Apple released the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus on Friday.
They’re Apple’s 14th and 15th iPhones since the first one was launched in 2007.
Obviously, the more recently an iPhone was released, the faster it will be. Apple updates the chips, screens, and other components on an annual basis because that’s how technology works, and so they can claim the latest iPhone is the “best ever.”
But when compared to its peers, taking into account the environment it was released, and the overall aesthetics of the device, the iPhone 7 is not the best iPhone, in my opinion.
So based on design, primarily, but also influence and my personal feelings towards these devices, I’ve ranked the 15 iPhones. As we wrote the last time we did this exercise, “You might say this ranking is arbitrary. You might be right if you do. But so what.”
15. Phone 5C
- William Wei, Business Insider
The iPhone 5C was perhaps Apple’s least well-received phone ever. It was supposed to be a less expensive iPhone for markets like China, but it didn’t sell well. The C stands for “color” – but some people thought it stood for “China,” and the joke was that it stood for “cheap.” When it was announced, the tagline was that it was “unapologetically plastic,” as if plastic is something to say sorry for.
14. iPhone 4S
While the iPhone 4 is a icon of modern design, the iPhone 4S was a more minor update. Its biggest claim to fame is the first iPhone to introduce Siri, and it was also the first iPhone presented by current CEO Tim Cook.
13. iPhone 3G
The iPhone 3G is actually the second iPhone, but it’s one of the iPhone’s least-inspired designs. It had a curved plastic back that was a clear downgrade from the sold, rock-like construction of the original iPhone.
12. iPhone 7
- Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
This year’s smaller iPhone is starting to take a backseat to its bigger sibling, the Plus line. Although there are tweaks, it’s essentially the same design as the iPhone that came out in 2014 – except with a bigger camera bump and no headphone jack, requiring you to use Apple adapters or headphones. Plus, it comes in black, which should have been an option for the past few years.
11. iPhone 3GS
The iPhone 3GS was the first iPhone to sport the “S” moniker when it launched in 2009. It’s one of the more forgettable models, released shortly before iPhone sales positively exploded. It had the same mediocre design as the iPhone 3G.
10. iPhone 5S
The iPhone 5S changed the home button to be a fingerprint sensor, which was a huge technical achievement at the time. But that was biggest difference between the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 5 – which is fine, because the design is great.
I remember being sorely disappointed that it didn’t come in black, only “space grey,” which is not black. To compensate, Apple introduced a gold iPhone for the first time.
9. iPhone 6 Plus
- Business Insider
When the iPhone 6 Plus first came out, a few people complained that the phone can bend. Apple fought that claim in the press, saying it was an exceedingly rare defect. Two years later, it seems like there was some truth to that, according to a fantastic dive by Motherboard. Although Apple has never acknowledged it, many iPhone 6 Plus owners are reporting the same engineering defect that makes the touchscreen unresponsive – and it seems to be related to the fact that the phone bends slightly, meaning that certain contacts are breaking.
8. iPhone 5
The first time Apple expanded its screen was with the iPhone 5, expanding it to be 4-inches diagonally. Until this year, this was the last iPhone that came in black and it reintroduced Apple’s current obsession with aluminum devices. Nice device – I really liked mine.
7. iPhone 6
- Flickr/Kārlis Dambrāns
One of the best-selling computers of all time is the iPhone 6. The design might not be as sublime as the design shared by the 5, 5S, and SE, but it expanded the screen, which millions of people were waiting for. It’s surprisingly dense for its size, and when Apple moved the sleep/wake button to the side of the device, it significantly improved the iPhone’s ergonomics.
6. iPhone 6S
Like the iPhone 6, but faster. Apple introduced a new pink – sorry, “rose gold” – model.
5. iPhone 7 Plus
- Marques Brownlee/YouTube
Apple’s current top-of-the-line device comes with a very interesting camera, although Apple had to expand the camera bump to accommodate it. The two lenses can combine to take better photos, zoom, or even measure depth – a huge technical achievement. In black, it’s a pretty handsome device, and looks different from a distance from the devices that preceded it.
4. The original iPhone
- REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico
The original iPhone is a classic. It redefined smartphones to be touchscreen-focused and created several multi-billion dollar industries. That being said, it’s a bit of a brick, and didn’t even have a traditional headphone port – like the iPhone 7, you had to use an adapter.
3. iPhone 6S Plus
- Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider
The iPhone 6S Plus will be seen as a turning point for Apple in that it brought the original iPhone design as far as it could go. The phone can last two days with regular usage, and doesn’t have the same bending issue as the iPhone 6 Plus.
2. iPhone SE
- REUTERS/Stephen Lam
The iPhone SE has the same case design as the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S. But I’m ranking it ahead of those two devices because of one word: courage. Apple had the courage to release a new, smaller phone, as the entire industry kept releasing phones with bigger and bigger screens. It also suggests that if there is a truly classic design, like Apple’s iPhone 5 design, then it doesn’t necessarily go obsolete like the chips and internal components do.
1. iPhone 4
The iPhone 4 was the biggest jump in terms of Apple’s technology in the iPhone line, in my opinion, and its design is stunning. When the iPhone 4 first came out, almost nobody was looking for extremely pixel-dense screens. Apple essentially quadrupled the number of pixels on the iPhone in this generation with the “Retina” display.
And the design is fantastic. Apple’s chief designer Jony Ive has always been inspired by Braun products, and there’s something about how the iPhone 4 is constructed that is reminiscent of Braun’s functionalist philosophy. Turning the metal edge into an antenna was inspired, even if it did lead to Apple apologizing for a reception issued called “antennagate.”
The phone was somewhat fragile, because it was made of two sheets of glass. Apple went to aluminum, a far more durable material, in its next major iPhone redesign. But glass might be making a comeback: One of Apple’s main factory partners said that there’s a new glass iPhone design coming next year.
Another shot of the iPhone 4S. Just look at it.