Ranking The Design of Each Generation of iPhone
iPhone ownership has changed quite a bit over the past five years. People tend to hold onto their devices for much longer periods of time now. I’ve noticed lately the diversity in iPhone models has grown quite a bit as I look around. Each model had a distinct design that either was loved or loathed. So on the 11th anniversary of the iPhone’s introduction I decided to rank the designs of each iPhone from favorite to least favorite, starting with the model I most dislike.
10. iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus
These iPhone models have my least favorite designs. While I lauded their decision to create an all aluminum body at the time, the antenna lines on the back of the phones completely ruins their look. It’s hard not to mention how slippery these four iPhone models are in the hand too. They must be used in a case or you will risk shattering them. The camera bump on the back of the 6 lineup also looks out of place on the smooth aluminum chassis. It looks way too small and every time I see it I’m appalled at their decision to release it that way.
9. iPhone 3G + 3GS
The iPhone 3G and 3GS felt great in the hand due to their carefully designed ergonomic chassis. However, I have always been disappointed in Apple’s decision to go from an aluminum iPhone with a plastic cap to an all plastic iPhone. The black models got scratched to death while the white models suffered from discoloration due to heat. The only model from this generation of iPhones that I think looks beautiful is the white 3GS immediately after it’s taken out of the box. The stainless steel band that ran around the display was a nice touch carried over from the original iPhone, but otherwise the 3G and 3GS are some of my least favorite models.
8. iPhone 5c
The only thing fun about the iPhone 5c was its color scheme. The only iPhone to ever be released in a wide variety of eye popping colors was also made of plastic. The plastic casing totally ruined this iPhone for me. I was witness to many iPhone 5c models popping open or falling apart. While I love the continuous back chassis and ridiculously smooth shape, the plastic casing was a long term disappointment. It also doesn’t help that the iPhone 5c was locked into a black front. Unlike the iPod Touch, these colors were not available with white glass fronts.
7. iPhone 7 + 7 Plus
The iPhone 7 delivered a refined version of the iPhone 6 design. While I have ranked the 6 and 6s as my least favorite iPhone designs, the refinements that Apple implemented for the 7 made them much more beautiful and usable. Apple did their best to mitigate the appearance of the ugly antenna lines by coloring them on the silver, black, jet black, and red models. The rose gold and gold models are horrendous with the white lines and would’ve looked so much better with color matched ones. The jet black iPhone 7 and 7 Plus also had gorgeous and grippy shiny finishes and a continuous shape that surely puts them in the Apple design history books. The iPhone 7 was also the only iPhone to get a (PRODUCT) red model, which turned out to be quite popular mid cycle.
6. iPhone 8 + 8 Plus
This is where we hit a turning point. Each model from here on out I absolutely love. It was very difficult ranking these last six models so here goes nothing! The iPhone 8 is a perfected iPhone 6. From the front it looks identical to the iPhone 6, 6s and 7. But the back is all glass on the iPhone 8. It took three years for Apple to finally ditch the ugly aluminum and plastic chassis. The aluminum band on the iPhone 8 is perfectly machined and each component feels better. Long story short, the iPhone 8’s design can be described as “the iPhone 6 without the ugliness.”
5. iPhone 4 + 4s
iPhone 4 is considered by many to be the most beautiful iPhone. I don’t disagree that it’s a beautiful phone, but it’s not my favorite. The iPhone 4’s stainless steel band was incredibly sturdy while its glass panels were quite fragile. Each button, port, camera component and line was carefully machined and as Steve Jobs said “as close as kin as an old Leica camera.” The white iPhone 4 was particularly beautiful. I prefer aluminum over stainless steel when it comes to brushed metal, which is why the iPhone 4 is lower on my list.
4. iPhone 5
I adored my iPhone 5. It was absolutely gorgeous. It’s diamond cut chamfered edges sparkled in any light. The larger screen was the first that actually looked mesmerizing to me. The glass and aluminum back was sturdier and softer to the touch. I was thrilled that Apple swapped the stainless steel band for an aluminum one too. The iPhone 5 was also the first fully color matched model. The white and silver model didn’t have a trace of black on it and the black and slate model didn't have a trace of white on it. Both were beautiful right out of the box, but the slate model aged terribly over time and gained lots of scuffs.
3. iPhone 5s + iPhone SE
iPhone 5s made lots of small refinements to the iPhone 5 design. Each button and port was more precise. They ditched the ring around the camera lense and doubled the size of the flash. The home button also lost the squircle icon and gained a beautiful stainless steel ring around the button because of Touch ID. iPhone 5s was also the first iPhone to come in gold. That phone was particularly beautiful and was in high demand at the time. For iPhone SE, Apple didn’t chamfer the edges of the front of the device to differentiate the two models. They also added rose gold to the lineup, which looks much better on this design than it did on the 6 design.
Nothing topped the original iPhone up until last September. It was unapologetically beautiful. It’s stainless steel frame made it eye catching. It’s aluminum case made it soft to the touch. It’s curved body made it comfortable to hold. Two small compromises were made to the design. The first was the recessed headphone jack and the second was the plastic cap to allow for cellular connectivity. The original iPhone design is iconic and will forever be remembered as a classic.
1. iPhone X
The most beautiful iPhone made to date is the current one, the iPhone X. For the tenth anniversary of the iPhone Apple had to do something really big. Expectations were high leading up to the announcement and Apple delivered. iPhone X has practically every design element I’ve wanted in an iPhone. It’s stunning stainless steel frame shines with every bit of light. It’s glass back is bold and makes the device grippy. The display goes corner to corner and is OLED for the first time meaning the software blends in with the hardware. The notch has become an iconic component of the design but it’s more of a necessary compromise. Camera bumps are usually looked down upon when it comes to phones, but Apple found a way to make it beautiful in its own right. Apple transformed the camera bump into a striking design element. iPhone X is the most beautiful and most improbable device that Apple has ever made making it unquestionably my number one choice.