Three things are certain in life: death, taxes and a new iPhone arriving every year.
Ever since Steve Jobs revealed Apple’s first foray into the phone world back in 2007, the hunt has been on for a competitor to rise through the ranks and challenge it for the coveted “phone of the year” crown.
Now that we’re less than a month away from the launch of the tenth anniversary iPhone, we’ve chronicled the biggest rivals from each year – and picked a winner for each.
2007: IPHONE VS NOKIA N95
This was it. The OG. The phone that launched a thousand rivals. The original iPhone pioneered multi-touch displays in phones, which Steve Jobs labelled “magic” – even if Apple didn’t actually invent the tech. Chuck in a widescreen iPod and internet browser, and you had what would become the new standard for smartphones.
With Android not arriving until 2008, Nokia was the undisputed king of phones – and the N95 was its most powerful creation. A 5-megapixel camera, GPS and Wi-Fi (which was rare back then) gave it the edge over Apple’s first effort. It also doubled as a media player, depending on which way you slid out the keyboard. Slick.
WINNER: NOKIA N95
The future of phones might have arrived, but Nokia had the superior tech. It was the ultimate phone of 2007, even with Symbian running in the background.
2008: IPHONE 3G VS BLACKBERRY BOLD
A more attractive outer shell and 3G connection were great upgrades, but the App Store is where Apple truly struck gold: 2008 opened the floodgates for third-party developers to create all manner of games, apps and utilities.
With Wi-FI, GPS, Bluetooth and fantastic email support, Blackberry’s best Bold wasn’t going to lose any customers to Apple – which still hadn’t added MMS or copy-and-paste in 2008.
WINNER: IPHONE 3G
BlackBerry still had the edge for business users, but the App Store made a huge impact for everyone else, and it gave Apple the win in 2008.
2009: IPHONE 3GS VS PALM PRE
Probably one of Apple’s smaller upgrades, the 3GS bumped up the camera to 3 megapixels with video recording, doubled the RAM to 256MB and increased the storage to a max of 32GB. And don’t forget that digital compass.
The Palm Pre was a huge departure for Palm, which had previously focused on PDA-style devices with styluses. It had a slide-out QWERTY keyboard to go with its multi-touch screen, while its multitasking and notification skills were years ahead of the competition.
WINNER: IPHONE 3GS
If anything, Palm was too forward-thinking with the Pre – wireless charging wouldn’t take off for another few years, and webOS would eventually migrate to TVs, rather than smartphones. Apple played it safe, and it helped them stay on top despite making relatively few changes.
2010: IPHONE 4 VS HTC EVO 4G
What a jump the iPhone 4 was. A new 5-megapixel camera, front-facing cam for video calls, a faster processor, multi-tasking and a stunning “Retina” display capped off what was a massive improvement. But the biggest change of all was the new glass-and-metal design. Stunning.
4G had arrived thanks to HTC, and it absolutely flew – if you lived in an area that supported it, at least. South Africa didn’t, at this point, but that didn’t matter – the HTC Evo 4G had the latest version of Android available at the time, and the best specs of any phone that year: a 4.3-inch screen, 8MP camera with video recording and even an HDMI port.
WINNER: IPHONE 4
The iPhone 4 was the first model where the design quality that Apple had established with the Mac and iPod truly made their way to the smartphone world. This wasn’t an iPod with a phone app – it was a wholesale reimagining of what a phone could look like. And we loved it.
2011: IPHONE 4S VS SAMSUNG GALAXY NEXUS
The iPhone 4’s 5-megapixel camera was pretty solid, but the 4S really came to the party with an 8-megapixel snapper. 1080p HD video was a highlight, along with faster shutter speeds. One more thing to mention for the 4S: “Hey Siri”.
Google teaming up with Samsung was always going to be a recipe for success. In late 2011, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus rolled out with a massive 4.65-inch super AMOLED display, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and NFC. It would deserve a place on this list due to hype alone, but that was a fantastic phone in its own right.
WINNER: SAMSUNG GALAXY NEXUS
The iPhone 4s was a fine phone, but not a massive leap over the previous model. The Galaxy Nexus, however, was way out in front of all other Android phones – and also ahead of the iPhone, thanks to its bigger screen and the sweet delights of Android Ice Cream Sandwich. It paved the way for all future Android flagships.
