How Close Were past iPhone Leaked Images to the Real Thing?

BY Rohan Naravane

Published 12 Jul 2017

I’ll start with a rather obvious statement — Apple has tremendous brand value. Thousands of publications (including this one) dedicatedly write about everything the company does on a daily basis. Apple also fuels the curiosity by heavily guarding what their next product looks like.

Like clockwork, after a new iPhone comes out in September of one year, 3D renders, drawings and images of the next iPhone start coming out in the first half of the next year. For example, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus launched September 2016, and we’re at the peak of iPhone 8 visual sightings right now.

But how close are these leaked images to the real thing?

Let’s take a trip back memory lane right from the first iPhone launch till the highly-anticipated tenth-anniversary edition this year. As you scroll down, you’ll realise that the final product often ends up looking a lot more desirable than the leaked images.

iPhone (2007)

Work on the original iPhone started a couple of years before 2007, but as soon as the world started paying attention, we got a plethora of concept images of what an iPhone could look like. And now we know how dead wrong so many of them were! There were clamshell iPhones, slider iPhones, iPhones with a physical number pad, iPhones with a QWERTY keyboard, and iPhones featuring an iPod Click Wheel too.

Well, there is some truth in some of those renders, as many years later it was revealed that Apple did consider making an iPhone with an iPod-like interface. Fortunately, none of those above designs materialised and the 3.5-inch capacitive touchscreen display we got with the original iPhone essentially changed how we interact smartphones. As an ode to those crazy designs, the company did jokingly add this mockup of an iPod with a rotary dialpad in the iPhone launch keynote.

iPhone 3G (2008)

Now that the first iPhone was out, people had a good idea of what future iPhones were going to look like. An accurately leaked image of the iPhone 3G showed the change in design from aluminium to glossy plastic at the back a few months before its official launch. The company would then start the trend of reusing iPhone designs twice over, with the similar-looking iPhone 3GS that launched in 2009.

iPhone 4 (2010)

Followers of the brand will keenly remember the “iPhone 4 lost in a bar” story. For the uninitiated, tech blog Gizmodo got their hands on an iPhone 4 prototype sold to them by a person who found it in a bar. It was confirmed that an Apple employee had forgot the device in a bar in California. This made headlines worldwide as people got the clearest look at what the iPhone 4 was going to look like many months before its official launch.

iPhone 4s (2011)

By now, people were being acclimated to Apple releasing iPhones in a tick-tock manner, where the ‘tick’ brought in a new design, and the ‘tock’ retained the design while making improvements on the inside instead. The iPhone 4s brought a big shift in the release cycle, moving from June to September each year. This enabled all software announcements to occur at WWDC, while all iOS hardware moved to the end of the year, which coincides with the holiday shopping season in many parts of the world.

Since the iPhone 4s looked almost exactly the same as its predecessor, there wasn’t much fanfare. But the leaked images did reveal a change in position of the antenna bands from the top of the phone to the sides. If you recall, the iPhone 4 had a major ‘antennagate’ controversy where iPhones were losing network if gripped hard. The leaked iPhone 4s shell shed light on what would ultimately become the dual-antenna that Apple implemented in the phone.

iPhone 5 (2012)

This is where things really start spicing up. By July, the phone had leaked pretty badly, revealing a taller design, the two-tone back color scheme with aluminium sandwiched between two strips of glass — not to mention those beautiful chamfered edges. The leak also revealed Apple’s new connector at the bottom, which would be dubbed ‘Lightning’ at launch.

This was also the year Apple followers would hear the name of Martin Hajek, who gained fame for creating 3D renders of the iPhone 5 based on the leaks, that many publications thought were real images at first. Martin has been regularly creating mockups for unreleased Apple products since.

iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c (2013)

Just like the iPhone 4s, in 2013 there wasn’t much hype around a new iPhone design because by now it was certain that Apple will release an ‘iPhone 5s’ that year. Leaked images did suggest a body similar to the iPhone 5 design, but with one small change — the circular LED flash cutout was now more rectangular in shape. This would end up being the dual-LED true tone flash that tried to keep the skin colour of the subject realistic while illuminating the scene.

But alongside the iPhone 5s, rumours of a mid-range iPhone 5c started swirling. Leaked images showed off colourful, plastic shells in the same shape as the iPhone 5s. But more than the colourful exterior, the more interesting rumor was of its price — which was slated to be in the ballpark of $350. But we all know what a disaster the iPhone 5c turned out, with a $550 price tag that was only $100 cheaper than the premium-bodied, Touch ID-and-better-camera toting iPhone 5s. The iPhone 5c could never recover from its dismal performance, and plastic-bodied iPhones were laid to rest ever since.

iPhone 6 (2014)

This was the big one — Android phones had grown much larger than the iPhone for years now, with many demanding bigger iPhones from Apple. We got a set of designs that were super thin with glass at the back supposedly making a reappearance. But as time passed by, we started seeing more realistic images of what these bigger iPhones would look like, front and back. This was the first time we would see a protruding lens at the back of an iPhone.

The 2015 iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, being ‘s’ models, weren’t expected to receive any visual makeovers. But they did receive the Rose Gold color treatment that made people insane.

iPhone SE (2016)

The iPhone SE is a great example of how sometimes leaked images can totally manipulate the audience. Sightings as early as January suggested an update to the small-sized iPhone was coming soon. But all the leaked images pointed to a redesigned 4-inch iPhone that looked similar to the iPhone 6 design.

But in March, we finally got the iPhone SE, which showed how fake those earlier sightings were, as had the same external shell as the iPhone 5s with bumped up specs. Irrespective, it became a highly-demanded product because of its petite size, despite it not supporting marquee features like 3D Touch.

iPhone 7 (2016)

Last year, a cloud of disappointment set early in the year — after the first leaked images suggested that Apple will not drastically change the design of the iPhone 7. It confused people, who were by now used to receiving a newly-designed iPhone every alternate year. All the leaked images correctly pointed to the bigger camera lens of the iPhone 7, and the dual camera lens setup of the iPhone 7 Plus.

But what every publication got wrong was the rumor of three iPhones in the lineup — an “iPhone 7 Pro” joining the regular iPhone 7 and the Plus model. This rumor probably originated from the smart connector (the same found on the iPad Pro) at the back of the leaked images. But as we all know, there was no iPhone Pro with a smart connector after all.

And although some folks were still fuming at Apple using the same design three years in a row, the iPhone 7 turned out to be a massive hit thanks to tremendous changes on the inside — like water resistance, stereo speakers, better battery life, dual camera setup on the Plus model, OIS on the smaller one, DCI-P3 color spectrum compatible displays, etc. It even convinced buyers that they would be okay without a headphone jack on their iPhone.

iPhone 8 (2017)

And with all this, we come to this year’s iPhone 8. Leaked renders and photos have concluded that the all new design will sport an edge-to-edge screen, with vertically-positioned dual cameras at the back. It is also said that the back of the phone will be made of glass, which will allow implementing wireless charging.

Although we’ve encountered several visuals of the iPhone 8, if you take a look at the leaked renders of past iPhones, it’s clear that these leaked images don’t really tell the whole story. That’s because many of those leaked products don’t feel as polished or precisely made, while the final product ends up better looking, and therefore lauded every time.

We can’t wait for the biggest redesign to the iPhone since the past three years. We’re just a bit worried that if the iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus end up looking like their predecessors, that would mean the design has been repeated four times over now, and that’s pushing it a little. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.