Happy 10th Birthday, iPhone: A Look Back at The Pre-Launch Rumors

Apple has always been an exciting company, but in the mid-2000s, the air around it was particularly mysterious. Over the years and months before Steve Jobs took the stage at Macworld Expo 2007 to deliver his masterpiece keynote, many tried to guess exactly what the company was up to. As a nostalgic long-time follower of Apple rumors, I thought I’d compile some of the gossip that led up to the announcement of the “Jesus Phone”.

The following links all point to MacRumors, which — along with Daring Fireball — I’ve followed via RSS for about 13 years. It has managed to stay alive, relevant, and relatively low on broken links, in contrast to every other Apple rumor site.

2002

The earliest instance of an iPhone rumor I could find was a New York Times article linked by MacRumors that nailed 2 things: the ‘iPhone’ name, and the use of (née) Mac OS X for some sort of PDA/phone device.

2006

While some rumors in 2006 mentioned a phone, they focused on the idea of an “iPod phone”—a phone with a click-wheel. The more interesting rumors were about a “true video iPod”, an iPod equipped with a touchscreen that would be almost as big as its front face. Almost nobody made the connection back then.

It’s really interesting how, at the time, trademark and domain name registrations, plus patents with crude drawings, were some of the best sources we could get for Apple predictions. There were no part leaks, like we have today. Also, 2006 was probably the peak year for fake photoshopped Apple prototypes, which was super fun.

2006 kicked off with Apple rumors from Steve Jobs himself! “Isn’t it funny? A ship that leaks from the top.”
The “iPod AV”! This one is believable to boot, but the fact that Ice Age 2 is being demoed instead of a Pixar film is a dead giveaway. Source: MacRumors
Supply chain leaks! Source: MacRumors
Fake video for the “true video iPod”. Source: MacRumors
  • April 13: Touchscreen Video iPod Delayed?
    ThinkSecret blamed issues with touchscreen production for a temporary delay in the arrival of the “true video iPod”, which was still slated for release before the 2006 holiday season. It’s pretty obvious in hindsight that this is not what was going on—Apple was focusing on the iPhone, and iOS 1.0 was very much unfinished, even at the time of the iPhone keynote.
  • May 5: Apple iPod and iPhone Patents?
    These patents foreshadowed the iTunes Store on iOS, the Music (née iPod) app, Ringtone sales on iTunes, and a spoken UI which might have been an early study for what became Siri.
  • June 15: Next Generation iPod ‘Soon’?
    Terry Gou of Foxconn (Hon Hai) spills the beans on a “none-touch” concept for the next iPod. My guess is that this was a bad translation of “multi-touch”. (Remember the “iPhone Math”? Clearly a bad translation of “iPhone Plus”.)
  • September 13: Apple’s Phone Revealed?
    This one is quite clearly a distraction, but it bears the first mockup of what “analysts” thought was the iPhone. It was a long candy bar shape with a 16:9 screen and a click-wheel at the bottom, very much like the 4th and 5th-generation iPod nano, and it would even run iPod click-wheel games. We later learned this was actually a dumped exploration inside Apple, with a UI that probably looked something like this.
Some mockups from a French magazine for what they thought would be the “iPhone”. Source: Wayback Machine
  • September 12: New iPods, iPhone?
    An Apple music event sparked more rumors about the impending launch of an iPhone, referencing the renderings above. We eventually got iTunes Movies and TV Shows, the original 5th-generation “video” iPod (which sadly, didn’t look like the full-screen touch-based mockups) and a preview of the first Apple TV (née iTV).
  • September 15: Apple Phone in Early ‘07?
    Pretty much the only thing ThinkSecret got right this time was the timeframe. They claimed Apple would use “several off-the-shelf parts for what will be the first of at least two or three different phones in the first part of 2007”. Ok. (Also: “Apple Phone” is what the iPhone would have been called if it was released today. Yay or nay?)
The “almost-touchscreen”. Source: MacRumors
  • October 26: Video iPod Patent Pictures and Touch Sensitive Bezel
    This was a patent for an “almost-touchscreen” where the sensitive areas would be on the bezel instead of the screen itself. Real exploration at Apple or a decoy designed to under-promise and over-deliver? We’ll never know for sure. Aren’t you glad it didn’t turn out this way, though?
  • November 15: Hon Hai Receives iPhone Contract?
    A report that Hon Hai, more commonly known as Foxconn, had received a 12-million order for the iPhone. This was probably correct.
  • December 3: iPhone 4GB and 8GB, Coming in January?
    Kevin Rose, previously of Digg.com (feel old yet?), predicted many things that were wrong, but got people excited about the iPhone again. His most accurate predictions were the vaguest—“cool” OS, “maybe” a touchscreen, and my favorite, “doing some unique things”. The most confident ones were, well, BS: “It’s small as sh*t”, “two batteries”, “slide out keyboard”, “coming out in January” to “all phone providers”.
  • December 13: More iPhone Details — $599 4GB and $649 8GB?
    Morgan Stanley analyst Rebecca F Runkle got many things right-ish, such as memory configurations, price, the metal design that’s larger than the iPod nano, exclusive to Cingular, full-screen 3.5" LCD, about 4/10ths of an inch thick. Of course, we had no way of knowing how right she was at the time.
  • December 15: More iPhone Details?
    ThinkSecret revealed the iPhone was EDGE-only, and that it probably wasn’t going to come out right after MacWorld Expo.

2007

With only 8 days before the unveiling, the rumor mill was already spinning pretty fast. Confirmations of the imminence of the iPhone popped up, but almost no new details.

  • January 1: Macworld San Francisco 2007 Rumor Roundup
    A compilation of many of the iPhone rumors from 2006, plus acknowledgement that the iPhone might be the focus over the “true video iPod”.
  • January 3: More Apple Phone Rumors and Speculation
    Many rumors with very little substance, but filled with anticipation.
  • January 8: Wall Street Journal: Apple Phone Days Away
    On the day before the announcement, the WSJ confirmed the iPhone. A WSJ leak is usually the best confirmation you can get before the actual announcement—as mentioned in the linked MacRumors post, they were also the ones to confirm the switch to Intel back in 2005.

The iPhone truly was the best-orchestrated Apple launch ever: extremely high anticipation with no relevant spoilers, and huge, overwhelming surprise delivered in a crazy-good keynote. I’d even go as far as to say Apple actively fueled misleading rumors to avoid spoiling the real surprise. This recently-leaked “Acorn OS” (that ran a click-wheel simulator on an original iPhone) was probably a decoy UI built to hide the real OS from people who needed to see and test the phone’s hardware.

10 years ago today, Apple unveiled their third category-defining product, and the world has been obsessing over it ever since. But I think we forget how truly revolutionary it was at the time. This is my favorite moment from the 2007 Macworld Expo keynote:

If the embedded video doesn’t automatically do it, jump to the 37:50 mark to see the magic.

I was offline at the time on a camping trip, but when I got back a week later, I couldn’t believe it. (For real, I spent at least a week in denial, hopelessly reloading apple.com thinking it might go away.) The flabbergasted roar from the audience at the scrolling motion (!) says they couldn’t believe it either. Apple has promised ‘magic’ many times, but with the iPhone, they truly came through.

Here’s to the next 10 years. 🥂