It's amazing to think that with this week's announcement from Apple, we're now on the eighth iteration of the iPhone. That has gone by quickly! Each new version has been more advanced than the one before but it has all been slow and steady—a handful of new features every year.
This is Apple's methodology for delivering new products. Keep the upgrades coming at a regular rate and stay just a little way ahead of the competition. Consumers might want 15 different sizes of iPhone, all with 4GB of memory and desktop class processors that sip power and costing $100 but it's not going to happen.
If you go back to the introduction of the second generation device, the iPhone 3G, the only real changes that it contained over the original iPhone were 3G and GPS. The 3GS introduced a faster processor ("S" for speed), more memory and a digital compass. This has carried on since 2007 with slow and steady improvements every year.
Apple are aiming to build the best $649 iPhone they can, that will work with the latest version of iOS and their app ecosystem. Changes to the physical phone happen slowly partly because the software needs to keep up.
The change to the taller iPhone 5 two years ago was a fairly straightforward change in iOS but taking advantage of the larger screens announced this year has involved a few more incremental changes in iOS over the past couple of years.
Firstly, AutoLayout was ported over from OS X as part of iOS 6. Now in iOS 8, size classes have simplified the process of handling different screen sizes and orientations without explicitly testing for dimensions.
Once the software was set for the future, the hardware could come along for the ride.
That's the history but the iPhone upgrade cycle took a bit of a step-change last year with the release of two models, the iPhone 5c and the iPhone 5s. The iPhone 5c was really just the iPhone 5 wearing a different suit so it could be argued that it was only one new phone but it was setting the product line up for this year's release.
This year there really were two new phones, one with a 4.7" screen and the other with a larger 5.5" screen. Amusingly, the leaks and rumours were referenced by Phil Schiller in the keynote when has said "if you don't know, here's their sizes: 4.7" for iPhone 6 and 5.5" for iPhone 6 Plus".
There is very little difference internally between them. The larger phone has an optical image stabiliser and a larger battery but other than that the electronics appear to be the same.
So, after years of having tech pundits demanding a larger iPhone, it's finally here. But the foundations for it have been made for a least the past couple of years. Probably even longer inside Apple.
As Apple have always said, "this is the best iPhone that we've ever made". That's somewhat tautological since they only make one phone but I'm pretty sure that a few times during the keynote I heard them say "this is the best phone we're ever made".
For the past couple of years, it has been debatable whether the iPhone was the best phone around, although when combined with iOS the iPhone was much harder to beat. Now, it looks like the iPhone once again really is the best phone you can buy. If I hadn't just bought myself an iPhone 5s nine months ago, I'd probably be looking to pre-order the phone next week.