Right angles and arcs, iPhone design changes | Hard philosophy

Every year when the new iPhone is unveiled, the matching of colors, the choice of shape, and the beauty and ugliness of the appearance are undoubtedly the hot topics that everyone pays attention to.

The iPhone 12 is no exception. It abandons the roundness and returns to the Founder. It has changed the shape and design adopted by the iPhone in the past 7 years, but for those who have used iPhone 4 and 5 ten years ago, the new iPhone is more like an old one. Time reappears.

Is this Apple paying tribute to the classics? I do not deny that fashion is often said to be a cycle of reincarnation, and the appearance of past generations of iPhone has actually gone through 4 stages and 4 types of design changes.

Stereotyped road

In terms of styling and craftsmanship, the first three generations of iPhones did not have much eye-catching features: they all had large frames, and the overall slant was rounded. The difference between the three generations of models was only in the curvature of the back cover and the materials used.

Among them, the back cover of the first-generation iPhone chose the "aluminum alloy + black plastic" splicing method, while the iPhone 3G and 3GS were all covered with plastic to facilitate network signal transmission.

▲iPhone and iPhone 3G. Picture from: Macstories

However, at this time, the changes brought by the iPhone to the mobile phone industry did not involve a single design or function. After all, at that time, the iPhone itself was a brand new hardware system, and what people were more willing to talk about was its graphical interface. , Multi-touch screen, and virtual keyboard control.

These core elements not only establish the "external" of the iPhone, but also make it significantly different from other feature phones on the market.

Only after the iPhone's style has been determined, will Apple be able to put the design on a higher priority.

Glass and metal dance

Towards iPhone 4, Apple ushered in a design watershed.

This is also the first time Apple has begun to attach importance to iPhone design after accumulating experience in the three generations of iPhone, iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS.

To put it simply, the iPhone 4 covers the front and rear fuselage with two pieces of transparent glass, with a metal middle frame, forming a square shape, which is very different from the previous three generations of iPhone.

This "sandwich" style design direction was once one of the prototype designs of Apple's first iPhone. But at that time, Apple was unable to pack all the components in while ensuring the beauty of the product. It was not until the iPhone 4 that it had a mature time.

▲iPhone, iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4. Picture from: Haiku Deck

In the future iPhone 5 era, the iPhone 4’s square style continued as a whole, but because its shell is cut from a single piece of aluminum alloy, the thickness and weight of the body have been significantly reduced.

However, in order to prevent the signal from being shielded by the metal layer, the iPhone 5 and 5s have hollowed out the upper and lower sections of the back cover and replaced it with a glass cover, forming a three-section style.

▲ Fragments of the iPhone 5 manufacturing process released by Apple

The colorful iPhone 5c also appeared at this time. This is the first time that Apple has used polycarbonate to create a colorful iPhone.

Since the plastic case is easier to receive signals than metal, the iPhone 5c does not need to open additional holes in the case, and the frame and back cover no longer have any traces of integration, achieving higher integration and roundness than iPhone 4, 5.

▲ iPhone 5c. Picture from: TechCrunch

In addition, iPhone 5c also changed people's prejudice against plastic phones at that time. Even if it chooses low-cost polycarbonate, Apple's exquisite craftsmanship has made it smooth and shiny like ceramics.

The materials are not expensive and the craftsmanship is high and low. The iPhone 5c of the year is the best example.

▲The "antenna gate" incident was an oversight by Apple in its structural design. Picture from: CNN

Unfortunately, the iPhone at this stage also broke a lot of controversy. For example, the "antenna door" of the iPhone 4, the hand chamfering of the iPhone 5, and the anodized aluminum back cover that will drop paint are all problems exposed by the iPhone at the structure and material level.

But in any case, Apple's attempt at this round of square shape is still very successful, and it also left a lot of valuable design experience for the subsequent iPhone.


In 2008, Jonathan Ivey, the former chief designer of Apple, introduced the production process of MacBook Air to everyone at an event.

Different from the previous method of welding by a variety of metal materials, on Air, Apple adopted a new processing method: its main frame is slowly cut and punched from a whole metal block, and the aluminum alloy is integrated. The molded shell also comes from this.

After successfully testing the water on the MacBook, this "one-piece molding" process has gradually been applied to other Apple products such as iPhone and iPad. For example, in the iPhone 5 period, its metal casing was also made by a series of milling and grinding.

But at this stage, Apple still needs to rely on glass to complete the back cover splicing, and when different materials are combined, it will inevitably leave traces of bonding.

It wasn't until iPhone 6, that the iPhone really started to be integrated.

After the craftsmanship is refined, iPhone 6 has taken a step forward in lightness and thinness, and its shape has also changed.

From the side view, you can also see that the square structure of the iPhone 4, 5 period has disappeared, replaced by a completely rounded side, and a slightly curved 2.5D screen glass.

This is also the second design change in the development of the iPhone. Forward and backward, you will see two different styles of iPhone.

However, after choosing a one-piece metal case, iPhone 6 also has new design problems. Out of consideration for the antenna signal, Apple had to cut out four plastic strips on the metal back cover. These "leucorrhea" have even more visual impact than the original "metal + glass" three-segment structure.

▲ iPhone 6 and 6s achieve higher integration, but they are not visually beautiful

Because of this, people would complain less about the space gray and white versions of the iPhone 6 at that time, because the color of the antenna strips of these two styles will be closer to the original color of the back cover, rather than gold and rose gold. So abrupt.

