I can still remember in vivid detail the very first time I saw the original iPhone in the flesh.
My 16-hour direct flight from Hong Kong had just landed back in New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. The flight attendant announced our arrival back in the Big Apple and the lights let us all know we could take our seat belts off.
I stretched my back, and just as I reached over to access the overhead bin to grab my carry-on, I looked one row behind me and saw it: the iPhone.
The iPhone had already been out for a few months, but this was my first time seeing it. I’d read all about it in magazines and on tech blogs, and honestly, didn’t think it was going change the world. It was expensive, didn’t work with 3G networks, and was exclusive to AT&T in the U.S. As far as I was concerned, version 1.0 was going to be a total flop.
Man, was I wrooonngggg.
This was in the summer of 2007. Motorola’s RAZR was still the most popular cellphone around. When people thought of “smartphones,” they pictured a clunky BlackBerry or Palm running Windows Mobile. The rich mobile web we know today was non-existent, unless you liked using terrible WAP browsers just to see low-res photos and scrunched up text on your tiny phone screen. 3G, despite having launched in the U.S. in 1998, wasn’t ubiquitous yet.
With the iPhone now officially 10 years old, I thought it’d be fun to get on OG iPhone — the “iPhone 2G” (as it was often called) — to really see how far we’ve come.
While I didn’t own an iPhone until the iPhone 4 launched in 2010, I purchased one a few years ago off of eBay. It’s unlikely there are many (if any) people still using the iPhone 2G as their main phone, or even a secondary one. But if you wanted to, how much would you be able to do with it?
In the U.S., the iPhone 2G no longer connects to any wireless carriers. AT&T, the exclusive carrier for the iPhone 2G, discontinued 2G GSM 850/1900MHz support on Dec. 31, 2016.
T-Mobile is the only other GSM-based carrier (Verizon and Sprint have CDMA-based 2G networks) that the original iPhone is compatible with, but the chances of getting it running on their network is unlikely. While T-Mobile plans to sunset its own 2G network by the end of 2020 — the carrier still maintains its 2G network for Internet of Things (IoT) devices — it doesn’t extend to phones.
There are still many countries — especially in developing ones — that have 2G networks where the iPhone 2G could probably still connect to the network for calls and EDGE-speed data, but you’ll have to check if they do, and specifically the 850/1900MHz wireless bands.
With no ability to connect to a carrier network, I wasn’t able to make any calls or send any SMS text messages. I was still able to connect to Wi-Fi, but it’s hella slow.
What apps still work?
You could probably guess which apps still work on the iPhone 2G: almost none.
Because my iPhone 2G was factory reset when I got it, and then updated to the highest version of iOS it supports (iOS 3.1.3), it’s impossible to download any old apps from the App Store that still support it. The only way to get non-Internet dependent apps to work is to jailbreak it, and then “side-load” old app backups onto it.
You’re lucky if you already have some of these apps that don’t need to connect to the internet installed on your iPhone 2G — they should still load — but you’re out of luck if you don’t.
Of the 20-preinstalled apps on the iPhone 2G, only 13 work: Calculator, Calendar, Camera, Clock, Contacts, Google Maps, iPod, Notes, Photos, Safari, Stocks, Voice Memos, and Weather. The list goes up to 14 if you count the Settings app.
Like I said, the Phone app doesn’t work and neither does the Messages app. YouTube no longer connects to the server; the app tells you to goto http://m.youtube.com in Safari, but the page doesn’t load when you visit it.
I tried loading up the iTunes Store app to purchase some songs, but the app fails to open, always crashing and kicking me back to the home screen. I guess I could load up songs the classic way through iTunes on a Mac or PC, but…ugh…that’s just too much work. Besides, iTunes is hot garbage and everyone hates it.
Mail is equally as useless. I couldn’t configure my Gmail because I have two-factor verification turned on and the version of Mail on the iPhone 2G doesn’t support that. Not that that makes a difference…my other Gmail account that doesn’t have two-factor turned on didn’t work either. Neither did my Yahoo email account. I didn’t have an AOL or Microsoft Exchange email to test, but my hunch tells me those probably won’t work.
The apps that do work…they’re super slow. Google Maps, surprisingly, isn’t as full-featured as the latest version, but it functions. So does the calculator… if you, uhhh, calculate things. I can confirm the Clock app still works as a great alarm, stopwatch, and timer.
(I suppose you could repurpose the iPhone 2G for taking notes in the Notes app, but with no iCloud syncing, it’s kinda a pain getting them off and pasting them for use elsewhere.
The voice recorder app still works like it did in 2007. Calendar and Stocks are fine, too. Contacts is kinda pointless since the Phone app no longer works (at least in the U.S.), but then again you could use it like an old-fashioned address book.
The one functioning app that doesn’t make me wanna fling the iPhone 2G off a roof is the Camera. It’s slow to open and the shutter is slow AF, but the 2-megapixel photos, despite their low-resolution, still have some charm to them. It’s like shooting with a vintage camera, forcing you to think more creatively with your composition.
Seeing the old Photos app really makes you appreciate how great apps are today. A Photos app without any editing tools for cropping or basic photo tweaks like exposure, saturation and highlights? Oy.
And lastly…Safari. Yeah, it works, but not really. See for yourself how it compares to Safari on an iPhone 7 running iOS 10:
It’s painful to watch.
Time to move on
Ten years is a long time in tech. It’s enough time to turn what was once considered a beyond-cutting-edge smartphone into an antiquated paperweight.
Compared to an iPhone 7, it’s obvious that a lot has changed in the last decade. At the same time, not much has changed either.
There’s no mistaking the iPhone 2G’s DNA in the iPhone 7. They’re so familiar that we were able to realistically imagine what the iPhone might look like in 2020. It’s a real testament to Apple’s enduring industrial design that the iPhone 7 still holds up 10 years later.
The same can’t be said for iOS. Newer versions just aren’t designed for old, slower hardware, and it really shows on the original iPhone. It’s all the more worse when services, like Gmail, shut down support for outdated apps.
So yeah, you could use some of the apps on the original iPhone today, but do you really wanna do that? Nah, it’s just not worth it.