The iPhone at 10
As you undoubtedly were made very well aware, yesterday was the 10 year anniversary of the unveiling of the iPhone. It’s both crazy in that 10 years feels like a long time ago given all that has changed, but also in that it doesn’t feel like that long ago in the grand scheme of things. But it’s impossible to overstate how important the product would prove to be.
10 years ago, I was working in the tech industry (as a front-end web developer), but didn’t yet live in the Bay Area. As such, I wasn’t at the Macworld unveiling. Instead, recognizing the likely significance of the event (the still-mythical iPhone had been rumored for months at this point, but details were scant), I took the day off of work to “watch” the event in real-time via live blogs (live streaming wasn’t the norm in those days).
And I actually posted some of my own thoughts in real-time, as things were announced — yes, a live-blog of the live blogs! My favorite bit: “the widescreen iPod, iPhone, and iChat Mobile are all the same device?! awesome. awesome.” I was worried about the price, but thought the announcement was, “to put it lightly…huge.”
Funny to look back on it now — here was Apple’s original press release (via Harry McCracken). Here’s the one commemorating 10 years. And I actually saved an image of Apple’s website that day (below). And here’s how the web itself reacted that day.
Top of Mind
Steven Levy, unsurprisingly, had the best retrospective day-of, thanks to an interview he got with Phil Schiller. First, Steven thought back to his interactions, including with Steve Jobs, on the day of the unveiling.
In terms of why there were no third-party apps:
According to Jobs, it was an issue of security. “You don’t want your phone to be an open platform,” he told me. “You don’t want it to not work because one three apps you loaded that morning screwed it up. Cingular doesn’t want to see their West Coast network go down because of some app. This thing is more like an iPod than it is a computer in that sense.”
Nobody’s perfect. And yet:
“2007 is going to be a very big year for smart phone,” Steve Jobs told me ten years ago. “I see a lot of soccer moms with smart phones.”
With regard to Schiller, on the third-party app question:
Schiller also cast light on why the iPhone shipped as a closed system. During the gestation period of the iPhone, Apple hosted a spirited internal debate. Some advocated that the device be an open system, like the Macintosh, and others advised a more closed system, like the iPod. The argument was put on hold when the engineers realized that even if the open-system adherents won the debate, it would be impossible to implement in time for the launch. Steve Jobs shut down the discussion, Schiller recalls. “He said ‘We don’t have to keep debating this because we can’t have [an open system] right now. Maybe we’ll change our mind afterwards, or maybe we won’t, but for now there isn’t one so let’s envision this world where we solve the problem with great built-in apps and a way for developers to make web apps.”
Assuming that’s true, and not some very kind altering of history, it’s actually one of the better explanations I’ve read. Of course, most accounts chalk it up to Jobs simply being wrong about third-party apps (and a year later correcting his mistake with the launch of the App Store). But most of those accounts weren’t in the room with him either…
“If it weren’t for iPod, I don’t know that there would ever be iPhone.” he says. “It introduced Apple to customers that were not typical Apple customers, so iPod went from being an accessory to Mac to becoming its own cultural momentum. During that time, Apple changed. Our marketing changed. We had silhouette ads with dancers and an iconic product with white headphones. We asked, “Well, if Apple can do this one thing different than all of its previous products, what else can Apple do?’”
Undoubtedly true with regard to the importance of the iPod.
Meanwhile, Internet History Podcast has a great tick-tock of the creation of the iPhone, leading up to its unveiling.
Simple, great, informative overview full of tidbits like:
Put another way, most Chinese wealth is concentrated 200 miles from the coast. The next 500–1,000 miles west is a land of Han Chinese living in Third World poverty. The China that most Westerners think about is the thin strip along the coast. The fact is that China is an overwhelmingly poor country with a thin veneer of prosperity.
You only need to spend about 10 minutes watching Today or Good Morning America to see what a finely tuned live video product looks like. (Startups love to dismiss existing “legacy” entertainment tactics. A single successful morning show brings a network $500M+ per year, enough to fund an entire news division. These are not just content affairs; morning shows and 24-hour news channels are highly tuned, technical products, with features designed to make watching them instantly compelling. We’d be wise to study them closely.)
Some really good thoughts in here about how to ensure live video is actually compelling content to consume beyond the novelty of it.
Stewart Butterfield talking to Jason Dean (back in October). On the topic of whether emoji and other visual items are just novelty:
In John Locke’s letters 350 years ago, he didn’t use any animated GIFs because he couldn’t. I’m not saying that he would have written letters in animated GIFs, but if he could have dropped a photo in to illustrate a point, he totally would have.
On the topic of email:
I can see email lasting tens of thousands of years, as preposterous as that sounds. If email is ever killed, it will be replaced with something that has all its virtues and all its problems as well. It’s an open system that anyone can participate in and that has a global name space. It’s a protocol that’s decades old and has thousands of clients that support it. It’s how you get the receipt after your Uber ride and a billion other things. But I think email is a lunatic thing to use inside an organization. None of its basic virtues — that anyone can use it, that it’s widely supported — matter inside a company. It’s a heterogeneous mix of the receipt from Uber and the request for time off and an invitation to a surprise party from an old friend and my mom giving me an update and someone looking for a job. Going through all that is really taxing. If I’m not well rested, it’s difficult for me to open my email.
These are great. Really, really great. In 20 years, we’re gonna look back at Obama as a great president. I’m not interested in arguing about this, just interested in noting this here so we can look back when I’m right.
Per yearly tradition, my year-end iPhone homescreen for 2016.
(Originally published on Cold Takes, my newsletter.)