By the time of iPhone 7, the criticized back antenna was relieved.

▲ Compared to iPhone 6, 6s, the antenna strip on the back of iPhone 7 has been well hidden

As a result, Apple reduced the number of antennas and made the "white stripe" fit as closely as possible to the upper and lower edges of the fuselage. At the same time, it also reactivated the dark black to further cover up the visual impact of the antenna strips.

Secondly, during the iPhone 7 period, Apple also came up with a brand-new "bright black" version, which is also a "show of technology" by Apple in craftsmanship.

Apple once explained the production principle of bright black in a process video. It first polishes the aluminum metal, followed by anodizing and dyeing processes, and finally uses the magnetized iron powder to bathe the surface to polish the metal into a glass-like texture.

Higher production difficulty gives the bright black version a handicraft-like texture, and it eliminates the difference between the two materials of injection-molded antenna and aluminum alloy, achieving a very high integrated form.

But going to the extreme comes at a price-the cost is obviously one aspect, and the bright black is very scratch-resistant, and a little friction will leave marks on the fuselage. Therefore, it is destined to not become a product that goes to the masses.

Full screen

The iPhone X, which is defined as the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, is still round in shape. If you just look at the side view, you won’t find it different from the iPhone 6 and 7.

But the iPhone X has changed more than previous generations because it is mainly about the screen.

After the arrival of the full-screen design, the iconic Home button on the iPhone was replaced by a sliding gesture, and the upper and lower ends of the screen were further extended to keep the same width as the frame.

The only discomfort lies in the bangs on the top.

It was born for Face ID and has become a new feature of iPhone in the era of full screen.

In order to cater to the full-screen form, Apple also completed a series of design changes at this stage. For example, after the Home button disappears, functions like Apple Pay and calling Siri must be completed by double-clicking and long-pressing the lock screen button.

This is why, the side buttons on the iPhone X will become longer and easier for us to press.

Another point is the introduction of the wireless charging function, which makes the iPhone abandon the design of metal integration and once again choose the "metal middle frame + glass back" form similar to the iPhone 4 era.

At this point, the obtrusive antenna strips have been completely eliminated, the back cover has returned to a solid color, and the iPhone 8 series has also become the design end of the non-full-screen version of the iPhone.

▲ The evolution of the back cover from iPhone 6 to iPhone 8

But if you talk about integration, iPhone X and even iPhone Xs products are actually worse than the iPhone 7 bright black version.

The problem remains the same. When the materials used for the rear cover and the middle frame of the fuselage are different, the assembly traces will reappear. At this time, Apple can do as much as possible to erase this difference.

There was actually an attempt during the iPhone 11 period. At that time, Apple launched a new back cover process, directly opening a hole in a whole piece of glass, and polishing out the convex area of ​​the camera, which is equivalent to achieving two textures of frosted and bright surface on a piece of glass, thereby solving the convexity. The joint gap between the camera and the glass back cover.

As for the more detailed parts, it will be solved by iPhone 12.

Back to ten years ago

Not long after the iPhone 12 was released, discussions surrounding the design have been endless. Right-angle frame and pure flat glass, these are the changes you can perceive after first getting started.

But in my opinion, the more important significance of the iPhone 12 is that Apple is willing to do a "delete and simplify" process on the iPhone.

The first is the border area. Comparing with iPhone 11, you will find that when we look at the screen of iPhone 12, we no longer see the "protruding" metal frame on the periphery.

This is also one of the benefits brought by the right-angle frame, it can make the screen display area in the front view of the proportion becomes larger, to further enhance our look and feel.

▲ The width from the outer border of the iPhone 11 to the display area of ​​the screen is 5.57 mm. With the iPhone 12, this width has been shortened to 3.47 mm.

Other details on the iPhone 12 body have also been simplified as much as possible. The advancement of the cutting process makes Apple no longer need to rely on a circle of cutting edges to make the middle frame transition like the iPhone 5; there is also an improvement in the anti-drop performance of the front and rear glass, and the plastic buffer between the screen and the middle frame The circle disappeared.

This is why the iPhone 12 looks more compact and integrated. You will no longer see the reflections and highlights caused by the curved structure; at the junction of metal and glass, there will be no more decorative elements, and the lines are extremely concise.

But even so, the stainless steel frame, the screen and the back cover, can also fit closely together.

In the end, only one screen will remain on the front of the iPhone, and the distance from the middle frame will be shortened as much as possible. This is also the ultimate form pursued by the iPhone in the era of full screen.

The iPhone of the future?

In a specific period, the optimal solution form of the iPhone will have different interpretations, but from the history of development, it can be seen that the cycle of this transition is about 3-4 years. After each cycle begins, Apple will do something to the iPhone. A major adjustment, inject a new design language, and reuse some of the elements of the previous generation.

The iPhone 12 is just the beginning of a new cycle.

Perhaps for Apple, maintaining such a pace of change is to match the average replacement cycle of iPhone users and the transition nodes of the network environment; on the other hand, this also gives Apple time to turn new technologies into A function that is truly practical and everyone is willing to use, rather than just superficial and formal.

Over the past ten years, the iPhone’s trend has become clearer and clearer. The leaving and leaving of bangs, the choice of buttons and interfaces, still grab people's attention. Every time the iPhone will be updated in the future, it will still be a challenge to break through, or it may be another round of yesterday.

Source of title picture: Apple Explained

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