly, there’s only one sane design (ignoring the textoholics for a moment).

    But no, let’s just celebrate Apple’s successful collaboration with those lovely people at FoxConn. Some of whom get paid enough to eat!

    (Also, the Galaxy Note is clearly winning here…) :P

  24. So how long has this picture been floating around on the interwebs now? And been thoroughly criticized for being misleading or just plain wrong? This is just too old.

  25. Maybe we need to distinguish between innovation and stupid and useless if cute variations.  And then our economists ignore DEMAND SIDE DEPRECIATION.

    We manufacture unrepairable junk and it never gets subtracted to compute NDP. 
    DUH, what’s NDP?  Net Domestic Product.  Oh yeah, according to economists only Capital Goods depreciate.  200,000,000 cars in the US in 1995 but they did not depreciate.  Yeah Right!

  26. What about HTC XDA (2002) or IBM Simon (1992)? Then again, talking about such ideas are so ‘uncool’, let’s keep talking about Apple!

  27. I really miss phones that had faceplates that could be changed. I had like a dozen faceplates for any phone I had. Zagg makes colored invisible shields, but it’s not the same.

  28. WTF?!? Sony just announced some phones with friggin’ COLOR on the case. don’t they know they are supposed to copy the iPhone?!?

  29. Count over 6 from the left, top row. Turn this one OFF and it looks just like all of the phones on the left.

  30. You can’t really say that the iPhone made this change, that would down play all of the market innovation that was occurring well before Apple introduced the device to hipsters around the world.  There was a lot of talk about phone going complete touch screen building on the success of the stylus based phones. There was numerous amounts of surveys and market testing going on as well.

    Palm, Blackberry and Microsoft were kind of leaders in that arena, until Apple dropped the iphone after a masterful marketing program that drove up buzz about the device which was effectively just an ipod that made phone calls.

    With or Without the iPhone we would have had full size “candybar” touch screen phones, it was the next logical step as the technology moved forward at a blistering pace.

  31. I see the phone in the top center of the left looks just like those newer phones. So did my Samsung 700i that was a Windows phone back in 2007 (even had an app that allowed me to turn on my TV and change channels) 

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