2012: IPHONE 5 VS SAMSUNG GALAXY S3
The iPhone 5S was a big step up over the 4S, thanks to its 4-inch screen and 4G connectivity. Oh, and it’s utterly gorgeous design, which saw the previous model’s glass back replaced with metal and the overall slimmed down to almost impossibly thin dimensions. The bigger display was also very welcome, but on the negative side, Apple also ditched the 30-pin connector in favour of the smaller “Lightning” ports, making all current accessories obsolete.
Where to start with the Galaxy S3? A 4.8in display, the best design on any Samsung phone up to that point, excellent 8MP camera, NFC and all manner of clever tricks… Hell, it even had eye-tracking! The design still wasn’t quite at the iPhone’s level, on account of its plastic back, but the Galaxy S3 was a massive hit nonetheless.
WINNER: IPHONE 5
The Galaxy S3 was a great Android flagship, but the iPhone 5 was the very best iPhone ever (so far). That bigger screen made more difference than you might have imagined, and 4G was a crucial addition for a smartphone line which had started to fall behind the Androids. But really it was that design that once more thoroughly wowed us.
2013: IPHONE 5S VS HTC ONE M7
A better camera, faster processor… those things all sound a bit like a formality now. The iPhone 5s did show off one truly interesting new feature, though: TouchID. It seemed like a gimmick at the time, but fingerprint sensors have obviously become entirely essential to how the smartphone landscape has evolved.
An absolute no-brainer, this – the HTC One had it all. The stunning all-metal design was backed up by front-facing stereo speakers which actually sounded good, a kick-ass camera for low-light shots and a 4.7-inch display that had the crispiest resolution on the market. It’s still one of our favourite phones ever.
WINNER: HTC ONE
This one’s not even close: the HTC One took 2013, and in the process set the trend for all-aluminium phones that would continue for the next five years. It’s only now that phone-makers are experimenting with other materials again.
2014: IPHONE 6 VS LG G3
After a couple years of trailing behind the Android competition, Apple finally entered the big-screen smartphone market with the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus. They also embraced a new, thinner body with a rounded aluminium design. No doubt about it, these phones looked good – even if others such as HTC had been using metal for some time.
What a screen! The LG G3’s screen had 538 pixels per inch, compared to 326 on the iPhone 6, stretched across a 5.5in display which also did away with chunky bezels. The battery did take a hit, but a superb 13-megapixel camera and improved design made the G3 LG’s first legitimate “iPhone Killer”.
WINNER: LG G3
Size wasn’t everything in 2014, and with LG stepping up its game in other areas like the camera, it took the victory. The 6 Plus might have put up more of a fight than the 6, but it didn’t do enough.
2015: IPHONE 6S VS SAMSUNG GALAXY S6 EDGE
The iPhone 6s upgraded the camera to 12MP and also introduced 4K video. Outside of the camera, Apple added a quirky new feature called Force Touch (pretty much right clicks, but for a touchscreen). And of course, it also blessed the world with a pink – sorry, we mean Rose Gold – colour option.
The typical smartphone screen got a major shakeup with the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, which curved over the sides of the phone rather than laying flat. The curve didn’t add too much in terms of features, but that didn’t matter – because the phone itself was fantastic. The only downsides? Samsung scrapped expandable storage and waterproofing with this model.
WINNER: SAMSUNG GALAXY S6 EDGE
The curves not only made for some fun features, but also ensured the S6 Edge was the best-looking phone on the market – giving Samsung the design edge over Apple it so sorely needed after years of being in second place.
2016: IPHONE 7 VS GOOGLE PIXEL
After nine years, Apple bucked the trend with the iPhone 7. Instead of arriving with a drastically changed design, the new model looked eerily similar to the previous iteration – but under the hood it was an impressively different beast. Waterproofing, finally. Dual-speakers, finally. The return of black, finally. The only downside was saying goodbye to the headphone socket.
Google finally killed the Nexus brand in 2017, but replaced it with the Pixel. It came out swinging, with arguably the best camera ever fitted to a smartphone, and was built specifically for Google’s own version of VR, Daydream. Even so, its wedge-like design and half-glass rear would divide opinion, and the price was undeniably expensive.
WINNER: THE IPHONE 7
The Pixel was Google’s effort to compete directly with Apple – it even cost the same overseas. Unfortunately it needed more polish, and wasn’t able to dethrone an iPhone developed off the back of a decade of experience. It had superb specs, and made upgrades Apple fans had been pining for since 2013 – even if the missing headphone socket wasn’t one of them.